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Canadian actor Adam Beach says ‘Flags of Our Fathers’ was emotional experience

MONTREAL (CP) _ Recreating the events around one of the defining moments of the Second World War was a battle in itself, says Manitoba-raised actor Adam Beach. Beach plays U.S. marine Ira Hayes in "Flags of Our Fathers," which tells the story behind the iconic Associated Press photo of soldiers raising the U.S. flag over Iwo Jima in one of the final _ and bloodiest _ battles of the 1939-1945 war.

"’Flags of Our Fathers’ was probably one of the hardest, emotionally driven films I’ve ever done because I fell into the feelings and emotions that Ira Hayes probably felt _ the loss of friends, not being close to his family, watching the horrific deaths of war," Beach, 33, explained in an interview with The Canadian Press.

It’s not Beach’s first war movie. He was acclaimed for his work in 2002’s "Windtalkers," where he played a Navajo codetalker thwarting the Japanese in the Second World War. Hayes was one of three survivors of the Iwo Jima battle and his heroism was used to sell war bonds by the U.S. government. But his wartime experiences and subsequent fame proved too much for the Arizona native and he fell into a self-destructive spiral of hard times and drinking that left him dead of exposure on a cold January night in 1955.

"Ira Hayes definitely was an emotional fellow," said Beach, a Saulteaux native. "In the film ‘Flags of Our Fathers,’ he’s the one who expresses the agony of war." But Beach said his portrayal of Hayes in the Clint Eastwood-directed epic, which opens Friday, proved to be an eye-opening experience not only for him but for his fellow actors as well.

"One of the actors, Ryan Phillippe, pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, Adam, I’m seeing native people in a different light because I’ve always thought of them as stoic and here you are presenting them as a human being with human emotions. You’re crying, you’re angry and it’s nice to see that."’

"When I thought about that, I was like, ‘Wow, we are now pursuing a different look at native people."’

Beach did tap into some of his own experiences to bring texture to his performance in the film, which was produced by Steven Spielberg and Eastwood.

"At the time, one of my close friends had died, a couple of months before the film," Beach recalled. "During the film, my grandma passed away so in my own (way) I was actually living those experiences _ not as much as him (because) it’s kind of hard to imagine what he was seeing, seeing heads blown off and legs falling apart."

"Emotionally, it was the hardest thing I went through." Beach’s performance is already getting Oscar buzz and he acknowledges the movie is "probably the biggest film that I’ll ever do." He had high praise for Oscar-winner Eastwood.

"Working with Clint Eastwood basically gave me a lot of confidence in the experience I have but the experience with him _ it’s like you just wanted to reflect yourself like him."

"This guy is a mentor, he’s a leader and you just want to give him your best. You are surprised in what you are producing as an actor because you’re wondering, ‘Where am I getting this from?’ But it’s just the respect you want to give him."

Beach wasn’t the only Canadian involved in the film. Campbell River, B.C., native Barry Pepper stars as one of the other marines and the script was co-authored by Oscar-winner Paul Haggis, who hails from London, Ont.

"That guy knows how to write," Beach said of the emotional punch in Haggis’s script. "He has this natural flow for human emotion and I’ve never been touched by that before."

"He’s really good."