It’s 1967. The United States has imposed war on Vietnam for over a decade, and you are a 26-year-old merchant seaman at a crossroads with your purpose in life. What do you do?
Journey overseas to bring your old neighborhood pals a beer to show your gratitude, of course.
It’s the real-life story of what John “Chickie” Donohue did to show support to friends fighting the war in Vietnam.
Directed and co-written by Peter Farrrelly, The Greatest Beer Run Ever chronicles Chickie’s (Zac Efron) trek to Southeast Asia to hand out a few American beers. Along the way, he encounters journalists, in-action war trenches and a kind crossing guard that all evolve his understanding of the United States’ place in wartorn Vietnam.
Among Chickie’s friends, he runs into Kevin McLoone at a critical point in his attempt to get back home to New York. McLoone is played by Will Ropp, who you’ve previously seen in The Way Back, Silk Road and The Fallout. Ahead of the film’s Toronto Film Festival premiere, Ropp spoke with LA Confidential about acting alongside Efron, catching a beer from an in-air helicopter and his future role in the Alex Wolff-led thriller The Line.
You did the stage versions of High School Musical and High School Musical 2 while growing up. Does it feel full circle that you’re now in a movie with Zac Efron?
In High School Musical I played Ryan, Sharpay’s best friend. And then in High School Musical 2, I played Zac’s role, Troy Bolton. I think I was like 13 years old or 14 years old or something. And I told him that when we were shooting and he loved it. He was just like, “Wow, it's pretty crazy.” He originated a role and now people are playing it on the stage, especially when they were so little, and now I'm grown up and doing a movie with him.
You come in at a pretty important point in Chickie’s journey. How did it feel to play a pivotal part of this story?
The movie is set up in a Saving Private Ryan way where everybody has their little vignette along his journey. And so it was interesting to just have your slice of the movie and to really have to understand the situation he's in. And my particular moment that he comes in is pretty dicey because he's running from the CIA and s**** starting to hit the fan, excuse my French. And it’s a pretty desperate moment that I find him in, and I have to help them through it and bring him to salvation and make sure that he continues on his journey.
When I read the script for the first time, I was like, “Wow, this role might not have the most screen time, but it's a really important role and there's a lot of layers to it.” So I was super excited and just really proud to be a part of it and working with Peter obviously. He’s such an amazing director, which was just an absolute blessing.
Did you get to talk to the real-life Kevin McLoone?
I'm very excited to meet him at TIFF, at the premiere. He was a former Marine Corps service member that actually came back to the Vietnam War as a civilian helicopter mechanic. So he came back to the war on his own volition after serving his first term basically as a hired gun, like a hired third party because he specialized in fixing helicopters, which is a specialty skill that not everyone can do. And so he came back to the war as a civilian, so that's why when you see him in the movie, he is wearing a civilian uniform. He's not in the camouflage.
The events this story is based on originally unfolded in 1967 and the book came out a couple of years ago. Why is now the right time to bring it to life through film?
It touches on America’s involvement in other people's wars. Is it our job to be the so-called Big Brother of the world? Is it our job to make sure there's peace everywhere and the government system that we agree with in every part of the world? And that's essentially what this movie is about— a divided country during a war that was so controversial, and about someone who, at the beginning of the film, is so set in his ideology about the war. Then at the end of the film, definitely once you see it firsthand, he has a different outlook on it.
What do you hope audiences take away from watching The Greatest Beer Run Ever?
I think it's one of the best stories about friendship and loyalty. I think it's one of the great American stories of friendship. I truly do. I think Chickie’s sense of loyalty and compassion for his buddies, traveling thousands of miles across the world in a war-torn area just to deliver them a sense of comfort in a way through the beers, just to show them, regardless of who's on what side of the war and how controversial it is, he just wanted his buddies to know that he's got their back no matter what. And he wanted to remind them of their home back in Inwood. And I just think that's a really noble cause. I don't think many people would do that and I think Chickie is a special individual for doing so. And that's another reason why I'm so excited to meet this guy.
Chickie giving Kevin his beer is a pretty epic moment. Did you really catch a can thrown from all the way up in a hovering plane?
I really did. Peter told me, “Alright, we only get one take of this” because it's such a complex, expensive shot with helicopter pilots and all of the regulations that go with doing aircraft in films. I was like, “I got you Peter.” I played baseball growing up. I can field a pop fly. Zac threw it and I caught it. I struggled a little opening it because those old beers open different than modern beer cans, you kind of have to peel them back. So that was a little tough, but once I got it down, it was all good.
You wrapped filming for The Line in February. Can you tell us anything about your role?
I don't think I'm allowed to tell much. I can say it's a college fraternity. I'm really excited about it, working with Alex was just an absolute joy. He's one of the best young actors, I think, in the game right now. And all the boys I met on that set were so amazing: Angus and Graham and Lewis and Austin. We really formed a bond on that set that still exists now and we're hanging out all the time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The Greatest Beer Run Ever begins streaming on Apple TV Plus on Sept. 30.
Photography by: Photos by Ryan Orange