Interview with Doug Allen – Alton More 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 near Atlanta, Georgia to the D-Day beaches of Normandy and across Europe until the end of the war.
Previously, I spoke to Shane Taylor about his experience of playing Doc Roe in the series [The Doc will see you now – 14 Dec 2016] as well as his career to date. Next in this series of interviews with the cast of Band of Brothers, I caught up with Doug Allen who played Pvt. Alton More to find out more about his career, his interests and the legacy of Band of Brothers.
Seventeen years after it was first shown, Band of Brothers is still the second top-rated TV series on IMDB – above more recent shows such as Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Wire. The series is still repeated on TV today without the effects looking dated or the actors looking particularly aged (“like a fine wine” as a wise friend always says), so why is it still held in such high regard long after its release?
“I think its longevity is because it’s character-based and those characters are real people who actually did the incredible acts of bravery that are depicted. Seeing the real guys at the beginning and end of every episode sets the frame of reference for the viewer that everything they are about to see actually happened, and that’s very powerful.”
“This power of ‘bookending’ was used recently as a trick by Christopher Nolan in Interstellar. If you watch, the film is bookended by what seems like interviews of what life was like in the past – Nolan uses the same visual framing as used in Band of Brothers with the person alone with a black background to make it look like a testimony, even though the film is fiction. It added a profundity that set my mind, initially at least, to a true story.”
“Also, there were very few special effects in Band of Brothers. It was rumoured at the time of the shoot that the pyrotechnics budget for all ten episodes was consumed by episode three. The stunts were real stunts and it was what is termed ‘enhanced practical’. So all the explosions and stunts were real but maybe enhanced by a little CGI. It’s the best way – something that is all computer generated holds no interest for me after a while. I need human beings and their journeys, and that’s what Band of Brothers has, and that is why it has stood the test of time.”
“We have a movie industry obsessed with ‘superheroes’. As an actor it’s something we all want (but nobody likes), mainly for reasons of money and status. I feel the audience is getting wise to this and, when people feel they are being spoon-fed or worked over in some way, they start to look for something truthful and honest. And there is nothing more honest than Band of Brothers.”
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 alike. How has the internet helped to sustain Band of Brothers even after it ended?
“I think the revelation of social media has enabled the series to cross over to a new generation of audience, without a doubt. Viewing habits have evolved dramatically to when I was in my thirties even. Episodic television is binge-watched almost exclusively and ‘word of mouth’, that has always been a part of a success, now happens overnight in some cases. But it also means that fads and trends pass quickly, and it’s on to the next thing.”
“I find social media frustrating and anxiety ridden. I have to be careful with it for my own wellbeing as I was forgetting to look up at the world; instead always looking down at my device for some kind of affirmation or cause of perceived intrigue. Life is better without it quite frankly though Instagram I like because it’s just images.”
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?
“I don’t know really. I’m proud to be a part of it and I’m delighted it gets a lot of fans all over the world, but I don’t really identify because of my age really. I was too young for Star Wars (the one in the 70s and 80s!) and I’m too old for Harry Potter. I loved Indiana Jones, but without the connection to other fans I never really experienced a ‘fandom’ so to speak.”
“I was at MCM Comic Con in London a few weeks ago and thought it was incredible – all the people of different ages finding communities in which they can be themselves and be creative, especially in cosplay, as they are at home making their own costumes. When I was in Bastogne [for the Band of Brothers Reunion in 2016], fans had made badges, drawings, cartoons and books – it was wonderful. I found it captivating and heart-warming, so anything that gets people from all over the world to celebrate and explore their passions, interests and geekiness in a way that promotes them to be creative, has to be a good thing. I’m all for it.”
But can it go a little too far?
“I think a little obsession can be a good thing, but when individuals get extreme it’s because they have lost a little perspective – like what I said earlier about social media and losing the ability to ‘look up’ to the world around you. It all depends on the individual and the struggles they have in their own life. Boundaries are essential in growing up, but can disintegrate under an obsession. It’s best to be kind and forgive those who lose themselves for a moment.”
As mentioned, back in May, Doug attended MCM Comic Con in London to promote the new epic martial arts film, Nightshooters. He featured on a panel alongside writer/director Marc Price, producer Bart Ruspoli [Ed Tipper in Band of Brothers], award winning action actor, stuntman, and martial artist Jean-Paul Ly, and fellow Band of Brothers alumni Nick Aaron [Popeye Wynn] and Phil Barantini [Skinny Sisk]. What role does Doug have in the movie?
“I play a washed-up B-movie actor who finds himself being chased by criminals and is completely inept at looking after himself. It was a departure for me as I usually play tough guys so it was fun to do a comedy. I saw it as a chance just to be free. It was a tiny budget and we all pretty much worked for free because the script was so funny. The lead in the movie is Jean-Paul Ly – a future superstar if ever I saw one.”
“It was all shot at night so I was super tired after a long year when we started and, by the end, I was totally wiped out so didn’t enjoy it as much as I should. I feel I may have hit some scenes right but missed a few beats here and there too. At around 5am everyone starts to go a little nuts and this affects performances a bit. But that’s the good thing about acting in this kind of project – trying something new and exploring it in a different way compared to episodic television that has all the pressure and expectation of a particular required performance. In this one I let go a bit, it was fun.”
“I’ve never done a panel and it was interesting. I loved Comic Con and it was lovely to be up on stage doing a panel with the producer and other cast. I look upon it as an enjoyable experience.”
A lot of actors have attended comic cons in costume to experience them incognito. Do you belong to any fandoms and is dressing up something that might be considered?
“I don’t really belong to any fandoms. This question made me laugh out loud because I just pictured me dressed up as Indiana Jones or something! I would attend as a guest if the opportunity came up though, its harmless fun.”
Going back to Band of Brothers, it has so many memorable scenes for a variety of episodes so what memory stands out the most?
“I don’t really know, but seeing Tom Hanks run across the set in Episode 5 [Crossroads] with a Forrest Gump-style beard [he was filming Cast Away at the time] is still a memory that is quite vivid. In that same episode there was a huge line of explosions representing an airstrike. The explosions started about a mile away, I had never seen anything like it – plumes of dust and special effects being launched at what must have been over 100ft in the air, one after the other. Boom… Boom… Getting closer and closer. The tanks and hardware would shake the ground beneath you as they came past. The scale and size of the sets and all the departments that were based in the hangers – I have never seen anything like it since. I guess it’s the scale of everything that blew me away.”
“Also, being directed in a scene with Scott Grimes in Episode 3 [Carentan] by Mikael Salomon. We were working away and Mikael would pop his head around the monitor and give some direction – this went on until the head that popped round the monitor to direct me was Steven Spielberg!! I froze for a few seconds then went on as normal. He did this now and again, you would hear a helicopter, then he would appear, then an hour or so later the helicopter would signal his departure.”
“A particular memory though was every time the veterans turned up – the atmosphere changed to one of awe. They were forces of nature that seemed to churn the air around them into a shimmering submission. It was quite something being around them.”
Away from the cameras, Doug recently gained a Masters Degree in Law. This is quite a departure from acting, so has the interest in the legal profession always been there?
“I’ve not always had a passion for it, I did very badly at school and never passed a single exam in ten years. I do have learning disabilities – dyslexia, ADD and Irlen syndrome – but they were left undiagnosed until a few years ago.”
“I started my shift into law with a distance learning law degree (with the Open University) which took six years. I did it really to prove something to myself and to gain some self-esteem. I wasn’t getting much acting work and I was a cycle messenger during the week and worked construction every other weekend.”
“When I graduated I was proud of myself, but I still didn’t feel like I knew the subject, and wanted the experience of being part of a proper university, turn up at class and be with other students, etc. So, I enrolled on a Law Masters evening course at a Birkbeck, University of London. I got help for my disabilities and that’s really where I fell in love with it.”
