Q: How did you get involved with the project?
A: When I heard about the project, I asked my agent to pursue it. I had worked with TNT before, having made the four-hour miniseries David, and I knew TNT to be a place where quality is important. I also felt this material would attract great actors. And so here we are with Don Johnson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Arliss Howard, Sharon Lawrence and John Heard in this wonderful film.
Q: How would you describe WORD OF HONOR?
A: I've heard it referred to as a court drama, but I think it's far more complicated than that. The reason this film is so fascinating is because it touches on cultural events and the whole issue of a country's responsibility regarding war. I think thematically that's what the film is really about. It's about when the country decides to go to war and sends its youngest and, in some ways, most vulnerable men to go and fight that battle. They are placed in a situation that is beyond human endurance, and they collapse under the pressure. This movie raises the question of who is really responsible.
Q: Describe the main character.
A: The main character is played by Don Johnson. Benjamin Tyson, a successful CEO in Dallas, Texas, happily married with one son, wakes up one morning to find a secret he has been carrying for 30 years is on the front page of every newspaper in the country. Thirty years ago, Tyson had been a lieutenant in Vietnam in charge of a battle-weary Army patrol who commits a civilian massacre of hospital staff and patients in a small village outside of Hue. Tyson says he will not tell what happened. So here is a man living at a time in the present where the first rule is to take care of "number one." But for Tyson, it remains a matter of honor to continue to protect a handful of men from his past. The "why" of that question leads us to "what happened" that day, 30 years ago. And in finding the answer to that, we, all of us watching this story, are faced with a much larger question. Under those circumstances, what would any of us have done?
Q: What is the relationship between Maj. Harper and Lt. Tyson?
A: Maj. Harper, a JAG officer played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, has been sent by the Army to find out what happened that day 30 years ago in Vietnam. The course of her investigation leads her to believe that Tyson and the others are involved in a cover-up. But she is also suspicious that Tyson may be innocent. The army just wants the case closed. So her pursuit of the truth puts Harper in conflict with both the Army and Tyson. That conflict leads to a lot of sparks between the two characters.
Q: Describe the relationship between Lt. Tyson and his wife, Marcy.
A: Tyson is a man from the Ivy League. Marcy, his wife, played by Sharon Lawrence, was a renegade from the '80s. In her youth, she was a rock groupie and had a lot of boyfriends. When Ben's Vietnam past is exposed, Marcy's wild youth is swept up in the headlines, as well. So here she is, now a high school principal, her face and former lifestyle pasted on the pages of the tabloids, and a husband who will not give her a clue about what happened to him in Vietnam. It puts their marriage to the ultimate test.
Q: What are the challenges of adapting a bestseller by a well-known author into a movie?
A: It is a challenge and a blessing, one that I have faced many times before. The most difficult one I ever faced was The Great Gatsby, where everyone who ever read the novel had a different movie version in their heads. WORD OF HONOR is first a long novel, more than 500 pages, by a novelist with a huge following. Carving a 90-minute movie out of that many pages was not easy. But Nelson DeMille, the author, is above all a great storyteller with a great sense of narrative. As long as the writers and I followed the path of that narrative, we were all right. Of course, in the end, it will be up to the viewers to decide.
Q: Was it easy to cast this movie?
A: Essentially, it is always easier to cast a movie of quality. There are less and less opportunities for actors to find quality work, and this was clearly one of them. Mostly, our problem on this film was in deciding who would be best for each part, and then going out and getting them. When you can have actors like Arliss Howard and John Heard in the second-tier roles, you consider yourself a very fortunate director.
Q: Do you think audiences may be surprised by Don Johnson's performance?
A: Don Johnson's performance will be a revelation to some, but it was not to me. I don't think I've ever worked with an actor who knows as much and is as skilled at film acting as Don. In the traditions of William Holden and Harrison Ford, Don Johnson digs pretty damn deep in finding the performance he gives at his court-martial. It is, a cliche to say but all the same true, a gut wrenching moment in the film. If it is possible to manifest a demon and put it on the screen, Don Johnson does it in WORD OF HONOR.