Back in 2014, it was reported that Relativity Studios had bought the movie rights to the book “Fearless,” by Eric Blehm, about fallen Navy SEAL Adam Brown. As of this writing, the movie has yet to be made, but I offer some thoughts on casting the archetype Navy SEAL….
If — 20 years ago — you had been looking to cast an actor for a movie role as a Navy SEAL, you probably would have passed right over then-Petty Officer Adam Brown, who was in the midst of his first pre-deployment workup, at his first Navy SEAL Team assignment, having just graduated Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in February 2000. Brown was tall and rangy, with a layer of lean muscle that had been chiseled into shape throughout almost a year of SEAL training (he was rolled back from class 226 and finished with class 227, thus extending his time in the program). Adam also had a flop of brown hair that he didn’t bother much to brush very often, which gave him the look of a 12-year-old kid, a notion which his perpetual grin and baby face did nothing to dispel.
Adam was not skinny, really, but he was thin. Muscle mass has a tendency to get eaten away at BUD/S, such that graduates emerge not as pro wrestlers, but rather, as muscularly lean and toned middle-distance runners. And Adam sure could run. He was fast and beat me in pretty much every run at BUD/S, if I remember correctly. I like to attribute that to his height and correspondingly long legs (he must have been 6’3 or so, if I remember correctly), but it was more than that. He always ran like the law was still chasing him.
By the Third Phase of BUD/S, we all knew about Adam’s past issues with drugs and crime, though we never prodded him for specifics, and he never really provided them beyond the occasional, usually hilariously-told anecdote about one of his drug or alcohol-fueled escapades. The emphasis was always on what dumb-ass thing he had done, and how he was lost and in a world of trouble before finding Jesus and his future wife, Kelly. In other words, he told his stories more as cautionary tales than as impressive boasts. But, man, were they funny, rendered in his Arkansas drawl, with no scatological or otherwise embarrassing detail left out. He made us all laugh, all the time.
We–his fellow trainees–had the sense that Adam was lucky to be there, in the Navy, let alone at BUD/S. Adam thought the same damn thing, counting his blessings near daily. Not many in BUD/S maintain that kind of positive attitude in the darkest days of the training, but Adam did. He was on a second chance; he knew it, and he lived like it. He gave it everything, every day.
Ultimately, though, back to the casting decision, it was not really Adam’s physical appearance that compelled one to think, “Nah, this is not the guy we are looking for to play a no-nonsense, action-oriented, take-no-prisoners Navy SEAL.” It was his personality that would have thrown them off. See, Adam was a gen-u-ine country boy. He came from Arkansas and, while in BUD/S, spoke with a drawl that even I, as a southerner myself, found thick-to-the-point-of-parody. “Surely this guy is putting on an act,” I initially thought upon first meeting him in Second Phase when he rolled into our class. It was like he was that Alabama/Kentucky/Mississippi kid ever-present in all the World War II movies — seemingly naive, backwoods, and a fish thoroughly out of water.
But as I quickly got to know him in the intimate pressure cooker that is BUD/S, I realized that Adam was the real deal. He was a bona fide hillbilly, sure, but in the best possible sense of the word. He not only had the accent, which came with an “aww shucks” demeanor that was in no way short of endearing and charming, but he was also a gentleman; polite, respectful, and well-mannered. And he was in no way naive, as we learned over time. He had been through some shit in his life. He was experienced, but not jaded. He had somehow lost his way, hit rock bottom, nearly went to jail and died, and then found his way back. Somehow, in the process, he never lost his purity of soul, nor his fundamental decency.
In other words, Adam was a truly good person, and universally loved in our BUD/S class. No one thought ill of him, including the instructors, who saw him as an animal who’d do just about anything to make it through training. That’s pretty much true of everyone who remains by Third Phase of the training, but Adam was always one notch more. That pretty much sums him up. He was always going the extra mile, whether it be finishing a run near the front of the pack, or helping a fellow classmate overcome some challenge in the training, ignoring his own challenges in the process.
So, whether or not an outsider saw him as the prototypical Navy SEAL in those early days of his career, he was the real deal and an inspiration for those of us in the community. He would go on, of course, to take that admiration to whole new levels, as Blehm recounts so well in “Fearless.” Adam was definitely that. He overcame so much, and by the time he was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, he had accomplished the most important thing in his life: marrying Kelly and fathering two beautiful children.
I was lucky enough to be there the first time Adam laid eyes on his first-born child, and I will never forget the joy and the love in his face as he held that mysterious creature in his arms, seemingly dumbfounded that he could have produced something so perfect. That was Adam: Full of gratitude and wonder and awe and thankfulness. And fearlessness.