Joe Liebgott (played by Ross McCall) is portrayed as Jewish in the miniseries, and based on his name, appearance, and utter hatred of the Germans, his fellow members of E Company all assumed that he was Jewish, but the real Liebgott was a Roman Catholic, the son of Austrian immigrants; according to his son, his especially virulent hatred of the Nazis stemmed largely from his belief that they gave Germanic people in general a bad name. He was apparently aware that his fellow troopers thought he was Jewish, but never bothered to correct them, as he found it amusing.
"Currahee" is the American Cherokee Indian equivalent of "Stands Alone". The original members of the 506th were trained at Currahee Mountain, Georgia. "Currahee" was the cry of the 506th as they cleared the door on their first jump, and it continued to be their cry when in combat.
During the boot camp training, Neal McDonough's weapon went off, and damaged part of his face. After the wound became infected, he had to be taken to a downtown London hospital at ten p.m. Not wanting the press to hear about it, he gave his name as Buck Compton. He also refused Novocaine while the wound was stitched, under the basis that a 1940s soldier wouldn't have had it. He was wearing his costume the whole time. He arrived back at the base at three a.m., just in time for drills.
During the actors' ten-day "Basic Training" they were required to stay in character at all times. The only exception was the "officers", who were treated just as poorly as the "enlisted men" by the training corps.
Prior to production, the various directors were told that the actors were in contact with the veterans they were playing. If the actors said that the veterans disapproved or disagreed with something in the script, it would have to be changed. Many of the actors frequently got themselves taken out of certain scenes after the respective veterans said they weren't there for the event in question.
Donald Malarkey is seen meeting an American-born German POW who had lived in Oregon, Malarkey's home state, but whose family had returned to Germany before the war. That incident actually happened, but with one crucial difference, in the film, Malarkey hadn't known the man back in Oregon. In real-life, the two had actually worked across the street from each other for years.
Several innovations involved the use and firing of squibs, the small charges that cause the bullet holes in costumes and sets. The special effects team came up with a firing mechanism using compressed air, instead of the traditional pyrotechnics, so that actors could be much closer together when a squib went off without the dangers inherent in conventional squibs. They also invented a new firing system, whereby an actor was pre-wired with up to eight hits, controlled by a button he activated that was hidden in the sleeve of his costume.
The actors endured a grueling ten-day boot camp where they learned the basics, from how to wear a uniform and stand at attention to sophisticated field tactics and parachute jump training. The average day was sixteen hours long, beginning at five a.m., rain or shine, with strenuous calisthenics, and a three to five mile run, followed by several hours of tactical training, including weapons handling and jump preparation.
According to Matt Hickey (O'Keefe), because the on-set hours were so long, actors frequently just slept around the set. He jokes that while on the concentration camp set, he, Ron Livingston, and James Madio went to sleep at the top of a lookout tower. They later woke to find out that an Assistant Director had been frantically searching for them for two hours.
Over three hundred thirty thousand pounds of recycled paper were used to create the snow for the forest set, the largest ever used in a production, and it took four weeks to dress the entire set. The total budget for the miniseries was one hundred twenty million dollars. Of that, construction costs were seventeen million dollars.
The black and white "Invasion stripes" on the wings of the C-47 in the scene where the soldiers are entering the plane are wavy and sloppily painted. This is accurate. The word went down to all allied air units on June 4th to paint broad stripes on the planes for recognition. Maintenance personnel used paint brushes, many of them purchased from English retailers, to paint the stripes on thousands of planes, literally overnight. Concerned that the Germans might use Allied aircraft, captured during and before Dunkirk, to infiltrate and destroy Allied air formations, the so-called "invasion stripes" were added to identify friendly planes.
The title of the series (and of Stephen Ambrose's book) is from William Shakespeare's "Henry V": "This story (of the battle) shall the good man teach his son, And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by. From this day to the ending of the world. But we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition."
Jimmy Fallon, who had a brief appearance as Second Lieutenant George C. Rice in episode five, revealed on his talk show, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (2014), that even though his character was shown driving a military Jeep, which are all stick shifts, Fallon himself did not know how to drive one. During filming, the Jeep he was "driving" had to be pushed by crew members. Sound was later added to make it appear as though he was driving it.
