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One of the Last Soldiers From HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers’ Has Died

We spoke with the actor who played Donald Malarkey, who died late last month at 96.

by Noel Ransome
Oct 10 2017, 5:27pm

Source images: Wikipedia Commons, CP. | Art by Noel Ransome

Unlike many great war films, which evoke the tragedy and terrors of battle, I always viewed Band of Brothers as a piece of art that allowed its soldiers' personalities to shine over the conflict itself. It illustrated their demons, their personalities, and I only felt the loss of each character that much more because of it. Every episode began with emotional interviews featuring the real soldiers being played in the 2001 HBO miniseries, their croaking voices and aging bodies in sharp contrast to the young Hollywood actors playing them. They were alive then, but now, almost all of them are dead, including Donald Malarkey who recently passed away on September 30th, at the age of 96.

He was one of several members of "Easy Company," the 506th Regiment of the Army's 101st Airborne division during World War II. And on June 6th, 1944, D-Day invasion, a few men like himself parachuted into combat.

He went on to fight in France, the Netherlands, and Belgium fighting off Nazi advances, along with being surrounded in Bastogne during the infamous Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Much of the information about his heroics are out there, in the Wikis and various obituaries that spoke well of his name. But I also wanted to know about the man from the person that played him in the HBO series. I wouldn't know about Donald Malarkey if it weren't for the show after all, so I felt it fitting to speak with actor Scott Grimes about the man.

Scott Grimes and Donald Malarkey at the Band of Brothers Premiere. | Source: CP.

VICE: I think one of the first things I want to ask is, what were your feelings about the loss of Donald Malarkey?
Scott Grimes: Honestly, my first reaction is that I wasn't enjoying the fact that people kept texting me about my loss, to see if I was doing OK. This was never about me, it was really about his family. I haven't spoken to Don in many years, but I was obviously saddened by his loss. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg always made it about the veterans, not the actors, so I really didn't want any attention from it. I was honoured to play him, but everything is about him and his family. We lost another great hero.

And it was thanks to this show that I even knew a thing about him or Easy Company. How much did you personally know before landing the role?
Like you, like everyone else in the world, I knew about WWII having studied it in school, but I didn't know a thing about Easy Company, or that there was a book called Band of Brothers, let alone about any of the men. You think about WWII, and obviously, there's a mass amount of stories about heroic platoons and heroic companies. Even Steven Ambrose just happened to write a book about this one platoon. When I first got the part, that's pretty much when the studying began, not only about Donald, but about this whole generation of men who did this spectacular thing to make sure that we had freedoms for the rest of our lives.

And obviously, he lived a long life but interjected within all that, he went through some understandable horrors. Based on your time with him, what was he like in a person?
Donald was definitely a very private man, like most of the men. They never did it for the fame, so why would they come home, and just start talking about all the things they saw? Of course, when all the writings of this came out, they were given this stage to tell their stories and were proud to do it. But yeah, there were emotions. Obviously, Donald Malarkey, being the guy who for the first year I knew him, didn't want to talk to me at all, and when he did, he'd get emotional. I think that came down to the fact that he was alive and some of his best friends died in front of him. Why would you want to talk about that?

As a person, he was the strongest man I had never met, and I mean that literally. His handshake was incredible. And I also looked nothing like him by the way, he's blonde and blue eyed and gorgeous. Funny enough, his family actually said to me that when they met they were happy that I was nice, friendly, and funny, because they were upset that Brad Pitt wasn't playing their father, but they learned to like me and be OK with the fact that I was this ginger that looked nothing like him. (laughs)

So tell me about the pressures of a role like that. You got this decorated soldier Donald Malarkey; bronze star receiver. I can imagine some of the feelings you may have felt, but tell me as an actor, what did that mean to you?
To play another person that existed, there's a responsibility to that person, to his family, because it's going to live on for generations. I mean think about it. This project, especially because their kids and their kids' kids are going to watch it makes it that much more important. You gotta tell the right thing. So I would call Donald when I got each script just to make sure that everything was accurate. Like if he was really a smoker, things like that. There are of course things added to Band of Brothers, like me singing, I'm sure as hell he didn't do that, but it was added for the entertainment value of it. So yeah, there's a responsibility to do your work, do your research, to portray someone who not only lived, but was still alive. I mean I hope did it right.

Episode nine is a perfect example of when they liberated the concentration camp. I'm in the scene, and it's the only thing Donald Malarkey said to me which was that he wasn't there. He wasn't upset, but was definitely a little ticked off that I was in that. I felt bad over it, because he had the flu at the time and didn't want to take any credit for something other men did.

I could imagine. What's hard for me to imagine though the physical aspect. How much can one prepare for that element in addition to the emotional bits?
As an actor, I prepared physically. But it's not something that you can prepare mentally for, because when we got there, did our boot camp, and it was the dreariest and rainiest year in England's history, and that helped us to get into the depression of it all. But physically, I made sure to get into the best shape of my life just to be able to fake kicking ass. And let's remember, I did fake it, it was hard enough to fake, So I can't even imagine what that was really like. But I tried my best, it was my job to be ready as an actor to fake what these heroes really did.

Are there any particular scenes or moments that best personify what Donald was all about?
Oh yeah. Definitely the laundry room scene in episode three, where he has to collect and pay for the laundry of the man that didn't make it. I remember speaking to him about that and it embodied who he really was. He held that moment very close to him, the deaths, and that showed his sweet side. Episode eight, when he's become weathered, and is seen a lot more, shows the differences in him. His strength as a leader by episode eight, having watched his friends pass and see one of them have a nervous breakdown, I just think the juxtaposition between the two episodes shows what kind of a man he was.

Anything in particular about Donald, or anything he said that stuck with you even after the show?
You know, Donald wasn't like that. I wasn't a member of his family, I was just a friend that got an opportunity to play him. He never sat me down and said this is how it is, or do this or do that. That's the man he was. He just did it. He was a man of very few words. And I actually really respect him for not playing that hero and taking me aside and saying listen, do this with your life, do that. He was very private, and I really loved him for that. He and his family are amazing people, they're the Malarkeys, and honestly, there's nobody like them.

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