“I volunteer at a legal charity and do mini pupillages – where you shadow a barrister in court – with immigration and criminal sets (a set is a company of barristers, they each specialise in different jurisdictions). It’s such fascinating and powerful work, helping the dispossessed and marginalised gives a sense of ‘standing’ inside the community. As an actor you’re on the outside to a certain extent, watching and observing.”
“It has been invigorating to put work into something that actually has a meaning to someone. It sounds worthy but it’s good for the soul and has been transformative for me and my outlook on life. I start the Bar program in September – it’s very different from the US here in the UK; it’s a full year study (full-time) and it will be my third law degree. Then I don’t know, if an opportunity comes up to work with a good set I will take it, but if a really interesting acting job comes up that may be in a series or something I will take that for sure.”
While getting a law degree (or three!) is definitely not an easy journey to take, acting is no means an easy career choice either. What has been the most difficult part of this path?
“The hardest part is just powerlessness. As a kind of a lowly jobbing actor I get the work I get, I have no real power to choose – not if I want to actually act and try to learn while earning a living. The bread and butter for me is guesting in episodic television, sometimes it’s interesting but, at the end of the day, the job becomes about managing personalities. You learn your lines, manage egos and personalities all day, then learn lines and do the same thing the following day, which takes the fun out of it to a certain extent. But I always learn something in a day’s filming, and that’s important for me, and it’s given me a great life (most of the time) so I can’t complain.”
“Ultimately all I’ve ever wanted is a varied and interesting life. As soon as acting becomes uninteresting, I’ll move on. I have a job in a law firm for the summer and next year I want to do some theatre but it’s difficult to plan ahead, almost impossible in fact. My philosophy is very much to do what is in front of me. If it’s acting then that’s what I do; if it’s something else then that’s great too. Life is too short to sit around waiting for the phone to ring.”
“So, each morning I get up and hoist the sail and let the wind take me wherever it wants. I just have to be present and, regardless of the result, be grateful and get the most out of it, whether it’s calm seas or stormy oceans.”
It all sounds extremely exciting. If this was made into The Life of Doug Allen, who would play the lead role?
“A laughable premise, I don’t know John Hamm I suppose?”
Over the years, Doug has worked in many great productions including Sherlock, EastEnders, Spotless and The Royals. Is there anyone in particular he hasn’t worked with that he would like to?
“I’d like to have worked with Richard Harris, a great actor and life force. I like working class actors who have fun and don’t buy into the bullshit. The 60s and 70s seemed to have a lot characters – but may be its just the perspective of passing time, they were probably arseholes who knows?!”
“I would love to work with Paul Bettany again, I did my first gig with him. I am a fan of Paddy Considine and Sam Rockwell too. And I’ve always wanted to work with Tom Hanks, he is an incredible man and really humble human being.”
A particular role Doug would like to undertake is the story of the great American lawyer Clarence Darrow – a one-man play by David W. Rintels. The story moves between Darrow’s 1890’s Chicago apartment, his 1920’s law office, and a courtroom, with him reminiscing about his life and loves, as well as his legal victories and defeats and the intellectual and moral issues involved. It sounds perfect for Doug so maybe we’ll see him appear in a production in the near future.
With so many varied interests, who is Doug inspired by or aspires to be like?
“I have no idols in acting now really, Mickey Rourke perhaps. Although I do idolise Paul Newman and Jack Nicholson, but doesn’t everyone? There are many really great actors around that I admire and respect but they don’t necessarily inspire me and I don’t idolise them – not in an aggressive way you understand, I just get inspiration from elsewhere in life. I will always idolise David Bowie though, always. I appreciate hard work but we know that doesn’t give you success in this game necessarily, it’s luck, chance, being in the right place at the right time. And I have no desire or respect for the perceived status of fame.”
“The lawyers I have met inspire me; those who work in immigration. It’s hard to make a living and an endless grind at the service of others less fortunate, that to me is inspiring. If you have seen TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, he was an inspiring human being for sure, and the long sequence of injustices he suffered literally makes my blood boil.”
