Danny Walters is best known for playing Tiger Dyke in ITV comedy Benidorm, but he’s about to star as a World War One soldier in War Machine, the last of BBC3’s Our World War dramas.
Here, Danny tells What’s On TV about filming inside a tank, shooting guns, puking and doing plenty of war research…
How was War Machine to film?
“I loved every minute of it. The interior of the tank was actually inside a studio, so it was bigger than inside a real tank, but the conditions were still very claustrophobic and restricting. For the outside shots, I believe they used a real Mark 5 tank, and it was the same one used in the movie War Horse. It was nice to be acting with a tank from a Spielberg film. It’s a remarkable piece of machinery.”
It’s interesting to see in the drama how sick the soldiers got while riding in the tank. That must have been interesting to act out?
“I know! What these soldiers went through was unbelievable. We tried to get ourselves as close as we could to the real thing, to pay proper respect to those who lost their lives in the war. It must have been hell in a tank like that, so smokey and fume-filled, and you couldn’t leave the tank for fear of being shot. You also couldn’t touch the engine as it was too hot – so as part of the tank crew you’d be sweating, you’re knackered, and there wasn’t a lot of food in you either. It meant when soldiers eventually got outside the tank into the fresher air they puked everywhere.”
It’s difficult to comprehend…
“It’s unimaginable. As an actor I tried to get close as I could to those feelings of fear and exhaustion. Some days I’d dehydrate myself, maybe having just one cup of water, so I was all hot and gasping for air. Soldiers were ill and hungry all the time then, and their food portions were shocking. We show how much they went through. They’re true heroes and I give them a lot of respect.”
Viewers will learn lots. Did you?
“I was quite clued up on The Great War, but I did a lot of research. The drama also shows conflicts within the conflict. You have the war battle outside and a battle within the tank. There were fights among the men.”
Tell us about your character Mike Weston – he’s a conscript, and the mechanic in the tank crew…
“My character is very naive about war. He doesn’t want to go in the first place. He’s quite young, cocky, easy-going lad. Weston got lots of grief from another soldier in the tank called Dodds, who gets frustrated with him for not knowing anything. For Weston you see a journey throughout the episode. He comes in cocky, but he soon realises how serious it all is.”
Weston’s pretty good at fixing that tank isn’t he?
“That’s the thing, if it wasn’t for his mechanical skills he’d have been booted out of that tank. He’s a great mechanical engineer so they need him when the tank breaks down, which is often. He’s on top of his game, and one of the best mechanics of the day.”
Did you get to shoot real guns for this drama?
“When we filmed outside the tank with the handheld guns, I believe they were replicas. The ones inside the tank, they were sort of manufactured wooden ones. The thing is there was no recoil or pullback on any of the guns. We shot the guns, but the shaking had to be us acting. Believe it or not I was just acting! Yeah, it was quite good though it gave you a bit if that aggression doing it that way…”
Weston is very different from Tiger in Benidorm isn’t he? It must be good to have played such contrasting characters this year…
“The good thing about doing a job like this is that it expands me as an actor. Every job has been a great joy. The good thing about doing this serious drama is you can get so deep into the character and you can start feeling like that person. I’d get home from filming and not be able to get out of character. My girlfriend would say: ‘Why are you so down in the dumps, so upset?’ and I’d say: ‘I don’t know babe’. I got emotionally connected to him and the lives lost at war.”
There must have been great camaraderie with the other cast during filming, with great actors like Gerard Kearns and Shaun Dooley?
“Yeah, everyone was a joy to work with and very focused. When we were in that tiny tank, it wasn’t choreographed, but you had to work as a team. That’s what you’ll see in the episode – it’s a team, and how the team and the tank won in the end.”
Our World War: War Machine will be shown on BBC3 on August 21 at 9pm