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Genesis of the Project
The original story for Hollywood Pictures' intense action/drama G.I. Jane, and heroine Lt. Jordan O'Neil, had its gestation in the fertile creative mind of screenwriter/executive producer Danielle Alexandra. Christened "the female Tom Clancy," because of her mastery in the male-dominated world of action/political thrillers, Alexandra was inspired to write G.I. Jane based on the current political issues and news-breaking headlines about women serving in combat.
Lt. Jordan O'Neil, as envisioned by Alexandra and played by Demi Moore, is representative of the exemplary woman the screenwriter believes would be chosen for, and have a chance to survive, the grueling special training that SEAL recruits undergo. "From day one, long before I sold the project and wrote the screenplay, there was never any question in my mind that anyone other than Demi Moore would play the role of Lt. O'Neil," Alexandra says. "I believed she was the only actress credible enough and capable of handling the physical and emotional ride. Prior to my pitching the story to any studio, I met with Demi to discuss the project. She responded immediately. And as I wrote the screenplay, I thought of the personal and physical strength that Demi has as an individual, a survivor, a woman, an achiever - an actress."
Bold creative choices in her work are a hallmark of the meteoric career in film achieved by Moore. With the role of Lt. Jordan O'Neil, she adds another dimension to the range of her talents and the remarkable and memorable characters in her repertoire.
"I was looking for something a bit more physically challenging for my next film," Moore says of her initial interest in playing this demanding role. "I wasn't interested in just stepping into a man's character in an action movie. What G.I. Jane afforded me was the opportunity to deal not only with the enormous physical demands of the action genre, but also to be involved with something that had great substance. The story deals with a subject matter that is not only topical, but also very important, because of the bigger issue of women having more choices available to them."
Of all the bids that came in from studios in the bidding war for G.I. Jane, Danielle Alexandra chose Caravan Pictures because of her personal desire to work with Roger Birnbaum and Joe Roth.
For his part, producer Birnbaum says, "When I first heard the story for this film, it was in a pitch from Danielle. She came into the offices here at Caravan, and I just found it all very, very exciting. It was a personal story with drama and action, and had a lot of characteristics that could attract a large audience.
"There's so much that goes on in this film, in terms of understanding what the Navy SEALs really are about and what they do, and the training they have to go through," Birnbaum continues. "It also has a lot of political intrigue, as well. And Demi, quite simply, was the perfect actress for the role of Lt. O'Neil, because she is physically very strong and also extremely bright. Any person, whether it's a man or woman, who's selected to go through the Navy SEALs program needs to start off being a real tiger, and I think Demi is just that."
"I always loved it; Demi always loved it," says director Ridley Scott about their mutual attraction to the G.I. Jane project. "Also, an opportunity to work with Demi Moore, an actress with enormous talent, would be interesting to any director," he says. "What made it even more interesting was that the film's subject matter was so provocative, too. A woman entering combat training in a very rarefied area in the military, and how she fares against all the obstacles placed in her way."
G.I. Jane took eight months of research before Alexandra began to write the screenplay. Then, after several successful drafts, David Twohy made his creative contributions by enhancing the action elements of the story. As Alexandra says, "G.I. Jane was written by a woman, for a woman, about a woman; but what makes the screenplay so great is that you have David as the action writer, and me as the dramatic action, character writer. I genuinely believe that G.I. Jane is more special because it has this combination of writing in it. When you combine the two, you have a combustible piece of material."
Casting and Training
While the screenwriters honed the script, the producers and director Ridley Scott began selecting the supporting cast. "The whole process was a producer's dream," the filmmakers agree. "I'm afraid it may never happen that way for any of us again."
To play the role of Senator Lillian DeHaven, the politician who picks Demi's character for special categories military training, the filmmakers looked to Academy Award®-winning actress Anne Bancroft. "We're blessed to have Anne," says Scott. "She presents a very incisive, smart, and elegant professional politician. I didn't want a caricature, and Anne can be sympathetic while on the other hand being very tough. Actually," he continues, "she would be a good politician."
For Bancroft, the role came at an opportune time. "I'm attracted to a role if I'm ready for it," she explains. "I recently had been playing a lot of women who stay at home, a mother, a great aunt, a grandmother. Here was a glamorous woman with a great sense of herself who is out in the world. It was nice to pull that out of myself."
For the role of Master Chief John Urgayle, Scott wanted "somebody fresh and new." He did not have to look far. "I'd had my eye on Viggo Mortensen since seeing him in Indian Runner. It was a very dark movie, but he was a very interesting presence. Then my brother Tony used him in Crimson Tide."
"I just met Ridley and got the job," confirms Mortensen. "It was flattering to be cast without any apparent hesitation on his part in such an important role. I am very grateful to him." Creating his antagonistic, hard-driving character was more of a task. In order to accurately depict the Naval Special Operations training practices, Mortensen went to the naval base in Coronado, California, where he watched the actual training and talked to as many active and retired SEALs as he could. Describing the character he finally developed, the actor says, "I am the law and all must obey or suffer the dire consequences."
Casting and training the troops who would realistically portray the background characters was of major importance for the filmmakers. "Ridley Scott and Demi both felt that, in order for this movie to appear realistic, the actors in the film would actually have to go through some of the training exercises on film," notes producer Birnbaum. "They needed to be prepared for their roles both psychologically as well as physically."
