Spielberg on WW2 – How Spielberg cast TV and Movie’s future stars

As you watch the Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and The Pacific, you will find yourself clambering for IMDB. Like many different shows and movies that are over ten years old, there are plenty of current stars who appear unexpectedly. So many in fact that it warrants an article all to itself, highlighting how good Steven Spielberg was at finding future stars of TV and Movies (or at least his casting director anyway).

Saving Private Ryan

Vin Diesel

This is the casting surprise which many didn’t expect. Now known for fast cars and bizarrely average action movies, Vin Diesel was first cast as Private Caparzo. Although he doesn’t steal the movie, the first sparks of the future movie star are apparent.

Nathan Fillion

Before he led a crew of space pirates in Firefly or was a crime novelist turned detective in Castle, Nathan Fillion was the “other” Private Ryan, making for an awkward conversation with Tom Hank’s Captain Miller when he realises he has just told the wrong soldier his brother is dead!

Bryan Cranston

Cranston was already an accomplished actor by the time he starred in Saving Private Ryan but he wasn’t a household name. Malcolm in the Middle would make him recognisable and Breaking Bad would make him a star but here he is just a War General who doesn’t even warrant a name.

Matt Damon

It is difficult to comprehend that one of the main characters in the movie was actually played by a relative unknown. Damon was an Oscar winner by this point but for screenwriting Good Will Hunting. This was his next movie. Now he fits it as a star, then it relied on the fact he was an unknown entity.

Band of Brothers

Damian Lewis

Damien Lewis does a lot of heavy-lifting in Band of Brothers, taking the role of Richard Winters, leader of Easy Company. This was his first major TV role but he would of course go on to star in Life, Homeland and the newest addition to UK TV, Billions.

Michael Fassbender

This is one of the moments when you point at the screen and wonder where you’ve seen the actor before. He isn’t quite blink and you miss him but he isn’t the biggest star or character in the show. Fassbender is there though, demonstrating the talent that would make him a Hollywood megastar.

Tom Hardy

The first time you see Tom Hardy on-screen, it is a sex-scene. This is pretty much the limit of his acting in Band of Brothers as yet again, he isn’t a star of the show but a supporting character. This is even more impressive as Band of Brothers is his first role. He doesn’t appear until much later on but he is instantly recognisable.

Simon Pegg

This one is brief and very little impact but the Shaun of the Dead star is also instantly recognisable. He hands a person a piece of paper and delivers a few messages. No combat but a great show for the CV.

James McAvoy

McAvoy actually gets a one-episode mini-story. He isn’t a main character but his role is used to prove a point and bring home the fickle nature of war. A good character, albeit a brief one.

Jimmy Fallon

You will question yourself but the talk-show host and Saturday Night Live alum plays it straight in one of his earliest acting roles. It isn’t a huge role but one that will make you see the actor in a slightly different light.

The Pacific

Jon Bernthal

This is the only real “future star” of note in The Pacific but it is one worth mentioning. Bernthal has made a name for himself playing tough, soldier types, from Shane in The Walking Dead to the ultimate soldier The Punisher. Here he has a brief role but one that creates a larger overall storyline.

Overall, these are the biggest and most recognisable stars from the three major Spielberg World War 2 projects. There are so many more I could have mentioned and if you want to hear more, listen to the second episode of The Views from the Sofa Podcast.

Ted Danson is in Saving Private Ryan too!





9 thoughts on “Spielberg on WW2 – How Spielberg cast TV and Movie’s future stars

  1. Now I am definitely digging out the box-set. I had no idea any of these people were in band of brothers! You make a great point, Spielberg has some great casting staff indeed

      1. I mean there are so many more that I could have mentioned. There are less famous examples that you would definitely recognise, even if you couldn’t put a face to it.

  2. What about having Craig in an important role in Munich before he became James Bond ?

    And long time ago Spielberg made Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes household names thanks to Schindler’s list

    1. All of these are great choices. You are right. This was specifically for WW2 movies (and TV) but there could be a whole other post just about Spielberg’s eye for casting future talent.

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