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[VIDEO]: Kate Mara and Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite On Megan Leavey, a Vision of the Military We’re Not Used To

You’ve already seen Wonder Woman several times, and believe it or not, it’s not the only film out there about a female hero that’s directed by a woman. Even better, this one was written by women, too. This weekend, you might want to get to a theater and check out Megan Leavey, starring Kate Mara.

Megan Leavey tells the real-life story of the titular heroine who was a member of the elite Working Dogs K-9 unit of the U.S. Marines. This unit, made up of specially trained bomb-sniffing dogs and their brave handlers are responsible for saving hundreds of lives. Here’s the official synopsis of the film:

“Megan Leavey is based on the true life story of a young marine corporal (Kate Mara) whose unique discipline and bond with her military combat dog saved many lives during their deployment in Iraq. When she is assigned to clean up the K9 unit after a disciplinary hearing, Leavey identifies with a particularly aggressive dog, Rex, and is given the chance to train him. Over the course of their service, Megan and Rex completed more than 100 missions until an IED explosion injures them, putting their fate in jeopardy.”

The most intriguing thing about this film is that, not only does it give us a female protagonist who is in the military (and is not treated like absolute garbage, but with respect by her male-dominated team), but it gives us a glimpse into an area of the military that’s not really talked about. I had the chance to interview Mara along with director Gabriela Cowperthwaite about bringing this fascinating story to life. You can check it out in the video above or read the transcript below!


TMS (Teresa Jusino): I saw a screening of the film, and I really, really enjoyed it. Especially because it looks at an area of the military that you don’t usually see. So, what was it about this story and this particular element of the military that drew you to it, that made you have to tell this story?

Gabriela Cowperthwaite: I think you actually nailed it. The same reasons that you maybe came in to see the movie is exactly the same reason that I was attracted to it. And that was … a unique opportunity: female marine, not a story we hear about a lot. K-9 unit, again, a whole world that I knew nothing about. Both of those were huge opportunities to tell a story that maybe you think you’ve heard, or tell something that’s couched in a sort of ‘war movie’-type environment, to tell that in a different way, because we had these two very different protagonists and agents telling the story. And also, to have that opportunity to have people who have never connected or understood that world as much suddenly find an entry point into accessing a story like this. That was all very exciting to me.

Kate Mara: I’ve never seen a story like this on screen. I was excited to read it, and I was surprised that it hadn’t been told yet. So I just sort of jumped at the chance to portray her.

TMS: How did you come to Megan’s story? How did this drop into your lap?

Mara: The script was sent to me. I had worked with the producers years and years ago on something else, and luckily they thought of me to play her. And I read it and knew I had to be involved. Gabriela and I have been friends for a while now ever since I saw Blackfish, and I just thought of her instantly to direct this. So, that’s how it all started.

TMS: What did you learn about women in the military through doing this project, and was there anything that surprised you about what you learned about Megan’s experience and the experience in general?

Cowperthwaite: For me, it was watching Megan and meeting Megan and realizing that when we tell this story, we’re not just talking about a female Marine, we’re talking about a female Marine in an elite unit, and she is a leader in that world. So, when I have that line in there, “Sometimes we’re in front of the front lines,” that to me just struck such a chord, because here you have this woman in this world, and she’s basically clearing huge swaths of land to make it safe for everybody behind her. Seeing someone in that situation in the military take charge like that [was] really very cool, and it’s totally exciting to tell that story.

Mara: It blew my mind as well. That, specifically. And when we were doing those scenes, and seeing all the flags everywhere …

Cowperthwaite: And they have to consult Megan. Like, Can we advance? Can we do this? And she’s like, Hold on 

Mara: The responsibility, I think, that she had is almost impossible to wrap your head around, I think.

TMS: What has Megan’s response been to the film? Has she seen it yet?

Mara: Yeah, she has seen it, and she texted me right after she saw it, and I think it was quite surreal and emotional for her. I mean, it was surreal and emotional for me to watch it, because it means so much to me, and it was such an emotionally demanding film. So for her, I mean, I can only imagine.

TMS: (to Mara) I have to ask: you’re clearly a dog person, you have your dogs here with you … what was it like working with the dog on set?

Mara: A dream. Honestly, if I could work with a dogwell, that dog [laughs], maybe all dogs aren’t the same but I thought it was amazing. And there’s something about having an animal around that sort of puts people at ease. It connects people. So, for me, I always kind of felt calmer and safer when he was there.

Megan Leavey opens TODAY.

(featured image: Jacob Yakob/Bleecker Street)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former Mary Sue assistant editor from 2015-18. Teresa's returned to play in the TMS sandbox as a freelancer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.