Band of Brothers, an enduring 10-part miniseries that recounted the heroic actions of Easy Company during World War II, aired on HBO in 2001. Based on Stephen Ambrose's book of the same name, Band of Brothers was made over the course of three years, featuring an ensemble cast tasked with recreating the intensity, grit, and brutality of WW2.
Making Band of Brothers was an enormous undertaking, one that cost more than any comparable television production at that time. Behind the scenes of Band of Brothers, writers, directors, costumers, set builders, and a host of other contributors worked to ensure the integrity of Easy Company's story, while the cast put their physical bodies to the test to offer as much truth as possible in their portrayal of the WW2 veterans.
By the time Band of Brothers aired, everyone involved was forever changed by the experience. What Band of Brothers offered viewers on screen - gripping visuals, striking characters, and a look back at an generation of heroes - perhaps becomes even more poignant in the context of stories from the making of the show.
Damian Lewis Became Good Friend With The Real Captain Winters
Cast as Captain Richard Winters, actor Damian Lewis prepared for the role by getting to know his real-life counterpart. Lewis visited Winters at the veteran's home in Pennsylvania, ultimately befriending the man he played onscreen.
While with Winters, Lewis gained access to his diaries, but found it difficult to get clear insight into exactly how Winters felt during his time in the service. Lewis, who called Winters a "total soldier," described most of what Winters told him as "practical memories of operational detail," a testament to the man's leadership skills and demonstrative of his humility and confidence.
Lewis and Winters maintained a relationship, continuing to write one another, but Lewis was unable to attend Winters's funeral when he passed away in 2011.
The friendship between Lewis and Winters wasn't the only bond struck up between actors and the soldiers they portrayed. In conversation with William Guarnere, actor Frank John Hughes was informed that his foxhole digging practice had been in vain, told by the veteran, "Kid, I was a staff sergeant. We didn’t dig foxholes. You have other people to do dat for ya, so don’t do dat anymore."
Donnie Wahlberg, who played Carwood Lipton, recalled, "The real Lip and I are pretty close.... He definitely sized me up and put me through it a bit at first. He asked how old I was. I said, 'Er, 36.' He was 22 when he served."
Each Episode Cost Nearly 10 Times More Than Any Other TV Drama
The amount of money needed to make Band of Brothers - to essentially recreate aspects of the European theater - rivaled budgets for actual military combat. When executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg went to HBO, they presented the network with an estimated $125 million budget. For the ten-part miniseries, this worked out to roughly $12 million per hour of programming, more than triple that spent on television dramas at the time.
"I'm not saying they didn't bat an eye," Hanks told The New York Times. "Oh, they did bat an eye. But the reality is this was expensive. You had to have deep pockets. And HBO has deep pockets." HBO was willing to take the risk and allocate necessary funds to the project, even adding an additional $15 million for marketing.
The Cast Reunites Every Year On The Anniversary Of Their Boot Camp
To prepare for the show, the main cast of Band of Brothers completed a 10-day bootcamp (actor Ron Livingston, who played Captain Lewis Nixon III, kept a video diary of the experience.)
Bootcamp began with a morning runs at 6 am, followed by time dedicated to learning general orders, familiarization with weapons and munitions, map and compass training, and comparable military-based exercises. During the camp, the actors took part in activities that would ultimately give them the skills to play paratroopers on screen.
Nights were spent on guard duty, during which the actors experienced sleep deprivation, while the overall intent of the experience was to build camaraderie among the group and create relationships that corresponded to real emotional dynamics in combat.
The bootcamp left an indelible mark on those who participated. After the series was completed, cast member Michael Cudlitz (who played Denver "Bull" Randleman) began hosting reunions of sort at his home. Reportedly, as of 2011, "People fly in from all over... Even now, I don’t think there’s anyone that wouldn’t drop anything to help each other out, and that’s a rare thing in Hollywood."
Several Actors Who Became Stars Didn’t Make The Cut
The cast of Band of Brothers is rife with familiar faces - and numerous stars in the making. Future heavyweights like James McAvoy and Tom Hardy appear in relatively small roles, while comedic performers like David Schwimmer expanded his acting repertoire by taking a more dramatic role of Captain Herbert Sobel.
Meg Liberman, who was in charge of casting for Band of Brothers, recalled her first encounter with Damian Lewis, Lewis was so good in his audition that Liberman shifted from casting an American for the role of Dick Winters, opting for the Brit instead. "He just felt like a leader," Liberman explained, "He felt like the guy that these men would do anything for. And it was very clear to me the minute we all sat down that he was the guy."
In a process full of "discoveries," Liberman also passed on some actors who would later become big names in Hollywood. Norman Reedus, a staple on The Walking Dead, did not get cast on the show, nor did Jason Schwartzman and Peter Sarsgaard.
In another instance, one unnamed actor who almost was cast bowed out after hearing about the pre-production bootcamp.