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Inside the Year’s Most Intense Drama

Actor Jake McDorman on Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper and shooting blanks on screen

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper follows the life and career of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who was known as the most lethal sniper in Navy history. Kyle, who’s played by Bradley Cooper, doesn’t work alone. Throughout the film, Kyle is surrounded by and working with other soldiers and officers who become more like family than colleagues to him. Jake McDorman plays one such soldier, Ryan Jobs, a SEAL who works alongside Kyle in Iraq. Here, McDorman talks about his training for the role, his life on set and just how he’d fare as a sniper himself. 

You’re playing a character that’s among the Navy’s best. How do you prepare for that?

Well, the training… It was very brief. Clint moves very quickly on set, and the preproduction process moved just as quickly.  So, after me and the rest of the cast found out that we were going to be a part of the project, we were on a plane going to Morocco within three days. After we got there and got fitted for our fatigues and our gear, we started immediately on the training for the first five days. We didn’t have enough time to get into the, you know, conditioning and actual running like miles, and miles, and miles.  I mean if anything, they needed us to be rested up because we shot so quickly. 

How fast was the shoot? The movie spans a few years, so the audience never really feels rushed. 

We shot for about a month in Morocco, and then we came back to Santa Clarita [California], where they rebuilt like an entire Iraqi village, as well as all the barracks and different part of the camps. By the time we starting shooting, we had learned how to clear rooms, buildings, stairwells, hallways, different formations on the street, and do just everything that would be portrayed in the movie.  Whether or not your character was going to do it in the movie, you still needed to learn it all, just in case. 

So, Eastwood is supposed to be a kind of quiet director. How does that work for you?

The thing with Clint is that he never says ‘Action’ and he never says ‘Cut.’  So, there’s this fluidity from whatever you were doing the moment before the cameras started rolling on to whatever the scene is afterwards. It’s an interesting experience like that.  And, you know, he casts everyone off tape, and he picks every part of the cast. So, you know if you’re there, you’re there because he saw something in your read and he chose you. That gives you a little bit of confidence moving forward with your work.

This movie also has a big cast of impressive actors. There’s a lot going on.

I didn’t have time to get wrapped up in being intimidated because it was all just happening all at once, you know? Working with someone like Clint, working with Bradley Cooper, it’s been incredible. It’s been my favorite experience in my career thus far.  But, I think one of the most surprising and distinctive qualities about the shoot was the fact that we had this special responsibility to these people and their families that are directly involved and affected by the events of the book, and in the aftermath, and that was kind of a real big undertaking for everyone.   

There are a lot of heavy themes in this movie—patriotism, marriage and brotherhood among them. Is there one thing that you’re hoping resonates with the audience?

There is a lot to be taken away from it. There are a lot of different things that make an impact in the film. For me, it’s important to know that Chris Kyle spent his last two years helping people who were home from war and suffering, veterans who had experienced trauma and were trying to cope. I think any awareness we can bring to that via the work Chris did is kind of the best reaction you could get. 

You’re in a movie called American Sniper—what kind of shot are you?

The last target practice I did was a long time ago, and it was skeet shooting, so I was using a shotgun—and shotguns aren’t known for their accuracy. I got invited up by a couple of the other cast members to do some target practice in Northern California, and I’m going to take them up on that, so I’ll have to get back to you. The only bullets we shot in the movie were blanks.