Fury, the WWII film starring Brad Pitt, opens in theaters today. The story follows a five-man tank crew as they make the last push into Nazi Germany in April 1945. And to get things right, the filmmakers brought in a military advisor with 22 years of experience.
David "Sting" Rae is as seasoned as they come. Think he would have a badass nickname otherwise? Nah. He served in the British Army for 22 years (1991-2013), eventually reaching the rank of Warrant Officer Class 1 and the appointment of Regimental Sergeant Major. The U.S. Army equivalent is Command Sergeant Major—in other words, the highest ranking enlisted position. He served in an armoured recon regiment, the Light Dragoons, with which he deployed on eight different tours: four in Bosnia, one in Iraq, and three in Afghanistan. When we spoke on the phone this week, he casually mentioned that he's currently in Iraq, where he's doing contract work.
Just to put this into context for civilians, I showed my brother, a retired Army captain who served in Iraq himself, Rae's bio. "Yep, that's an RSM," he said. British soldiers call those guys Regimental Scary Monster." I don't know if ol' Brad Pitt was ready for this. But he and co-star Shia LeBoeuf had to go through a boot camp under Rae's supervision anyway.
Rae was a delight to talk to, but then again, he wasn't training me. He said he became involved in Fury initially because of friend of his who he served with started a company called Soldier in Blue that provides military advisors and extras to film. After a conversation with director David Ayer, the retired soldier joined up. Here's what he had to say about his experience with the film:
What kind of questions were they approaching you with in the beginning?
Rae: Initially we threw a lot of technical training at them. Even simple stuff like the ranks of a general, or certain parts of a tank and certain weaponry, or historical facts about the war. Trying to get their heads into it. But then we ran a boot camp to give more in-depth training to the actors. And so it became a five-man tanker rather than five individuals. So what they did ask was, on top of the training we provided, about our personal experiences in combat and how we dealt with those.
So were you putting them through some similar training that you would have gone through in your own training?
Yes, there was lots of that, there were lots of tactic tables, there was gunnery training, there was communications training. Lots of tactics, like I said. Practical safety within the tanks. Or we would do gunnery training and throw them in the tank as well and practically go through it.
At the end of the six-day boot camp, we ran a mini exercise where the crew, the five actors, crewed in their positions which were what they were in the film, we gave them a scenario that was Germans out there with there with their tank, and we sent fire rounds and maneuvers, that necessitated a response and certain actions that were set before them. And we let them loose and for 45 minutes they drove around and they were actually driving the tank, gunning the tank, commanding the tank. Everything that a normal soldier would do and reacting to what was in front of them. They did very very well actually.
How realistic is the tank?
It's a real tank. [It's a Sherman tank. -Ed] Everything about it is real. No fake tanks on the whole production at all. They're all real tanks. So they were actually operating a 30, 40 ton tank, and [actor] Michael Peña, the driver, was actually driving the tank as well.
The tank's name is Fury. See on the tanks, all of them have a name painted on the barrel, and it was common practice back then and it still is to this day to an extent. A lot of the guys named their tank. So this tank was called Fury, there's another called Murder, Inc., there's a Lucy 2, there's an Old Phyllis. It's more an ownership thing. It's like having pride in your machine.
Tanks were a huge technological advance in that era. How have they different now?
The modern tank has really only changed so much to where they are bigger. And the reason they get bigger is they need more armor. And the reason they need more armor is because munitions and weaponry advances. Tanks are always getting bigger and bigger. Fundamentally the tank is very much the same. A big heavy, metal, armored vehicle to protect the crew. And tracks, which allow it to go across terrain, and a gun which can then, kill its enemy in front of it. The platforms are very much the same, they're just bigger.
You do feel very safe inside a tank until you see another tank hit. Then you understand how vulnerable you actually are.
Working on a movie is an interesting way to translate your personal military experience into a second career.
It was very interesting! I haven't done one since—I'm actually working in Iraq now—but I would definitely do it again. I very much enjoyed the film set. It's got very many similarities to the military. There were sort of ranks which were higher up, and everyone worked to a common goal, and everybody respected each other's work.
In the end, under your supervision, did you think the actors really understood what you were trying to impart to them?
Yeah, they were very respectful. We brought veterans on the set as well as ourselves, and they all knew we were veterans, and we were all quite close. We were in their pockets every day making sure we were happy with what they were saying, what they were doing. Same with the director, that he was content with what he was filming that day and that it was factually, as best as it could be. So the actors respected what we gave them and the land that we filmed on.
I have a respect for the guys that were portraying what it was like in WWII. They very much wanted to get it correct.
What were some of the most important things for you to convey and express to the directors and the writers and the crew as a military advisor?
To the directors to get it tactically correct as best as you can. There's a lot of soldiers who will see a war movie—perhaps I've done it myself—and they'll try to pull it apart. Point out what isn't quite right, etc. The director knew what he was doing and he only needed minor guidance. He knew his history. It was well done.
To me, probably the most important thing was to get the actors to look like a crew. To become like a crew, and to come across not as five individuals, but as one, as a whole. And to look like they actually knew each other. The best way of doing that was actually throwing them into training and hitting them hard with training and I think we managed to get that. Hopefully we'll see that on the film.
It sounds like this role, for someone like you who has so many years of military service, it seems like more than just a job. Seems like more of a calling?
Yeah, initially I didn't see it as that. I saw it as just a job. But I sort of grew into it and really, really enjoyed it. If there was a job I could do forever I would do it. I know it sounds over the top slightly but I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed having to give that experience and feeling important, especially within your role. I think it helped working with the team I worked with. It's a perfect transition from the military to doing something like this.
Fury opens in theaters today.
Rae is pictured above (middle) with the cast on the set of Fury. Photo courtesy Zoomwerks PR.