Pushing the boundary lines to not only protect the national security of one of the most powerful countries in the world, but also civilians’ individual rights and freedom, can be an intimidating process for even the bravest male soldiers. That process can be even more frightening for female officers in the U.S. military, even if they’re determined to do whatever it takes to take a firm stance for their beliefs. The harrowing challenge of a woman battling to be able to fight on the frontline of the K9 division, for both national and personal rights, is powerfully showcased in the new war drama, ‘Megan Leavey.’
Based on the true story of two war veterans, ‘Megan Leavey’ celebrates the unbreakable connection between a brave Marine and her best friend: her military working dog. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, made her feature film directorial debut on the movie. The biopic, which was written by Pamela Gray and Annie Mumolo, is being released in theaters today by Bleecker Street Media.
In celebration of Leavey’s bravery, determination and accomplishments, both during her military service abroad and during her subsequent fight to adopt her canine partner after she returns home to America, ‘Megan Leavey’ had its World Premiere at Yankee Stadium on Monday night. The war drama is the first film to ever premiere at the in New York City-based Major League Baseball stadium.
Cowperthwaite was joined by several of the film’s stars, including Kate Mara and Common, as well as Leavey herself, on the red carpet before the premiere screening began. The director and actors generously took the time to talk about their desire to honor the decorated military veteran’s courageous career and actions to protect and adopt her canine partner in a movie. Leavey also graciously took the time to speak about her involvement in the film adaptation of her military career, and particularly praised Cowperthwaite and Mara’s gripping efforts of celebrating her courageous work on the screen.
Beginning in in 2003, ‘Megan Leavey’ follows the 20-year old title character (Mara), who decides to leaves her home and her mother, Jackie (Edie Falco). Megan’s aimless and unhappy in her life in upstate New York, so she decides to join the Marines. After completing boot camp, Megan attends military police school at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. While cleaning up kennels for the K9 unit as punishment for a night of misbehavior, Megan becomes fascinated with the working dogs that trained to sniff out explosives in war zones.
As a result of her experience in the kennels, Megan decides to join the K9 division, and is assigned to take on an unruly German shepherd named Rex. Mentored by Sergeant Gunny Martin (Common), Megan gradually gains Rex’s trust and forges a bond of uncommon depth. Megan and Rex are deployed to Iraq, where she learns the ropes from fellow dog handler, Matt Morales (Ramón Rodríguez).
Putting her life at risk as one of the first women to operate in an active combat zone in Fallujah and Ramadi, Megan completes more than 100 missions with Rex, who sniffs out a massive cache of weapons hidden in a terrorist’s home and detects numerous roadside bombs. During their second deployment in 2006, enemy forces outside Ramadi detonate a remote-controlled land mine that injures Megan and Rex in battle. In the ensuing firefight, Rex helps protect the troops, and risks his life multiple times so Megan can be taken by helicopter for emergency medical treatment.
Megan suffers ruptured eardrums and memory loss, but most of all, she’s devastated by the fact that Rex is no longer by her side. She returns to civilian life with a Purple Heart and a new mission: to reunite with her canine partner, who’s officially classified as unadoptable because of his combat-induced trauma. Encouraged by her father Bob (Bradley Whitford), Megan starts a campaign to raise awareness of her goal to adopt Rex, which gains the attention of Senator Chuck Schumer. Senator Schumer then assists Megan in the biggest fight of her life: to give Rex a loving home.
While walking down the red carpet, Cowperthwaite generously took the time to speak with Shockya exclusively about her directorial efforts on ‘Megan Leavey.’ She initially revealed how she made the transition from helming documentaries to a feature like ‘Megan Leavey.’ The filmmaker explained that she heard about the biopic “from Kate Mara-she was already attached as the lead of Megan. She suggested me to direct the movie to the producers.”
Once she signed on to helm the drama, Cowperthwaite spoke with both Mara and Leavey about the US Marine corporal veteran’s time as a Military Police K9 handler. “Coming from documentary filmmaking, one of the most important things for me is making sure that the real story and people are emphasized in everything I do,” the director explained. She also admitted that she was “blown away by everything I had heard about Megan. But then when I met her, I saw that she’s so down-to-Earth and such a real person. So I immediately knew that I could depict how accessible she is, which can help people think, that could be me. Showing what an authentic person she is just made the film so much more relatable. She’s such a war hero, even though she hates that term.”
One particular experience that Cowperthwaite had with Leavey that the filmmaker described as amazing was the chance to discuss her connection with Rex. “Their relationship is in the script, of course. But having the chance to meet with her, and having her tell me what her bond with Rex meant to her, was powerful. Understanding the authenticity of their relationship was something I could only get by talking to the real person.”
Leavey also graciously took the time to speak with Shockya exclusively as she walked down the red carpet at the World Premiere of her biopic. She noted how she spoke with Cowperthwaite and the war movie’s writers while they were working on the script. “But when it came to filming, I let them do their jobs, since I’m not the professional” in the field of filmmaking. “I think they all did a great job.”
