In addition to having one of the greatest names ever, actor Max Martini happens to have one of the greatest faces—handsome, strong, and the kind that can easily disappear into almost any role. He’s made a name for himself playing tough guys, notably in Saving Private Ryan and Pacific Rim, and now he continues the streak with Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. In the movie, Martini portrays Mark “Oz” Geist, one of the security contractors who risked his life defending the diplomatic compound in Libya. “Most men fantasize about being heroic,” the actor says. “I know Hollywood paints me to be a badass, but Mark is the real deal. His bullets were real—mine aren’t.”
How did you first get involved in 13 Hours?
The opportunity to be part of a true story is always a draw for me. I’ve done plenty of [real-life] action movies, including Saving Private Ryan, The Great Raid, Captain Phillips, Fifty Shades of Grey—kidding! There is an incredible sense of fulfillment in the retelling of real events.
I was very familiar with the events of September 11, 2012. On that day, militants attacked the U.S. Special Mission Compound and a CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, and a handful of American private security operators engaged in a lengthy battle with them. The American security contractors that either lost or risked their lives on the day of that attack are true American heroes who represent the embodiment of valor and service to their country. It is very important to share their stories, as they are now a part of American history. To be asked to join in that process is an honor. Even before reading the script, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. I think there is tremendous value in making a movie for the sole purpose of entertaining, but making a movie that entertains and educates is even better.
You’re playing Mark “Oz” Geist in the film. Did you meet with him?
I did meet Mark. Initially we met over the phone. We started off just getting to know each other. He gave me a lot of background information on himself—what he did before and after the military, why he got into contract work. We talked about politics, family, and raising kids. He made me promise to take a photo with him in Malta for his wife because he said it would earn him some brownie points! Ha. Then we got into discussing not only the specifics of what took place that day but also things such as how he reacted emotionally to that situation. For example, how his mind and body responded while rounds were flying by his head, what it felt like to get hit, what it felt like to have shrapnel enter him, and so on.
Mark’s arm was blown up at the forearm and eventually saved. He graciously talked me through that. Mark was absolutely incredible and so generous in working with me. Right away he made it clear that no questions were out of bounds. Eventually, he arrived in Malta, and we met in person in the lobby of our hotel. Ironically, we look like brothers. At one point during filming we actually put Mark in my wardrobe and threw him into a scene to fuck with Bay. Bay and I kept those games going right up to the end of the shoot. He had the final laugh, though, when he made me do a pickup shot that we had missed during our scheduled shoot days—at the wrap party! He shot it on his iPhone! I was a couple of Crowns in. But Mark and I had a great time, and the face-to-face was priceless. Movies aside, the newly found friendship was the best part of the whole deal.
Michael Bay is known for his ability to orchestrate action sequences and construct amazing visuals for the screen. How was the experience of working with him?
When you watch Michael Bay work, you understand why he’s in the position he is. He’s a master at composition. He constructs each frame with incredible precision and attention to detail—layering in props, effects, talent, color, light, movement. Every day was a master class in filmmaking. They would screen pieces of edited footage occasionally, little teasers, and we would watch them over and over and over. They were stunningly beautiful. I’ve been extremely lucky to work with the directors that I have worked with—Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, David Mamet, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, and now Michael Bay. They’re all very different. They’re all brilliant. In my experiences, I have taken away something unique from each one of them. I’m humbled every time I’m chosen to play on their team.
What have been some of your craziest on-set moments as an actor—the kinds of moments when you look around and think, I can’t believe this is my real job?
My craziest moment was in Hungary, on a movie that releases in 2016 called Spectral. We were in a massive Budapest square surrounded by old Hungarian government buildings. The production had come in and laid waste to the place, turning it into a decimated war zone.
The cast were in “trenches” under a fake statue screaming for our lives, looking up at the sky pretending to see deadly alien spirits, sucking in black fumes that were pumped through industrial fans—and above us, small Hungarian crewmen scooped shovel-loads of dark-brown mystery debris out of burlap sacks and dumped it on our heads as if we were under attack by an unknown enemy force of pure satanic evil. And at that moment, completely covered from head to toe with soot and ash, I thought to myself either I can’t believe this is my real job or I gotta get a rom-com. One of the two.
Are there people whose work has been a constant source of inspiration or a kind of guiding light, as you made your way in this industry?
I had an odd childhood. My father is a sculptor and a Ph.D. in philosophy. My mother was in law enforcement. My stepfather is an award-winning actor, writer, and director. My father is from Rome, Italy. My mother is from Texas. I am now an Italian-speaking actor with a degree in fine arts who shoots a lot of guns in movies. Apparently I didn’t really have a choice. But there have been many people along the way who have had an impact on me and the choices I have made. I’ll tell you what I admire: In actors, I admire bravery—the bravery to make daring decisions, the bravery to be unattractive, the bravery to be exposed and vulnerable. I love seeing real people on-screen or onstage. People who don’t look like they stepped off the cover of Vogue or GQ, or at least make an effort not to. There is also a shortage of men in this business—authentic men, not hairless 22-year-old boys that we dress up like men. I mean real men…with balls. We need more of them.
Photos by Michael Muller