Movies & TV / Columns

Max Martini Talks w/411 About New Film Sgt. Will Gardner, Donating Film Proceeds to Veteran’s Charities, More

January 11, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Sgt. Will Gardner Max Martini

The 411 Interview: Max Martini

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Max Martini is a well-known writer, director, producer, and actor who has been working in the entertainment business since the early 1980’s. A veteran of both TV and movies, he’s worked on such TV shows as The Unit, Harsh Realm, Level 9, and Revenge, among many others, and appeared in movies like Saving Private Ryan, Pacific Rim, Captain Phillips, and 13 Hours. Martini’s latest movie, Sgt. Will Gardner, which hits select theatres and Video On Demand on January 11th, 2019, has Martini star (he also wrote the screenplay and directed) as Sgt. Will Gardner, an Iraq War veteran suffering from a Traumatic Brain Injury sustained during combat who takes a cross-country motorcycle trip to reunite with his son and to try to get his life back on track after his combat experience. Sgt. Will Gardner’s cast includes Dermot Mulroney, Elisabeth Rohm, Omari Hardwick, Lily Rabe, Robert Patrick, and Gary Sinise. In this interview, Martini talks with this writer about making Sgt. Will Gardner, his career, and more.

You can see a clip from the film that debuted exclusively on 411mania here.

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Bryan Kristopowitz: Why did you want Sgt. Will Gardner to be your next movie?

Max Martini: I very much wanted to do something for charity. I am extremely passionate about helping our injured servicemen and women and thought – making a movie that gives a huge portion of its profits away to a cause has never been done to my knowledge. Lemme give it a shot. I’m always up for a challenge and once I start on something I never give up. Good food for the heart, this one.

BK: Did you always intend to write the screenplay for, direct, and star in Sgt. Will Gardner, or is that just sort of how it worked out?

MM: I had a different actor attached to play Will Gardner, a different director, and a different Director of Photography. When we got our money everyone was unavailable! Lol. So I jumped in and found myself an amazing DP. Ended up starring and directing. It was the best thing that could have happened because I got to tell my story that I wrote and not turn it over for interpretation.

BK: According to IMDB your first effort as a director is a movie called Desert Son from 1999. Why did you wait around two decades to direct again?

MM: Haha, well I had some learning to do. That was a short film that my brother and I made. We were always motivated to get behind the camera together. It was a wonderful experience and the film was great – but where we are now as artists is a much higher level of film making. His name is Chris Martini. Terrific filmmaker and very driven artist. We are hugely supportive of each other’s work. Sgt. Will Gardner is lightyears beyond my first step into the world of directing.

BK: How much of Sgt. Will Gardner is based on true events / “real people,” and how much is from your imagination as a writer?

MM: Well, it is only inspired by a friendship I started with an Army Ranger buddy of mine that I met in Iraq. He survived two IED’s and was suffering from TBI and PTS while in combat. He was very afraid of coming forward and asking for help for fear of being ridiculed, sent home, or worse – sent to the rear. His transition into civilian life was equally as difficult. This story has nothing to do with his experience but has everything to do with all things symptomatic of PTS and TBI.

BK: How did you assemble the cast for Sgt. Will Gardner? How did Gary Sinise get involved?

MM: We had an amazing and award winning casting director. I met with everyone via skype while we were in prep in New Mexico. Dermot I knew. Gary I knew. And Omari I knew but our casting director brought him to my attention. What a score he was! But our cast is just stellar. We were so fortunate to have everyone on and working for a fraction of what they normally make for the cause, the three charities we are giving 30% of our profits to.

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BK: What was it like working with your former co-star from the awesome military themed TV show The Unit, Robert Patrick? Was it easy to get back into the rhythm of working off one another?

MM: Robert and I are like brothers. We bonded on The Unit. He would do anything for me and I anything for him. He’s a great man and a fabulous actor. So good playing an A-hole in my movie!! Lol. So we just jumped in front of the camera and we were off – no finding the rhythm whatsoever.

BK: How long did it take to make Sgt. Will Gardner, from finishing the screenplay to completing post-production?

MM: Well, it took almost 9 years only because of the profit sharing with the charities. Tell a financier that you are giving away 30% and watch how fast they run! Tanya Hill out of Texas and Matthew Hanson from Minnesota came in and got us up and running. Angels. Both of them.

BK: Where was Sgt. Will Gardner made?

MM: We filmed in Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Baltimore and DC, and took a splinter unit across the US for the road footage. But, to answer your question – mostly Albuquerque.

BK: What was the hardest aspect of making Sgt. Will Gardner? What was the easiest? Was it hard to find a balance between your duties as director and your duties as star of the movie?

MM: No, the balance felt very natural to me. The hardest moment for me was during the filming. There was a scene that is probably a 3 minute scene in the film without dialogue. It’s me in a flea bag motel room drinking. One of our crew members had to walk away and couldn’t watch it. He was a veteran. It suddenly became very real for me – what I was doing – and how it was affecting people at that moment and also how it would potentially affect people as a finished film. I realized that I may be opening up wounds. But, look, that’s the first step in beginning a conversation, and the conversation is the first step in the healing. It was a weighted moment for me. The best part of the film was at the end. In my 25 years in this business I have never seen such an emotional goodbye. People were so happy to be a part of something that had purpose beyond entertaining. Lots of tears. Lots of hugs. Lots of love.

