04/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"Stop-Loss" Director Kimberly Peirce On The Film, Soldiers And The Youth Appeal

When your average American wants to learn more about an intriguing subject, chances are he or she will pick up a book or research it on Google. Not Kimberly Peirce. "I tend to make movies that are deeply compelling to me, that I have a sense of but don't fully understand," says the 40-year-old Boys Don't Cry director. "That way, during the production process, I truly get to understand something deeper."

Disoriented after the attacks of 9/11 and her half-brother's subsequent decision to enlist in the army, Peirce became fascinated by soldier's stories of both camaraderie and anguish, and the resulting cinematic investigation is the drama Stop-Loss. Starring Ryan Phillippe as returning Iraq war hero Sgt. Brandon King and Channing Tatum as his best buddy Steve, the film revolves around King's decision to go AWOL -- with Steve's fiancee (Abbie Cornish) -- upon receiving a stop-loss order commanding his return to Iraq.

The Huffington Post recently caught up with Peirce at the tail end of her publicity tour for the film.

You've been screening this film for smaller audiences since November. What do you think audiences have had the strongest reaction to?
They're very moved by the emotionality of the movie, and they really like the brotherhood. A lot people are curious about what the biggest thing I learned from the film was, and I'd have to say the level of the camaraderie between soldiers. Over and over, I've heard soldiers say, "Look, I signed up for patriotic reasons, and after 9/11 I was ready to die for my country, but once I got over there, I realized it was really about one thing - survival, and protecting the guys to the right and left of you."

Some critics have complained that the film's poster makes it seem much fluffier than the actual subject matter.

I made the movie through Paramount, and as we were screening it for people at the studio, they were very excited because it appealed to all four age groups. Then MTV came in and said it would appeal to people of the cast's age, which is also the standard age of the people who are fighting in combat.

In previous interviews, you've talked about how you originally envisioned your film as a documentary.

This film began in the way I begin everything -- when I pick up a camera. I wanted to avail myself to everything that was going on with the soldiers, and for me, that means interviewing and taping them. I went around the whole country, interviewing families, getting a sense of military culture. Now as I was gathering those stories and images, soldiers were bringing back to me these amazing soldier-made videos created by taping digital cameras to a gun turret or wiring it into a humvee. It was the first time we were seeing the soldier's experience unadulterated, as it was. The soldiers would then go back to their barracks and cut it to incredibly patriotic music like Toby Keith's "Courtesy Of The Red, White, and Blue" or or rock music like ACDC and Linkin Park. We were seeing their version of themselves, so when I was pulling that, I thought to myself, "Maybe this is a documentary." I was on the verge of sending cameras to soldiers and I was going to get money from Participant, who made the Al Gore documentary. But the more I thought about it, I realized what I really wanted to do is tell the present tense story of these patriots.

That's an interesting distinction between past and present.
No matter how great and heartbreaking the story is, a video is always going to be in the past tense, unless I'm in Iraq filming or living with the soldiers. So my thing was, if I want to tell the emblematic story, I have to distill the underlying emotional truth of all the stories I'm reading and hearing about. And if I write a fictional, because I'm a director, I can bring it to life in a way that will engage you more.

What are you working on next?
I'm writing two features that I have pretty well outlined. On is a dark sexual story and the other is a romantic comedy -- with a gender twist -- that's based on a true story. We actually just got a grant from the U.N. to shoot the first three minutes of the film. I'm also reading everything that Hollywood has been sending me just to see if there's something incredibly moving - I'd love to do another writer's work.

Stop-Loss opens in theaters Friday, March 28.

Watch the re-cut trailer -- by co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt -- below: