Army acronyms challenge actress in Hyena Road

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Article / November 4, 2015 / Project number: 15-0181

Shilo, Manitoba — Learning her lines from the script for Hyena Road was no problem for 33-year-old Canadian actor Christine Horne, who has appeared in such films as Stories We Tell, and The Captive.

Figuring out the Canadian Army’s acronyms used on the set of Paul Gross’ latest movie required some help from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members who consulted on the film.

As an actor, we play people doing their jobs, just like being a doctor,” according to actress Christine Horne, who plays a leading role in Hyena Road. “So this role was no different for me, being a soldier.

Unlike the guys, I only did a little physical [and weapons] training because I was mainly on the Base, not out where the war was going on.” (The only time she had to wear a military helmet was while in a Light Armoured Vehicle in the Shilo training area as part of her research for the role.)

But the toughest part of my role was all the acronyms. For me, my biggest job was learning the language used by the military. You want to be believable when it comes to what we are talking about as there are so many code words used by soldiers… like 2IC [Second in Command] and FOB [Forward Operating Base].

That was one of my biggest challenges working with Paul’s script, to understand what we are saying to each other as actors.

Hyena Road, which opened October 9, 2015, was written, produced and directed by Mr. Gross and he also stars in the two-hour film as a high-ranking intelligence officer.

The Canadian war drama tells the story of three men from different paths, caught in a conflict but brought together to save lives: a highly skilled sniper (Allan Hawco) who can’t think of his targets as human, an intelligence officer (Paul Gross) who has never killed while on duty, and a legendary Afghanistan warrior “The Ghost” (Niamatullah Arghandabi), who left war behind but gets pulled back into battle.

Canadian Forces Base Shilo and a nearby quarry were used as a location for the film in the fall of 2014 for 15 days. Soldiers stationed at the base located 35 kilometres east of Brandon, Manitoba were cast as extras to provide an authentic feel. Mr. Gross then travelled to Jordan to complete filming, using that country as a stand-in for Afghanistan.

Ms. Horne was more than happy to talk to Canadian Army soldiers as part of the process to transform herself into the role of Captain Jennifer Bowman. She understood that it takes more than a uniform to become believable. She even spent a day out on the training area with 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry soldiers during Exercise KAPYONG SPEAR, a combined arms live-fire exercise that integrated infantry, artillery, engineers, and aviation capabilities.

For me, a lot of what I was doing I was learning as I went,” she explained. “I talked with soldiers. I was lucky also to have a female captain who I was able to watch doing her training exercises.

I was not doing a lot of physical stuff compared to the guys, who had army boot camp. They had a sniper consultant for their roles. For me, I asked a lot of questions when I had them… it was about accuracy so I made sense when I was [acting].

Having already done the 2009 feature film Passchendaele – a movie based on the famous First World War battle heroically fought by 50,000 Canadians in the bloodied fields of Ypres, Belgium – Mr. Gross originally thought that would be his only war feature film. A trip in 2010 to visit Canadian troops in Afghanistan changed his mind and led to Hyena Road.

I found the war experience unexpected and mesmerizing,” he said. “Being in the middle of the war zone, the sheer complexity and the dignity with which Canadians are represented by our soldiers, it occurred to me that I wanted to return to Afghanistan with a camera team and document as much as I could.

He spent 10 days and shot more than 60 hours of footage aboard an array of military aircraft at FOBs in Kandahar Airfield and in Kandahar City.

With no lighting equipment to allow him to work after dark, he spent his evenings talking to soldiers about their experiences and hearing their stories. It was these stories, thousands of them, that helped him craft the screenplay for Hyena Road after he returned home.

What was he looking for when he cast Ms. Horne as Capt Bowman?

Christine had probably the hardest challenge in the film,” he said. “Because of our schedule, she had to shoot an enormous amount of material, much of it extremely emotional, in a very compressed couple of days.

She was magnificent, and I knew without question that she would be able to shoulder the weight of bringing all the emotional strands of the film together with real humanity and break our hearts.

She delivered such a beautiful performance on every level – it’s nuanced, complicated and beautiful. She carries her rank with the authority it deserves and yet is human and vulnerable. And mostly importantly, she has crafted Jennifer as an adult – not an ingénue, but a real woman in a very difficult world.

This was a positive experience playing this role,” she said, “but I think of the soldiers who had horrible experiences during the war. Acting was easy for me; being a soldier and making sacrifices for your country, now that’s for real.

Next for Ms. Horne: a play called The Road To Paradise, which she notes has a similar feel to Hyena Road because of the subject matter.

The play is about a child suicide bomber in Pakistan, a Canadian soldier in Kandahar and an Afghan immigrant in Toronto. Three worlds collide in this play about love and loss in the time of war. Based on interviews conducted with families of the CAF, the Pakistan Army and the Taliban, the play explores how the war in Afghanistan is affecting the lives of women and children. It opens in Toronto November 14, 2015 for a two-week run.

By Jules Xavier, Managing Editor, Shilo Stag Newspaper

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