A new Michael Bay movie hits theaters this week, and there’s not an autobot in sight.
There is, however, an Omahan.
For “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” the filmmaker behind the “Transformers” movies is taking a hard right turn into seriousness. His new film is an account of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The deadly night is told from the perspective of the CIA-hired security team that defied orders and rushed to help those trapped in the compound.
One of those soldiers was Kris “Tanto” Paronto, 44, who now lives in north Omaha with his family.
Bay’s film is based on the book “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi,” which Paronto wrote with the four other surviving members of the Annex Security Team and Boston University journalism professor Mitchell Zuckoff. Following the night depicted in the book — and now the film — Paronto ended an 18-year career of Army and contract security work. He now works as a public speaker and insurance adjuster based in Omaha, where he’s lived since the mid-1990s, when not overseas.
Paronto still remembers that night in September clearly. Now he and millions of others will see the events portrayed in a blockbuster movie. Paronto has seen the film and is thrilled with the result, but he’s especially happy that now more people than ever will know the story of what his team did that night.
“The movie is the straight truth,” he said. “It doesn’t do anything with the politics. It puts them aside. I just wanted to make sure the guys on my team were honored.”
Paronto spoke with The World-Herald over the phone about how the movie captured his character and what he hopes viewers will take from “13 Hours.”
The World-Herald: You’ve seen the movie. How did they do?
Paronto: It’s excellent. It’s not like Michael Bay’s other movies. If you watch his movies, though, they always have heroism in them. They always have sacrifice and military guys. The critics can’t just say “Oh, he’s a CGI (computer-generated imagery) director.” I think that might be one reason why he wanted to do this.
We weren’t worried about him getting the combat scenes. But we wanted to make sure he got the emotion that we had. And he did. And that’s a tribute to the actors, as well. They did a fantastic job. They’re awesome.
What did it feel like to see that night depicted in a movie?
My feeling when I left the movie was I felt empty. And what I mean by that is I basically went back on the screen and relived the whole thing. Then when I walked out, I was, like, that piece of my life that I gave up, contracting and being overseas, I missed it. That’s why I felt empty, like, crap, I really missed doing that. It made me want to go back to work. So, yeah, it had the effect. I didn’t think I’d have the empty feeling. I knew I’d have an emotional feeling to it. I remember not just the feelings of the night, but I remember the job and how much I loved doing that job.
Pablo Schreiber plays you in the movie. Did you get a chance to meet him before the shoot?
Pablo’s awesome. We took time to actually become friends before the movie started. If we’re in the same town, we go have a beer. I consider him a friend.
And that helped him get my character down for the movie. When I’m watching the movie, I’m seeing myself. He nailed it.
I remember Pablo in “The Wire” and “Orange Is the New Black,” so I knew who he was prior to this. Most of the stuff he said in the movie was what I said. But he did ad lib one thing, and when I saw what he said, I thought, “That’s what I would say!” He channels his inner “Tanto.”
You were involved heavily in the writing of the book, so much so that you share a byline. But were you worried the movie would mess up the story, simplify it too much?
No, I really wasn’t, because we were involved from the beginning. And Michael Bay and Erwin Stoff (a producer) have been true to their word from day one. They never told us one thing and did another. Michael has respect for the military and veterans and wanted to make sure we were happy with the final product.
What was the extent of your involvement?
We would go out to the studio to help with set design. Me and Pablo got to know each other a few months before he went overseas. And then we (the soldiers) each spent a week overseas on the set in Malta.
What do you hope people take from this movie?
I want people to see it and know that they can overcome any obstacle, whatever’s put in front of them, that you can deal with adversity and never quit, never give up. When obstacles are in front of you, you just rely on your brother, you rely on yourself and you rely in your faith in God. And you keep pushing forward. I hope people get that out of the movie.