The series was screened at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in August of 2001 to members of the 101st Airborne Division just a few weeks before the attacks of September 11, 2001. Several characters from the film, and the actors who portrayed them, including William Guarnere, C. Carwood Lipton, and Donald Malarkey, met with soldiers who were serving in the "Screaming Eagles" at the time. Guarnere even danced the Jitterbug, despite only having one leg. Eighteen months later, the 101st deployed and participated in the invasion of Iraq.
The original script called for Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) to be cold and hostile towards Lieutenant Jones (Colin Hanks). However, Wahlberg said the real Lipton said he got on very well with the man in real-life, so that's how Wahlberg played him.
Damian Lewis claims that when he was waiting to go into his audition, the actor in front of him was almost identical to the real Richard D. Winters. Convinced that the actor would be chosen, Lewis was surprised when the same man came up to him and congratulated him after the audition was over.
The real Frank Perconte reportedly loved the little boost of fame he got from the miniseries. Towards the end of his life, he was referred to as "Mr. Hollywood" by everyone in his rest home. He also remained good friends with James Madio, who played him.
The actors playing the replacements were ostracized by the actors who had been at boot camp, in order to generate an authentic feeling of resentment between them. The exception was Robin Laing (Babe Heffron), who recalls Frank John Hughes (Bill Guarnere) taking him under his wing, as the real Guarnere had done to the real Heffron.
The hard shock that many of the paratroopers spoke of when they jumped at Normandy, causing them to lose their leg bags, helmets, and other equipment, was caused by the parachute the troopers were using (not the type shown in the film). That parachute was called a T-1, and as it deployed out of its pack the canopy came out first, then the suspension lines and finally the risers connected to the harness. With this design, by the time all of the lines are fully deployed the canopy has completely filled with air, acting as a brake for the lines, causing the paratrooper to come to an abrupt stop at the end of the deployment. The heavier the paratrooper and the more equipment he was carrying, the more sudden the stop or shock. Modern-design parachutes deploy in the exact opposite way (lines first, then canopy), greatly reducing the opening shock. On D-Day, not only were the leg bags a new "innovation", with which the paratroopers hadn't practiced, but frequently the aircraft were flying much faster than expected (to avoid flak) and the shock of opening was, therefore, increased.
Renee Lemaire was only given a passing mention in Stephen Ambrose's book. During pre-production, the writers became familiar with her story. She was a native of Bastogne, who worked as a nurse in Brussels, and was visiting family when the battle began. When the aid station was bombed, she evacuated six people from the burning building, and died trying to save a seventh. As she was at a different aid station to the one, to which Eugene Roe kept going back and forth, it's unknown if they ever met. The producers, however, wanted to feature her as a character anyway.
The BBC, despite being a co-funder of the series, still had to pay 22.7 million dollars for the broadcast rights. Surprisingly, the channel chose not to show it on its mainstream channel, BBC1, but on its more culturally-oriented BBC2.
The dummies were modeled after auto crash test dummies, so they had the proper weight and dimensions, and their joints behaved like human joints. When the dummy took a hit, the electromagnet was released and the dummy crumpled as a human would.
Breaking down the top acting parts cast by nationality, there are fifty-seven cast members from the United Kingdom, two from Ireland, twenty-nine from the United States, twelve from Germany, and one from South Africa.
In the series, Joe Liebgott (Ross McCall) states that he wants to go home after the war and run a taxi service. In real-life, Joe Liebgott was a barber by trade. This is reflected in the first episode's opening montage of the paratroopers getting ready for the D-Day jump, where Liebgott can be briefly seen shaving another soldier's head.
The site of the actual Camp Toccoa is now partly occupied by an industrial plant near the highway above Toccoa, Georgia, with the remaining areas now overgrown by a pine forest. A flagpole and monument are located by the highway at what was once the camp's main gate. Locations of former camp streets are denoted by street signs named for personnel and terminology of the paratroops (Currahee Street, for instance) but have a tendency to be snapped up by souvenir hunters. The winding trail up Mount Currahee is named for Colonel Robert F. Sink. It is accessible, but the last few hundred feet are extremely rough, and part of it passes over a bare rock outcropping, not recommended driving for low-slung vehicles. Communications antennas surmount the crest of Currahee.
The Hatfield Aerodrome in Hertfordshire, previously host to part of the Saving Private Ryan (1998) shoot, became the principal location, and sets of the English, Dutch, and French sites, including a river and massive dikes, were created there.
