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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 4°C
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WATCH: Behind the scenes of Saving Private Ryan filmed on a Wexford beach

The film featured 750 members of the FCA army reserve who played extras in the D-Day scenes.

DFMagazine / YouTube

IN THE SUMMER of 1997, a massive Hollywood film crew headed up by director Stephen Spielberg landed on a Wexford beach.

They were there to film what would become one of the best known World War II movies and for many Irish men, it is their claim to fame, as hundreds featured as extras in the epic D-Day scenes.

As with Braveheart a few years before, the young army reserves of the FCA were asked to take part. Their reputation as a reliable and well disciplined band of extras on Mel Gibson’s film was the reason Spielberg decided to film those iconic scenes in this country.

Colonel Pearse McCorley told us previously it was Gibson who recommended them, despite the fact he thought they were a bunch of smartasses.

For now Captain Peter Kelleher, who was then just 17 years old, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and he said he “jumped at the chance” to be involved in the scenes filmed on Ballinesker Beach, Curracloe Strand.

As producer Ian Bryce explains in the video above, which has been released this week by the Irish Defence Forces, the scenes they were shooting required extras who could handle the physically demanding scenes they were filming here and the 750 FCA troops were perfect.

It took its toll even on them, however, as Kelleher recalled, with humour now, a particularly harrowing day:

We were in a landing craft, about 24 of us in each and I remember there were seven Slua Muirí (reserve navy officers) in my landing craft. It was June and it was reasonably warm but we’d been out in the boats all day with the foam coming in and it got quite cold and so on. Essentially, a good few got sick and it was all the Slua Muirí guys getting sick. Off that boat, between the sickness and hypothermia from the cold, only about three of us walked off the boat. It was a big drama at the time but it’s funny now.

Kelleher himself can be seen vomiting over the side of a boat adjacent to Tom Hanks in one scene, but he stressed that this was actually fake vomit – Milk of Magnesia in fact – as “our real puke wasn’t actually good enough”.

Though the days were long and obviously quite physically intense at times, for the young men – some only 16 at the time – it was also a great earner as they were getting £45 a day, tax free.

Unlike Mel Gibson on the Braveheart set, Tom Hanks’ reputation was that of a friendly joker, who always introduced himself when he arrived on set and spoke to the extras, thanking them for the great job they were doing.

IMG-20150605-WA0002 Tom Hanks can be seen in the centre of the photo with a group of the FCA troops, including Kelleher on the far right of the actor, climbing onto the tank.

“Spielberg was a bit more formal but Tom Hanks would mess about,” Kelleher said. Though the director was more distant, the army captain remembers a great story from one of the days on set.

On the third week I was there, my family came down to visit and my aunt was there. We were walking up to where the scene of the beach was and all that and walking towards us was this fella. I was walking with my aunt and he was checking her out so I asked if she knew who it was and she didn’t. I said: It was Spielberg and he was checking you out!

We’ll have more stories from behind the scenes of the epic war film tomorrow morning, including an interview with a cadet who managed to bag himself a real part in the movie.

Read: Mel Gibson thought his Irish Braveheart extras were a bunch of smartasses>

Read: Here’s what it was like to be part of Braveheart’s epic army>

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