RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Chris Kyle is considered one of the most lethal snipers in U.S. military history. The highly decorated Navy SEAL served four tours in Iraq and was so feared that Iraqi insurgents are said to have named him the devil of Ramadi.
In 2012, his memoir "American Sniper" became a New York Times bestseller. But just last year, with the movie adaptation in the works, Kyle was killed at a gun range in Texas by a fellow veteran.
"American Sniper" the film comes out this week. It is directed by Clint Eastwood, and it stars Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle. I spoke with Cooper and Chris's widow, Taya Kyle, this past week. Taya told me why Chris wanted to document his time in Iraq and what it was like for him to work as a sniper.
TAYA KYLE: It wasn't something Chris originally wanted to do. But the progression of things was that there would be a movie. And I think the biggest, most compelling reason for him to consider that was that when doing the book tour, there would be people that would come to him and say how much it meant them. They had served in Vietnam or other wars and felt like they could relate to the story, and they could relate to the hardships at home. And he found another way to serve.
MARTIN: When did the two of you meet, Bradley and Taya?
BRADLEY COOPER: Clint and I went to Midlothian, Texas a year after Chris was murdered, actually that weekend. It focused everything. And, you know, you realize the responsibility and the privilege of telling this man's story.
And I, you know, remember - Clint and I went to - we checked into the motel. And in the morning, Clint was sort of getting himself together. And Taya and I had a moment in the truck. And we were very concerned that - I wanted to make sure that, you know, Chris is getting - comes across. And it was kind of a beautiful moment we had. And then Clint came in, and we all shared sort of a beautiful moment. And that wound up being probably the most important moment for the whole trip.
MARTIN: I'd like to play a scene from the film. This is when Chris is in an appointment with someone who appears to be a military psychologist. Let's take a listen to this, and I'll ask you about it afterwards, Taya.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AMERICAN SNIPER")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Psychologist) Would you be surprised if I told you that the Navy has credited you with over 160 kills? Do you ever think that you might have seen things or done some things over there that you wish you hadn't?
COOPER: (As Chris Kyle) Oh, that's not me. No.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Psychologist) What's not you?
COOPER: (As Chris Kyle) I was just protecting my guys. They were trying to kill our soldiers. And I'm willing to meet my creator and answer every shot that I took. The thing that haunts me are all the guys that I couldn't save.
KYLE: I love that you played that can't clip because that is Chris. I mean, he often said he didn't know if he'd be able to pull the trigger, you know, when he was asked to do it overseas. And he said nobody knows. They think they might know, but you can't know until you're there, and you're faced with that personal price of taking another human life. And it doesn't come naturally to anybody who's not a sociopath. His whole thing was that he wished he had known the number of lives he saved. It really did hurt him if anybody was lost. Whether or not he could've saved them was irrelevant.
MARTIN: And it is such a strange metric, right. Like, he knew how many people he killed, but it was immeasurable the number of lives that he saved with those deaths.
KYLE: Right. And yet, I have stories all the time. I have people that get in touch with me one way or another. And one of them gave one of his medals to me and said that he was alive because of Chris. And that he now has a 2-year-old daughter. And he wouldn't have had that had Chris not been on overwatch.
MARTIN: I want to ask you about another scene in this film. In the film, you're pregnant. And you have just come out of a doctor's appointment where you found out that you're going to have a son. And you're on the phone with Chris. He's in Iraq, and a fire fight starts. He drops his cell phone, but the line is still live. And you can hear the gunfire and the explosions on the other end of the line. Let's take a listen to this.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AMERICAN SNIPER")
SIENNA MILLER: (As Taya Kyle) Chris.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
MILLER: (As Taya Kyle) Baby.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: Third one shot.
COOPER: (As Chris Kyle) Check. Came in on an angle.
MILLER: (As Taya Kyle) Oh my God.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
MARTIN: Did anything like that happen?
