by Hilton Dresden | Hollywood Reporter | June 11, 2022
For Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, 1998’s Saving Private Ryan marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration focused on World War II epics. After that film won five Oscars, they teamed up on a wartime drama for the small screen. It would be HBO’s “most expensive miniseries,” with a budget in the realm of $120 million, THR reported.
Band of Brothers, a 13-hour dramatization of Stephen Ambrose’s best-seller, followed a brigade of World War II soldiers known as “The Easy Company,” a regiment within the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Each episode opened with audio testimony from a real veteran of the brigade before focusing on a member of the ensemble cast as they prepared for war and entered the field. David Schwimmer, at the height of his Friends fame, was joined by a group of relative newcomers including Damian Lewis in the central role of Lt. Winters, Scott Grimes, Matthew Leitch, Ron Livingston and Michael Fassbender. (Hanks served as executive producer with Spielberg and directed the fifth of the 10 episodes, but did not have a speaking role.)
On June 6, 2001, HBO staged a premiere at Utah Beach in Normandy, France, flying media, cast and crew and about 50 Easy Company veterans and their families to the spot where the vets had parachuted in on D-Day. “It’s surreal. It is powerful emotions,” Hanks told THR at the premiere. “You can ask these guys, ‘What were you doing right about now 57 years ago?’ They were probably storming enemy guns. Death and destruction and stench was all around them, and it had only just started for them. It’s hard to fathom.”
Fifteen months later, Band of Brothers took home the top prize for a limited series at the 2002 Primetime Emmys. “We didn’t just win this,” Spielberg said upon accepting the award. “The men of Easy Company won this in 1944.” The audience rose to their feet and applauded the veterans, who were shown watching a live feed of the telecast from a nearby hotel — some of whom joined in the post-Emmys celebration as guests of honor at Spago later that night.
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