Born in Woodstock, NY at the spliff end of 1969, Max Martini has kept any hippie inclinations pretty well hidden on the big screen. Since making his breakthrough as a US para in Saving Private Ryan he's carved an impressive niche as a military man in TV and movie gigs from 24 to The Great Raid. "I came close to enlisting a couple of time", he says of his actual military inclinations, "but stuck to the fake blood and squibs". This year, the one-man Martini army has gone to war with Somali pirates in Captain Phillips and kicked eight shades of crap out of Pacific Rim's alien monsterdom. He is, in short, The Man. Empire salutes his efforts.
Congratulations, you are our Badass of the Year.
I love being the Badass of the Year! I've never been honoured with Badass of the Year before. I'll definitely take it.
What's been your highlight of the year?
Working with Guillermo (del Toro) was a highlight, and the green-screen work was new to me. Captain Phillips was a challenge because everything I did on screen was improvised. I don't have 20 years of Navy SEAL talk memorised so it was a lesson in trusting your director and knowing that he's got your back.
You have had some had some awesome character names - Mack Gerhardt in The Unit, Herc Hansen in Pacific Rim, Pyro in Sabotage - but your character in Captain Phillips was just listed as 'SEAL Commander'. Did you give him a badass name?
He didn't have a name but when I read the script he was a pivotal character and he leads the rescue operation, so I was perfectly happy being the anonymous hero.
Did your previous special forces roles come in handy?
I've played a lot of special forces guys, including Delta Force in The Unit, but the SEALs were new to me. I was the only actor in the SEAL team - all the rest were actual or recently retired SEALs. We've become incredible friends as a result. I got to go out and shoot with these guys and do some tactical driving and weaponry, it's the one of the perks of being Badass of the Year. That's what you get to do. (Laughs)
Did you do the skydive?
I didn't do it, even though I'm highly qualified. I used to work at a drop zone during college so I have hundreds of skydives. When they were putting that together I said, "Come on guys, this is what I do for fun!" But they shot it after I'd wrapped.
How much classified stuff do you now know that you can't tell us?
A lot. It all comes out over beers and bourbon.
Over your career you've played SEALs, Delta Force, a US para, CTU's assault team in 24, a Ranger... we've found one branch of the US military you haven't played: the Chaplain Corps.
(Laughs) Right. And the Coast Guard.
You're contracted for Pacific Rim 2. What would you like to see Herc Hansen doing?
It's funny, I fell in love with this character. The key component was this relationship I had with my son, exploring the dysfunction and the loss, so where does Herc go from here? I don't know. It'll be interesting to see where Guillermo (del Toro) and Travis Beacham take it. I don't know if it's a prequel or a sequel, but if it's a prequel you'll learn more about Herc's family history. But Guillermo has such a vivid imagination, it could go anywhere.
How easy was it to nail the Aussie accent?
Well, the actor who played my son - Rob Kazinsky - was British and Guillermo felt that the Aussie [accent] would be an easy middle ground for us. I was horrified to start with because I know Aussies are very particular about who tackles their accent, although we're more than happy to let them play Americans, the fuckers (laughs). My Australian friends said I did an amazing job, but am I using it in the street? No.
You had an early career breakthrough as Corporal Henderson in Saving Private Ryan. Should that movie have been called Saving Corporal Henderson?
In my mind it was! In my mind, I'm the central focal point of every movie. No, that film was a classic. I remember all these 90 year-old veterans at the premiere, I'd go to the bathroom and they'd all be drinking beer and hitting on my wife, but at the end of the film they walked away with tears streaming down their face. I meet so many soldiers with these military films and I'm trying to raise awareness of traumatic brain injuries and homeless veterans.
Next year you're playing Christian Grey's bodyguard in Fifty Shades Of Grey. Do you get to kill anyone?
I don't get to kill anyone, but it's pretty steamy - when I'm on set, I'm fifty shades of red. My wife has read the books and when I got the offer, the first words out of her mouth were, "You get naked." I said, "I don't think so!" I'm just finishing the first book now and I'm clothed in that one. Call me in a week and I'll let you know about the second.
Are you reading it on Kindle or are you happy to flaunt the cover to the world?
I like the cover. I may not be flaunting it in public, but I like reading the book.
That's followed by Fifty Shades Of Arnie with David Ayer's Sabotage...
People are going to see a side to Arnold that they haven't seen before. It's kick-ass but there's also a lot of character development.
Finally, you were born in Woodstock just after the festival. When are you going to play a hippie?
That's a good question! That'd be a 180 degree turn from the direction I walk in. I would love to start playing some different characters and I'm sure I will.
For more on Max's charity work, visit Boot Campaign and Vet Hunters