In the upcoming film The Dry Land a soldier returns from Iraq with post traumatic stress disorder and finds readjusting to his old life challenging. The soldier alienates those close to him, like his wife (America Ferrera), and finds that reconnecting with his former squadmates, like Ray (Wilmer Valderrama), his only solace. The tale is dark, moody and timely. Both America and Wilmer shared their thoughts about working on the project and its impact on our fighting men and women with Working Author.
As a film that touches on a sensitive subject that affects the military it was important to know how the presentation was received. “When we went to Iraq,” America opened, “we didn’t screen the film…. We talked about it a lot with the soldiers there. In some cases, we showed them a trailer so that they got an idea of what it was. Just a couple of weeks ago we screened the movie in the installation at Fort Carson for approximately six to seven hundred active duty soldiers and their spouses. Soldiers who just came back from Iraq or Afghanistan or were going within a matter of weeks…. The response was just amazing and sparked really interesting questions and conversations. [Soldiers] wanted to share their versions of the story with us. It was the ultimate reward to see the film do what we all believed it could do, which was really relate to the soldiers and their families and also spark a conversation and make them feel like it was a compassionate portrayal and not a judgment or a political skewed or driven film that had a certain agenda.”
“I’ve traveled the world visiting our troops,” Wilmer added. “I’ve been to Iraq. I’ve been to Afghanistan. I’ve been to over nine countries and I couldn’t be more proud to have met thousands of soldiers and heard hundreds of stories. And that kept fueling me more and more to find the right vehicle and the right character that somehow would shine the light on something that was important to them.”
Considering the subject matter all of the roles carry a certain amount of weight and it would be easy to assume that America’s character, Sara, is her most challenging role to date, but America doesn’t necessarily agree. “I don’t know,” she admits, “I don’t think I can really compare it to anything else I’ve done. Every role I take on because it’s a challenge to me. I will say that this probably the most grownup role I’ve gotten to play. It had its challenges, but in some ways I felt I could relate to Sara. I could understand her as a woman outside of the military context.”
Wilmer also shared about his character Ray and how he fits into the bigger picture. “When you grab a character like this…we’re not telling the story of every soldier. My role in the movie specifically was to show the audience that I was truly the one guy [the main character] could relate to. We went through the exact same situation, except we’re both coping with it very differently. One thing I’m really excited about this movie is that I really do believe these characters. I believe they live and breathe and that they are really affected by this hard-to-control situation.”
To prepare for their roles, the actors who played soldiers received a few days of military training. “It was amazing,” Wilmer says. “We were with the National Guard in New Mexico. We got to sleep in the same facility as them. In fact, the platoon we were training with was going to Afghanistan a month later.”
America actually has two roles in the film. The onscreen role is obvious, but America is also the executive producer of The Dry Land. “I signed on solely to be an executive producer on the project and didn’t have any intention of playing Sara. As an executive producer I got to look at the picture as a whole and I had to think about James – our lead character – and what we needed to feel from him…and so I kind of came from a macro point of view of who is [Sara] in this realm of this film to really falling in love with this strong female character that just had love and compassion and wanted to heal her partner with love and strength and be the sole thing to bring him back. I fell in love with the role [Sara] played in this story.”
Watch The Dry Land when it opens on July 30 and perhaps you’ll fall in love with these characters as well.