In this Q&A we talk with actor Greg Duke who portrays U.S. Marine Hicks in the short action/war film Devil Dogs.
Q: What attracted you to the project?
GREG DUKE (Hicks): I loved being in the Marine Corps – if I hadn’t gotten hurt I would still be in the Marines. Anytime there is a movie that revolves around the military in a positive way I’m interested because I love the atmosphere, I love the people that it brings. There is a certain type of personality and a certain type of person attracted to those roles, who are very similar to the people who actually go into the service.
When Richard [Kerner], my manager, first brought DEVIL DOGS to me, I was interested because the role had to do with being a Marine and I wanted to read it. What I liked most about the script was the second version I read, because in the second version I didn’t die!
Going into the audition and meeting the writer/producer [Laura Cross] and the way she did the audition I really liked it [the filmmaker auditioned actors as a group performing an ensemble scene from the script, instead of auditioning actors individually]. It gave an immediate sense of camaraderie with everyone and you could see how different “units” [of actors] would start gelling right away. It was so much fun, I immediately believed it was going to be a fantastic project.
I was super excited when I was selected for the role of Hicks. The whole thing was really a win-win; it had to do with the Marine Corps, I really liked the script, the screenwriter did an excellent job capturing the reality of it, I really liked the filmmakers, and I liked the group/ensemble aspect.
Q: Are there any similarities between you and the character you played?
GREG DUKE (Hicks): I AM Hicks. When I was reading the script I just thought “Oh my God, this is fucking me”. It was funny. The way I viewed Hicks: he was a very alpha male, very confident, hardcore, balls-to-the-wall Marine who didn’t take shit from anyone, but knew when to give it and when not to, and knew who could give it and who could get it. He’s a guy’s guy who can joke and mess around and be funny one moment, but could then turn around and be serious because he understood he was there for a mission, and not just out there to fool around. To me, he was a silent leader. He led more by his actions than by ordering others to follow him. He would never have someone do something that he wouldn’t do himself. Hands down, the character I related to the most is Hicks. My personality is totally Hicks.
Q: What do you think you brought to your character?
GREG DUKE (Hicks): Laura did a phenomenal job writing the script - especially, not being in the military - she captures what it’s like perfectly. I’ve read quite a bit about military leaders, and they respect their opponent. They respect the way they think, the strategy that they use, how they prepare, and – exactly how the screenwriter wrote it - they respect the determination and the courage their opponents have in doing what they do because they believe they are doing the right thing.
I felt Laura captured that perfectly and that she understood it, especially the scene where Hicks is in the room in a kind of “trance” state talking about how the insurgents wait for hours in a room just to kill a Marine – it was so moving you could “feel” what she wrote. So my job was to take those words and bring them to life, and make the work mean something. When someone reads material, they interpret it how they view it, but when we watch something, we interpret it the way the actor portrays it.
I was able to reference my experience and understanding of respecting an opponent - I deliver the lines with reverence but also convey that my opponent better fear me because I am just as deadly as him. Whatever a viewer ultimately interprets from my interpretation of it, my job was to take it how I thought the writer wanted it portrayed, and make it my own and make it come to life.
Q: How did you prepare for your role?
GREG DUKE (Hicks): Hicks is very tight with his buddy Hernandez. As I was reading the script I recalled, when I was in the Marine Corps, being very tight with a Marine named Riddle. We were like brothers. Literally, everything we did - we did together. We were always neck-and-neck and in friendly competition on everything: who had the best PT score, who had the best marksmanship, who could outlast the other on an obstacle run. We pushed one another to be better. We were so close, like brothers. That is how I envisioned Hicks’s relationship with Hernandez.
It really is funny. In my Marine unit there was a guy who was exactly like the character Keller. He was quiet, he was philosophical, he had good energy, he was always reliable and I knew I could count on him. And there was a guy just like Juarez, a younger Marine who looked up to the older Marines. I already knew these guys who were in the script.
I had to learn a few lines of Spanish for the film. It was so funny, I would ask Andres, who plays Hernandez, “How do you pronounce this?”, and his response was “I don’t know, I don’t really speak Spanish.” It was hilarious. It was the director, Lindsay Holt, who had to help me out.
Q: What was the experience on set and working with the other actors?
GREG DUKE (Hicks): Being on set with everyone, it was so similar to being in the Marine Corps. There is a brotherhood that forms. There is one character who I absolutely love. The character is Juarez. Anything that would go wrong it would always start with him, and all the actors would just say, “Fucking Juarez”. It became this running joke – no matter what was happening on set, if something didn’t work out, or something malfunctioned, or something didn’t go right, it would always be “Fucking Juarez!”
It was exactly the way that guys would act in the Marine Corps – where you’re in a situation that is so intense, and so crazy, and everything has got to be perfect or someone could die, and yet you have so much fun in the moments that don’t need to be serious. It was the same experience on the set. When we were acting together during the shoot, we were really living it, we were in a situation where we were getting fired on, and it’s life and death – only we’re acting - but our brains are still feeling this experience. So in between scenes we’d joke with Juarez – and everyone did it, even the director got into it. The camaraderie between all the guys was so much fun. It definitely created a sense that these guys [the characters] had been together for a while.
I loved the transition that everybody made [into their characters] as we were on set. When I first met Andrew [who plays Keller] he was so nice, and I remembered him from the auditions and he was such a sweet guy, and then when we got on the set, he became such a jokester.