Chris Kyle might have been just one of the millions of veterans who have served were it not for a statistic. He emerged from the war in Iraq as the most lethal sniper in the history of the U.S. military, but the filmmakers behind American Sniper knew it was equally, if not more important, to explore the man behind the numbers.
Director/producer Clint Eastwood offers, “I have done war stories before, but this was exciting to me because it was a cross between Chris’s exploits in combat and the personal aspects of his life, which made him even more interesting. It shows the toll war takes on a person but also the pressure it puts on the whole family. It’s good to be reminded of what’s at stake when people are sent into war and to acknowledge the sacrifices they make, so I thought that made it an especially significant story to tell.”
The screenplay for American Sniper is based on the book of the same name, co-written by Kyle (with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice). However, screenwriter and executive producer Jason Hall first spoke to Kyle about bringing his story to the big screen before the book was even written. He recalls, “I was interested in the journey of a warrior of his caliber… what compelled him to fight and what it cost him. We know that war is hell, but in this film I wanted to show that war is human.”
Kyle’s reputation had preceded him home and first caught the attention of producers Peter Morgan and Andrew Lazar, as well as Hall. Morgan notes, “We heard about all his accolades as a Navy SEAL and obviously knew what a great patriot he was, but the more we delved, what kept coming across was what a genuinely good person he was… how loved and admired he was by his family, friends and those who served alongside him. We wanted to form a story around the emotional themes of his life, the different things that drove him.”
Prior to starting work on the script, Hall traveled to Texas to meet with Kyle. “He wasn’t very talkative at first,” the writer says, “but by the time I left I felt like I’d worked out a way to tell the story and earned his trust. Then, as I was walking out the door, he said, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re writing a book.’ The book seemed like it could be an obstacle at first, but it ended up being a fantastic resource.”
Producer Andrew Lazar confirms, “We were committed to telling this story long before there was a best-selling book. But because of the book, we had the benefit of Chris’s point of view, which, of course, really informed what we did in developing the film and in imparting his story to the best of our ability.”
On February 2, 2013, an unimaginable tragedy turned the filmmakers’ sense of responsibility into a promise. Chris Kyle—who had survived four dangerous tours of duty in Iraq and had devoted his post-war life to helping his fellow veterans—was murdered not far from his home on a shooting range in Texas, allegedly by a veteran he was trying to help. “I had never met him at that point; I had only talked to him on the phone,” says Bradley Cooper, “and then, like that, he was gone.”
Following the funeral, Hall reached out to Chris Kyle’s wife, Taya, and they spent many hours on the phone as she recounted her life with Chris. “The film suddenly became one of the ways her children would remember their father and she wanted to get it right,” says Hall. “It was not only therapeutic for her, it also allowed me to capture her voice in her own words. She painted a picture of who he was before the war, the unspoken toll it took on him, and all the healing it took him to get back.”
Almost exactly one year later, Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper traveled to Texas to meet with Chris’s family, including Taya; his parents, Wayne and Debbie; and his brother, Jeff. The director recalls, “It was vital for me to spend that time with them because we got a much better idea of who Chris was from his family, who are wonderful. We came away with a combination of sadness over the loss of this remarkable man but even more enthusiasm about making this film.”
“We gave them our word that we were going to do right by Chris,” Cooper adds. “And the truth is I really did feel like he was there.”
Taya Kyle confirms that the promise was fulfilled, noting, “I give all the credit to Jason for spending so much time digging deep and learning about all the layers of Chris, and to Clint and Bradley and everyone involved in the movie for so fully embracing that. It is an added bonus for me to know that people will get a glimpse into the man that I loved and will always love, and to have that preserved on film. This movie is a piece of Chris. It is an accurate depiction of the man as a whole—not just the warrior, but the man—and I can’t ask for better than that.”
Opening across the Philippines on January 21, 2015, American Sniper is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.