There is hardly a shortage of military dramas on TV this fall, but National Geographic’s “The Long Road Home” has its own unique stamp: It’s based on a true story. Starring Michael Kelly and Sarah Wayne Callies as Gary and LeAnn Volesky, “The Long Road Home” centers on the First Calvary Division from Fort Hood, Texas, which was ambushed in Baghdad in 2004, starting the Siege of Sadr City.
“Because this was rooted in what really happened, there’s very little that’s glamorous or glorified or beautiful. It’s grounded in the mundane, everyday experiences,” Callies tells Variety about “The Long Road Home.” “It’s really not a war story, it’s a family story. It’s a story about the nature of devotion.”
For Callies, the appeal was that this story came from such a deep-rooted place in reality – the events of which were captured in journalist Martha Raddatz’s 2007 book of the same name.
“As an actor you always need to look for the story, but there was no need to look [here]. It was immediate and it was obvious and it was grounded in the profound grace by the families,” Callies says. “This is a show that can speak to people who are ambivalent or troubled about the role of the military culturally or globally, and I think this is a show that can be profoundly moving for people on the level of a family drama.”
Along with its coverage of the soldiers’ fight to return home safely, “The Long Road Home” devotes time to what the family members were experiencing with their loved ones in danger so many miles away. “I don’t know that there’s ever been as many wives and mothers and sisters involved in the story of why those guys care so much about getting home before,” Callies says. “And maybe that’s part of why it’s not glamorizing the violence. It’s not, ‘I’m going to blow these guys the f— up because I’m a bada–.’ It’s, ‘My daughter’s being born, and I want to see her face.’ That’s a very different motivation, and it changes the nature of the storytelling by including the families in that way.”
A veteran herself, LeAnn Volesky has a level of experience many of the other women did not, which Callies says leant to her being a pivotal figure for everyone else who was back on base with her awaiting news.
“Gary and LeAnn are the types of people that don’t talk about themselves,” Callies says. “I watched every interview of Gary I could find, and he would say, ‘Oh I didn’t do much, I just did my job.’ When you ask the people around them, they say, ‘I couldn’t have gotten through it without Gary and LeAnn.'”
But the fact that “The Long Road Home” makes a point to showcase so many perspectives of different women – “women that stand behind their husbands 100% come hell or high water; women who desperately wish their husbands were not in the military; mothers who are outraged that their sons are being called upon to fight; kids that are mad” – is what Callies thinks makes the series even more compelling.
For years projects about the military were boys’ clubs, with quick glimpses at images of the women they left behind as they ran off to blow things up. Although Callies admits women are still “nowhere near” equality in roles, opportunity, or pay, she is proud “The Long Road Home” presents an expanded view to inch progress along.
“I do think it can be a little dangerous to sound the alarm or to celebrate too much progress too soon just because we have come a long way, but we have not come to equality,” Callies says. “For women like me, who are trying to write and direct as well as act, we have to do it constantly moving against that momentum. I’m not aware of any men in my life actively trying to keep me down when it comes to my professional aspirations, but when I look around me on a set, and when I look at the opportunities that my male peers are presented with, I don’t see anything that’s even approaching parity. It’s not a complaint — it’s an observation and inspiration to work harder.”
“The Long Road Home” premieres Nov. 7 at 9 p.m. on National Geographic.