Anthony Boyle: 'Masters of the Air' is classic good vs. evil story

Anthony Boyle's "Masters of the Air" wraps up its first season Friday. Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
1 of 5 | Anthony Boyle's "Masters of the Air" wraps up its first season Friday. Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

NEW YORK, March 15 (UPI) -- Manhunt and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child actor Anthony Boyle says his World War II drama series, Masters of the Air, is one of the rare good vs. evil stories in a morally ambiguous television landscape.

"We don't get many stories like that these days. I think drama's evolved. We look for more complex stories. We find drama in the gray area. You see shows like Succession and you go: 'I don't how I feel about these people. I love them, but I hate them,'" Boyle told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"It's interesting that that's how we view it and that's our diet of drama, but this [show] goes back to these basic stories of good versus evil," he said. "We're the good guys. We're going to triumph. We're going to beat the Nazis. It's hard to get around just how good those stories are. They are like parables in a way. They are important to see in today's TV."


The nine-episode companion to the lauded limited series, Band of Brothers and The Pacific, wraps up on Apple TV+ Friday.

Produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman, the adaptation of Donald L. Miller's non-fiction book of the same name follows the men of America's 100th Bomb Group as they attack Nazi Germany from the air.

It co-stars Nate Mann, Austin Butler, Callum Turner, Barry Keoghan, Raff Law, Isabel May and Ncuti Gatwa.

Apples Never Fall and Ray Donovan alum Mann said he was moved by how young the characters were when he was reading the Masters of the Air scripts, as well as books written by the real-life men on which the characters were based.

"They were kids. They were 18, 19 years old and they were from all over the States and enlisted in this extraordinary act of unity to try and protect their freedoms and fight what was an unprecedented enemy at the time," Mann said.

"What our series tries to bring to life is not just the sense that we are going out to conquer, but, also, at the end of the day, you're up there with nine other men in a plane. These are who your lives depend on. They are fighting for one another. Their love for one another is what guides them through and helps them get through it."


Boyle found A Wing and a Prayer, the memoir written by his real-life counterpart Lt. Harry Crosby, to be helpful when he was trying to craft his performance.

"His autobiography comes across with such humor and such heart and such beautiful self-deprecation, which I brought a lot of that into the character," Boyle said.

"I also had a 10-minute clip of Crosby speaking and I would put that in my ears every day going to work -- just recited that over and over again until I got the rhythms in which he spoke and then I got the cadence and tone."

Mann said his character, Maj. Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal, reminded him of his own grandfather, but he also watched a series of interviews the actual Rosenthal gave his son, where he talked about growing up in Brooklyn, becoming a lawyer, enlisting in the military and, eventually, fighting in the war.

"There was so much to sink my teeth into and then the broader question of the series, I think, for us to ask ourselves is: 'What would we fight for? What does that look like for us? How do we put this courage in the context of our lives?'"

Boyle said he and Mann looked for opportunities to break the tension on the show's set, especially on days when the cast was dealing with tragic elements of the story.


"In real life, Rosie and Crosby became really close friends. What we were trying to think about was trying to strip back this idea of them being war heroes and being stoic and these images that we see hanging up in halls and stuff when they were in their suits," Boyle said.

"These were just young lads. They were just boys and they had fun the same way we do," he added. "Any time we were given a scene that was hard, we would go: 'OK, let's get a bit of humor in it. Let's try to have a bit of lightness, a bit of levity.' Because all of my friendships are based on that. I just want to be around people who make me laugh."

In addition to being emotionally taxing, the show was also physically challenging.

"Some of the stuff in the nose of the plane was physical, particularly when you are doing 15-hour days and you feel like you're on a roller coaster and you go, 'Did we get it?' And they're like, 'We're going to go again.' And you're like, 'OK, here we go.' And you're getting thrown about these planes," Boyle said.

"That was very physical, but then I got a break and I got to go to Oxford and be in a rom-com, essentially, for three episodes, which was a great respite from all the action stuff."


Mann said the project also gave the cast members' imaginations a workout.

"With the hydraulic gimbal, we could really try to mimic these maneuvers or impact and they were attached to these 360-degree screens where they could display content, so if there were enemy fighters coming in, we were actually seeing them approach," he said.

"We were seeing the terrain. That makes it very immersive. It really feels like you are trying to tame this beast in the process. That makes it visceral and, often times, terrifying to be up there."

Goetzman told UPI in a separate Zoom interview there is still an appetite for stories that recognize courage, sacrifice and brotherhood.

"Just because we hear the world is a very different place and thinks differently than maybe we did 20 years ago, they don't," said the producer, who also worked with Spielberg and Hanks on Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

"If you make it -- even though a studio may look at it and say it's old-fashioned, it's an old story, what's with all the big music? -- there is an audience for it and the audience gets reinvigorated by [the messages]. And, goes: 'This is what I'm talking about. This is how we treated each other. This is how people were. These were things we tried to fix that we felt were going to destroy the world and take away all our freedoms."


As time goes on and the number of surviving World War II veterans dwindles, Goetzman feels even more protective of them and their contributions.

"We want to respect and honor people who risked their lives for the principles we think are starting to drift away from our society," Goetzman said.

A 'Band of Brothers' takes part in the Allied invasion of Normandy

Troops crouch inside a LCVP landing craft, just before landing on Omaha Beach, one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard/National Archives/UPI | License Photo

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