Another key person who Leavey spoke to during the biopic’s production was Mara. “Filming is a hard thing, so I give (Mara) and the rest of the cast and crew a lot of credit,” the veteran revealed. “I’m not an actor by any means, so Kate did her thing. But I did get to meet her before hand, and I showed her pictures. I also told her some stories about me, my dog and my friends. I think Kate did a great job.”
Mara also generously stopped to speak with a small group of reporters as she walked down the red carpet. She revealed that she was drawn to portray Leavey on screen because she was moved by the military veteran’s story. The Emmy Award-nominated actress added that “It’s also really rare to be sent a script about a female in the military, so I was excited to play a Marine. The animal aspect also really tugged at my heart.”
Common also generously stopped to speak with the group of reporters, and initially revealed what also drew him to star in ‘Megan Leavey.’ The actor noted that when he first “read the script, I realized it wasn’t a war story; it was a love story” between the title soldier and her canine partner. “When I read the story, it also showed Megan Leavey as a real person, doing things that we all do sometimes. She also started evolving when she joined the military and met her dog. So for me, this was a different way to tell a love story…it’s really powerful to me to see a woman care so strongly, and not have her feelings be about a guy.”
As a military veteran who’s dedicated to truthfully discussing her bond with her military working dog, Leavey also spoke about the bond she shared with Rex during their deployment overseas. She mentioned that she and Rex shared a deep connection. “We have done so much work together, and have spent so much time together. We’ve been put in crazy situations together. Whenever I had a hard time, or I was scared or nervous, he was always the one constant in my life,” she admitted.
In addition to Common praising Leavey’s devotion to, and connection with, her canine partner, Mara also complimented the veteran, and specifically called her “awesome. We hung out when we weren’t on set and having serious conversations. We would also watch football together and drink beer, just like friends would,” the descendant of the owners of the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers further shared. That time “hanging out together was actually more helpful to me than you would think.”
In addition to speaking with Leavey, doing additional research into the time she spent as a Marine was also vital for Cowperthwaite’s work as a director. She also mentioned that she “had multiple military consultants on set the entire time we were shooting, and they helped make sure the movie felt real. They helped keep the story honest, which was important to me in what I do as a filmmaker.”
Mara also praised Cowperthwaite’s work as a first-time feature helmer, and the fact that there was a mainly large female crew, on ‘Megan Leavey.’ “A lot of the crew members were female, which is rare in this business, so that was very special. It was nice to look around and see that many women on the crew. I hope that trend continues, and it’s not such a rare thing anymore.”
The actress added that she was friends with the director before they began making the biopic. They became friends after Mara watched Cowperthwaite’s 2013 BAFTA Award-nominated documentary, ‘Blackfish,’ which is why the suggested the helmer to the producers. “We share a lot of the same passions and interests, and I really respect her as a filmmaker. So working with her was a joy. I trust her, and we had a way of communicating that was unlike any other bond that I’ve ever had” with a director.
Common also expressed his appreciation for being about to work with Cowperthwaite, as well as his co-stars and the rest of the crew, particularly on such an inspiring film as ‘Megan Leavey.’ “The stories that we tell as filmmakers can help change and improve the world…I think this movie is a great example of how people can express themselves. We can show how love comes in many different ways. Megan shows that women can do empowering things,” he pointed out The actor added that the biopic can show audiences how they can become better people. “Love can overcome anything, and is worth fighting for.”
Also speaking about the experience of having ‘Megan Leavey’s World Premiere at Yankee Stadium, Common expressed his amazement over the experience. “You see the stdium on TV, and it’s so iconic. I live here in New York, in Brooklyn, but I’ve actually never been here at Yankee Stadium. So I’m honored to be here. To know that we’re going to watch the movie, and also perform, here is a cool feeling. I’m grateful to be a part of this experience,” the actor humbly divulged.
Cowperthwaite also admitted that having her feature film directorial debut premiere at Yankee Stadium was “mind-boggling. It’s a year to the day that we were here filming…so it’s crazy that we’re premiering the movie here now. I think it’s very fitting and serendipitous.”
Mara also admitted that she thinks the experience of premiering ‘Megan Leavey’ at Yankee Stadium “is crazy. I never thought I’d have a film premiere here. It’s very meaningful to have this film screen here.”
Leavey also chimed in on the experience of attending the drama’s premiere in New York City. “The whole experience is so surreal. This place holds a special place in my heart. I work for the Yankees now. So I was like, ‘Okay guys, I’m going to leave work early today because I have a movie premiere here tonight!’ I thought, are these words really coming out of my mouth?”
The Military Police K9 handler added with a laugh, “I’m super excited to be here. I’ve been posing with my friends and family, and my parents are upstairs. Several of my fellow Marines have flown in from out-of-state to be hear with me. So I’m super excited that so many people who mean so much to me are here tonight.”