- Michael Legge is Private Wilf Saunders
admits that recreating one of the most extraordinary events in the
collective history of the nation was a strange and often moving
we filmed in Dunkirk, on the actual beach where the soldiers were
evacuated, it was very spooky and extremely strange - just the thought
that we were literally walking in the footsteps of the people we
Wilf Saunders was part of a mobile wireless unit with two other
soldiers - Private Clive Tonry (Richard Sutton) and Corporal Titch
Humphries (Julian Kerridge).
in his 80s, Wilf's memories of the Dunkirk evacuation have been
a crucial source for the programme.
writer had done extensive interviews with Wilf and I was sent a
video of their meeting. It was interesting seeing what he looked
like and to hear how he felt about what he was going through, being
so young and being there.
story is almost word for word from the diary Wilf kept during the
final three weeks prior to the evacuation. He wasn't religious about
writing entries every day but every couple of days he would detail
exactly what was happening, his first experiences of bombs dropping
and how he felt.
was extremely honest and very open which I didn't really expect
having seen other documentaries and war movies where there's a certain
kind of pride and people don't want to let slip that they were terrified.
Wilf spoke quite bluntly about it saying, very honestly, 'we were
absolutely terrified, we were fighting for our lives and ultimately
it was just about survival'."
also acknowledges that portraying a World War II veteran and speaking
lines direct from Wilf's own diary brought with it an increased
sense of responsibility to 'get it right'.
was that pressure. But I think a lot of it was soaked up by the
director," he smiles.
you're on a set and when you're portraying a real person, for me
personally, I try to put that to the back of my mind as much as
possible and just get on with it.
the production team wanted the set to be quite relaxed and an enjoyable
place to work, so they took the burden of responsibility from us
do a war movie is just one of the greatest things an actor can do.
Sometimes I'd be shooting a scene with bombs going off to the left
and right and I'd be thinking about the character saying to myself
'I'm terrified here, I'm terrified'!"
there were no stuntmen on hand to do the action sections.
the explosions were real but obviously we knew exactly where they
were. And we were given very specific directions about which way
we should run. We also had little earplugs which were painted pink
just in case of close ups but, to be honest, we ended up taking
them out because the sound added to the drama of it."
there was an element of basic gun training.
had to fire off a couple of shots at one point so I went off with
one of the gun handlers for a couple of hours for gun training and
that was fine. It was simple, just a quick hand movement,"
he says miming the L-shaped loading action.
for Dunkirk took place on the continent in various locations in
Belgium and France with the benefits including a variety of beers
and excellent cuisine.
was great! I love Belgian beer and it's very cheap, and obviously
all the lads in the hotel had a great time. We had to relax some
of the time," he jokes.
it's an experience that will stay with him.
really garnered a mad interest in me in history and especially the
Second World War. I find myself glued to the history documentaries
trying to soak up any history and renting all these war dvds.
been thrown into such an intense kind of environment and from just
getting a glimpse of what they went through, it is really fascinating
to think that these men were thrown into a more horrific situation
that you can ever imagine. They were unbelievably brave."
Dunkirk represents the end of a busy year for the Newry-born actor.
has filmed a new TV series, a movie about Omagh, "and I'm off
to the Dublin Film festival next month to promote a film called
Cowboys and Angels which opens there on Valentine's Day," he
a romantic comedy and after it's released here and in Ireland, it
opens in America in the summer."
Hollywood may well be beckoning!
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