Chris Hemsworth has played a comic book superhero since “Thor” was released in 2011, so when he read the story about the first American soldiers to enter Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he jumped at the chance to play a more grounded roll with “real heart.”
“There's a such an honesty and openness, a lack of dramatization or ego as they retell and recount these events and such a humility,” said Hemsworth. “They're real heroes and to put themselves in these positions, in harm's way with their safety in jeopardy, for the rest of our safety is something beyond admirable, something that is inspiring and something I felt honored to be asked to play this character.”
“12 Strong” tells the story of a Green Beret unit led by Capt. Mitch Nelson, played by Hemsworth, who after 9/11, volunteered with this team to go to Afghanistan to convince Afghan tribes to join forces and fight the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies. The mission, code-named Task Force Dagger, was chronicled in 2009's “Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Solider Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan,” by Doug Stanton, who discovered the classified story after he heard it from a soldier.
The title “Horse Soldiers” comes from the soldiers, as well as the cast, having to learn to horseback. The skill was necessary so soldiers could navigate the treacherous terrain of the country and fight the enemy on their own terms.
“12 Strong” showed how the Americans and the natives fought against a common enemy, Hemsworth said.
“They were able to adapt and evolve and embed themselves within this world and work with the local people, not against them, working with them and fighting a common enemy,” Hemsworth said. “The brotherhood they formed with local Afghan people, but also amongst the soldiers, is something that kept coming up amongst all the guys I spoke to during this experience. The relationships they still keep with one another is as strong as any family bond they've had and something that was inspiring.”
Hemsworth said he felt the weight of playing a real-life character, whose named was changed for privacy. But he also got positive feedback from Afghan extras who worked on film while they shot in Albuquerque. One man said, “I fought with the Americans, but the whole world thinks I'm a terrorist.”
“He said, 'I think it's so important that people know that we are on the same side and the invading force is the Taliban, it's Al Qaeda, there the ones who are the infection that are coming in to take over,'” Hemsworth said.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer said the soldiers “don't see it as a sacrifice.”
“These men don't see themselves as heroes, they're just doing their job, that's what they're trained to do,” Bruckheimer said. “They do it because they love their county, they love their families and they professionals. They are highly trained, they're highly intelligent and they're deadly.”