A crazy true story in a crazy time of human history: “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” directed and co-written by Peter Farrelly, is all that – a biographical war comedy-drama film on an unimaginable Vietnam-based mission.
At the time of the war, in fact, a man named Chickie Donahue decided to travel to Vietnam and enter the country to save his fellow soldiers from military sadness with a bag full of beers: Farrelly managed to use this Vietnam war real-life episode to tell a story about friendship, loyalty, and compassion.
We chatted with Will Ropp about his experience on this set in the shoes of Kevin McLoone, one of Chickie’s friends, who runs into him when Chickie is trying to get back home to New York. While acknowledging the key role of friendship and common ground in life, over everything else, Will has learned to see everything from a different, optimistic perspective.
I know you’re a cinema junkie: what’s your first cinema memory?
My dad is a big old-school cinema guy, and we would have movie nights growing up; he covered the gambit from “2001: A Space Oddessy” to “Flash Gordon,” “Indiana Jones,” “Star Wars” – I think he mainly just showed us things he enjoyed. I never really appreciated it until after I got into performing. I think my dad exposed me to a lot of cool stuff early on, and I definitely appreciate it now.
“The Greatest Beer Run Ever” turns a very dark and controversial chapter of American history – the Vietnam war – into a feel-good story about friendship and the importance of finding common ground. What was your first reaction when you read the script?
When I first read the script, I remember thinking about how incredible it was that this story actually happened. It’s a story that transcends politics and speaks to the importance of friendship, loyalty, and compassion. No matter what side of the aisle you stand on – friendship overcomes war.
The story revolves around John “Chickie” Donohue’s journey through Vietnam to deliver beer to his soldier buddies and make a contribution to the war effort. You play Kevin McLoone, one of Chickie’s friends, who runs into him at a critical point in Chickie’s attempt to get back home to New York. How did you approach your character? What was your preparation process like, also given the particularly dynamic scenes you’re featured in?
I basically watched every Vietnam war movie that I could get my hands on. We had to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel room when we first got to Thailand, so it was an excellent excuse to do nothing but watch stuff. I started with the Ken Burns 10-part documentary series, which I recommend to ANYONE who wants to get a deeper understanding of the Vietnam war. I then transitioned to narrative films like “Platoon,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” etc. We also worked with a dialect coach while we were in quarantine (over Zoom) to work on our New York accents. That was definitely a challenge, but it was really cool seeing the work pay off on screen.
The film is based on a true story: in 1967, Chickie Donahue really did travel to Vietnam in a Merchant Marine ship and attempted to enter the country with a bag full of beer. How did the information available on the story, and the book that’s also been written about it, influence your experience on set and, perhaps, your performance?
Well, first off, it’s a massive responsibility to play people that existed in real life. I would always think about how ALL their family, friends, grandchildren, and grandchildren’s grandchildren would watch the film, so it’s important to get it right. It helps that there’s such an amazing source text available to reference while filming. I learned a lot about Chickie and McLoone’s story through that. Then, when we got to meet them in real life, I gained even more insight into how they viewed the war and their time there and got inside their head.
You met the real Kevin McLoon; did it happen before or after filming?
Unfortunately, it happened after filming; we met as we were doing press for the film in Toronto. But even still, it was such an honor to meet the guys who actually embarked on this crazy journey. They all had such distinct, unique personalities, and you could tell why they’ve remained such close friends for decades now. They still joke with each other, bust each other’s chops, and reminisce about the war days.
My only hope is that I should be so lucky to have friendships that last a lifetime as they do.
“It was such an honor to meet the guys who actually embarked on this crazy journey. They all had such distinct, unique personalities…”
Did you discover anything new about yourself while in Kevin’s shoes?
I definitely appreciate my real-life circumstances way more.
We don’t have to fight in a war thousands of miles away, distanced from our friends and family. The folks who fought in that war made a tremendous sacrifice – regardless of the politics. I have a lot of respect now for anyone who serves in the armed forces; it really puts everything in perspective. The minute annoyances and grievances I have in my personal life don’t seem to mean anything when you compare them to what these young men went through in Vietnam.
The movie talks (and jokes) about the triumph of obstinate optimism even in the worst-case scenarios: do you consider yourself more of an optimist or a pessimist when approaching challenges, both at work and in life?
I definitely consider myself an optimist (or I try my best to be one). I think that being optimistic is better for your mental health, and even if the outcome isn’t what you expected, the journey will be more fulfilling if it’s filled with optimism and positivity.
Chickie doesn’t seem to realize just how big of a risk what he’s doing is: what’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
I don’t think I’ve ever taken a risk as big as what Chickie undertook. If I had to choose one, maybe deciding to make a living as an actor? The statistics definitely aren’t in your favor, so it’s somewhat of a roll of the dice. But to do what Chickie did, that’s another level.
“The Greatest Beer Run Ever” tells a great story of friendship, showing how even the tiniest of gestures can make a difference, make people feel safe, and make them feel your support. What’s your own safety network made of?
I think (similar to Chickie) my safety network consists of my friends and family. My family and I are really close-knit, and I know I can always count on them during tough times. My friends are the same way; they’re there for me if I need something.
What’s the best and the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Best piece of advice – ask for forgiveness, not permission. Worst piece of advice – liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.
Your latest binge-watch?
“Better Call Saul.”
What’s your must-have on set?
Coffee. Lots of it.
An epic fail on set?
It’s probably coming soon… I can feel it.
Your biggest act of rebellion?
Telling my dad that I wanted to be an actor.
What’s your biggest fear?
What does it mean to you to feel comfortable in your own skin?
To know who you are, what you want, and what other people around you want.
What’s your happy place?
Ann Arbor, Michigan, on a Saturday gameday.
Photos by Ryan Orange.