BK: How cool was it ride the motorcycle? Are you a motorcycle guy?

MM: I am a big motorcycle guy. Started on English bikes. Old ones. Then graduated to Harleys. Never turned back. The cross country trip was a bucket list thing for me. I won’t lie – I thought hard on how to fit it into this story in case I got it made! Lol. Harley Davidson gave us 2 motorcycles to use. They were amazing.

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BK: How did you come up with the charity initiative, where your production company Mona Vista Productions will donate a portion of the movie’s proceeds to Higher Ground, Warriors Heart, and the Gary Sinise Foundation?

MM: We have allocated 30% of the film’s profits to go to those three charities. 10% each. We wanted to find charities that were changing lives. Higher Ground uses recreational therapy and conventional therapies to heal veterans. They have a three year follow up and an office in Los Angeles which is additionally focusing on homeless veterans. Warriors Heart is based in Texas and helps veterans as well as active duty service people and first responders that have alcohol and/or drug dependencies and PTS. And the Gary Sinise Foundation is doing everything from entertaining around the world to building homes for veterans to outfitting homes for veterans with disabilities. He is a force in the veteran community and someone I am constantly in awe of. Three charities that are making a huge difference.

BK: You’ve worked in a number of military themed movies since your time on The Unit. Is your association with that show why you got parts in 13 Hours and Captain Phillips, or is that just a coincidence?

MM: I don’t think so. I think I have a bit of the warrior mindset in me and that apparently translates to screen. Lol. I love doing those roles because I think I bring raw emotion to the table as well as extensive training and a never back down approach to life which the military fans recognize and appreciate. I’ve been very lucky to have been chosen to portray them in the films I’ve done. I have a soft spot for our troops – they know that.

BK: You also worked on Saving Private Ryan with director Steven Spielberg. What was that experience like?

MM: That was the second big movie I was asked to be a part of. I was so overwhelmed and excited. He is a masterful director and so inspired me to direct. I loved meeting the WW2 vets and hanging with them at the premiere. I remember watching them during the screening and how shell shocked they were – and tearful. That movie started, like I said earlier, a conversation. And healing. Those soldiers had been sitting on their experiences in silence for years and suddenly they began talking. What a triumph.

BK: You’ve worked extensively in both TV and movies. Do you prefer working in one medium over the other or is it all about the material?

MM: I love film. You are given more time to explore. I love the experience of sitting in a theater and immersing yourself in a great film. TV has been a stepping stone for me. I’ll always do both but film is where my heart’s at.

BK: What was it like working on Pacific Rim with writer/director Guillermo del Toro?

MM: Haha. Well he’s hilarious and so talented. It was a blast to make that film. But very different for me. It was all green screen. So we were acting/reacting to laser pointers on massive sheets of canvas. Big stretch of the imagination. And then you get to the theater and go – oh wow – not what I pictured in my mind but yeah – giant sea lizards – why not?? Lol.

BK: On IMDB you are sometimes credited as Maximillian Martini. Why?

MM: That’s my full name. My dad was Italian. Born in Rome. An artist but also served in the navy. I once found a list of names that were his picks. Boy, I got lucky with Maximilian Carlo Martini. Woulda been good had I gotten into dinner theater also. Has pizazz. Don’t ya think? Lol.

BK: Any moviemaking heroes?

MM: My acting hero is Jeff Bridges. Crazy Heart? Come on. Master class acting. My favorite director is Julian Schnabel. I used to work for him while I was an art student in New York. Diving Bell and the Butterfly. If you haven’t seen it… He’s brilliant. And I love his art. Julian if you’re reading this. Buddy…let’s make a movie.

BK: Any upcoming projects beyond Sgt. Will Gardner you can tell us about?

MM: I have a movie on Netflix that is out or coming out called Eli and a Netflix series coming out soon called The Order. Eli is high end horror. The Order is a genre series. Dark and funny. I play a magic cult leader. And additionally I am going to direct and star in an action movie called Coyote and direct a movie called The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre. Kind of a Shaun of the Dead zombie comedy – it’s hilarious. My producing partner and dear friend Mike Hagerty and I will produce under our company Mona Vista Productions.

BK: What do you hope audiences get out of Sgt. Will Gardner?

MM: I want them to be inspired to help veterans. Give to our charities. Lend a hand. Appreciate the sacrifices made and be glad that we have young men and women in this country that are brave enough to fill those shoes. This is the best country in the world and those heroes in uniform keep us safe. Let’s return the favor.

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BK: How long did it take to grow the epic beard that Sgt. Will Gardner sports in the movie? Is it all real?

MM: All real! That was 3 months of “Damn my face itches,” 2 months of “Holy, this is like a red shag carpet comin’ in hot. What the hell?” and a single month of “Well, I may have the market cornered”. Lol. EPIC is the right word!

BK: Do people on the street ever recognize you from The Unit and call you “Dirt Diver”?

MM: Every day. Why did you cancel that show CBS!? WHYYYYYYYYYYYY????????

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A very special thanks to Max Martini for agreeing to participate in this interview and to Benjamin DiPaolo for setting it up.

Check out the Sgt. Will Gardner Facebook page here and Twitter page here.

All images courtesy of Cinedigm.


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