During a press day for Megan Leavey, Kate talked to Parade.com about meeting the real Megan, training with Varco, what she wants people to take away from the movie, and more. You can read her interview below.
When you met the real-life Megan, what did you want to talk to her about?
I didn’t have anything specific that I was focused on. I wanted to know what her essence is and what her mannerisms are. I just wanted to talk to her like a normal person and not have to get too dramatic or anything like that. She was so great because she brought all these pictures, personal photos of her experience, her deployment, and then also photos of her and Rex. She was very open and communicative. It was a dream come true being able to meet her and feel at ease.
I’m hoping that women will go see this, because it’s not so much a war story as it is a story about not giving up. In this case, it was about not giving up on something that you love, and what I found enjoyable was she loved Rex more than she loved Morales (Ramón Rodríguez), her love interest.
It was perfect, and it was true. We don’t need a love story in a movie. We don’t need the guy to sweep her off of her feet because that’s not what always happens, and it’s certainly not what happened in real life. That was really important to me, and it was important to [director] Gabriela [Cowperthwaite] to not make a fake movie moment of the girl falls in love with the guy, and also happens to like really like this dog a lot, and gets distracted by the guy, because that’s not what happened. In reality, what happened is she formed this bond with this animal that changed her life completely, and she was willing to put it all on the line for him, and that was the most important thing to her.
You mentioned Gabriela. What does having a woman director add to telling a woman’s story?
It was important for sure. We looked at male directors as well, but for me, Gabriela has always been a real hero of mine ever since I saw Blackfish. What she’s done in that arena is spectacular, and she’s changed the world in a way. When it comes to viewing animals for entertainment, she’s really put a face to that. A lot of people weren’t aware of what was going on [with killer whales kept in captivity]. She and I became friends through that movie, and I knew I wanted to work with her in some way, but really, she was my friend because we had a lot of the same ideas and passions in life, and we have similar tastes in a lot of films and things.
So, when I read the script, I thought, “Well, this would be perfect for Gabriela if she loves it as much as I do,” and luckily the producers agreed. That she happens to be a woman is definitely something that I want to encourage. Obviously, there’s not very many female Marine stories out there, so to have a woman direct it is definitely ideal, and having her be my friend, it was also ideal in that we had a shorthand with each other on set and it just felt very easy to communicate. She would sometimes come over to me and I could read her mind before she would say what she was going to say.
What was it like training with Varco because you both had to be trained, right?
We were trained together, which was great because it bonded us. At first, when I heard that this dog had no experience in bomb sniffing or any experience being on a set, I was nervous, and I was so wrong because we learned together, and that’s an experience that you can’t make up, and it bonded us. I had to get used to it. I’ve got two dogs who I’ve had for 15 years, and they are much smaller, and I grew up with all kinds of dogs in my family.
One of the things I had to focus on in my training was feeling in control of this massive German Shepherd. I’m quite petite, so to feel like physically I’m in control, but also mentally I’m in control, was important. But we got there in the end because we actually trusted each other.
W.C. Fields famously has that quote about not working with kids or dogs. Is it hard to work with a co-star that has no lines?
No, I find it refreshing. I was honestly disappointed when there were days where I wouldn’t work with him. It was a great test, because you always have to be on your toes, you always have to be ready for anything, because they’re going to do what they want at the end of the day, and a lot of times, he was doing things that weren’t written that were so much more beautiful and authentic than what, actually, we wanted him to do. I just always had to be ready for anything with him, and so did the crew, and our director. I really loved it.
Watching the movie, I’m thinking that the scene where you get blown up, that must have been the hardest to film, is that right?
No, that wasn’t the hardest one, I think. There’s a scene where after that explosion happens, I get into a helicopter, and I leave the dog behind, and it’s just emotional. I don’t even think there’s many words to it, but it’s just very, very emotional, and after what happened and what we’d gone through together, I’d say that was probably, emotionally, the hardest scene.
Also, they didn’t use Varco in the scene with me because Varco didn’t like the helicopter, so they used a different dog. It was the first time that I didn’t have him by my side, and that was actually the moment where I felt most connected to him. When I didn’t have him anymore, I thought, “Oh, my gosh. This doesn’t feel right.” I just don’t feel right doing this without him. Eventually it was fine, and I worked it out with the different dog, but I felt strange not having my teammate there with me.
You also did some Marine training for this. Are you a physical person to start with? And that scene with that wall where you’re suppose to climb over with the rope, can you actually do that?
That was way easier than I thought. I thought, “I don’t even have to act this. I won’t be able to do it anyway,” but I actually, surprisingly, was able to do that and had to pretend I couldn’t. But for me, doing pull-ups is really hard. I had to work on that, but I train a lot when I’m not working, and then when I am, depending on what kind of role I’m doing, that’s something that is important to me. For me, that stuff is fun. I love having to learn something new for a role.
What do you want people to take away from this movie?
For me, the movie is really inspiring and it’s about never giving up on fighting for something you believe in, or fighting for someone you believe in. I think that’s the best message there is because everyone, at some point in their lives, is going to experience something, where you have to stand up for something that is important to you, or someone that’s important to you, and I think that’s a beautiful message.
You mentioned you have two dogs that you’ve had for 15 years. They must be Chihuahua size because big dogs don’t live as long. What are they?
They’re Boston Terriers. They’re both deaf now and one of them is half-blind, but other than that, they’re just like puppies.
What’s coming up next for you?
I don’t know what I’m filming next, but I’ve got a film coming out called Chappaquiddick that I don’t know what the release date is, but that’ll be out probably in the fall.
And you play Mary Jo Kopechne?
Were you familiar with the Kennedy story?
I wasn’t that familiar with that specific story, but I certainly did my research.