LOS ANGELES – Over the past week, Brad Pitt has been pap-snapped without his signature ponytail, opting for a shorter do – and it’s all in the name of playing an American soldier fighting Nazi Germany toward the end of WWll in the forthcoming action/drama film “Fury.”
But perhaps more crucial to the character than cleaning up his physical appearance was the two-day training Pitt underwent in June, alongside his co-stars Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Kevin Vance as well as with director David Ayer and the film’s set coordinator and producer, at the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, California.
The Hollywood team descended upon the base to get a better understanding of the daily life of a tanker in the United States Army, gaining some hands-on experience with armored vehicles. Pitt and his counterparts were able to check out an M-1 Abrams Tank and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. And while the “Fight Club” star donned his day clothes, LaBeouf went for a more method acting approach – dressing in full (albeit mildly stained) combat uniform with patches and all for the entire stay, often going unnoticed and being mistaken for a real soldier.
“Shia had done previous training with the National Guard Unit. When he first pulled up, he immediately snapped a Parade Rest. He was very into the training, and not afraid to get dirty,” SFC Anthony White, who helped oversee the training program, told FOX411. “Shia brought out a carton of cigarettes for the guys and was just very engaging and really cared about what you were saying to him. And Brad was great too, asking the soldiers about their lives and families.”
But just as important as studying the vehicles was the one-on-one time the cast and crew had with the troops, listening to the deployment stories of nearly 15 armor soldiers from Operations Group, NTC, in addition to meeting with 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Soldiers inside of the NTC training area.
“I felt honored to be able to share my experiences with the cast of ‘Fury’ and show them how we do our job. I was just sitting there and all of a sudden here comes Brad Pitt walking up and wanted to chat with me. It was a really good feeling,” noted Sgt. Xanthine Lepta, a 4th Inf. Div. combat engineer. “How often do you get a chance to meet a famous actor like Brad Pitt while working, and even better how often do you get to meet someone famous while in the middle of training for deployment?”
And amid all of the climbing into tank cockpits, exploring weapons systems, and navigating underground tunnels, we’re told the movie stars went out of their way to talk to every tanker they came across and gain a deeper understanding of the Army’s way of life.
“You guys (soldiers) are awesome, you welcomed us in, you took care of us and helped us get what we came here for. We really appreciate this opportunity and don’t think that just because we are actors this doesn’t mean anything to us,” LaBeouf told the troops. “We are all amazed at what ya’ll do and we have much respect for you guys. You are the real heroes.”
Pitt also offered some words of appreciation.
“It was an honor for me to be able to meet with a bunch of professional soldiers and see how things are done,” he said.
And despite the typical jet-setting life typically associated with these Tinseltown elite, we’re told there wasn’t a single complaint from the crew despite the long days and 110 degree desert heat.
“We kept them pretty busy and they were pleased with the access they had. Brad was really interested in getting in the vehicles and tankers and understanding how it all works,” White added. “And he was really fascinated by the deployment experiences too. It was weird watching from where I stood. It was a unique experience for these celebrities to come here looking at us for their answers. We are just everyday guys.”
“Fury” is currently filming in England, and is slated for release in November 2014.
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay