Interview with Shane Taylor – Doc Roe from the WWII mini-series Band of Brothers.
In 2001, HBO aired an American war drama that was produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks which went on to win seven Emmys and a Golden Globe. The series was Band of Brothers. It follows the history of Easy Company, part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of the US Army as it goes from jump training in Atlanta, Georgia to the D-Day beaches of Normandy and across Europe until the end of the war. Fifteen years after it was first shown, Band of Brothers is still the top rated TV series on IMDB[i] – above more recent shows such as Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Wire.
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of Band of Brothers and to commemorate the Battle of the Bulge, this past weekend – 9-11 December – saw the Band of Brothers Actors’ Reunion in Bastogne, Belgium presented by the World War II Foundation. Bastogne was a poignant period in Easy Company’s journey where a fierce battle was fought and many great men lost their lives. Episode 6 of the series is set in Bastogne where the focus is on one particular character – Army medic Eugene “Doc” Roe played by Shane Taylor.
I caught up with Shane prior to his appearance in Bastogne to find out more about his career, his interests and the legacy of Band of Brothers.
Shane attended the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts in London but did he always aspire to go into the acting profession?
“I don’t think I ever bleated about wanting to be an actor. I had a fun and inventive childhood, which must’ve laid a theatrical egg somewhere, but it wasn’t until I got to college and joined a Youth Theatre group that I thought there might be a way to pursue it. No grand plan, though, all very natural in its origins. I just decided to go with the flow.”
“Youth Theatre gave me a good foundation. That led me to drama school which I loved. My experience was a positive one, but I appreciate that it doesn’t work for everybody. I was already 21 years old going into it and I think a little maturity helped. Some came straight from school and were emotionally vulnerable. I learned very early on to not take everything as Gospel, and I only used what worked for me. Like most schooling, it’s not one size fits all.”
A decade and a half after it first aired, Band of Brothers is as popular now as it was in the early 2000s. It’s a regular re-runner on TV and has just been added to Sky Box Sets for the first time. Considering it’s only 10 episodes as opposed to the long-running series it shares the top rated TV shows on IMDB with, what makes Band of Brothers continue in popularity?
“Some of the shows mentioned – Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Wire – are all top quality shows so the fact that Band of Brothers holds such a favourable rank in the IMDB world is one rock ‘n roll stat!”
“If you can even analyse these things, I think part of Band of Brothers‘ popularity probably comes down to subject matter. A subject matter that’s connected to us all by sheer human history. It was also a first of its kind for television and that led the way for so many others to follow. The fact that Band of Brothers is a finite series of 10 episodes probably gives it something unique too. As an actor, it would’ve been great to see how Doc Roe developed over five or six seasons, but the war ended! There’s also something special about the one-off aspect that helps maintain its power. How many shows have overstayed their welcome or quality fluctuated given too many seasons?”
As previously mentioned, the popularity of Band of Brothers has continued to grow long after the series concluded, and this is by thanks in no small way to the internet and social media. You only have to search for the title on Tumblr and it brings up countless posts celebrating the actors and veterans equally. How has the internet helped to sustain Band of Brothers even after it ended?
“I’m constantly amazed by the support and fan base of Band of Brothers. It’s a global attraction. I’m probably going to sound contradictory now, but even though I’ve been to specialist events in places like Normandy, the odd comic-con here and there, and been sent so much by fans from all over the world, I still can’t fully comprehend the scale of appreciation. I mean, I can in a number of ways, but there’s so much more that continues to surprise me, and through things like social media it feels like I’m being surprised on a daily basis! It’s certainly a show that has grown bigger over time.”
Band of Brothers has a huge fandom and has personally enabled me to make incredible friendships with like-minded people in France, Germany, Canada, USA, Australia and everywhere in between. I’ve cosplayed characters, created inspired artwork and travelled to numerous destinations of historical significance related to the series. However, some superfans can be a little overly dedicated such as the lady who got slightly too excited when meeting Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead and bit him at Walker Stalker Con. How is the Band of Brothers fandom viewed?
“Fandoms being overly dedicated? Well, each to their own. I’ve been to comic-cons and seen fandoms of the sci-fi/fantasy/horror realm do their thing, and that’s a whole other level! I don’t think Band of Brothers has that, necessarily. I think that’s mainly because of the genre and, again, the fact it was a one-off series.”
“Do you know what Robert Kirkman [creator of The Walking Dead] said was the worst thing about horror films? They ended! So Kirkman wanted to write something with the potential to go on and on, so who knows where The Walking Dead will end up?! What I do think has come out of Band of Brothers is a new appreciation of history, especially from the younger generation. And then there are the re-enacting groups. I’m not saying Band of Brothers was the catalyst for creation but the show did inject a certain momentum into an already established movement. And these things have a real sense of community about them. It keeps the spirit alive!”
