In 1996, Christian Slater and director John Woo worked together on the action-thriller Broken Arrow. At the time, Slater was known for being one of Hollywood’s bad boys while the Hong Kong director was working hard to make a name for himself in the United States. Now, six years later, Woo and Slater are reunited in MGM’s Windtalkers, a film that not only tells the story of some war heroes well overdue for recognition, but also shows how much time can change a former rebel and an up-and-coming U.S. director.
In just six years, Slater has gone from being a party animal who constantly seemed to be in trouble with the law, to a respectable family man. A man who was once sent to jail for cocaine abuse now proudly says that he gets a natural high from his two children. Meanwhile, Woo has become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand directors. After directing Broken Arrow, Face/Off (co-starring Windtalkers’ star Nicolas Cage) and Mission: Impossible 2, Woo has risen to the top of an elite group of directors known simply for their signature style. However, with Windtalkers both Woo and Slater are journeying into a territory that neither has ventured into before — the war movie.
The Truth Behind Windtalkers
Windtalkers focuses on the Navajo codetalkers, a group of Marines who transmitted radio messages during World War II using their native tongue. With the story behind the codetalkers being classified information until the late ’60s, Woo definitely had a task on his hands in bringing their story to the big screen. Even today, whether or not the codetalkers had bodyguards is heavily debated, so Woo made sure that his team did all the research possible in order to make the movie as accurate as could be.
“Some people say there was no such thing as bodyguards while some people say they did exist — that their duties were to protect the code without letting the codetalkers know about it,” Woo says. “We talked to the codetalkers even and some said they’d heard about it and knew they had a bodyguard but didn’t know whom, while others said they didn’t know someone was protecting them. There are just so many things. I talked to the writers though and they said they did the research and that they believe it was true about the orders.”
“I think filmmakers like John Woo really want to make it as accurate as possible cause it’s based on true events,” Slater adds. “Because so much of this was classified information, we really did try to capture as much authenticity as we possibly could. We hired technical consultants and had actual Navajo codetalkers who were in the war helping, guiding the actors through and telling them what happened then, what it was like — just telling their stories. So all of that was really so, so helpful. I know that I had no idea of the Navajo’s contribution to help us win the war, so it was a history lesson for me.”
This isn’t your Typical Hollywood Boot Camp
In order for the cast to understand what life is like as a Marine, Woo felt it was important to send the actors to a vigorous week-long boot camp. Under the direction of Sergeant Major Joe Dever, the cast of Windtalkers learned everything from how to clean a weapon properly to how to move on a battlefield. Although several extras left the movie after the first few days of boot camp, Slater and his co-stars somehow managed to pull through.
“It was my first time doing a war movie and my first time going to boot camp,” Slater recalls. “The drill sergeants who were working with us really pushed us until almost breaking points. We were only there for seven days but some of the things that they had us do were really, really grueling.”
“I really wanted them to feel like real Marines — to learn about brotherhood,” Woo adds. “After boot camp all the actors really cared about was each other. They looked after each other and worked together so well. There was no jealousy or hatred — no egos. Everybody just appreciated each other and helped each other out.”
With Windtalkers now in theaters, both Woo and Slater hope that the movie opens people’s eyes to not only how many war stories haven’t been told, but also how gruesome war really is. For even though Windtalkers may be a Hollywood film, it’s also an education lesson and a tribute to real life heroes few know about.
“There are so many aspects to wars, so many different angles and cultures that have helped to the building of our nation, and this is the type of movie that serves that purpose very well,” Slater says. “It has a great director, John Woo, who just became an American citizen four years ago, and he really wanted to make a patriotic movie that honors this country. Plus John is enormously anti-war, so he really wanted to make this movie as realistic as he possibly could to detour people from choosing war as a course of action — to really just show the horrors of it. In my opinion, he did a very powerful, hell of a job.”