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David Ayer’s bumpy and brilliant road to Fury

David Ayer didn’t grow up in a rich, privileged family. He didn’t go to Yale either.

His road to writing and directing the just-released major World War II movie “Fury” was very different indeed.

While growing up in Maryland and Minnesota, he was thrown out of the house by his mother and spent his teen years with a cousin on the tough streets of South Central Los Angeles. From there he went into the Navy’s submarine corps. So I asked him on the phone recently about exactly how misspent his early youth had been.

“My Dad died when I was very young. I raised a lot of hell. And when I came to California I didn’t really stop.”

So, I asked, When DID you stop? Certainly, he’d now be considered a productive working citizen of the state of California.

His answer: “Yesterday.”

He is a bit less terse – and flip and funny – talking about the road that led up to his making his current movie “Fury” with Brad Pitt.

On the near-universal characterization as “old-fashioned” of his World War II film about a U.S. tank crew in Germany in the final weeks of the war

“It’s pretty intentional on my part. I wanted to show a day in the life. World War II is so black and white as an event. It truly was a struggle between good and evil but down at the stretch line, it was morally murky. For the fighting man, there were just as many moral hazards as there are now in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was fascinated by the end of the war. The U.S. Army is tired, the equipment is tired. The men are tired. We were the invader at this point, invading Germany, as opposed to being a liberator.

“No one wants to be the last guy to die at the end of a war. I just wanted to show this family – these brothers – how close they were. It’s a family that happens to live in a tank and kill people.”

On using his experiences in the Navy’s submarine corps to make a movie about a World War II tank crew.

“[The tank crew’s newest recruit] Norman has really the worst first day at school ever. And any time you go into a line unit in the military, it’s the worst thing in the world to be the new guy. You have to prove yourself. You’ve got to take a lot of guff off the guys that have been there. It’s definitely something I could identify with.

“For me so many of these movies don’t really dive into how the fellows felt. Their emotional life and how they coped with each other. That’s what I wanted to show.”

On staying in contact with his cast member Shia LaBeouf – who plays a character named “Bible” – during his recent round of bad publicity in gossip columns, infotainment shows and Internet web sites.

“It’s a lot of fun to talk about the rumors and things like that. But the reality is that in prep for this role, he embedded in a National Guard unit. He shadowed an Army chaplain. And learned scripture. And how to minister to troops. He got into the spiritual aspect of his character. A lot of the sort of rumors and things like that boil down to this: you have an actor who’s amazingly talented. He’s grown up as a child actor. He’s trying to shed the past like a snake sheds his skin. He’s really trying to redefine himself. And he broke a lot of the PR rules in the process.”

On his script for “Training Day” winning a Best Actor Oscar for Denzel Washington

“I wrote that script because I wasn’t getting any traction. I wanted to get hired in Hollywood. So I wrote something really for me – something that had no shot, I thought, at getting made. I think I wrote it in ’96. It took over four years to go into production. But it got me a lot of work in the interim.

“In all honesty, I wanted to write something as honest and real as I could. There was a version where it was going to be Sam [Samuel L.] Jackson and Matt Damon. It went through several incarnations on its way to the screen. I thought Denzel was absolutely the right guy for that. [Ethan Hawke co-starred.] I was pretty excited when he came on board.”

On Brad Pitt becoming the star of “Fury.”

“I wrote that script on spec. It initiated a kind of casting process anyway. I heard that Brad Pitt had it. Somebody had slipped it to him. I never submitted it to him and said ‘Hey Brad, do my movie.’ Somebody just slipped him the script and before I knew it, he was all in. It was pretty unexpected and pretty exciting because I’ve been wanting to work with him for some time.”

On whether critics matter and the small but adamant group of critics who think of his film about cops in South Central L. A. “End of Watch” as one of the great cop movies of the past decade.

“To be honest, you do something. You put your heart into it. I understand that’s part of the job. It’s a public job. I wonder, though, if there’s a cultural disconnect in this country.

“This movie is a slice of life, a family in a tank. Very different from anything out there today. And yet there are people out there today who say that’s a negative.

“I think about critics this way: critics are critics. I think there are just more of them now, with the Internet. You’ve got populist critics, you’ve got guys who are more intellectual. It really runs the gamut. At the end of the day, I made ‘End of Watch’ for cops and I made this movie for people who’ve been in the military.”

On what he’s going to do as his next project.

“I’m just looking at the want ads to see what’s out there.”

email: jsimon@buffnews.com

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