“In my Social Justice module in my Masters I learnt of a young American lawyer who graduated Harvard Law in the mid-1950s. He moved directly to East Harlem in New York to become a poverty lawyer, his name was William Stringfellow and he wrote several books. He was a deeply religious man, which is not my thing, but he did some amazing work over his lifetime. I do dream of moving to America and becoming a lawyer, maybe it will happen one day, who knows.”
“Michelle Alexander, who wrote The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and the contributors to 13th [a documentary about the prison system in the US and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality]. Those people who give their time helping others – they are the ones who inspire me.”
“It’s worth noting that you never see films about actors; you always see films depicting normal people doing extraordinary things – and that says a lot to me. Tom Hanks plays a lot of those roles, and he always gets the performance just right which reflects very well on him. Because just being a very good actor isn’t enough to convey what he does on screen.”
“There are lots artists that inspire me too of course. To name just a few: Kate Tempest is an exceptional poet, Jenny Saville a great painter, conceptual artist and activist Ai Weiwei is inspirational, the young performer and writer Donald Glover is an incredibly talented human being… But my list here is endless so I will stop there!”
As mentioned, recently Doug has been involved in Nightshooters as well as appearing in Sky’s Bulletproof alongside Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters. But what is Doug up to at the moment?
“I’m in Berlin devising a television series. I have written a six-episode treatment and a pilot episode and character bible. I will pitch it here and there when its ready. But I have no expectations, I am doing it purely for the experience of itself. It’s about a single parent family of twins (I have a twin sister) who grow up in an alcoholic environment and a tragedy splits them apart, they meet again years later.”
“And Berlin is my favourite place. I’ve known the city since I was a baby, have family and friends here and feel totally at home. It has changed dramatically of course since the fall of the Berlin Wall. A few of my friends here have since got their Stasi files from when they were behind the Iron Curtain, and their stories make you run cold.”
It seems a very busy life from acting to lawyering, London to Berlin, film to TV…
“I don’t relax very well I’m afraid. I go rock climbing, but it’s in the city so I do bouldering. When I watch TV I tend to watch the same thing over and over so I don’t have to think. I ride a motorbike, but the way I ride it I wouldn’t call relaxing! But it does calm me afterward.”
“The last new film I saw was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – Frances McDormand was exceptional and I love Sam Rockwell. But I also watched Wayne’s World with a pal (for the 30th time probably) the other night so…”
“And the last book I finished was Dry by Jane Harper. At the moment I’m reading Gomorra by Roberto Saviano and In Defence of Housing by sociologist David Madden.”
Going back to the old favourite… Doug has attended several of the Band of Brothers reunion events from the ‘Jumping For Heroes’ parachute jump in Devon in 2011 – to raise money for the Richard Winters Leadership Memorial statue near Utah Beach – to the Bastogne reunion in 2016. Has he been to the other locations where Easy Company were?
“No, I’m afraid not. I would like to but in my own time. I would like to see the memorial statue we all jumped for a few years back. I get a little overwhelmed by the fanfare of a reunion although it’s great to see the guys again.”
“You know, that’s the greatest thing of all I think – we’re are all still mates. We even have a WhatsApp group with about 20 of us in it, although much of the banter on this group is unrepeatable!!! And whenever I see a boot camp cast member on telly I always smile and am super happy for them – always. That’s a lovely thing to have.”
I think I have something in my eye… but more importantly, who wants in on that WhatsApp group?! Anyway, next year marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day and, hopefully, an actors’ reunion event in Normandy to coincide. There is even talk of some cast members taking part in the Daks Over Normandy event. Will Doug be among the attendees?
“Hmm… let me see about that. It would be the one to go to wouldn’t it?”
That’s a definite maybe! And, lastly, what is the legacy of Band of Brothers?
“It’s the story of Easy Company, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division in World War II. That’s the perfect way to end this interview.”
And that is the legacy – keeping the story of the real soldiers alive. The real men who fought for our freedom.
Thanks to Doug for taking the time to answer my questions and give us an insight into Band of Brothers and himself. Please keep your eyes peeled for more of the same in the near future.
Normandy 2018 | 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