I see him summon the Shadow Court into this world, oblivious to the consequences. He asks them the immunity of the disease of time and death.. and they grant it. Then I see him running, madly through fields. The realization of just what price he has unwittingly paid hanging like a tragedy mask from his face. He falls to his knees before the town he called home, now a dark circus of screams. Her’s is among them, but he can do nothing to stop it. What a weak despicable man he is. But I am not he… I am Reaver.
It’s time for an extremely somber Vet Tales, the series that is just a collections of thoughts and stories from my life, specifically my subjective army-related experiences. In tonight’s episode, I channel my inner thirteen year old and ramble.
It’s a weird moment when you return to the civilian world for the first time after AIT. Of all experiences, I’m inclined to think that this sensation of “otherness” upon return is the most universally felt experience in the army, so much so that everyone around you calls it the “real world.” It’s disconcerting because you’ve just spent months learning a whole new reality, and when you think back to that fabled real world, you don’t know what to expect.
Isn’t that ridiculous? You’ve spent nineteen years existing in it and a handful of months being reprogrammed was enough to forget it. But it’s not even that you’ve forgotten; it’s become an alternate reality, parallel but dissimilar from your current one. As with every egocentric human, you wonder if how much you’ve changed will in turn change the rest of the world.
The real world has its flaws, and you can’t believe how much they annoy you. Everyone wants to talk to you and congratulate you, say how proud they are of you. They want to tease you about your hair and ask you if you learned how to kill people all in the same breath. Oh, and of course, they all want pictures of you in your uniform. They all want you to model in your little outfit with your little poses, because that’s all they are: outfits and poses. In this world, no one knows the difference between parade rest and at ease. No one cares why you won’t just wear your hat indoors.
You feel this separation from this world, and you wonder what world you’re living in if not the real one. A fake? Likely. The army, as you’ve found out, is nothing but fakes. Fake leaders who lead blindly, fake equipment that never works right, fake war games for fake training, fake simulations for fake missiles, even down to the god damn fake eggs in the DFAC.
And yet it feels so real. You get sucked into the fantasy of it all. You have to to cope with the ridiculousness, the lack of common sense, the time wasting, the condescension, and most of all, the toxicity. The army trails behind and shadows your every move, and it gradually becomes a permanent part of you. You scoff at the soft, inferior “real world.” The civilians encourage this by constantly putting you on a pedestal while having next to no idea what the military does. The reality is that supporting the troops is American; that’s really all they need.
This continues. You lose touch with that world. Rarely it occurs to you to look on the outside, except when you just want to use its bars and restaurants, and it’s so bizarre now that people live so differently from you. Here, someone is accountable for you at all times; out there, people are accountable for themselves. Here, you’re guaranteed as much food as you want three times a day; out there, there were people lucky to eat thrice in as many days. For you, full healthcare is the standard; for them, it’s a desperate privilege. It’s like they’re from other countries, or at times even other worlds.
From where you’re standing, you’ve got it pretty good. Sure you have to deal with gun-obsessed gung-ho G.I. Joes and arrogant hyper masculine self parodies of soldiers and the associated politics that’re included, but at least in this world it makes sense to you and it’s coming from people you know and trust.
When it’s time to leave, you’re too scared to go back. The lifers taunt you for leaving and call you foolish for wasting a reliable job. “there’s no jobs out there, there’s no healthcare out there! Good luck making it!”
The others congratulate you. You’re not sure which response is worse.
Then, anticlimactic as ever, the army fades from your life. And trust me, it only ever fades; it never vanishes. You’ll have too many memories for that. You’ll dream about it for years afterward. You swore an oath, after all; such things are not to be taken lightly.
and yet you wake up late in a comfortable bed years later. Your dogs are huddled up to you; the snow may have melted, but it’s still cold in the city you – yes, you! – chose to live in. You have all the time in the world to get up. You can make whatever breakfast you want. You answer to no one.
What privileges the real world has! You aren’t embarrassed of getting seen by mental health. Your worth isn’t measured in push-ups. You can anticipate adequate sleep every night. No unexpected barracks checks. No morning formations. No END DAY formations. No FORMATIONS! None! Not a captain to be found! Not a chevron to be seen! Glorious gluttony! Satisfying sloth!
The longer you spend in this world, how much of it still feels fake? The leaders, the time wasting, the condescension, and most of all, the toxicity. At times, I still wonder if I think of the world I live in now as the “real world,” or if, like when I was in the army, there might be yet another “real world” out there.
I know it’s silly and nonsensical and borderline cuckoo tbh. But, in times like these, I feel like it’s more essential than ever to live in the real world, or to at least chase it. I think of how much media and social influence is actively changing the definition of the “real world.” I remember how easy it is to be sucked into another world and that feeling when you realize on some level that what you consider reality is very likely just a shallow remnant of one.
This was all really very rambly. I’ve been more depressed than usual lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I want everyone to think a lot about this.
Don’t let anyone tell you to let go of your grip on reality. Please clasp the real world in a vice grip if you have to. Maybe it doesn’t change with you, but maybe you can change it.
Dan Stevens is having a bit of a moment. In February, you could see him Legion, FX’s stellar, must-see Marvel TV series in which the 34-year-old English actor plays a troubled young man who, despite having lived in a mental institution since his teens, discovers that he’s not really schizophrenic. (The bad news: He’s actually an all-powerful mutant, wanted by the government and controlled by a vicious parasite living inside his mind.) A month later, you might waltz down to your local multiplex and detect Stevens under lots of fur, playing the menacing, melancholy monster in Disney’s live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. And this week, you can head down to your friendly neighborhood art-house theater and see him in The Ticket, an indie character drama about a blind man who inexplicably regains his sight. Factor in small supporting parts in both skewed rom-com/giant-monster movie Colossal and the Richard Gere vehicle Norman, both hitting theaters in the next few weeks, and though it’s only April, the former Downton Abbey heartthrob seems well on his way to winning 2017.
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But during a phone interview, he says he has a hard time looking at this year as some sort of grand, preplanned breakthrough. Really, Stevens insists, it’s just how circumstances worked out. “A lot of things I’ve been working on over the last few years happen to be coming out at the same time,” he demurs. “I did The Ticket four years ago; Beast was created two years ago; and we shot the Legion pilot almost a year ago to the day. It’s amazing how these [releases] sometimes coincide.”
Working in British theater and television for years, Stevens kept building up his resumé. He was then cast in a period drama that writer-director Julian Fellowes was developing in 2010, a multi-narrative about the masters-and-servants relationships in an English estate. Quicker than you could say “upstairs, downstairs,” Downton Abbey became an unexpected pop cultural phenomenon and his caddish-to-compassionate character Matthew Crawley became a fan favorite. In 2012, Stevens left the popular PBS show — his character died in a car crash — and he and his family made the trek to New York. Soon, he was appearing on Broadway alongside Jessica Chastain in a Tony-nominated revival of The Heiress. “Jessica was having a similar moment back then,” he recalls. “I think she had seven films that she’d been working on the previous five years come out in one year. So it’s been great to know her and have seen her go through this. It helps.”
Some noticeably non–drawing-room-drama roles followed that garnered Stevens attention – a psychotic soldier in The Guest, a cross-dressing writer in the cult Web series High Maintenance.
But it was the play that put him in touch with director Ido Fluk, who had been developing a script, inspired by the 2008 economic meltdown, about a blind man whose regained sight activates a materialistic side that leads him to become a predatory success at his real-estate company. After seeing Stevens in The Heiress, the filmmaker knew he had found his star. “When you meet Dan, you realize he’s an incredibly smart person,” Fluk says, adding, “Do you know he was a judge on the Man Booker Prize [in 2012]? What actor do you meet that also has done that?”
“Ido was one of the first directors I met when I got to New York who seemed genuinely excited to collaborate on something,” Stevens says. “It’s a wonderful thing to find that. … I just immediately thought [the script] was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever read. It was almost like a dark fairy tale — it had a real fable quality to it.”
Gloom-flecked fairy tales have been his specialty of late. Even though they were made far apart, it’s hard not to see connections between his work in Legion, Beast and The Ticket. In all three, he plays characters who dance between the shadow and the light — there’s a dark side within these people that cripples them. Sometimes that monstrousness is of their own making, as with his cursed Beast; in Legion, it’s an external evil that his reluctant superhero must battle to the death. When it’s suggested that his Ticket character is also someone who goes through a transformation — from a good soul to a morally bankrupt one — Stevens objects passionately.
“Ido and I really enjoyed this almost taboo idea of ‘What if he actually wasn’t all that great a person before the movie?’” he responds. “It’s interesting that you see this person as going from a nice guy to an awful man. You know, there’s not a huge amount of evidence that his relationships were necessarily that happy beforehand. It’s interesting that people immediately leap to the conclusion that the blind man must be the nice guy. Playing with that taboo felt very alive, very dangerous.
"It’s almost like we shouldn’t make assumptions about anybody,” he adds with a sarcastic laugh. “It’s a good thing to look around and question a few things – it’s a healthy instinct.” (Asked if that extended to the notion of recasting Josh Gad’s LeFou in Beauty and the Beast as gay, a concept that has caused more controversy than its creators probably intended, Stevens replies, “You know, like a lot of things that people get whipped up about online, [it’s] neither one thing or the other. It certainly made Josh’s character a little more interesting than he might otherwise have been.”)
If Stevens himself has a dark side, he’s done a superb job concealing it from his costars. “There’s a certain level of absurdity to our show, and Dan can really tap into that,” Rachel Keller, his Legion costar, says; she cites the scene in which the two halves of his character’s brain, one of which speaks with a British accent, argue with each other. “He can be very focused, very intense – and then he’ll spot a neighborhood bookstore, get wide-eyed and jump around a little bit: ‘Can we go in there?!’” She laughs. “That actually happened.”
His hot streak has left him very much in-demand. He’ll be part of The Raid filmmaker Gareth Evans’ new Netflix thriller Apostle with Michael Sheen and Lucy Boynton, and another season of Legion beckons. You’ll forgive him if it’s all a bit of a blur. “Somebody made me aware that it’s been five years since I was cast in The Heiress,” he says, almost surprised. “So that’s an interesting five-year sort of chapter-marker right there with the release of The Ticket, Beauty and the Beast and Legion – it’s been five years since I came to the States.”
He takes a minute to reflect on how his life has changed in that time span, remembering where he was when he started the smaller of the three projects. “I walked onto that set straight from the set of Night at the Museum 3,” he recalls, “which was my first big studio [film].” Stevens laughs. “I was Sir Lancelot – this sort of mad, bluff idiot, this giant character.” So from Lancelot to Legion – is this his moment? “It has been an interesting few years,” he admits, before cackling loudly one last time.
Hood’s laughter was a hollow thing. “I am glad that there is someone who agrees with me on that, at least.”
He wasn’t sure how conversation had taken this road. Perhaps it was the distant storms that ever reminded him of the siblings Thunder and Whisper. The younger who had admitted feeling jealousy towards him and the older who became embittered with him. He certainly felt responsible. Not because he believed his actions were faulty but because he hadn’t understood how they might be. Such burning passions and that of others ever haunted him as something alien.
Such petty and trite things had spurned them. What inside him was so magnificently broken that he remained so placid even after all that had happened to him? To his kin?
“It’s funny how the ones we lose can stick with us long after they’re gone. Weighing more on our hearts in ways we could never have imagined or wanted.”
Hatred might have been lost on him but guilt and grief? Those he knew.
ancient leviathans head nods, a solemn if not gratuitous gesture. eyes half–close, as paws neatly tuck close while an attempt at getting closer to eye level with that of man is taken. it’s a poor attempt. one that results on the beasts gaze overshadowing the other, but it is an attempt nonetheless. her jaw is set gently on the ground, her golden eyes blink on occasion. at hoods first statement, a sound similar to a stifled rumble erupts from the beasts chest. it is supposed to be a curt chuckle. such sounds are terribly distorted between species.
hatred was the cause of wars. it was the cause of many deaths, of betrayals, of heartbreak. whether it be in the form of death separating lovers, or children from mothers. war. it brought out the worst in simple folk. a force as rampant as a goal of conquest can take out countries easier than one of the dragons own can.
“like ghosts,” her calm & smooth tone carries from her maw. no hostility, no aggression. pure sincerity. “loss can weigh more on the heart than guilt.”
What do the two of you think is the secret to your very special chemistry? When playing these two characters? As actors?
GA: We’ve actually been having a fifteen year affair. [press cackling] DD: I mean, I don’t know why in the beginning. You know, maybe just luck in the beginning. But, you know, after this long, we actually do have a history. So when I look over at Gillian, or you know, I’m Mulder looking over at Scully… there’s a lot of shit that I can call on, you know. We have a lot between us. We don’t really have to make it up. I think that just as people, you know, now, fifteen years later, we’ve just shared so much, regardless of how much we speak to each other, that you know, when I see – I expect to see Gillian, even if I haven’t seen her for a year. [pause] [laughter] DD: She wasn’t listening to me. GA: I was, I was, I was, I heard – DD: You just heard the last line. GA: – no no no, I, but I think, I was really distracted – DD: You were, what were you looking at? GA: – no no no, I wasn’t I wasn’t I wasn’t… DD: You were looking out the window. I don’t have a window like you do. GA: Okay, you can tune out now. Um. I, uh. But that, whatever it is that is between us, was there from the second we started working together. I don’t think it’s, it’s not quantifiable, it’s something that is unique, — and you know, yes, they got lucky, but it was something that Chris had seen, which is why he fought so hard, um, you know, specifically – this is something that has been written about a lot, but, to cast me over somebody else, that he saw something between the two of us that was unique. But you know, it is, we got– whether it’s luck or [mock wistful] that we were meant to be with each all along, I don’t know– DD: Well, there’s chemistry in life, and there’s acting chemistry. I’m not saying they’re the same thing, but they’re as mysterious.
IWTB roundtable press interview, July 2008
as I hit the tag limit but felt there was much to be said about this exchange, I have copied in the intended interpretive comments below:
#ah yes #the fabled acting chemistry #much different from real life chemistry #which is the kind he doesn’t have with gillian #okay but there is so much to say here #it is the sacred origin of our name #shit between us #it is gillian bringing up all on her own the hilarious joke that they might have had sex #or at least want to have sex #gillian the true origin of the shackin up tag #then david getting all mushy at her saying they have a history #he’s like #i guess it was random at first #but at this point our acting isn’t really acting #i just look at gillian and i feel things #deep deep love shit things #that mulder feels too #and i don’t have to make it up #because we been through shit in our lives #fifteen years later#and he has such feelings that it overrides the ordinary need to see in person the person one cares about#he doesn’t even need to #he expects to see gillian #which ngl is incredibly adorable to say #like that is definitely family member level yo #and he is sitting there being all sincere with his halting expression of vulnerability #and emotional revelations about his expectation to see her even after a year #and gillian is staring out the window not listening #and when he calls her out she totally denies it #but david’s voice is like #on the edge between let down and mock let down #here he was getting real in front of all these journalists #who are totally annoying wow #and she manages to miss it #or deliberately ‘misses’ it? #in order to deescalate the emotional tone of the conversation? #anyway there he is pouring out his heart about his expectation to see sometime in the future his former costar #and gillian giggles and denies him his mush and then completely contradicts what he said # by saying that it’s just there for no reason #vs. herr sappmeister who brushes off the random chemistry they started with and just wants to talk about their deep deep acting love as people who been through it all #and she just rambles and talks again about FOX not wanting her #and wraps up with another jokey joke about how they were meant to be #by which time david has recovered his dignity and is like #no okay acting chemistry tho #not the real kind bye