For Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, 1998s Saving Private Ryan marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration focusing on the epics of the Second World War. After that film won five Oscars, they teamed up on a war drama for the small screen. It would be HBO’s “most expensive miniseries”, with a budget of around $120 million. THR reported.
Band of brothers, a 13-hour dramatization of Stephen Ambrose’s bestseller, followed a brigade of World War II soldiers known as “The Easy Company”, a regiment of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Each episode opened with audio testimony from a real-life Brigade veteran before focusing on an ensemble cast member as he prepared for war and stepped into the field. David Schwimmer, at the peak of his career Friends fame, was joined by a group of relative newcomers, including Damian Lewis in the central role of Lieutenant Winters, Scott Grimes, Matthew Leitch, Ron Livingston and Michael Fassbender. (Hanks served as an executive producer with Spielberg and directed the fifth of 10 episodes, but did not have a speaking role.)
On June 6, 2001, HBO held a premiere at Utah Beach in Normandy, France, flying media, cast and crew and about 50 Easy Company veterans and their families to where the vets had parachuted D-Day. “It’s surreal. These are powerful emotions,” Hanks said. THR to the first. “You can ask these guys, ‘What were you doing right now 57 years ago?’ They were probably storming the enemy guns. Death and destruction and the stench were all around them, and it was just beginning for them. It’s hard to fathom.”
Fifteen months later, Band of brothers won the top prize in a limited series at the 2002 Primetime Emmys. “We didn’t just win that,” Spielberg said as he accepted the award. “The men of Easy Company won it in 1944.” The audience stood and applauded the veterans, who were shown watching a live broadcast of the TV show from a nearby hotel – some of whom joined the post-Emmys celebration as guests of honor at Spago later that night.
This story first appeared in a standalone June issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.