A lot of actors have attended comic-cons in costume to experience them incognito. Is this something that might be considered?
“I love comic-cons – I’ve been to a few as a punter and as a guest. I don’t really do cosplay but I admire it and I don’t mind admitting I’m a bit of a geek. I think more people should come out! The most interesting people I’ve ever met have all been in touch with their inner geek.”
Going back to Band of Brothers, it has so many memorable scenes for a variety of episodes – all of which Shane appeared in – so what memory stands out the most?
“One of the fondest memories of filming Band of Brothers would be seeing the sets for the first time. If you hadn’t fully realised the scale of what you were involved with – then that sealed the deal! The church full of wounded men sticks out in my mind for obvious reasons [this was a scene from Ep.6 Bastogne]. Such a beautiful interior decorated with all those distressing images. I loved that juxtaposition.”
“Seeing where we were going to shoot the Battle of the Bulge moments before filming for the first time was mind blowing. The concentration camp – wow! We didn’t see that one until we were literally shooting, which was a smart move for reaction shots. And then there were the towns like Carentan and the locations in Switzerland. We were very lucky boys.”
Despite his obvious passion and talent, acting wasn’t Shane’s first subject of study. Before switching to theatre studies he first considered journalism, but was it a serious vocation?
“I did originally study journalism, yes, but I’m not sure how serious I was about it. It wasn’t like All The President’s Men with some kind of yearning to unearth the big stories that would ultimately end in Watergate. I liked the idea of being some kind of sports writer, really, in the style of Hunter S. Thompson. Drug taking optional – ha! Actually, I’m a Liverpool fan, so there might have been a moment where I wanted an excuse to get to Anfield as often as possible!
So the door to journalism closed and the curtain on acting was raised. What has been the hardest part of that transition?
“The hardest part of being an actor is not the job itself – that would be like comparing myself to a real soldier or a person in the emergency services who is dealing with life and death situations every day! Actors have challenges, but let’s put it into perspective. For somebody like me, it’s the unpredictability. I never know whether I’m coming or going. Not a great deal of autonomy in that, and planning and arranging anything with anybody is a nightmare!”
“I’ve never really played a role I wish I hadn’t – they’ve all been enjoyable experiences for one reason or another. I am picky, though. It might even be a bad habit. I just tend to head things off at the pass if I don’t think it’s a good move. How many times do you see things badly executed or horribly miscast? That’s a difficult watch.”
And what if there was a movie of The Life of Shane Taylor, who would play the lead role?
“If there was a movie made of my life then I’d at least want a call back. Nobody knows Taylor’s ticks like I do!”
Over the years, Shane has acted alongside the likes of Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Gambon, Vanessa Redgrave, Charles Dance and Eddie Izzard. Is there anyone he hasn’t worked with yet that he would like to?
“Who would I like to work with? I can pick somebody from the past or from the present? It’s funny, we all admire certain actors, but working with them might be the single most painful experience you could ever encounter! We’ve all read the stories – there’s a fair share of bullies and divas out there in the field.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with some good people, but the making of process can be excruciating if there’s somebody troublesome to be around, and I’m one for harmony in the workplace. There’s no excuse for not doing your bit to provide it. If people have to start treading on egg shells around any uber-pampered actor or have to start playing to their mood swings, then that actor is an asshole. Same goes for directors with questionable attitudes – anybody!”
“I know he had personal issues during his lifetime, but I haven’t read much about Monty Clift [From Here to Eternity] being difficult to work with so I’d go with him because I’m a fan. Buster Keaton would be another.”
Who is Shane inspired by or aspires to be like?
“I don’t really aspire to be like anybody. I love Tom Waits, though, if that helps! He’s got it right. Whatever you think of his music (I adore it), he’s been chucking out his own kind of art under a unique umbrella and keeping it real, away from the crowd for years! He’s a family man and a big inspiration.”
“I think it’s important to live and keep everything connected. One feeds the other, art and life are not mutually exclusive. Actors can be too caught up in their own little bubble, which can be seductive. I’ve been in those environments myself and have known a few who indulged a little too much and got damaged. I never wanted that and I certainly didn’t want to be too detached from living some kind of regular way of life. Walking around in a three-piece suit made of peacock feathers and displaying your artistic plumage is admirable – but I need a balance, man!”
Despite playing a variety of roles in the past, are there any other roles Shane would really like to get his teeth into?
