“Give before you take. There are too many people running around Hollywood, and the world for that matter, trying to take, take, take. You need to put money in the bank before you can withdraw cash from the ATM. Figure out where you can add value first. Whether you are working as a director, a script writer, or a producer, you will have a lot to give and add to the project. Help people out without asking for anything. They’ll remember you and possibly circle back around to return the favor. And if they don’t, feel good that you are still helping other artists.”
I had the pleasure to interview Aaron Cohen. Aaron began his acting career based on his training as a security and counter terrorist expert and former Duvdevan Special Forces solider. He is also known for his international bestselling memoir Brotherhood of Warriors which was published by Harper Perennial on April 28, 2009. The book specializes in masquerading as Arabs to arrest key terrorist leaders for interrogation and trail in Israel. The book is available in over 7 languages. Cohen was born to a Jewish family in Montreal, Quebec. His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother remarried to Oscar-winning and Emmy award winning screenwriter Abby Mann who is known for his film Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) and The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973). Aaron has appeared in numerous films including End of Watch, Haywire and Get the Gringo. In the film, Aaron was assigned by director Steven Soderbergh to serve as the film’s technical advisor and tactical weapons trainer, prepping actors Channing Tatum, Gina Carano and Michael Fassbender for their roles as well as consulting on the script. When Soderbergh saw his expertise and believability as a counter terrorist, he put Aaron in the film and the rest is history. In addition to his acting roles, Cohen is nationally recognized as a counter terrorist expert and appears regularly on FOX News Channel and has been featured in Vanity Fair and National Geographic, on the Discovery Channel, and shows like Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, etc.
What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in LA and, at the age of 18, I moved to Israel to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. I served in an elite undercover unit that few are accepted into. After my service, I started a security consulting firm that specializes in elite protection. When 9/11 hit, I was asked to train my first SWAT team and then ended up traveling the country tightening up law enforcement agencies for ‘terror-readiness’. In 2011, I worked on my first film (by accident) and was bitten by the acting bug when Steven Soderbergh asked me to be in his movie “Haywire”. I ended up training Channing Tatum, Micheal Fassbender and Gina Carano for the movie as well. It’s been an amazing transition from soldier to actor. I’ve got 4 films under my belt and I am thrilled with the creative process and being on set with incredibly talented people who are at the top of their game. Truly a blessing.
Can you share some of your greatest accomplishments?
Probably one of my greatest accomplishments was making it into the Israeli Special Forces. After returning from Israel, I started a security firm and was able to build up a great client list of celebrities, politicians and dignitaries around the world that I was hired to protect and who literally trusted me with their lives. Lastly, in the last 15 years, I’ve trained over 2000 SWAT officers and special operations soldiers around the world in counter terrorism. Being able to break out from protecting individuals to hardening the security of entire cities was and is incredible. I am so grateful to have gotten to work and pass on what I’ve learned to those who now must put themselves in harm’s way.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting/directing/performing career?
I would have to say that the most interesting part of my acting career was going on camera for the movie Haywire. My first scene ever was with Steven (Soderbergh) directing, and it involves me and Channing (Tatum) about to roll into an intense table scene. Steven moves fast, and I dove into the dialogue with Channing without thinking twice. It was incredible. They’re such pros and, in the moment, you just have to go. And you toss out all the celeb nonsense as well as your idea of the character and just let it rip and bring as much of yourself as you can to the scene, moment to moment. Steven is a master and I will always be so grateful to him for my first scene.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just wrapped my first major supporting role in the upcoming Nicolas Cage police drama/feature film “211”. I play Nic’s Lieutenant during a crazy bank heist with hostages. It’s Heat meets Black Hawk Down. York Shackleton who wrote and directed it is the real deal and when he first told me about the film I was sold. It’s a real visceral look into the fishbowl of first responders, and how they sacrifice everything for their brotherhood a concept I myself am passionate about. It was a blast to act in because it’s real and extremely gritty. I love being an instrument for that kind of real deal action and drama.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with professionally?
