Cory Hardrict makes it a point to stay out of the limelight. A longtime actor from Chicago, you’ve seen him battle aliens in the blockbuster Battle: Los Angeles and among the zombies in Warm Bodies. In short, he’s done a lot of fighting and the years of effort are paying off. In American Sniper, Hardrict teams up with Clint Eastwood for his second feature with the legendary actor-slash-director to tell the story of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. We caught up with the actor prior to the film’s wide release to talk about his experience on Sniper, how he juggles working and family life, and what’s in store for the rest of the year.
Tell us about American Sniper. How would you describe your character in the film?
I would describe [Dandridge] as the meanest guy on the planet! No, he is a great guy. He’s a Navy Seal. He’s one of the Seal team members who actually protects Bradley Cooper’s character, Chris Kyle. He’s there for all of this, one of his right-hand men. He’s brute. He’s a man of few words but when it’s time for combat he’s all for that. He doesn’t speak much but when he does maybe he’ll crack and joke here or there. He’s a great, honest character. He’s always wired, ready to go.
What sort of preparations did you go through for the role?
We did a two week boot camp at Warner Brothers in Burbank and then when we got out to Morocco we did a week and a half of gun training and learning how to get reacquainted with the weapons and with the shooting ranges. We did a lot of building, clearing the homes, alleyways, just a lot of tactical procedures. It was pretty fun.
In the film, the cast represents real-life people. How was it knowing your role will be on display for those who lived it? Was there a higher expectation or were you able to fit more comfortably in the shoes by having the real-life counterpart to learn from?
I thought it was pretty cool. This was my first time playing a guy who’s still alive actually so it was personal to me. You don’t want to mess up someone’s life story so what I did in preparation is I spoke with the gentleman and we Skyped and we did a lot of emails trying to pick his brain on what his do’s and don’ts were, what kind of guy he was. A family man? Just his relationships with the Seals and Chris Kyle. I did a lot of that and it helped out tremendously. I absorbed all of the information and then I added my little nuances as much as I could to keep it true to who he was and then I went for it.
How long were you filming and what was the environment like?
We filmed that movie for three months. We shot a couple months out in Morocco. It was like east Afghanistan. It was beautiful. You saw kids running around in the middle of filming and they didn’t have much. It was a poverty stricken environment but what was cool was they felt like they had each other and they were living life. That was something that was a joy to watch. They would come out in droves, 500 kids and families every day, and watch us film behind barricades. It was really humbling. It was a great experience overall but it was really hot so we had to have a lot of water in camelbacks on us and 50 or 60 pounds of equipment on us every day. It was so dry. It was pretty intense. We shot a month in Santa Clarita, Marina del Rey, and Venice when we came to the States.
Did you get to interact with a lot of the locals and immerse in the culture out there or were you so busy filming you didn’t get the opportunity?
We were busy filming but they were right there up and close so we saw how they lived. They were riding around on donkeys and goats for transportation. It was something I had never seen in my life. I saw cattle walking through the street, horses and buffalo. It was no problem to the locals and I was just like, wow! We would take pictures. I would take tons of pictures when I could during breaks because I just appreciate people who enjoy life even though their circumstances are not the greatest though they don’t know that. It just really touched me in a certain way.
You’ve worked with Clint Eastwood twice. How did your experience together on American Sniper compare to Gran Torino?
Gran Torino was only a couple of weeks. The experience was great working with him. He’s a legend and I got the opportunity to work with him two times. I had to audition twice for him. He picked me out of a couple hundred people both times which is an honor. The first time I went to work I saw how he operates. He would shoot the rehearsal, he does one or two takes, he doesn’t say action. I worked much longer on American Sniper but it was a great experience. Hopefully I get to work with him again someday. He’s the greatest director I’ve ever worked for and he’s a great human being as well and has a great sense of humor and personality.
Part of the film deals with the struggle between the line of duty and being there for your family. You have an adorable son. How do you balance your career and family life?
