Former Marine's film career includes role in ‘Dark Knight’

Renee Tomell

Joe Caballero’s passion for acting and filmmaking has carried the former Marine from the Gulf War to on-screen action scenes, including his role as a Gotham City police sergeant during a combative press conference in the record-breaking Batman film, “The Dark Knight."

Add producer, director, stunt coordinator and fitness guru to his titles and you begin to glimpse the life fashioned by Caballero, who grew up in Downers Grove, Ill., and lived in Woodridge, Ill., before heading to the big city.

With “The Dark Knight” blasting box office records, he’s already looking forward to the release of Johnny Depp’s 2009 film, “Public Enemies,” in which Depp takes a turn as 1930s gangster John Dillinger. Caballero plays the FBI agent who arrests Dillinger's girlfriend, played by this year’s Oscar winner for best actress, Marion Cotillard.

Now comes the wait to see if his scene survives the editing process. Caballero shares a look at the reality behind the movie magic.

Q. What’s been the reaction to your “Dark Knight” role?

A. I get constant text messages quoting my dialogue from friends and family, which I think is great. I was very lucky. Several of my friends that were in the movie got cut in the final version, and the original role I auditioned for as a SWAT leader was cut as well.

Q. What was director Christopher Nolan like at your audition?

A. He’s a very intense man to audition for and doesn’t say anything. The casting agent advised, "You know Chris likes to see the intensity in the eyes. Make sure you keep that in mind."

Q. And how about during the shoot?

A  He’s very smooth ... I think one of the best.  ... calm and collected. He gave me extra dialogue, but they cut it out. It didn’t need to be in the film, and as an editor and filmmaker myself, I understand totally why. It’s an incredibly well-made film and, in my opinion, more psychological thriller than action movie.

Q. Did you attend the movie’s opening?

A. I attended the world premiere in New York City, and it was a dream come true. Walking down the black carpet was a high point in my life as an actor in such a huge film. The evening opened with Hans Zimmer performing live "The Dark Knight" theme song and ended with a tribute to Heath Ledger.

Q. What draws you to making short films?

A. (You) shoot short films to get them into film festivals and feature everybody. Hopefully that will lead into feature film work or to co-produce to make bigger films. You do it for different reasons. It’s a gamble. The reason I do them is to feel that energy with the crew and cast day in and out making movies. For me, that’s everything. When I was a kid, my father had an old video camera and we had a video cassette recorder and I found another — that became my editing studio, and I used it to shoot little short films. I’m doing a short film next about vampires. I’ll be stunt coordinating on that. Vampires will be hanging from cables in front of a green screen.

Q. What was your most recent stunt work?

A. We just did a short about a hitwoman. I was stunt coordinator. That film had a big shoot-out scene at Excalibur [a Chicago night club] with lots of guns, blood hits and action. We did an assassination scene in (Chicago's) Millennium Park that had no guns, but a lot of martial arts.

Q. What was it like working on "Witless Protection"?

A. It starred Larry the Cable Guy. (The stunt coordinator) is one of the best in the country. I learned a lot from him. I was an FBI agent. Talk about a crazy move. Yaphet Kotto was a blessing to me. He grew up with Marlon Brando and is a good friend of Clint Eastwood. Sharing stories with Yaphet Kotto gave me an edge on how to manifest my hunger for (acting and directing) and go for it.

Q. What was your ‘Public Enemies’ experience?

A. I got to meet Johnny Depp. It was his birthday, and the energy on the set was unbelievable. I had a one-day job on that. (Director) Michael Mann put me in a great spot as an escort to the police car. Working with Michael Mann was amazing. He’s directed some of my favorite films; he’s a fantastic action movie director. (In the scene), I carry a BAR [Browning automatic rifle], biggest weapon on the set. I’m a former Marine; I think I know how to hold it. He told me, "You’re holding the weapon in the modern (manner), but it’s in the 1930s." I learned a lot as an aspiring director.

Q. What keeps you energized?

A. I have a lot of people in my life who are hungry and passionate about filmmaking. It’s a great feeling.

Q. What are some of your other projects?

A. My Ground Pound Fitness camp. It keeps me in shape. I run two sessions a day, and we do all kinds of military training and resistance training and guerilla cardio training.

I also work with my fiancee, a therapist for autistic children. (He said their LEEP into the ARTS program blends visual arts, music, theater and dance with therapy.) These kids are coming out of their shell, communicating better, learning social skills. It has been a blessing.

For more on Caballero and his work, including a prize-winning documentary, check out his Web site at www.joecaballero.com.

Downers Grove Reporter