The real-life Donald Malarkey and Warren Muck were good friends with Frederick Niland, a fellow paratrooper in the 101st Airborne. Niland was the soldier who Matt Damon's character was loosely based on in Saving Private Ryan (1998), another World War II project, in which Executive Producer Steven Spielberg was involved. Tom Hanks, who was a Producer on this series, had a major role in "Ryan".
Neal McDonough snuck a bottle of whiskey into boot camp with him, and filled his canteen with it, instead of water. This meant that during the training, he wasn't able to drink too much from it. He joked that the rest of the actors were impressed that he apparently didn't need to hydrate.
Damian Lewis (Dick Winters) put effort into working out prior to going to boot camp, since the real Richard D. Winters was famously one of the best athletes of Easy Company. Lewis estimated that of the approximately fifty actors who went to boot camp, he was the tenth best at exercise.
When the real William Guarnere visited the set, Mark Huberman (Les Hashey) asked him what he thought of his character. When Guarnere replied he didn't like him, Huberman claims that Frank John Hughes never spoke to him on-set again afterwards, though Hughes did clarify that it was for the sake of method acting.
Richard Speight Jr. (Warren H. "Skip" Muck) became badly ill while filming, due to contracting a parasite in the food served by catering. He said that when he returned to the U.S., he'd lost so much weight, that his friends asked if he'd been taking heroin.
David Schwimmer had to go to the hospital during boot camp to get treatment for a knee injury. He reportedly returned with a bag full of candy and "naughty" magazines, snuck in under the watchful eye of Dale Dye.
Bart Ruspoli (Ed Tipper) had to miss the first day of boot camp in order to undergo make-up and prosthetics tests for the scene where his character would get an eye blown off. It was Ron Livingston's job to train him how to assemble an M1 rifle when he joined the others.
The white "PT gear" (physical training) t-shirts worn in the first episode, and seen again in the closing scenes of the last episode with the parachutist, and the legend "U.S. Paratroops--Camp Toccoa, GA". are exact reproductions of the ones worn during training. The Stephens County Museum in Toccoa has an original on display, as well as uniforms, Normandy maps, and other Airborne exhibits. The originals were printed with black ink, while reproductions sold at the museum as a fund-raiser are in a very dark blue, and have a small copyright legend at the bottom right of the design.
Rick Gomez had a longer audition process than the others. He had to fly back to New York City immediately afterwards to do a play, to which he was committed. He described waiting outside and hearing the Casting Director bickering with Tom Hanks before calling him back in, and having him go through more screentests and readings, that were usually reserved for callbacks.
Damien Lewis claimed that when he came to audition, he saw the real Richard D. Winters sitting next to an actor who was a near perfect look-a-like. Lewis was never introduced to the actor, nor learned why he was not cast.
Joe Liebgott and Frank Perconte were two of the oldest Easy Company men, being 30 ad 28, respectively, when the war ended. Ross McCall and James Madio, who played them, were two of the youngest main cast members, both being 24 during filming. It was the opposite with Denver 'Bull' Randleman and Buck Compton, whose actors were over ten years older than their characters.
David Schwimmer portrays Captain Herbert M. Sobel, and filmed his scenes while on hiatus from Friends (1994). In that series, his on-screen father is portrayed by Elliott Gould, who in A Bridge Too Far (1977), portrayed Colonel Stout, a character based on Colonel Robert F. Sink, and Sobel's superior officer.
Marc Warren's character Albert Blithe was said to have died in 1948 due to injuries he could not overcome from the war, but he actually actively served in the Army until his death in 1967. He passed away from kidney failure shortly after leaving a commemorative ceremony in Bastogne.
In the episode "Why We Fight" Michael Fassbender's character Christensen is on the patrol that discovers the concentration camp. Very similar to the one his character was sent to in the first X-men movie as a child. Later visiting again as Magneto in X-men:Apocalypse.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
In episode two, "Day Of Days", when the company first attacks the German gun position at Brecourt, there appears to be some kind of cinematic error when it looks as though an American soldier throws a grenade and it explodes upon hitting a fleeing German soldier. Grenades don't explode on contact, they have timed fuses. However, this actually happened: Buck Compton had been an All-American catcher for UCLA and threw that grenade at the enemy with no arc, and it exploded as soon as it struck. However, unlike in the film, when the grenade hit the soldier in the back and exploded, in the actual incident, it hit him in the head and exploded.