Directed by and starring Max Martini (“The Unit,” “Sabotage”), “SGT. Will Gardner” tells a man struggling to reintegrate into civilian life after a difficult deployment overseas.
Gardner (Martini) is trying to piece his family back together when he decides to hop on a motorcycle that doesn’t exactly belong to him — and go on a cross country trip.
LifeZette caught up with Martini (pictured above in the film) by phone to talk about “SGT. Will Gardner” and the actor’s commitment to helping veterans.
Martini, who is based in Los Angeles, said the seeds of inspiration for “Will Gardner” began back during his days on “The Unit,” a CBS military drama that ran from 2006 to 2009.
He said of his time on the show that he “and a few of my castmates decided to go to the Middle East and visit the troops.” Multiple trips led to his meeting a Marine — who was struggling with the time he spent overseas and the loss of friends in uniform.
The Marine also feared coming forward and asking for help.
“I didn’t have any answers for him,” Martini, 49, recalled.
Learning more and more about military community over the years, Martini gained insight that gives “Gardner” a very authentic feel.
“SGT. Will Gardner” is also trying to take some practical steps in helping veterans by donating a large portion of its profits to such veteran charities as the Gary Sinise Foundation, Higher Ground, and Warriors Heart.
Actor Gary Sinise, who started the foundation named after him, appears in “SGT. Will Gardner” as a veteran bartender whom the Gardner character runs into during his travels. It’s Sinise’s first dramatic role since CBS’ “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” was axed in 2017.
“What was shocking for me was how nervous I was to act with him,” Martini said of Sinise, a man he considers a friend.
“It was so collaborative,” Martini added about working with Sinise.
He called the “CSI: NY” star “such a sweet guy” and said he added a lot to his character that wasn’t initially in the script.
“He’s so subtle,” Martini added of Sinise, noting that the “Forrest Gump” star gave his character a slight hunch and gave his bartender a slow, methodicalness that helped him own his time on the screen.
“We were very lucky to have him,” Martini said.
Though Martini’s face is likely recognizable to most movie viewers — since he’s worked with everyone from Steven Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan”) to Guillermo Del Toro (“Pacific Rim”) to Michael Bay (“13 Hours”) — “SGT. Will Gardner” marks the true kickoff of Martini’s career behind the camera. Martini said he was ready to tackle “Will Gardner.”
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“[From] each of the directors I’ve worked with, I’ve taken at least one major element away,” Martini said, adding he had years to become prepared for the actual shoot of “Will Gardner.”
“SGT. Will Gardner” marks the true kickoff of Martini’s career behind the camera.
One of the “major elements” Martini took away from “13 Hours” director Michael Bay was the “depth of visuals” Bay carried in a shot. Martini said he admires the way Bay can stack visuals and hold a frame; it’s one of the many lessons he put into “Will Gardner.”
He added that Spielberg taught him “about creating an inner life and inner dialogue” for characters.
Del Toro impressed Martini for having “some incredible imagination.”
And “Unit” creator and straight-talking playwright David Mamet is “a completely different animal,” Martini said, laughing.
“SGT. Will Gardner” is available on home video and video on demand now. Follow the movie’s social media pages to keep up with Martini’s announcements about specific amounts he’s donating to the chosen veteran charities.
Check out the trailer for “SGT. Will Gardner” below: