The long awaited and highly anticipated film by actor, Max Martini, Sgt. Will Gardner opens in theaters January 11, 2019. Martini makes his directorial debut, writes, and stars in this film.
Max is known for his rugged, tough characters in 13 Hours, The Unit, Pacific Rim, Captain Phillips, Saving Private Ryan and the sexy, Fifty Shades franchise and many others.
Sgt. Will Gardner is a story about an Iraq War veteran, Will Gardner (Max Martini) who suffers from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) he sustained during a bombing that he and his platoon suffered while in combat. Having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) makes it impossible for him to reintegrate into society. After a series of setbacks, he goes on a “motorcycle journey on his “borrowed” Harley across America to pick up pieces of his life lost since combat and to connect with his son.
I spoke with Max about his journey making this movie.
L’Etage: Finally, your dream is a reality. It took years. What has your journey been like?
Max: The journey has been interesting and challenging. I wanted to do something of service. This was an opportunity to do just that. Not serving in the military has been a bit of a regret of mine. But I’ve come to understand that an act of charity is just as valuable. This is really what kept us (myself and my producing partner; Michael Hagerty) going during our deepest darkest moments of despair and frustration. The actual filming of the movie was a dream. Everyone from the cast to the crew – everyone – was so passionate about the cause and the story. It really made for an incredible middle part of the “journey”. The ending is, of course, getting money to veterans.
L’Etage: What kept you believing in this project?
Max: My wife. She never once told me to give up. My psychic. Before she passed, she told me my grandfather (military and passed) was proud of me for doing this. Michael Hagerty. For a solid 9 years, he never stopped saying “We are making this film.” And my inner voice. It never allowed me to quit and always reminded me of how lucky we are to have brave young men and women in uniform protecting and serving this country, me, my family.
L’ Etage: What did you do to get here?
Max: Fought. It was hard to find anyone to finance this and give 30% to charity without a write-off. Tanya Hill out of Texas gave us the majority of our money to make this dream a reality. Matthew Hanson out of Minnesota finished us off with the rest of what was needed. Angels. Both of them. One day I’ll share the stories of the people that we met along the way! Hilarious! The charities that we are giving to; Higher Ground USA, Warrior’s Heart and the Gary Sinise Foundation are changing lives daily. Without these private charities and foundations serving the veteran community the situation would be grave. More so than it is already.
L’ Etage: This story feels as if it’s part of your soul. What inspired you to write this story?
Max: Two trips to the Middle East. I was shocked at how young the soldiers were. I thought if we are recruiting kids into our volunteer military we need to give them the red carpet healthcare treatment and availability upon their return home. Otherwise what kind of example are we setting and how are we encouraging others to enlist and follow their lead? We need to put as much into the post-combat reintegration process as we put into preparing our recruits for battle. Maybe more.
L’Etage: Did you talk with and spend time with veterans to get their perspective(s)?
Max: I have a lot of friends that are veterans that offered me so much. I also received assistance from my social media friends by way of conversations and video testimonials. The support was tremendous. And the assurance that the story was on point helped see me through the process of writing. The veterans that I spoke to wanted this out. And wanted to share. Collaborate. Help others. I couldn’t have done it without them and I couldn’t have acted the role which is inspiring. Funny. Tragic. But more important – inspiring. The idea is that my character heals himself so that he can heal other veterans – because they’ll listen…..to him.
L’Etage: How did you get into character?
Max: Well like I said – I found the character in the writing / interviewing process. Will Gardner is a father – so am I – so I had that to draw from. The weapons handling and tactical work I’m fairly proficient at. It was really communicating the TBI, PTS, and dependencies which plague so many veterans in a way that kept our main character a hero and lovable and someone that you root for. That was the fine-tuning so to speak.
L’Etage: What is Sgt. Will Gardner about?
Max: A regular infantryman. Not a SEAL or a DELTA guy that we see so much of on screen. You know what struck me one day? You know the homeless people that we are all guilty at one point in time of avoiding eye contact with? It struck me that that man or woman may have served your country. May have risked his or her life for you or me. And that save some unfortunate circumstances, situations, healthcare, dependencies, etc. is capable of being loved. Is capable of loving back. Being a father. Being a husband. Being a hero. THAT’S what this story is about. It real isn’t it? TBI is a physical injury. PTS is an emotional one. Homelessness amongst veterans is likely a result of one of these injuries or some kind of dependency. And with a little effort, we can avoid so much…including becoming one of the 20 to 22 a day that takes their lives. Just need to put in the effort. I think it’s the least we can do. Here’s what I’ll say in closing to your question. 50k plus homeless veterans on the streets of America at any given moment. Over 300k diagnosed cases of combat-related Traumatic Brain Injuries. In 2015, and Inspector General’s Report stated that over 300k veterans had died awaiting pending healthcare claims. And yes, 20 to 22 a day take their lives. No excuse.
L’Etage: There are homeless veterans all over the country. What do you believe needs to happen to get them into homes?
Max: Again, it’s all in how they exit the armed forces. You want my opinion? It starts there. With that program. Or lack of one.
L’Etage: What can be done for veterans transitioning back into society?
Max: We need an extended period where they are examined for both TBI and PTS and treated. Higher Ground charity has a three-year follow up with its veterans that have completed therapy. Now, they’ve set a three-year period to watch over injured veterans and make sure they don’t need more treatment. How can we just release soldiers back into society the way we do?? It’s absurd. And wrong.
L’Etage: How can we do better to help those that served and sacrificed?
Max: Well, we, as a society can support private charities that get help to veterans without spending on exorbitant overhead costs and administration fees. We can continue to put the effort into maintaining a high level of awareness to this, which is not front-page news anymore, and it should be. The VA works very well for some and horribly for others. That system too needs to be improved and updated.
L’Etage: What do you want your audience to come away with after seeing your film?
Max: I want them to find it in their hearts to get involved. Not just say they support but to do something. Watching our film IS something. Because the more eyes we get on it the more we are able to get to charity. PLEASE SHARE the word. Especially on social media.
L’Etage: Before we close, do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
Max: Yeah, under Michael Hagerty and our production company; Mona Vista Productions – I’m going to direct and star in a film called Coyote penned by Nathan Edmonson and direct another called ‘The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre’ penned by MJ Carey and Chris Margetis. Coyote is all action. Manson Brothers is….well…zombies. And HILARIOUS!!! That’s my reward for all my hard work! Haha. RUUUUUNNNNNN!!!!!
A percentage (30%) of the proceeds from Sgt. Will Gardner are going to Higher Ground, Warriors Heart, and the Gary Sinise Foundation, which are charities that support veterans suffering from TBI, PTSD, and veteran homelessness.
Stay connected with Max and Sgt. Will Gardner the movie via social media:
Watch the trailer: