Q&A: Kimberly Peirce, director of ‘Stop-Loss’

Images of soldiers are splashed across a screen at AMC Sunset on a Tuesday night. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” blares through the sound system before director Kimberly Peirce, clad in black, rushes past theater doors. She’s running late.

A photographer who arrives with Peirce snaps photos as she greets moviegoers individually with a sense of urgency and purpose. It’s been 10 years since her last film, Boys Don’t Cry, hit the big screen – something she leaves out as she addresses the audience. Rather, the focus is on the lives of American soldiers who come home from the war in Iraq, only to find out that the military is sending them back to the war zone without their consent. This backdoor draft is referred to by the term Stop-Loss – the title of the film Peirce is showing tonight.

This is stop 11 of 22 on a press tour, Peirce tells The Miami Hurricane the next day at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. In the next five minutes, we discuss everything from her cast (heartthrobs Ryan Phillippe and Channing Tatum) to how President Bush might react to the film.

Nick Maslow: This film is very personal for you because your brother actually served in the war in Iraq. What obligation did you feel?

Kimberly Peirce: I think as a military family, I felt an incredible obligation to make sure that I got it right and that I got it from the soldier’s point of view. And also because I was interviewing so many soldiers, I really knew that this was happening to real people. I feel like America really deserves and wants to see it as it is.

NM: Hillary Swank won an Academy Award for her performance in Boys Don’t Cry nine years ago. You directed and wrote the film. And in Stop-Loss, the cast seems so charged. What about you as a director gets your actors to be that way?

KP: I really love a great character and great stories. So I already approached it wanting to know, ‘What’s the emotional need of the character?’ and ‘How do they carry it out?’ Then I very carefully select my cast. I went one by one and I got Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Victor Rassuk. Once I had them, I really made them work together and become a unit. I worked individually with them to mine the depths emotionally and really help them carry out the actions that they need to carry out.

NM: How do you feel that this film will affect the national dialogue about the war in Iraq and what we’re facing?

KP: I really hope it humanizes it for people. I’ve had many soldiers and military families come to the screenings and say, ‘Look, I really want to thank you for making sure that you got it right and that you really showed dignity and honor.’ I think it brings you deeply inside the point of view of these young men who are going over there for patriotic reasons, who are finding out that war is incredibly difficult.

NM: The film was very detailed and realistic. In one of the scenes, in a hospital, there’s a portrait of George W. Bush on a wall. How do you think he would react to a film about the backdoor draft, something that has affected 81,000 Americans?

KP: 81,000 Americans have been stop-lossed, but many more people are affected. We also have to [consider] the military families. The husbands, the wives, the daughters and the sons who are watching as their soldier’s service is being extended, or as the soldiers say, as they’re being recycled and put back into the war after they’ve already done their time. I would hope that [President Bush] would care about the soldiers that are fighting this war for this country and want to support them and want to distribute the burden so that it isn’t just on a few soldiers, but that it’s spread out – if we’re going to continue the war or the conflict, depending on what you think it is.

Stop-Loss arrives at movie theaters nationwide March 28.

Nick Maslow may be contacted at nick@miami.edu or read at blogs.themiamihurricane.com.