Michael Kelly planned on family time until he received the script for Nat Geo’s The Long Road Home. By Episode 4, he was captivated and sold on taking on a role and doing honor to the troops and servicemen who fight for our freedom.
Based on Martha Raddatz’s New York Times best-selling book, The Long Road Home will relive a heroic fight for survival during the Iraq War. There, the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood was ferociously ambushed on April 4, 2004, in Sadr City, Baghdad — a day that came to be known in military annals as “Black Sunday.”
Michael Kelly plays Lt. Col. Gary Volesky in this must-see compelling series. This is not a story we’ve seen before in movies or on TV. This story is told with heart and is devastatingly real. The soliders leave their family who we see going about their daily routines while their husbands have their lives changed forever after the attack.
It is a riveting story based on real people and the people Raddatz reported on for ABC.
Kelly is exceptional and I recently caught up with him and what made him swap his family spring break so he could take The Long Road Home on.
I have to say, this blew me away.
I’m so proud to be a part of this thing.
I was reading you initially said no.
I’d just finished working and been home for a few weeks. The kids and my wife are in New York and I’d only been home a short while. I’m home maybe three days a week. I got this offer and the dates went over the family spring break, so I initially said no. I couldn’t imagine telling my wife our booked trip to Mexico was off, but my manager said to give it a read.
That night, I read four episodes and couldn’t put it down. I Googled Gary Volesky and came across those interviews that Martha had done with him. I read about him and what he’s now doing.
Here’s a guy laying it all out for us every day. There was an interview where he called his wife a heroine and that she was the real hero of the family and he knew with her holding down the fort he didn’t have to worry about anything and that’s what really struck me. I thought that’s my wife. It was how I felt and it struck me. I showed it to my wife and she said I had to do it. So, I made that decision there and then to do it.
I did everything I could to play this guy to the best of my ability because I felt I owed it to him. We moved spring break after I’d read the next four episodes and figured everything out.
I remember the story and that ambush. It really takes you in. What was it like as an actor to get into that space and get to where Gary was?
They were very explicit about wanting me to do Gary. They wanted me to capture his essence. For me, it was about talking to the soldiers, reading the script and talking to Gary. It was really about talking to his men and how they would follow him into hell. That really says a lot about a man. There were so many clues that I got from them as to who he was. A true leader is someone like that, through the hell they were going through was able to maintain this sense of calm and that’s what a leader is.
I threw some nods to him. I had to get a few lines in there. The real hero talks about his wife and I put that in there. I don’t know if you can ever get in the mind of a soldier, but living on a military base and running on a fort and living among the soldiers helped. All of the actors helped create these characters.
Was it easy to get their trust and pry info from them?
I think so many of them are so humble. Gary was kind enough to talk to me and he gave me a tour of the set with a loop of people. It was like God came to set and he was so kind. When he got back, his liaison was waiting and he put his arm around my shoulder and asked me what I wanted to know. I got him, that was the moment I really understood him and it was right.
What surprised you the most about speaking to the soldiers?
I’ve always been one to have great respect for our military. I think I wasn’t surprised to see their dedication. I was surprised to see how hard it was and to see them process what we were doing. These guys were there watching people play them and watching their friends die in this instance. That is something I can’t fathom. It makes me realize how much work we need to do as a country to take care of our veterans. They need this help when they come back and reintegrate into society.
The suicide rate to me is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter. You know me from social media. It doesn’t matter what your political lines are, but how we take care of our veterans is unacceptable. Watching them deal with it was the biggest surprise. Until you see it, we don’t really see it.
They’re forgotten. They’re doing this huge sacrifice and they’re expected to just fit back in.
We need to have jobs for them and to give them purpose. Think about it, they spend a year going 150 miles per hour and they come back and their life is set at zero. Whether they want it or not, you get accustomed to that adrenalin and all those things. I think about it on the tiniest level, you’re doing a film and acting every day and then you come back and you’re with your family, you’re doing what makes you ticks or not doing what makes you tick. We need to treat them better in that regard.
Was it hard to play someone still alive?
It’s very hard because they’re living and they went through this. It’s not going to be 100% accurate. In this case, I was playing a guy who was considered a God. The first time I met a lot of the guys was at their kick-off party. I was meeting them and so many looked at me and said, “Good luck, those are some big boots to fill.” To play someone like that and to do him the justice that I hope I did, you can do all the research and all your homework and be ready to capture his essence. It was a great responsibility, his men love him, the pressure is more and I love him.
What do you want the viewers to take away from after watching this?
I think the one thing I want the audience to feel is the sacrifice. This is a story, not just about hope, but you see the full extent of war in this series. They’re showing war through the women at home, the son who doesn’t know if he’ll see his dad, and you see it through the interpreter and you see the cost of war.
So many times, you read this soldier died in Iraq and think it’s sad and then there’s another story we move on to and we forget. I want people to remember and I want people to realize that the wife is at home, the son is at home, the parents are home and they’ve lost a son. I think from that there will come a great respect for our veterans.
National Geographic’s The Long Road Home airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET.