For Ryan Phillippe war has been anything but hell in terms of his career.
Phillippe, who has appeared in two war dramas in the past two years — “Flags of Our Fathers” and now “Stop-Loss” — says that his time in uniform has been especially enlightening as he like many folks, struggle to make sense of the war in Iraq.
“I think our challenge as actors was you check your own beliefs and politics at the door,” Phillippe said. “The soldier does that. They go where they’re told and serve to the direction of the person above them. The greater aspect of that life becomes keeping the guy next to you alive and he doing the same for you. You’re in a bad situation where you’re bored and you’re in the desert and you’re waiting to be shot at and you’re waiting for something to blow up.
“And as unpleasant as all that gets I think the only thing that gets you through it are the friendships; it’s a brotherhood. I think that’s why sometimes guys go back. If they choose to go back it’s out of that obligation to the other soldiers.”
In “Stop-Loss,” which opens Friday, Phillippe plays Staff Sgt. Brandon King, a decorated Iraq War soldier who chose not to go back to the Army but was broadsided by the fine print after returning home to Texas to begin the first phase of his post-war civilian life. Stop-loss is a term that essentially means that the military has the right to extend your active duty beyond the initial terms of your contract. When King finds out that he’s been stop-lossed, he heads for the border but soon realizes that he can’t run away from his haunting memories of a war he doesn’t quite understand and gets back on the bus.
“This is happening now,” Phillippe said emphatically. “People were stop-lossed last week, I can guarantee you. Not a lot of people even know about this. It’s in the very, very small print of the contract. That’s what makes this story so relevant.”
‘Out of sight, out of mind’With co-star Channing Tatum at his side, Phillippe also shared his thoughts on the differences between his film and the slew of other war in Iraq-themed movies; and his concerns that some Americans are seemingly making subconscious choices to ignore the war in Iraq, which is now five years old.
“It seems like the public to some degrees wants it that way or wants to ignore it,” he said. “As long as it’s not happening directly to you — it’s like out of sight, out of mind. I think that bothers me — that and the fact that the majority of Americans haven’t heard of stop-loss or know that that kind of thing goes on. That’s intentional. I do think that those things are kept quiet.”
That kind of statement is vintage Phillippe. Although the 37-year-old Delaware native has sex-god looks with his curly blond hair and steely blue eyes, he’s quite an atypical movie star. From the very beginning of his career which started on the daytime soap “One Life to Live” in which he played daytime’s first gay character, Phillippe has been very vocal about issues that are important to him, including discussing his relationship issues with ex-wife Reese Witherspoon years before their 2007 divorce.
He admitted during a 2002 interview to promote “Igby Goes Down” that he and Witherspoon were in therapy in an attempt to understand each other better. But as forthcoming as Phillippe can be during interviews, he’s not exactly the most engaging guy in the room. There’s an intensity about him that lets you know immediately that he’s a working actor and not a movie star for hire.
“When you work with Ryan you just know he’s going to bring it,” says Tatum, who plays King’s best buddy Sgt. Steve Shriver. “He’s very, very committed to his craft. He has such a passion for it.”
Director Kim Pierce concurred.
“He brought something very unique to this part,” she said. “He not only acted it, but in a sense he became Brandon. He seemed like somebody who would have signed up for this war and wanted to be a leader, who would have killed in order to protect his men and then been devastated when they didn’t make it.”
‘No political agenda’One of the most pivotal scenes in the film is when King leads his men into a civilian apartment building in pursuit of some bomb-tossing insurgents who killed one of his men. Two others were lost during that risky raid but Phillippe says those are the kinds of situations that real soldiers in Iraq face every day.
“The reality of that choice speaks to the larger frustration of the way this war has to be fought,” Phillippe said. “The enemy is not clear because you’re not lined up one side against the other. You’re having to go into homes and you’re having to pursue someone. The same guy who looks like a law-abiding civilian could also be the insurgent.”
Delving into the complexities of those decisions was one of the reasons why Phillippe agreed to re-enlist in another war drama. He was also impressed that the film wasn’t attempting to preach or wage war on either side.
“The difference between our film and the other Iraq films of recent is that ours is strictly told from the soldier’s perspective,” he said. “There’s no political agenda that way. I think it’s a mistake for Hollywood to tell people how to think. You know how you feel about this war or this president. What is unique about ours and why I responded to it initially was is that it is telling the human side of the soldier’s story and that’s it. You then draw your own conclusion and wrestle with what you think and feel as you watch it.”
Miki Turner is currently co-executive producing a film on girls and gangs with actor/director Bill Duke. She can be reached at .