reporter contents :: albright college
|Living History: Discovering Bataan|
e threw a suitcase in the back of his car, quit his job and trekked across the United States to Los Angeles, a city where he had no job, no friends and no place to live. What he did have was a dream of becoming an actor.
Four years ago Lou Walters ’98, a biology major, decided to hit the road and head for the bright horizon of the west coast. He had never been farther west than Pittsburgh when he pulled up his roots. “I was getting a mid-life crisis out of the way,” he says jokingly. After living out of his car for a while, Walters began to find more auditions and saw his dream slowly coming to life. One of these auditions, in fact, changed his outlook on life and his opinions about American history forever.
The audition ad called for men who could realistically portray prisoners of war in a Japanese prison camp; in other words, they were looking for actors who were thin and could perhaps lose more weight. Walters learned that the project was going to be called, “Bataan Rescue,” and would be a large-scale PBS film production inspired by the book, Ghost Soldiers. When the audition time came, Walters walked into the audition room and was told to take off his shirt. “They looked at me and said, ‘You look skinny enough’ and that was it. I got the part!”
To prepare for the film, Walters read the book, Ghost Soldiers, by Hampton Sides. “I needed to get an idea of what they went through,” Walters says, referring to the experience of the POWs in Bataan. He also used diets and exercise to lose 15 pounds before the shooting began.
Although he seemed to breeze through the auditions, what followed was anything but easy. Because “Bataan Rescue” was supposed to be set in the Bataan Peninsula, a very lush and vegetated area in the Philippines, filming took place 45 minutes north of Los Angeles, on a ranch in the mountains. It was a four-day shoot, with work beginning in the early morning and lasting until midnight or 1 a.m.
Besides full body make-up, used to give the appearance of torture, disease, and sunburn, Walters and the other actors who portrayed POWs had little in the way of costumes. “We wore shorts and vests: no shirts, no shoes and no pants,” Walters remembers. During the day, this was a blessing, for temperatures were usually in the high 90s. However, at night, Walters says, when the temperatures dropped to around 48 degrees, he and his fellow cast members spent much of their night shoots shivering, particularly when they did shoots where they had to wade through cold streams. Of course, Walters is quick to point out, “nothing that we faced can even compare to the experience of the actual prisoners of the Bataan prison camps.”
One of Walters’ most memorable experiences was when he had to portray a POW in a torture scene. After having his hands tied with rope, he was strung up and had to hang there until the director decided that enough footage had been shot. He got a very small taste of what it must have really been like for the prisoners. “The rope cut into my hands and, because we were shooting outside, red ants starting crawling up my legs and feet and stinging me!” He was also involved in scenes in which there were gunfights and in which pyrotechniques were used. “It was exciting to have the director and stunt coordinator tell us we had to limp and hobble on a crutch, be convincing, but do it in 15 seconds to clear the explosions,” Walters says.
Torture aside, Walters looks back on the filming as a positive and educational experience. “I learned a lot,” he says. “I was not familiar with the Bataan Death March or the Bataan Rescue before reading Ghost Soldiers and being involved in this production.” What he learned in preparing for and during the shoot made him realize how many things he has to be thankful for. “I don’t think that most Americans even know it happened, because so many of them are historically ignorant. They take being American for granted, and aren’t aware of the important sacrifices that were made for us.” Walters left the east coast looking for new opportunities and he found them. However, he also found a new outlook on history and a new admiration for those who have come before him and paved the way.
He now finds himself performing in front of perhaps his most critical audience – his students. During the day, he’s a biology and integrated science teacher, and in the evenings and on the weekends he auditions for plays, television shows and films. He recently auditioned for the television show, “The Shield,” and for a part in Cameron Crowe’s new film. “Auditions will come in spurts,” says Walters; some weeks there may be quite a few and the next week none at all. He is always on the lookout for a new role, a new challenge and a new way of making his acting career blossom.
– Loren A. Morgan ’05