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Netflix's War Machine an ‘emotional journey,’ says Topher Grace

Based on the Michael Hastings New York Times bestseller The Operators, it fictionalizes the real-life career implosion of General Stanley McChrystal, Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan.

Topher Grace stars as a fictionalised version of former U.S. General Stanley McChrystal in War Machine, a movie he says is far more than a standard war film.

The Associated Press

Topher Grace stars as a fictionalised version of former U.S. General Stanley McChrystal in War Machine, a movie he says is far more than a standard war film.

Topher Grace doesn’t need me to put words in his mouth, but in this one instance I’m going to.

I recently sat down with the former That ’70s Show star to talk about his new Netflix movie, War Machine. Based on the Michael Hastings New York Times bestseller The Operators, it fictionalizes the real-life career implosion of General Stanley McChrystal, Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan. An article in Rolling Stone that reported on the McChrystal’s disappointment with Obama and his policies undid the General’s distinguished career. In the film, he is renamed Gen. Glen McMahon and played by Brad Pitt, who also produced the film.

“What I love so much about the film (director and writer David Michôd) made,” said Grace, “and it was in the script but I really felt it when I saw the film, is the emotional journey. That is so hard to get into a war movie. Anyone who is willing to watch it understands it on an emotional level, which is a much more effective way to communicate to the audience than just using facts.”

Here’s where I chime in. “I think that when you have a very specific story it can become universal because of the emotions,” I said. “None of us will find ourselves in that particular situation but all of us, at some time in our lives, will end up in a mess of some kind. It’s relatable.”

“That’s what I meant to say,” said Grace with a laugh. “Can you quote yourself and use that?”

Consider it done.

Grace plays Matt Little, McMahon’s civilian press adviser. He’s young, brash, and, according to Grace, not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

“What is the definition of an idiot?” he asks. “Is it knowing you don’t know but still going ahead anyway? I don’t think it is, but that’s who he is.  

“On the first day, I popped my collar up and the military advisor said, ‘They don’t do that in the military.’ The director said, ‘No, no, no! He’s playing an idiot. He would totally have his collar popped up.’ He’s a civilian and he doesn’t even really care about the war going on.”

The 38-year-old actor says despite the story’s timely nature and the inclusion of a character based on recently disgraced National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, the film isn’t political.

“I want people to check their politics at the door and take the emotional ride of what it would feel like to be in that position.

“The really cool thing is that it is not an American telling the story. David is a great talent out of Australia and no matter what, he brings a non-American POV. The fact that it can be that heightened in terms of humour at some points and so real when they are out on the battlefield is really great. He told me he wanted to make a war film before Brad’s company sent him the book but he couldn’t think of a way to do a war film that didn’t glorify war. This does not glorify war.”

It may not be political but Grace says it is timely.

“We made it in Obama’s America,” he explained. “It’s crazy releasing it now. It is timelier than when we shot it. I haven’t been on a lot of projects that were like that.”

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