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    L to R: Marttise Hill (moderator), J. Quinton Johnson, Richard Linklater, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston

The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Last Flag Flying. 

Can you talk about how found this story and why it’s important to tell now?
Richard Linklater: I read Darryl Ponicsan’s book and just loved the characters twelve years ago. I started working on the script and we didn’t get the film off the ground then.  All those years went by and now I think the movie is about something very different to the war films that they were trying to make in 2005 and 2006.  War was an open wound and there was urgency around everything, but now we’re in a different place. I gave the script to Amazon and they really liked it, so that led to the film being made. I was very blessed to get this great group of actors together.

Laurence Fishburne:  I got a phone call from Rick and had a great conversation during which I discovered that we share a birthday.  I read it I was excited because I hadn’t seen anything like it and it’s an unusual piece, even risky, just in terms of the main event: we’re dealing with the death of a child.

J. Quinton Johnson: For me, it was like a series of emails.  We had just come off of Everybody Wants Some in Texas and Rick asked me if I was interested. I read the script and the night he gave it to me and I was immediately interested in working on it.

“It’s this idea that you surrender to something that is bigger than you.”

What was the preparation process for these characters?
Bryan Cranston: We all know guys like Sal.  He’s a consumer. He wants to eat, drink, do drugs, have sex, and just take up all the air in their room. Sal is that guy that you think you can’t spend more than an hour with. However, there is a salvation to him is that he’s the first to say, “I’m in,” and the first to help out. There’s a nobility at the base of who he is, but he’s so covered with calluses of his history of self-abuse it’s hard to figure out who he is and what he thinks.

Fishburne:  I have a friend who is very close to a minister, who was a veteran. He sent me some scripture and I just started thinking about things on the day and came up with a bunch of ideas.  I started riffing on this idea of what it means to have a “God moment” and what it is to surrender your will because that’s one of the greatest things of all religious life. It’s this idea that you surrender to something that is bigger than you. Going off of that and his love for Ruth, who inspires him to be a better and bigger man fulfilling his purpose, shaped the character of Richard.

Can you talk about the actual production and filming in Pittsburgh?
Linklater: It was great to film in Pittsburgh and there was a great film community. I brought most of my department heads from Austin, Texas, where I’m based. It was a great experience since we were able to get the looks we wanted to capture that Eastern Seaboard feel and there was a lot we were able to accomplish in Pittsburgh alone.  Of course, we had to come to New York City, since you can’t fake that anywhere. With this being a road movie at its core, we were able to get a lot of diverse locations in one area.