“There are a few things I’m attached to at the moment that will be fun to play, so fingers crossed. I love roles like Johnny Depp’s ‘Ed Wood’. ‘Billy Brown’ in Buffalo ’66. ‘Chris Stevens’ in Northern Exposure or ‘Agent Cooper’ from Twin Peaks. I like Misfits and eccentrics, mainly. The big irony is I tend to play soldiers or even bad guys on the alpha male side of things, but that’s typecasting for you!”
Recently, Shane played David in Agriculture – a sci-fi web series written and directed by Grant Watson. As online channels such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. become more popular, will this make TV and cinema obsolete in the future?
“I think traditional, so-called terrestrial TV is in trouble. I really do. Streaming channels like Netflix, Amazon Prime – I’ve got Curzon Home Cinema which I love – are not just the future, they’re the here and now. And beyond that, you’ll probably see story content being controlled by remotes. I mean, we can all pick what we want to watch nowadays but I’m talking about controlling the narrative by remote. It’s happening already in some areas.”
“I saw a live show once that had a story based around a guy’s documentary that was screening on stage and the entire audience had remote controls. After a scene or two, the audience would then have their decisions polled on what he should do next at the touch of a button, with the winning majority of votes guiding the hero to the next phase of the documentary. Like those Choose Your Own Adventure books, which was the really the inspiration for what this guy created. For a Hollywood film, it would probably mean a zillion hours of film footage to address every possible outcome but, boy, what an acting job! Actually, cometh the hour, the acting will probably be done by avatars by then.”
Agriculture was partly funded by Arts Council England. For production companies, particularly smaller ones, this sort of funding is vital but it’s always faced with opposition from the Government. What will this mean for projects like this?
“Do I have any views on arts funding? All good but there can always be more. Government cuts in the UK, along with things like Brexit, haven’t really helped the cause. Film, theatre and television are worth a great deal to the economy and people expect a top quality product – but let’s not go there. I’m sure it’ll all work itself out in the end but, just in case, be ready for Doctor Who Daleks being made from yoghurt pots!”
So, what does the future look like for Mr Shane Taylor?
“I’ve just finished shooting a feature called Hunter Killer. I’m in the US navy – surprise! My dad was in the merchant navy so there’s a little doff to the old sea dog. Gary Oldman, Billy Bob Thornton, Gerard Butler and Common are among the headliners and it’s out next year.”
According to IMDB, Hunter Killer is currently in post-production. The synopsis states ‘An untested American submarine captain teams with US Navy Seals to rescue the Russian president, who has been kidnapped by a rogue general’. Sounds interesting and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the release date of that!
Away from the cameras, comic-cons and Band of Brothers events, how does Shane relax?
“I write. I play guitar. Music has always been important to me and I’m in a band called Stalker Miller which is a great release and a lot of fun. The last book I read was a graphic novel called Birthright (get it!), the last album was the anniversary re-issue of Temple of the Dog, and film wise was the Iranian horror, Under The Shadow. I’ve also just finished Stranger Things (who doesn’t love that?!) and Black Mirror – Charlie Brooker is indeed the new Rod Serling!”
As mentioned, the Band of Brothers Actors Reunion was in Bastogne this past weekend. Shane was in Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day with the World War II Foundation for similar events. Has he been to the other locations where Easy Company were?
“I was lucky enough to be in Normandy and Bastogne because of Band of Brothers. It’s been so much more than just a job. It’s opened doors to the real men and their families, and to a greater understanding of a very important part of human history. And in these testing times, a piece of history that can never be forgotten.”
I can say with definitive proof that the Band of Brothers fandom will ensure this part of history will never be forgotten while we’re around. What is the legacy of the series and what does it mean to Shane?
“I’m very proud of the legacy of Band of Brothers. I have very touching letters from military vets, medics, students, and that sort of thing makes everything about the show worthwhile. Somebody sent me a message recently saying they’d just finished training to be a paramedic and that Doc Roe was their inspiration. How great is that? It’s very humbling to say the least.”
That truly is an honourable legacy. Thanks to Shane for taking the time to answer my questions and give us an insight into Band of Brothers and himself. Some photos from the weekend in Bastogne can be found on my Flickr page.
To find out more about the World War II Foundation – one of the world’s leading non-profit organisations committed to educating future generations about the personal stories of the WWII generation – go to www.wwiifoundation.org
Jumping For Heroes 2011 | 70th Anniversary of D-Day Reunion 2014 | 70th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy 2014 | 71st Anniversary of D-Day 2015 | Band of Brothers Road Trip 2016 | Band of Brothers Reunion – Bastogne 2016
[i] Band of Brothers has very recently been knocked off the top position by Planet Earth II (2006)