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Gibson goes to war again - and finds it hurts; CINEMA: Vietnam comes back to haunt the United States.

Byline: ROB DRISCOLL

MEL GIBSON and his fellow actors may have been pushed through the rigours of army boot camp so that they would appear convincing in the Vietnam war epic We Were Soldiers, but the Australian superstar reckons they had it easy compared to their real-life counterparts.

"In the context of what the Rangers really have to do, we got the celebrity wimp course, " he smiles. "They took it easy on us.

"But boy, I tell you, it was enough.

Sure, we did all that stuff, crawling under barbed wire, running and getting up early in the morning.

"I did some stuff when I was younger with the SAS for three weeks and that really wore me out.

But I was 21 then, this is different now. When you are 45 and they do that stuff to you, everything hurts."

The training has clearly left fatherof-seven Gibson in great shape.

"I only got fitter during boot camp - since when I realised how out of rob. driscoll@wme. co. uk shape I was. I thought I had better pull my socks up. So I started eating right, exercising, sleeping more."

We Were Soldiers tells the true story of a battle in the Vietnam War that became one of the most savage in American history.

A co-production of Gibson's own company Icon, the $70m movie is undeniably the star's most ambitious project since Braveheart, the blockbuster which brought him a best director Oscar seven years ago.

This time Gibson stars as another real-life war hero, Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore, who commanded 400 troops through the Ia Drang Valley, overwhelmed five-to-one by North Vietnamese forces.

They were the First Batallion of the Seventh Cavalry - the same regiment as General Custer - and, as the impossible odds became apparent, the irony was not lost on Moore.

The film was written and directed by Randall Wallace - who also wrote the script for Braveheart - and was shot in the sprawling countryside of Fort Hunter Liggett, a US military base in California.

"The area there looks just like the Vietnamese highlands, so there was no need to go to Vietnam."

Meeting the real Hal Moore proved a humbling experience for Gibson, who had studiously read the book the army veteran co-wrote, We Were Soldiers Once. . . And Young, on which Wallace's screenplay is based.

"General Moore is the nicest guy, " says Gibson. "He is a thinker. He is smart. He had to be all those things to be an amazing battle commander."

There were some aspects of Moore's personality that Gibson incorporated into his performance.

"It's an unusual thing to do a characterisation based on someone who's still alive, " says Gibson. "There's a responsibility to be accurate.

"With General Moore specifically, there is that whole thing, that drive to never give up. Then there is the way he sounds. He is from Kentucky of course, so there's that regional sound.

He talks like this. . ." (Gibson twists his face and raises his voice to a roar).

"Do you know why he talks like that? It's because of the noise of the helicopters. They all talk like that to try and be heard above them.

"It was also useful just to talk with him and to discuss his attitude to war, his attitude to war in retrospect and his attitude to war now.

"I think that he sometimes wonders whether or not it was justified; he may have trouble sleeping. But he did his duty and he did it well."

We Were Soldiers opens today.

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COMMANDING ROLE: Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 8, 2002
Words:595
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