The criteria included being in perfect physical condition, having the ability to speed-run several miles and to run long distances, to swim 400 yards, including 30 yards underwater, and to do hundreds of sit-ups, hundreds of push-ups, and hundreds of squat jumps. "Being physically fit was a big part of getting the job," notes stunt coordinator Phil Neilson, himself a former member of the Marine Corps Elite Unit, Force Recon, who assembled a training staff of former Navy SEALs. "We lucked out that the actors and extras were really strong swimmers, and many of them had military backgrounds."
In addition to the "Top Forty," director Scott needed to choose eight actors for featured roles. These experienced actors, quickly referred to as the "Great Eight," included David Vadim, Morris Chestnut, Josh Hopkins, Jim Caviezel, Boyd Kestner, Angel David, Stephen Ramsey, and Gregg Bello. They, too, had to pass the physical tests - after which everyone began two grueling weeks of military boot camp.
When I met with Ridley," recalls Morris Chestnut, "he said 'Would you mind going down for some training?' I play basketball and all these other sports, so I said, 'Yeah, no problem.' I had no idea what we were in for! I wasn't prepared for running 30 miles in 100-degree weather, so it was definitely a shock to train for this film. And the yelling! They came after us and stayed on us."
"We took a very aggressive stance in the training program," says military technical advisor Harry Humphries. "Phil Neilson and the SEAL staff were the training cadre. We tried to show the harassment of the Special Forces training and the skills, including weapons handling, that are taught in that training. We encapsulated a 17-week course into two weeks, so those actors were harassed to hell."
"We got them in the military frame of mind," confirms Phil Neilson. "None of these guys knew each other, and now they're all buddies working together as a team and a unit."
That team included one more member - actress Demi Moore. "Demi is a very impressive lady," notes Harry Humphries. "She certainly had never been put into such physical working conditions. On the first day of training, I saw this young woman out there with the rest of the troops, getting muddy doing push-ups and sit-ups and squat-jumps and running around obstacles. I said, 'That's a great stunt double,' so I walked up to her and said, 'You've got a lot of guts.' That night we were introduced, and the person I had perceived to be the stunt double was Demi! I can't say enough about her tenacity and her willpower."
Notes producer Birnbaum, "Demi Moore is one of the biggest female stars of our time, and in this movie, she gets beaten up and kicked around and almost drowned. The role that Demi played was extremely demanding, one of the most challenging roles I think any actor - regardless of whether the actor is a man or a women - has probably had to go through. But she is extraordinary. She put her whole heart and soul into this, and she was there every single moment for this film."
Screenwriter Alexandra concurs, saying, "I envisioned Demi in the role, and in no way did she ever let me down."
Moore actually considered the training a bonus to being in G.I. Jane. "I could have come in and asked to let the stuntwoman do the obstacle course," Moore says. "But I felt I would have walked away having missed an opportunity experiencing, first-hand, what these people actually go through in training; it's the whole reason for doing this film in the first place.
"I didn't want any special treatment just because of who I am or my position in the film," Moore continues. "It was interesting to step into the real-life experiences of what the SEALs go through."
"Demi did it all for real," Phil Neilson says. "She's very athletic, but part of my job became to watch that she didn't walk away with serious bruises."
Among other preparations was the need to give all the actors a Special Forces hairstyle. When they first arrived, many in the group wore long hair and mustaches. After a few days of initial training, Demi herself threw a "Shave Your Dome" party in a nightclub. The producers roped off one side of the club and wrangled the partygoers into a chair. "About 10 percent of them had started with their hair cut short," recalls hair stylist Dorothy Fox. "We needed to cut the rest of them right away so they could get their heads tanned, because we shot in the sun a lot and we couldn't have a bunch of red scalps."
The regulation cut was "an eighth of an inch," Fox says, "so we had to re-cut everyone every four days. Counting the Top Forty, the Great Eight, the rest of the actors, the stand-ins, the stunt men, and the occasional extras, we did a lot of haircuts over those four months," Fox says.
Six weeks after the "Dome" party, on a much anticipated date in the shooting schedule, Moore shaved her head to match that of the others.
Where some actresses might consider cutting off all their hair for a film a call above and beyond that of duty, Moore was always committed to every facet of the G.I. Jane project and was completely prepared for all that was required of her character. "One of the big moments after reading the script was the impact of the scene where Lt. O'Neil cuts off her hair," Moore says. "It's an integral part of the story and reflects her total commitment. I had five or six months before we reached the point of filming that scene, and when the time came, I was ready to do it in order to get on with the real down-and-dirty part of the training."
After the scene was shot, the assembled group of men cheered in approval. "It was interesting," Moore continues, "I had more people want to touch me. The funniest responses came from my children, who would say to friends, 'Hey, do you want to come look at my mom's head?' as if I were a show-and-tell item. Even my husband had a laugh."
"Ridley has always directed very provocative stories with incredible depth of character," observes Demi Moore. "G.I. Jane is not based on a true story, but is based on what could be true events, and Ridley was the perfect choice as director because of the incredible level of realism he brings to his films, and the mutual enthusiasm we shared for the project."
"I think we have a pretty spectacular film by Ridley," producer Birnbaum agrees. "And I think this is one of Demi's best films ever. People will embrace her in this, in a very, very big way."
Concludes screenwriter/executive producer Danielle Alexandra, "Although this is a completely original story, it's reflective of the times. Hopefully, it will inspire women inside and out of the military to be fearless, forgiving, and committed to the limitless nature of their possibilities."