Interview: Joseph Mazzello of HBO's The Pacific

Actor Joseph Mazzello spoke to Disc Dish about HBO’s The Pacific, the epic 10-hour mini-series about the experiences of the United States’ Marines in the Pacific during World War II. The series was released on Blu-ray and DVD by HBO Home Entertainment on Nov. 2, 2010.

For years, Mazzello was most identifiable as the T-Rex-admiring little boy who comes to nasty grips with an electrified fence in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 smash Jurassic Park. But all that has undoubtedly changed with The Pacific (which was co-exec produced by Spielberg and Tom Hanks). In the series, Mazzello portrays real-life U.S. Marine Eugene Sledge, a PFC who was involved in some of the worst fighting in the Pacific during the course of the war. Sledge’s memoir With the Old Breed was part of the basis for the mini-series, which won eight Emmy Awards in August.

Disc Dish: You’ve been doing press on The Pacific on and off for six months now, so I have to start by asking this: Is there anything that you haven’t been queried about over the course of all your interviews?

Joseph Mazzello: I don’t know that there has been a rock that hasn’t been uncovered. It has been a pretty exhaustive process. Even doing the international press, I’ve talked about every aspect of the production. The Germans would ask one thing and the Australians ask another thing, but I think that the majority of it has been covered.

DD: Well, I’m going to try to hit you with something fresh. I just finished doing some research on the production, but it looks like it doesn’t compare to the amount of research you did for your role!

The Pacific DVD boxJoseph Mazzello: I certainly did my share of research. They said they were bringing over some background materials to prepare me before the shoot, and they did. Thousands of pages of stuff. The Marine handbook, research on the Pacific battles and on other wars … so much material. The things that stuck out the most for me were Sledge’s book and the talks I had with his family. It all provided the initial direction for me, and once I got on set, I knew who he was. I knew I could deliver every line the way I think he would have.

DD: You shot The Pacific overseas in Australia for nearly 10 months. What was it like to be away from home for so long?

JM: Well, I’m used to being the young guy on the set, and it was strange not having a parent or someone to lean on when I was away. And being in a different country for so long without a studio-assigned teacher or family, well, let’s say I definitely had to grow up fast.

DD: How about working for three different directors over the course of such a long shoot?

JM: It was one of the most challenging parts of the project. I come from a movie background, primarily, and I’m used to having one voice. So that made it really difficult, at first. And when we were shooting parts of different episodes, we would be working with different directors and different crews on the same day. Beyond that, you would have [Senior Military Advisor] Dale Dye (Platoon) whispering into your ear, trying to give his input, the writers and producers trying to give theirs, and then the director, of course. But to answer your question, it was quite a unique experience, and I think it all worked out quite well.

DD: How did you first screen the completed mini-series? I’m assuming it wasn’t in one long sitting…

JM: The first time I saw it, it was with the producers over the course of three nights. After that, I watched it when it was broadcast. For me, I like pairing certain episodes together based on specific storylines and subject matter. I imagine it works for audiences in all sorts of different ways.

DD: In any configuration, it must have been satisfying to view the complete project after dedicating so much time to it.

JM: Absolutely. The Pacific is the most rewarding project I’ve ever worked on. It was definitely the most difficult, and that’s why it was the most rewarding. We were trying to honor the veterans, the real people, and it all came together to make it the most intense, rewarding experience I’ve ever had as an actor.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.