Rounding out the main characters is Kevin Sandusky, an earnest young actor who gets his first big acting break playing newbie soldier Brooklyn. The role was given to up-and-coming comedy actor Jay Baruchel, who was recently seen in the summer 2007 hit “Knocked Up” and is currently filming his first comedy lead role in “She’s Out of My League.”
“Sandusky is the wet-behind-the-ears rookie actor, really eager and super-psyched to be there,” Baruchel explains. “He’s the only one of the cast who auditioned for the role, who bothered to read John ‘Four Leaf’ Tayback’s book, attended the actors’ military boot camp, and researched the role. So when things go bad for the cast, he becomes the de facto go-to man for all the answers. He’s the only one that actually knows how to read a map or load a gun properly. So, naturally, they all assume that he knows how to do things like fly a helicopter, too.”
Sandusky gets caught up in a power struggle between Speedman and Lazarus as both vie for his expertise to help them navigate their way out of the jungle. “That makes for an interesting turn by the climax of the film, one that I think a lot of people are going to enjoy,” he smiles. “I know I did.”
A host of talented actors comprise the supporting cast of “Tropic Thunder,” including award-winning veteran actor Nick Nolte. In “Tropic Thunder,” Nolte plays the real-life John “Four Leaf” Tayback, whose Vietnam memoir is the basis for the war film and is the basis for the character Tugg Speedman portrays.
Tayback is also on hand, serving as the movie’s technical advisor, and when things start to fall apart, he becomes the catalyst for the insanity that follows.
“I’m just living on the beach while all these spoiled brat actors are in their big hotels or special trailers with their personal trainers,” Nolte explains. “The young English director of this film can’t control them, and when there’s a major screw-up with a battle scene and the studio shuts down the film, I convince the director to get some video cameras and shoot it wild; take four or five days to go through the jungle, take the special effects guy along to blow some stuff up around them, and convince him that he’ll get real emotion from these guys. He’ll get real fear.”
Four Leaf, however, has some secrets of his own and he inadvertently lands the actors in a real battle against members of the Flaming Dragon, a drug-manufacturing guerilla army based in the Golden Triangle.
Damien Cockburn, the war movie’s frazzled director, is portrayed by British actor Steve Coogan, a major English comedy star, who is best known as the title character in BBC’s “I’m Alan Partridge,” and for his portrayal of Tony Wilson in Michael Winterbottom’s “24 Hour Party People.”
“I play this director who is drowning in this monolithic beast of a Hollywood production and the comedy springs from my misfortunes,” Coogan says. “Cockburn has to deal with all these actors and their huge entourages and a budget that is spiraling out of control. It looks like everything’s going to crash and burn but, ultimately, the film emerges unscathed.”
He pauses and then adds, “No thanks to me.”
Coogan was intrigued by how “Tropic Thunder” both pokes fun at and emulates how movies are made. “The film starts out looking like a big Hollywood war movie and then quickly becomes a high-concept comedy,” Coogan says. “It laughs at itself, and Ben’s sort of laughing at himself in the film as well. Although he’s playing a fictitious movie star, he really is a movie star. He’s mocking big movie stars who have a bunch of assistants running around, but Ben has a bunch of assistants running around him. He’s taking reality and just distorting it, caricaturing and exaggerating it to make it funny. We’re kind of showing the underbelly of Hollywood filmmaking and I think audiences will enjoy seeing how vulnerable everyone is in these situations.”
Danny McBride, whose comic chops will also be seen this summer in the “The Foot Fist Way” plays the film’s explosives expert, Cody, a trigger-happy explosions expert whose behavior is equal parts hilarious and scary. “SNL” regular Bill Hader, who has appeared in such recent hit comedies as “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” plays Rob Slolom, a meddling mid-level studio executive – the quintessential Hollywood bootlicker.
Tran, the head of the dangerous Flaming Dragons, is played by newcomer Brandon Soo Hoo. Stiller explains, “he is great in the film. He plays a 12-year-old who’s got this army of guys manufacturing heroin for him. This is his first movie and he is a great young actor. Just the way he looks at you, you know he could take you down. And when he starts fighting, it’s pretty amazing.”
Backing up Tran is his first lieutenant, Byong, played by Reggie Lee, best known for his work in “The Fast and the Furious,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Prison Break.”