Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan lingers in the memory long after the closing credits have rolled. And, certainly, its violence and realism make it a rarity among war movies; perhaps they’re also why it’s so well regarded as a piece of art. However, making the film wasn’t easy, as these 20 little-known behind-the-scenes facts reveal…
20. Real amputees acted in the Omaha Beach scene
How was Spielberg going to realistically portray men running around in the heat of battle with their limbs missing? Simple: hire amputee actors. And that’s just what the director did. Specifically, 30 Irish Army Reserve members who had previously lost limbs were given prosthetic ones and asked to act out losing them.
19. Even the underwear was realistic
Every detail of the costuming for the actors was accurate to the time period, right down to the undergarments. And, unfortunately for the men, it wasn’t comfortable at all. To wit, they all had to wear extremely tight ankle garters, military-issue socks and even 1940s-era underwear.
18. Garth Brooks was reportedly offered a role
In 2013 a lawsuit came to light alleging that country singer Garth Brooks had been offered a role in Saving Private Ryan. However, he apparently turned it down owing to not being cast as the lead. Lisa Sanderson, Brooks’ ex-production associate, additionally claimed that he refused to share center stage with Tom Hanks.
17. The movie is loosely based on a true story
There was, in a way, a real Private Ryan. His name was Sergeant Frederick Niland, and his story of being a sole survivor extracted from the war was very similar to that of the titular soldier played by Matt Damon in the movie. Sadly, Niland died in 1983, but as a tribute to him, his daughters received an invitation to the film’s premiere.
16. Edward Burns ruined a very expensive take
Making Saving Private Ryan wasn’t cheap. So when Edward Burns threw a grenade in the wrong direction and ruined a take, Spielberg wasn’t happy. “Steven pulls me over, he goes… ‘I just want you to know that shot cost more than your last movie,’” Burns reminisced on The Dan Patrick Show in 2015.
15. Matt Damon was excluded from the cast’s military boot camp
Before filming started, all the actors were packed off to a ten-day military boot camp led by ex-Marine Captain Dale Dye. And it wasn’t easy work; lucky Matt Damon, however, got to sit it out. In fact, he was deliberately excluded so that the other actors would resent him, thus adding to the veracity of their performances.
14. A shot through a sniper scope is actually plausible
The scene where Barry Pepper’s Private Jackson shoots a man directly through his sniper scope is particularly memorable. However, would it actually be possible in real life? According to MythBusters, indeed so. What’s more, very skilled snipers have occasionally managed the same trick in real war zones.
13. Spielberg threatened Tom Sizemore into remaining clean on set
Tom Sizemore revealed to The Daily Beast in 2010 that Spielberg delivered an ultimatum regarding Sizemore’s problematic meth addiction. Specifically, the actor revealed that if he had tested positive for drugs even once during shooting, then the director’s promise to him was this: “He would fire me on the spot and shoot all 58 days that I’d worked over again with someone else.” As a result, Sizemore managed to complete the film.
12. The opening scene was a huge undertaking
The film’s opening Normandy sequence took one hell of a lot of manpower. In fact, it required two weeks of filming, involved 1,500 extras and required 40 gallons of fake blood. The cost? An eye-watering $12 million. But it was worth it, because the scene went down in cinematic history.
11. Edward Burns read his real friends’ names out from the dog tags
Posting on his personal Facebook in 2015, Edward Burns recollected the scene where the men read the recovered dog tags. As he revealed, “We ad-libbed a bunch of lines in that scene. I rattled off a few friends of mine from high school, Gary Iannico, Mike Cesario and my bud Vinny Rubino.”
10. The actors followed Tom Hanks’ lead at boot camp
The intense military training the actors were put through proved to be too much for most of them. However, the one exception was Tom Hanks. And if it hadn’t have been for him, the rest of the cast might have mutinied. Yes, Hanks convinced them to tough the experience out, and eventually they were glad that they did.
9. Adam Goldberg’s death scene distressed his mother
Private Mellish’s slow, horrible death is incredibly difficult to bear witness to. But nobody found it harder to watch than actor Adam Goldberg’s mother. “My mom was quite unhappy with me after she first saw the film,” Goldberg told The Hollywood Interview in 2009. “She was really upset.” Understandably so.
8. The film was so traumatizing for veterans that a hotline was set up
Spielberg set out to make a realistic depiction of war with Saving Private Ryan, and by most accounts, he absolutely nailed it. But he succeeded so well in that endeavor that, in fact, a dedicated hotline had to be started for war veterans who found that the film triggered their PTSD.
7. Matt Damon was a virtual unknown when cast
These days, Matt Damon is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. But when Spielberg originally cast him in Saving Private Ryan, his breakthrough movie Good Will Hunting hadn’t even come out yet. By the time Ryan hit cinemas, however, Damon was already a name to watch.
6. The film was almost banned in India
India’s censorship board first demanded that Spielberg cut some of the violence if the film was to be shown there. However, he point-blank refused. Furthermore, the Indian population might never have seen the movie at all if the country’s Home Minister had not had a viewing and subsequently ordered its uncensored release.
5. Nathan Fillion was a bag of nerves while on set
Before Firefly made him a sci-fi icon, Nathan Fillion was a nervous newcomer on the set of Saving Private Ryan. He was so nervous, in fact, that he couldn’t even cry in front of Spielberg, which was the only thing he’d been told to do. After a pep talk from the director, though, Fillion turned it around and the tears came.
4. One famous D-Day survivor was impressed by the film
James Doohan, a.k.a. Scotty from Star Trek, had actually been present at the D-Day landings. And not only did he lose a finger in the fighting, but he nearly lost his life, too. So after seeing how realistically Saving Private Ryan portrayed the events of that day, he sent Spielberg a personal thank-you note.
3. Robin Williams introduced Damon and Spielberg
Saving Private Ryan might have been very different if not for the late, great Robin Williams. Steven Spielberg had already considered Damon for the role of Ryan after seeing Courage Under Fire. However, when Williams introduced the pair during rehearsals for Good Will Hunting, Spielberg knew for sure that Damon was the man for the job.
2. Tom Hanks saved an extra from drowning
While appearing on The Graham Norton Show in November 2010, Tom Hanks was surprised to find himself face-to-face with a non-swimming extra he’d plucked from the water during the filming of the D-Day scene. “I owe Tom quite a lot,” the man, Adam Shaw, told the audience. Why? Well, Hanks had saved him from drowning. Is there anything he can’t do?
1. The cast were furious not to win Best Picture
Everyone expected Saving Private Ryan to win Best Picture at the 1998 Oscars. However, in a stunning upset the film lost out to Shakespeare In Love. And the cast and crew were naturally devastated. In 2015, moreover, Edward Burns revealed that an actor, whom he didn’t name, had even gotten into a bloody fight that night because of the loss.