KYLE: Yeah, it did. And it's a - you know, it's just one of those things where, you know, you have to get your head around the fact that it's going to happen. You know, I knew he was in firefights every single day. And so I had to kind of talk myself down from, OK, I just heard it on the phone. But talk yourself down and say, I may not hear from him right away. Hopefully I'll hear from him soon. And until I got a knock at the door, I would never believe that he was gone. You know, I'd just have faith that he was alive and he was OK.
MARTIN: Did you have to fight feelings of resentment?
KYLE: Yeah, I did. And, you know, I'm not proud of that either because, you know, it's such an honorable thing to serve. And I knew that he was saving lives. And I knew that he was good at what he did not because he told me, but because other people told me. And I think it's a mix of resentment and guilt for feeling resentment because somebody has to do it.
And at the same time, I wanted him to live his dreams. You know, there's never a time when I wouldn't want to support whatever it was that he wanted. So to then, you know, ask somebody to not live their dream because it's painful for you is against everything in me. It's just what every wife has to go through.
MARTIN: Bradley, I mean, this is a big question, but what has this been like for you - inhabiting a real person? This isn't just a great role, this is someone's life.
COOPER: You know, nothing short of life changing actually. I saw it as an honor. I felt like I had lived with him for those six months in a very intimate way. I mean, I woke up - he was the first voice I heard every morning and the last voice I heard going to bed.
And I was very - I wouldn't say reluctant, but I was scared, I guess is the word, that I wasn't going to be able to show up on set that first day believe that I was him. And I knew that if I didn't believe it, I was going to tell Clint that I'm sorry, but we can't shoot the movie 'cause I did give my word to everybody that I would do right by him. And luckily I showed up that first day, and I did feel him. And we all felt him the whole time we were shooting the movie. And I have to say, I've been a lot of premieres of movies. And it truly felt like a memorial for him.
MARTIN: Taya, is there a scene or a moment or facial expression in this film in the way Bradley played him that shows Chris in a way that captures who he was, something that you want to make sure that your kids see?
KYLE: Really, there are a lot. And I think this is the thing that I'm most in awe of is that a lot of Chris's friends have seen this movie. And the word eerie keeps coming up. It's eerie how much Bradley just was Chris. So even in the trailer where Chris kind of sniffs when he's on the sniper rifle before he's about to have to make a serious decision, I had, you know, a few of his friends call and say, oh, my gosh. He got that right. And I honestly don't know how Bradley did it, truly. I know he did his part studying. I know he was open to feeling Chris, but it was incredible.
MARTIN: So you two have been on a strange and intimate journey together.
COOPER: Yeah. You could say that again.
MARTIN: Do you think you'll stay in touch?
COOPER: No. I don't think so.
KYLE: No. I mean, no...
MARTIN: I know it's such a loaded question.
KYLE: He's A-list. He's on to the next project.
MARTIN: OK, I'm going to force you into the honest place, though, because, you know, you can have these intense, emotional experiences and then it stays in that place. I just wonder how - what you think about how you might intersect in each other's lives?
COOPER: Well, I can't - I honestly can't imagine not being in the family's life. But that's up to them. The way I live my life, I'm very good at keeping in touch. So it's really up to them. But I have every intention of being in their lives.
KYLE: Yeah. Well, I can say that my kids love Bradley. I genuinely love Bradley. It's - you're right. It is a very deep experience. And we have tremendous amount of gratitude. And my kids, who don't even truly understand, you know, I think all of this or the magnitude of this, they know him as the guy that played soccer with him or the guy that has them laughing hysterically and they can, you know, play with and joke with. So yeah, I don't see any reason why that wouldn't be just a really neat thing to keep alive. And I know everybody's busy, but like Bradley said, he's really, really good.
MARTIN: The film is called "American Sniper." Bradley Cooper is the star and one of the producers of the film. We were also joined by Chris Kyle's wife, Taya. Thanks to both.
COOPER: Thanks so much for having us.
KYLE: Thank you.
COOPER: Really appreciate it.
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