Heroes in Action: An Interview with the Directors of Act of Valor

Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh are passionate about promoting the heroic service of the elite group of men known as the Navy SEALs.  The acronym SEAL stands for “Sea, Air and Land,” as these brave men are experts in navigating the hazards and dangers of all three.  (Currently, women are not permitted to apply for SEAL training.)

Former stuntmen, McCoy and Waugh submitted a proposal to the US Navy to produce a film which showcased the SEALs in action.  They got the green light with the condition that the filming was to be worked around the SEALs’ schedules and at no monetary cost to the Navy.

I had the chance to talk to McCoy and Waugh about the challenges and rewards of filming Act of Valor and working with the Navy SEALs.

Peggy Bowes:  What is the primary message that you want Act of Valor to convey to audiences?

Scott Waugh:  It’s really a peek into this world where there are a lot of incredible men and women who are performing acts of valor, including our first responders at home—policemen and firemen who are doing all these acts of heroism that go unrecognized.  We believe that these people deserve to be recognized.

Mike McCoy:  We definitely want to connect with the concept of valor overall–  valor and honor and doing something for the sake of your brother and thinking of your friends and your brothers in a different way and exploring that ideology.

Peggy:  It seems like patriotism is slowly fading in this country.  Do you think that Act of Valor can help revive it?

Mike:  We really hope it will bring back a big appreciation for the men and women who are doing the hard task of protecting our country and are sacrificing so much for our freedoms here.  It’s important that the American public is still thinking about them.

Peggy:  Why did you decide to portray the SEALs’ families in this film?

Mike:  Once we connected with the men and met their families and saw what family life looked like for them, we were totally blown away.  These guys are great family men overall, and they are so different from how they’ve been stereotyped in Hollywood.  We really connected with the strength of the wives.  These women are truly heroes.  Their men are going off on 11-month combat deployments, and they’re holding the family together.  They’re taking care of the kids and just dealing with it.  We were really inspired by that.

Peggy:  You’ve probably heard the expression, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  Did faith play a role in the lives of the SEALs you encountered?

Mike:  The guys are so centered across the board and I don’t want to speak for them on where they’re drawing their inspiration, but it really seems like they have this amazing calmness and presence about them in the craziest of situations, and I definitely think it’s inspired somewhere.

Scott:  Some of the guys are definitely Christians in their own right, and they are very proud of it.  It’s wonderful to see their belief and faith.

Mike:  The thing that’s amazing is the brotherhood and connectivity inside this community overall.  They accept each other for all their attributes and their flaws at the same time.  It’s pretty amazing how these men coexist together.

Peggy:  How did you choose which SEALs to cast in the film?

Scott:  We were looking for guys who were confident and competent men and had really nothing to prove.  It was important to find that kind of person because we knew that they wouldn’t care if the cameras were around them or not.  They were just going to be themselves.  That’s all we asked of them.  The eight SEALs that we asked to be in the film all turned us down.  They all said, “No!”  It took us a long time to convince them that this would be an opportunity for them to carry on their legacy and showcase what really goes on inside their community and make sure that the film is accurate and authentic.

Peggy:  Top Gun flooded the Navy with recruits over 25 years ago.  Do you think that Act of Valor will have the same effect?

Mike:  What I think is important for us as filmmakers and I think even for the SEALs themselves, is that we wanted to showcase the risk involved with this job.  It’s definitely a really dangerous place to go to work.  There’s a lot of sacrifice involved.  If a young man sees this and is cool with that much sacrifice and risk, then I think it would be great for him to be inspired by the project.

Peggy:  Do you have any interesting stories from the time you spent with the SEALs in San Diego that weren’t portrayed in the film?

Mike:  It’s important to know that everything that you see happens to a SEAL in the film has happened to somebody on the battlefield.  We heard these incredible stories of valor that just literally blew us away.  We couldn’t believe that these things had happened to these men in battle until we met the operators who survived these stories.  That was really fundamental in this project.  We weren’t just writing fictional accounts of something.  It’s based on real stories.

Peggy:  I know the SEALs come from very diverse backgrounds, but did you see any common traits that distinguished these men from others?

Scott: The one true common denominator with all the guys is the emotional ability to never quit.  They really will never, never quit.  They will never fail.  It’s that incredible drive that each one of them has that is truly that common denominator.  Other than that, they are so diverse.

Mike:  That’s still the hundred million dollar question— What exactly makes these guys tick because they are so diverse.  They’re just never going to quit on themselves or their brothers.

Peggy:  What was your biggest challenge in filming Act of Valor?

Mike:  Definitely the biggest challenge was working around the combat deployment cycles of the guys.  Almost everyone in this film went on a full combat deployment during the making of the film.  So we would be waiting up to 11 months for someone to come back to finish out a particular scene.  It just became really about caring about your friends being in combat for that long– that was really hard.

Scott:  That’s why the film took four years to make.  We had to augment their existing training and wait for assets to become available.

Peggy:  The film is so intense, so I’m wondering if you had a chance to have a little fun. 

Scott:  Fun?  Working with a nuclear submarine redefines that word.

Mike:  Being in the middle of live fire gunfights.  We shot quite a lot of ammunition on this film.  Working in a live fire environment is as fun as it gets.

Peggy:  What about the SEALs?

Scott:  These guys just work hard.  They get to work at 6:30 in the morning and they are training non-stop all day for 12 hours a day, and sometimes a lot longer through the night.  You just can’t wrap your head around the fact that they have that kind of discipline.

Act of Valor opens in theaters on Friday, February 24th.  The film is rated R for strong violence including some torture, and for language.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage