Chris Pratt admits that getting into the tortured headspace of Navy SEAL James Reece — the fictional protagonist of author Jack Carr's bestselling military conspiracy thriller novel The Terminal List and its sequels and now the centerpiece of a lavishly produced Prime Video series streaming as of July 1 — was far more challenging than getting his body into peak fighting condition.
"The physical preparation is the physical preparation," Pratt tells Metacritic. "For me, that requires time, requires real effort, but it's actually kind of easy because you don't have to think too much. You go, 'All right, I'm going to do the cardio in the morning.'"
While doing that rigorous morning cardio regimen, Pratt listened to audio books to aid with the mental preparation — and not just Carr's five Reece novels, but also a mix of fiction, history and philosophy (including Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer, The Warrior Ethos by Steven Pressfield, Fiasco by Thomas Ricks) that the author himself prepared for Pratt.
For Pratt, who not only stars in the series but also serves as an executive producer on it, the list offered insight into "everything that would have gone on in Reece's life if he'd have been a commander in the SEALs for 20 years and in Iraq and Afghanistan," he says.
Carr actually served in the Navy SEALs for two decades, and such heavy research into the world the mindset helped Pratt understand "the theater there, and maybe some of his frustrations he may have felt around that war ... who the character is and what the character has been through, what the ethos he has as a warrior, and who I would like him to be as a leader of the men."
"That was really a turning point in my life and my career," he says, noting it signaled his transition from affable sitcom player to more serious and challenging roles. "I was able to play this SEAL Team Six member and no one said, 'That guy shouldn't be a SEAL Team Six member,' so it helped me reimagine my options as an actor. It had a lot to do with the physicality and the transformation I had made physically. It opened up a lot of doors and gave me a lot more options, frankly, as an actor."
Amid that film's considerably dark true-life tale of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Pratt was able to provide moments of levity and irreverence, many improvised by the actor. It also led to his bonding with former SEAL-turned-actor and stuntman Jared Shaw, now a producer and performer on The Terminal List, whom Pratt calls "my roommate at the time, a guy that was in my wedding, and one of my best friends to this day. I gained this real affinity for our special operators and that Navy SEAL culture."
Because of that interest, Pratt read an early manuscript of Carr's novel and "immediately wanted an option because James Reece embodied everything that I loved about that community," he says. "But it was also an opportunity not for me to do some kind of comedic jazz solo in the middle of the meaningful moments, but to actually lean into the drama and to the suspense and the seriousness of very real stakes. And it was just an opportunity to challenge myself and exercise and flex some muscles that I had otherwise not really been able to use in the jobs that I've done."
In the book and the series, Reece's struggles with guilt and garbled memories after his platoon is disastrously ambushed during a covert operation. As he probes further into the incident, fatalities continue to mount up at home, both among his comrades and innocents, and he suddenly finds himself at the center of what seems to be a conspiracy to pin the blame on him and — still questioning his own version of events — is forced to fight back.
As a 20-year veteran of Naval Special Warfare and a former SEAL himself, Carr says he personally benefitted from processing his own SEAL experience in Iran and Afghanistan, "[turning] all those experiences and all that research and study of warfare into something positive, to tell a story and then to take the emotions and feelings behind things that I was involved with down range and apply them to a completely fictional narrative."
"That's why these kind of films and books resonate," he tells Metacritic. "It feels good because you wish you could maybe do that in real life, but, hey, you can't. It's just a fictional journey here."
"When you read Jack Carr's novels, it's really unparalleled tradecraft and military authenticity," says screenwriter David DiGilio, who adapted the first book for the eight-episode series. "Every weapon is a character. Every vehicle is a character. But when you take something like that and you put it on screen, you're moving into the visual medium. You obviously can't stop and have people talk about everything that they're doing. So, what do you do? Well, you go to those who know the trade craft."
DiGilio says between having Carr on speed dial; tapping the SEAL connections cultivated by Pratt, Shaw, and director Antoine Fuqua; and employing an array of top-tier technical advisors (including Lone Survivor's lead advisor Ray Mendoza and former Army Ranger Max Adams, who was part of the writing team), the production was able to "put that authenticity into every frame that you see on screen."
"Even in visual effects reviews, we had Jared with us going, 'That muzzle flash is too big. That bullet would not spark,'" says DiGilio. "[There will be] members of the special operations community, military veterans who watch the show, who will see the difference between this and everything else they've seen, and that's what really matters to us."
Fuqua, who previously worked with Pratt on 2016's The Magnificent Seven, adds that you have to get the technical and physical part right first so the audience "can care about the human qualities."
The director explains that he spent considerable time with the actual special forces veterans and found himself particularly keying in by the common mentality they share. "It's just the way they see the world, the way they're all in," he says. "We get to come home from a movie, and we got our little PTSD as far as like, 'Ah, the studio had to cut two days,' and we're panicked and upset. These guys come home from serious stuff, and then they've got to go be dad and husband and son and all those good things, and it's difficult. Twenty-four hours later, you're supposed to be normal, just sipping on Starbucks. Those are the things for me: every scene, I have to look at it from that perspective."
Fuqua says he enjoyed watching his friend Pratt morph into a full-fledged, hands-on producer while also shaping himself physically and psychologically. Meanwhile, Pratt admits that prior to The Terminal List he had, at times, "taken for granted just how damn hard it is to do pre-production and get these actors on set to stand on their mark and say their lines." What made it even harder for Pratt this time around was not just that he was pulling double-duty on set, but also planning his wedding to Katherine Schwarzenegger through the bulk of the shoot.
Even with all of the added responsibilities, a particular treat about The Terminal List for Pratt was the tactical training. He grew up utilizing a variety of firearms but never had elite training before.
"Understanding how to use these weapons, how to do certain tactical press checks or tactical reloads on semiautomatic handguns, or to transition from one weapon to another, clear a room, that took a lot of repetition. It's like learning how to use a yo-yo or jump rope or something. You've just got to do it a whole bunch. And that's what we did. It was fun!" he says.
With his experiences in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World films, Pratt is of course no stranger to franchises, and, given that Carr's written five novels featuring Reece to date, The Terminal List seems like another ready — if significantly darker — platform.
"If we're going to really honor the character and the journey that he goes through in the five books, you have to really take it in steps, because it's a big journey," Pratt says. "I learned this from the SEALs: If you're going to do it, you have to do it right. And if you say you're going to do it, you actually do it."
Whether Prime Video green-lights more episodes remains to be seen, but Pratt has some big ideas for the future of the series already: "It has to be cinematic; it has to be huge. You're talking about globetrotting. You're going all around the world to do this. I don't want to do a movie on a soundstage in Atlanta that is supposed to be Africa or Eastern Europe or Russia and it's like, cut to me and I've got fake snow, and cut to a second unit shot in Russia. I don't want to do it that way.
"It's not easy for a person who has a fairly full dance card," he says of his busy film and family commitments. "Finding a way to do it and do it right is essential. And if we could find a way to do it and do it right, I think I'd be absolutely down. And I don't think there'd be anything else out there like it."