Stepping into the story of the Apple TV+ series Masters of the Air, starring Austin Butler and Callum Turner, a story about the airmen of the 100th Bomb Group that conducted bombing raids over Nazi Germany, what you may not expect is that the character that leads this journey is Major Harry Crosby (Anthony Boyle), who suffered from air sickness.
"He's like the everyman," Anthony Boyle told Yahoo Canada. "He's what we would have been doing, if we were up there."
"When ... I read Crosby, the first scene he's throwing up, he's doing all that, I was like, 'I want to play this guy.' He's really fascinating to me, because it just felt like he didn't belong in the script. It felt like, 'Wait, what? We're following this guy? Surely, he should just have one scene, and he's done.' ... I thought that was really interesting of the writer and of Steven [Spielberg] and Tom [Hanks] and Gary [Goetzman] to focus on Crosby's story, and to make him such a focal point. I'd never really seen a character like him or a person like him in one of these dramas."
Where to watch Masters of the Air: Apple TV+
Creator: Anthony Boyle
Executive producers: Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Gary Goetzman
Cast: Austin Butler, Callum Turner, Anthony Boyle, Nate Mann, Barry Keoghan, Bel Powley, Rafferty Law, Jonas Moore, Matt Gavan, Branden Cook, Ncuti Gatwa, Elliot Warren, Joanna Kulig, Edward Ashley, Josiah Cross
Number of episodes: 9
Based on the book by Donald L. Miller, while much of Masters of the Air has a significant focus on the friendship developed between Major Gale "Buck" Cleven (Butler) and Major John "Bucky" Egan (Turner), Crosby is really the constant in the story. Not just because he serves as the narrator of the story, but because he's seen the whole deadly reality. Through the course of the series, the audience gets to really see the physical and mental toll it took on him to be part of the "Bloody Hundreth."
"It was a lot of fun as an actor, because Crosby's going through so many different things," Boyle explained. "We see him at the start battling with air sickness, we see him with the loss of his best friend, we see him wrestle with cheating on his wife, ... amphetamine addiction."
"You see him go through so many different things in the show that it was a joy to play him and to have him be the through-line in the series."
'Going home wasn't an option for him'
For both Boyle and his costar Nate Mann, who plays Major Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal, there has been quite a bit of material written about both of their characters, including interviews where the actors can get a sense of their lives before the war.
Rosie, specifically, was a lawyer from Brooklyn who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force following Pearl Harbor. After surviving 25 missions he was able to go home, but decided to re-enlist.
"I think what stood out to me and what really made him special to me, and made me feel like I really wanted to play him was, ... I was in awe of his courage and his bravery, and the choices he made were just so staggering to me," Mann said. "But he was also this very warm, generous and graceful man, and there was this balance there that I just kind of fell in love with."
"You read about a choice like that, [to re-enlist], and you almost can't believe it. In the context of what he had been through at that point, all the devastation he had witnessed and with people that he was serving with, it's such a testament to the man himself. But I think when it came time to play it and imagine what that would be like, I think re-upping for him was obvious. I think going home wasn't an option for him, he felt so personally involved in the war effort. It was essential to him and he wasn't going to give up until the very end."
'You're not having to pretend that there's a plane coming for you'
But like every war-time series or movie, two constant elements that always have to be incorporated are the camaraderie between the men, and impactful images of the battles.
The cast of Masters of the Air had to go through a two-week bootcamp, where they spent six hours a day running drills together.
"At night, we would all go back to the same hotel, and we would drink and we would have fun, and we would tell each other stories and you'd be up all night bonding like, 'Well, where did you grow up? Why do you relate to this character? How did you start acting? All the bullsh-t that you go through when you're becoming friends," Boyle explained.
"Then when we were going into work the next day, we were really trying to live as these characters. So there was a sort of symbiotic process of both things were happening at once. We were becoming the characters, but also, we were becoming friends. ... It makes you care about the characters. If you can see the affection they have for each other, then you as a viewer, I think, care for them too."
"These men when they were up there, it's crews of 10 in these planes at once, you've got to know the guys you're with because you have to trust them with your life," Mann added. "Scenes of us on the base, having fun and just getting to know one another ends up being kind of essential."
The visuals are spectacular in Masters of the Air, which included building B-17 planes and breathtaking shots of these planes in the sky, and the fatal destruction. It was as impressive for the actors as it was for the audience.
"When I walked into the studio for the first time my first thought was, 'Holy sh-t, this is unbelievable,'" Boyle said. "These massive, massive studios that they had, all these planes, replicas of B-17s, built on hydraulics that would go 50-feet in the air, 360-degree screens."
"I haven't got a clue what half the people's jobs were. Just random people, like 200 people, just typing in all these ... computers and stuff. It was amazing. ... You're not having to pretend that there's a plane coming for you, these computers are regenerating it, so the plane actually was coming for you. You don't have to pretend you're being shaken around the plane. ... It was a gift as an actor, really."