In case you haven't heard, there's a new series on streaming that's currently grabbing the attention of a lot of folks worldwide—Masters of the Air, and it's an quite intriguing one if we do say so ourselves. An Apple TV production helmed by executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, Masters of the Air is a period piece miniseries that tells the story of the Eighth Air Force of the United States Army during the final stages of the war where the airmen risked their lives with the 100th Bomb Group—a brotherhood forged by courage, loss, and triumph. Masters of the Air follows in the footsteps of shows like Band of Brothers and The Pacific (which were also produced by Hanks and Spielberg), and stars Barry Keoghan (Saltburn), Austin Butler (Elvis), Callum Turner (Fantastic Beasts), Anthony Boyle (Game of Thrones), and David Shields (Black Mirror). We had the pleasure of talking with Shields ahead of the show's premiere on January 26 to chat about his lead role as 'Major Everett Blakely' in the series.
'Masters of the Air' Star David Shields Talks Portraying Major Everett Blakely
The period piece is now available to stream on Apple TV
Most recently, in June, Shields appeared in the global phenomenon Black Mirror, starring alongside Paapa Essiedu and Anjana Vasan’s episode ‘Demon79.' Created by Charlie Brooker, the provocative and occasionally controversial series famed for exploring techno-paranoia is one of Netflix’s most popular products; garnering multiple accolades along the way including Emmys and BAFTAs. Additionally, Shields has also appeared in Doctor Who, Treadstone, and The Crown alongside other notable projects through the course of his career thus far.
We're attempting to tell that story, which is one of the most horrific theaters of battle that are any part of the allied forces within that period because they were effectively flying in these aluminum tin foil cans thousands of feet in the air, and they weren't shot down.
- David Shields
"It's good to be back," are the first words Shields says to me, referencing the nearly four-month long hiatus actors were on during the summer and fall of 2023 due to the SAG strike. With Masters of the Air already off to a promising start with glowing reviews from critics, the beginning of 2024 has brought in yet another accomplishment to raise a toast to. After some friendly chit-chat about an upcoming project he's working on in Amsterdam (and how I absolutely need to pay the city a visit), Shields and I dive into the complex nature of portraying his Masters of the Air character Major Everett Blakely. "To understand my character, you have to look into the backstory of the show," he explains adding: "You have this 100th Bomb Group who are a part of the US Army Air Force's efforts to bombard Nazi, Germany through the second World War."
"We're attempting to tell that story, which is one of the most horrific theaters of battle that are any part of the allied forces within that period because they were effectively flying in these aluminum tin foil cans thousands of feet in the air, and they weren't shot down. That's what's unique about them because a lot of the 100th Bomb Group were shot down—sometimes they would lose twelve planes per mission, and when you take into account that their were about ten men in each plane—that's a lot of loss. So we're telling the horrific story about that battle, but we're also showing people what these men would be doing when they were back at the base."
Blakely was incredibly skilled, but he was also a guy that knew how to have a good time and cut loose as well. He was a really impressive guy.
- David Shields
For Shield's, who was a fan of the 2001 TV miniseries Band of Brothers, booking the role was a dream come true. "My friend told me about the audition in Los Angeles, and I knew this was the one," Shields remembers before detailing how he cut his trip to Wales short to prepare for his audition when he did get the call. "I knew I needed to get back to London so that way I could get my hair cut, the military outfit right, and all of that!" The dedication paid off as Shields later found out from his agent that he did indeed book the part of Major Everett Blakely. That meant is was time to get to work. "Ev Blakely is described as the most 'G.I. of the G.I.'s,' and he was the most technically proficient pilot," Shields explains of his character.
He continues: "Ev was often the guy that led not just the group—which included four squadron's, but he was also one of the leaders. Additionally, he would lead the wing, which included groups from other air bases around other England as well. He would have to guide those people up into formation which is a huge task within itself because you have to lead those people into squadron formation, then you have to go into group formation, and from there wing formation. Ev would have to conduct that and then lead them into combat over Europe afterwards. Blakely was incredibly skilled, but he was also somebody that knew how to have a good time and cut loose too. He was a really impressive guy."
Drawing inspiration from the Masters of the Air book by Donald L. Miller, and specifically Harry Crosby's novel A Wing and a Prayer: The "Bloody 100th" Bomb Group of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in Action over Europe in World War II (which is the book the series is based on), Shield's was able to mold his Ev Blakely character. There was a bootcamp for the actor and his fellow co-stars at the beginning of production (filming was done in an airbase the production crew built in North London and included a real-time simulator for the actors to get as close to real life flying as possible) which included a lot of academic discussion of what exactly it meant to be a part of an aircrew. That led to the actors actually being put in a simulator where they got to learn the real nuts and bolts of working an aircraft. It was that intricate training that allowed the performances of the actors to be as convincing as what they are in the show you are seeing now.
And while we may be jumping the gun a tad bit seeing as though we just had the delayed 2023 Emmy's a couple of weeks ago, we'll put ourselves on the early record of saying that we think Masters of the Air will definitely score some nominations this fall. "We've got some of the most critically acclaimed young actors in the world," Shields says matter-of-factly, adding: "It was special watching those guys and seeing how they worked. More than that, however, what you are going to see in this show is a wealth of new actors coming through—American, British, and Irish actors in the series, and that's going to be particularly exciting. If you look back, it was the exact same deal with Band of Brothers. It's going to be exciting for the audience to see."
I think this part of the World War II story isn't often discussed because of the morality issues in regards to the bombing—which is an understandable and worthwhile debate, but that often misses the personal stories of these people, their heroism, and their troubles.
- David Shields
My final question to Shield's was to sum up his experience filming Masters of the Air as best as he could. "Working on a production that was such a huge level—it felt as though it was almost like a theater production in the way that there were so many people involved in this ensemble. We were constantly throwing options at each other and there was a real camaraderie that was created that made it feel like a theater troupe in a way. What was different about Masters of the Air was learning to create my character in this particular way. I think this part of the World War II story isn't too often discussed because of the morality issues in regards to the bombing—which is an understandable and worthwhile debate, but that often misses the personal stories of these people, their heroism, and their troubles. We all wanted to do justice to those stories and people, and hopefully it was done in a way where the descendants of those people are happy with it."
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