Finn Wittrock Explores PTSD in ‘The Submarine Kid’

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Finn Wittrock stars in and cowrote the new movie The Submarine Kid, available now in Digital HD and On Demand. It’s about a young Marine named Spencer Koll, his return home and his fascination with a 1950’s comic book about a legendary hometown hero who could stay underwater for a ridiculously long time. That fascination takes an unhealthy turn as Spencer starts emulating him and hallucinating while holding his breath underwater.

The film costars Emilie De Ravin (Lost) as Spencer’s new love and Jessy Schram (Nashville, Once Upon a Time) as his longtime girlfriend who waited back home. Jack Coleman (Heroes) and Nancy Travis (Last Man Standing) play his worried parents.

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You’ve seen Wittrock in Unbroken as Francis “Mac” McNamara, one of Louis Zamperini’s raftmates before capture by the Japanese. He talked to us about the film when it opened in late 2014. He also appears in the Oscar Best Picture nominee The Big Short and on the most recent season of American Horror Story. The Submarine Kid is a passion project for the actor, a story he started writing with director Eric Bilitch before they launched their careers and one he’s spent years getting on screen.

We’ve got a clip from early in the movie that highlights Spencer’s return home from combat. Just why he came home and whether he’s going back are revealed over the course of the movie. Wittrock also talked to us about making the film and how we wants his film to connect with the military audience.

You can buy or rent the movie from the following online sources: Amazon, Apple iTunes, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu, AT&T, Vubiquity (Vub. General, Charter, Verizon, iND. General), Comcast, Cox, Time Warner Cable.

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This movie has been a long time coming for you. You not only star in it, you’re the co-writer. Go back to the beginning and describe how you got here.

The start is a bar on the Upper West Side of New York, when Eric, my very good friend from high school, came down to visit me at Juilliard and we just started talking about ideas. He had this obsession with a story about a guy who gets addicted to being underwater. I like thought about that and then spring break happened and I started writing the story.

Bush was still president. I had wanted to write something about soldiers returning and talk about PTSD in some like authentic way, something that wasn’t about the diagnosis per se, but was about someone specifically. I realized that this was the same story, that Eric’s idea about being underwater could be the same idea that I had, in a way that neither of us could have anticipated.

I wrote a draft of the script and then sent it to Eric and he rewrote everything and sent it back to me. That went on for six years until we were both in LA. Once we had a draft that we were comfortable with and melded these two ideas together, we were ready to get it made. That started another whole long process of reaching out to producers and trying to get financing and all that stuff. Deborah Del Prete from Coronet Films really responded to it. When we finally found ourselves on set getting it done, it really was like a dream come true.

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A lot of movies that try to explore PTSD take a very literal-minded approach. Your movie is more abstract with an element of magical realism.

That’s exactly right. It is magical realism. We got some criticism at first about like he’s a Marine but he like works at a book store and he knows literary references. Some people said, “That can’t be true.” Why not? I know that there are like very well-read Marines out there. So this guy is unusual, maybe he didn’t quite fit in in his life. You know? I’m not sure he fit in with the Marines, but he did have a camaraderie with his fellow soldiers.

When talking to vets, the thing that really sticks out is how they say that they do it for the guy next to them, for their brothers. That’s the important thing about him reconnecting with his friends at home. It’s like that relationship, but it’s not specific.

The whole sort of overlying sense of The Submarine Kid is that it harkens back to the 50’s, when we kind of knew who our heroes were. Heroism was more cut and dry. Today, lots of people come home and the fighting that they’ve done is largely forgotten by the public.

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Did you work with military veterans on this film?

We had a military advisor named Jon Barton who introduced us to some other vets. We wanted the military aspect to be as authentic as possible. They let us borrow some military swag, like uniforms and guns and things, so we thank them for that on our little indie movie.

It was great having a couple guys always on set, just sort of checking in with us, and us checking in with them. From the beginning, we thought it was necessary to get this part right. They were totally invaluable to us.

It came to a sense of responsibility too, to have those guys around. So like that you’re not doing this in a vacuum, just filming some crazy idea you made up. Like this is gonna resonate with people and so it’s important not to f**k it up.

 

  • TeXan1111

    better point out how we can get a PTSD check for life.

    • MadDog

      You fight the VA like I did for three years…but because of what I did (Navy Airborne Electronic Warfare Officer), the clearance I held (TS/SCI), and who tasked my missions (the NSA) I had to wait 35 years just to file while being unemployed for more than 20 of those years. With the help of former enlisted crewmates I finally got my 100% rating.