NEW YORK, March 14 (UPI) -- After starring in a trio of wildly successful teen comedies, actor Chris Klein finds himself playing with the big boys in the Vietnam-era drama, "We Were Soldiers," which is based on real people and events.
"It was great!" exclaimed the star of "Election," "American Pie" and "American Pie II." "It was educational. For a 22-year-old, young actor, to have the opportunity to work with an idol and to work with someone as accomplished as Mel Gibson, you can't ask for a better on-the-job training than that."
Klein said what he admires most about Gibson is how the older actor still loves his job after more than 20 years in show business.
"(Gibson) has been doing this for a long time and he's still very, very inspired by doing good work. He's a leader and him and Sam Elliott were the leaders in the movie and they were the leaders on the movie set," Klein explained. "Everyone understood the chain of command, and Mel and Sam were number one, as they should be."
Klein said that despite the movie's emotional subject matter, the cast and crew still maintained a modicum of levity on the set.
"One day ... the makeup artist was giving me my morning do and Mel Gibson comes in... and looks at me and looks at the makeup artist and looks at me, and he goes, 'How old are you kid?' and I said, 'Twenty-two,' and he said, 'Twenty-two,' and I said, 'Yeah,' and he goes, 'Get up off of that chair.' And I started laughing and he goes: 'No, no. I'm serious. Get up.' I got up and he sat down and said, 'Twenty-two-year-olds don't wear makeup.' So, that was pretty funny," Klein recalled.
To prepare for the role of a young married soldier, the former high school football player and 2001 graduate of Texas Christian University, said he got "a crash-training course" from military consultant, Mike Powell.
"(Powell) was talking about guns and obstacle courses and all that sort of thing, and I said: 'No, no, no. I want to know how a soldier stands. I want to know how a soldier walks, I want to know how a soldier shakes hands. I want to know how to salute.' Because those are the roots of a soldier. Those are what make a military man, first and foremost. Then comes the running and then come the guns and then comes the rest of it -- the jumping out of helicopters and things like that. I spent most of my time sitting and listening to him teach me about what the military was all about and the military code and the soldier's code and all those things that happen when you go through the basic training."
Also important to Klein's research were hours spent talking to Barbara Geoghegan, the real-life widow of Klein's character, Jack.
"What I know about Jack is essentially through the eyes of Barbara Geoghegan because she shared so very, very much of her heart and of her soul to (actress Keri Russell, who played Barbara in the film) and I in order to bring these characters to present, and it was very, very exciting. She shared a very, very in-depth biography of his life, essentially from womb to tomb, and helped me understand who this man was and what he was all about."
Asked if he would join the United States Armed Forces if asked, Klein thought for a moment, then replied: "I don't know. I'm not sure."
"The closest that I ever came to that question was in September when I was watching the TV and I said: 'Okay, what happens now? Do we all go? Do we all get agitated and go? Do we all stay?' But, that's a passing thought ... That's the closest that I've ever come to answering that question and there is no possible way that I could even imagine (an answer) until that came up. There's no way in my present life, even with what's going on, I could look at myself in the mirror and say, 'Do you have what it takes?' There is no way that I could do that, no way, not until it's right there in front of me. Not until it's punching me in the face."