When non-actors do cameos in movies, they are generally of the blink-or-you’ll-miss-it variety, a fleeting moment to add texture (the real-life Erin Brockovich playing a waitress in Erin Brockovich) or comic relief (Marshall McLuhan called into action by Woody Allen to silence a cinema-line boor in Annie Hall).
However, when Lt. Col. Greg Gadson agreed to play the part of a double amputee in Battleship – he himself lost two legs while serving in Iraq in 2007 when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb – little did this 46-year-old career soldier realise how much screen-time he would get.
“I thought I’d be in the movie for just a couple of moments,” admits Gadson. “So I was shocked when I found out that I wasn’t just doing a cameo but that I was an integral part of the whole film.”
Gadson admits he didn’t hesitate signing for Battleship even though he’d never acted before because he had zero expectations.
“I thought I’d end up on the cutting-room floor so I wasn’t nervous,” laughs Gadson over the phone from his home in Alexandria, Virginia, a major military town just south of Washington, DC.
Battleship director Peter Berg had seen Gadson in a feature in National Geographic about “tomorrow’s people”, a group whose missing or ruined body parts were being replaced by devices embedded in their nervous systems that respond to commands from their brains,
As Battleship is about the US military fight against an army of robot-like aliens, Berg had the nifty idea to cast a real-life soldier who had lost both limbs above the knee and who could now walk because of breakthroughs in bionic prosthetics.
But Gadson proved to be such a charismatic, commanding presence as the gruff, gutsy veteran and amputee treated by Brooklyn Decker’s physical therapist that he ended up showing his stuff in at least a dozen scenes – even getting the big heroic moment usually reserved for a major star.
Gadson, who hit the headlines in the US when he was made the honorary co-captain of the New York Giants for their 2008 season, says that he didn’t know what he was doing when filming began. But, by the end, he’d slipped into the acting groove, so much so that he didn’t want to quit the production and return to active duty.
“I was initially worried about learning lines. Was I going to be the guy who says a line 500 times? But what I learnt was that acting was less about the lines and more about the emotion,” he says.
“This is a problem for a career officer like myself. In the army, we are taught to control our emotions. A big part of discipline and self-control is controlling your emotions. They were forcing me to look into cupboards I like to keep shut.”
For the past two years Gadson has been director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program, using his horrific experiences of war to salve the wounds, actual and emotional, of those who have returned with injuries even worse than his.
“We can help those who have been badly injured but ultimately it is about their personal resiliency and the resiliency of their families. There was one kid who was the first quadruple amputee and he had a heart of gold. You wouldn’t know he was missing anything.”
Mia’s Thoughts- the man above is the living breathing reason people like me can get up. He’s the reason I can put up with the pain and the reason I can get past the seizures and still push miles in my chair and climb rock walls because when I look at him and see what he has over come how dare I give up!