It’s really hard because my son is three and a half and he’s in those years where his dad needs to be there. He’s so young and he doesn’t understand totally that I’m away and working but he knows when I’m gone. We Skype a lot and he gets sad and he’ll tell me. It just breaks my heart when I’m sitting in a hotel room and seeing my son saying daddy and missing me. I’m 13 or 14 hours away on a plane and there’s nothing I can do. We’re in constant communication every day with my set phone. I make sure I check in three or four times a day so I’m hands-on even when I’m off the scene. I have to Skype my family every day and talk to them every day a few times no matter what. We balance it out very well. When I’m in the States, we make sure we don’t go 2 or 3 weeks without seeing each other whether they fly to me or I fly home on my two off days.
What kind of an impression do you hope to give viewers after they watch American Sniper? What do you want them to walk out of the theater thinking?
I just want them to walk out of the theater knowing how important the military and Seals are who serve and fight and protect this country first and foremost. How important family is. How these are the sacrifices that, you know, dealing with being in the military and being in this field where you have to be away from your wife or your siblings, your children, and you’re protecting your country and you’re serving for it. It’s a great cause but I also want them to know that this man was a hero. His main focus was to protect and serve the United States of America and not to take that for granted. He wound up losing his life. It was an unfortunate situation but take away a great guy at the end of the day and a great film. Hopefully it can touch someone’s life.
You’re working on another military-based film called Spectral but it has a supernatural element to it. Can you give us a little preview of what to expect?
That movie is like Black Hawk Down mixed some Hurt Locker, War of the Worlds, Saving Private Ryan, mixed with some Ghostbusters on steroids. That was the real deal movie, we shot that already [for] four months in Hungary. It’s a great legendary movie. It’s really dark and it’s gritty. It’s going to be something like these supernatural ghosts being at a level that we’ve never really seen before. That’s going to take a year for them to do that in VFX. I’m excited to see what the film [looks like] from the film standpoint. It’s like a real war film and that’s exciting.
You’ve mentioned filming in Hungary and Morocco. What other places has acting taken you to?
I’ve been to Romania, Bulgaria, Prague. I’ve been to Slovakia. I’ve worked everywhere in the states. I’m very grateful and fortunate I have a job that can take me all over the world. I’m very grateful for that.
Did you always intend to act? When did you get bit by the acting bug?
I got bit when my mom got me involved. She took my to audition for an extra role and I got a part. I was probably the 600th extra picked and I thought it was the best thing in the world at the moment that I was in a movie. I didn’t care that I didn’t have to speak. I stood there for a month and a half walking across the street in scenes not saying a word and I had the biggest smile on my face. After that I was just like, okay, maybe one day I can say one line. I got a cable movie and had a small, small part but I had more than one line. It bit me ever since. It’s been what I want to do. I said I want to do it for the rest of my life and I’m still doing it today which is cool.
You recently went to a Laker game with your wife. What sort of things do you like to do in your downtime? What are your favorite hobbies?
I love going to sporting events, mainly basketball because I used to play basketball so I love sitting there and critiquing players and watching them. I love basketball, swimming when I’m at home, going out to dinner with my family, just really simple things. We’re homebodies when we’re not working. A lot of family time, that’s what I enjoy. You never know when you’ll have to leave for 4 or 5 months again so I take this part of my life very delicately and try to cherish it.
What have you got in store for us for the rest of the year?
I’m in a film called Brotherly Love that comes out this spring in April. I did a film called Destined. I was the executive producer and star of that as well. It comes out this fall. Right now I’m reading other scripts and trying to see what jobs suit me and things I want to go after. Just hitting the ground running and going out to see more good material. Just live life and have fun, that’s about it. Sniper comes out January 16th so hopefully a lot of people will see it. It’s an awesome movie.
Since Sniper was based on a real-life story, if you could adapt anyone else’s life into a film whose would you want to portray?
American Sniper opens nationwide tomorrow, January 16th. Check out the trailer below.