I would have to say that Nicolas Cage is the most interesting person I have worked with followed by Channing Tatum and Michael Fasbender. It’s hard to name just a few since I have had the good fortune of working with so many gifted and memorable actors.
What was that like? Do you have any stories?
One scene with Nic that probably had the most impact on me as an actor is our scene together. I play his Lieutenant who arrives on scene after one of the monster bank robbers shoots Nic’s police partner/son in law (married to Nic’s daughter and about to become a first time father). I’ve got hostages in the bank and a SWAT team I need to prep and Nic’s character is just exhausted and defeated. He lands on set completely in character and I couldn’t wait to cut loose with him once the cameras started rolling. As soon as they called “action”, the scene got so heated that we both went off script and completely started improvising. With an actor of his caliber, you need to be ready for anything and I mean anything! We went straight into improve and the scene just started to cook! Afterward, when we were both cooling down, Nic comes up and says “That was great Aaron. You really brought it”. Hearing those words from an Oscar winner of Cage’s caliber was enough for me to have the reassurance to know when I do another film that I’m on the right path and should follow my passion.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
This is a tough one for me because so many people in history have inspired me. Beginning with Abraham Lincoln for abolishing slavery, to Martin Luther King for continuing the battle for equality for African Americans, to John F. Kennedy for all his contributions including establishing the Peace Corps and creating the Civil Rights bill- not to mention creating the green berets who perfected unconventional warfare as ambassadors and mentors to countries who needed US training. All of these men changed the world for the good.
In addition, strong women leaders have always moved me. Golda Meir was an inspiration as far back as I can remember. Not only Israel’s first female Prime Minister, but a mother to an entire nation of leaders. A true iconoclast who was a combination of tough but with a tremendous amount of compassion.
What do you do to “sharpen your craft”? Can you share any stories?
I’m always training and studying my craft. It’s my fuel. There’s an old expression from my former special forces unit: “I’d rather spend 4 hours sharpening my axe than spend 1 hour cutting the tree with a dull blade”. There’s so much to learn and I love self improvement. Whether you’re on stage doing a play for your theater group, or at a small audition, I’m just grateful to get to perform. Every audition adds value-and the harder and more challenging, the better! Guess you can say I’m a glutton for punishment but I believe it’s the hardships that make us bulletproof. For me, that’s where the best acting comes from for me, when your guard is down and you are fearless. Like anything else is life, always train to get the maximum benefit and give the best performance.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m a big fan of supporting small local businesses. I’ve been riding motorcycles for 20 years and whenever I’m out of town, I try and visit the small local bike shops to support them. When I get recognized from television or film, I’ll buy all their t-shirts and then post as many pics as possible to help them promote their shops.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.
1. Don’t ever listen to anybody who discourages you from pursuing your passion. Follow you’re own path and blaze your own trail. Many people don’t understand the arts and can’t relate to going after your dreams. Dismiss them and keep going. Only you know what’s best for you. Go for it!
2. Train. Master your craft. And don’t talk. Just sharpen your blade. Once your weapons and skills are honed, bring the heat. Otherwise you are just going to be another person talking about their career instead of doing it. I remember reading for a film early on and I had zero audition training. I choked so hard at the audition it was embarrassing. I wasn’t off scripts and it was like I was thrown in the deep end of a lake flapping around not knowing how to swim. Get into a good audition class and master that tiny little room. Eventually you’ll love auditions.
3. Start loving rejection. Remember, if you don’t book a role it really has nothing to do with you and your talent. They’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting what you brought as an instrument. It’s not personal. There are a zillion people involved with who ultimately gets cast. Just be likeable and grateful you got to read. The casting director will remember you and bring you in for something else.
4. Give before you take. There are too many people running around Hollywood, and the world for that matter, trying to take, take, take. You need to put money in the bank before you can withdraw cash from the ATM. Figure out where you can add value first. Whether you are working as a director, a script writer, or a producer, you will have a lot to give and add to the project. Help people out without asking for anything. They’ll remember you and possibly circle back around to return the favor. And if they don’t, feel good that you are still helping other artists.
5. Work hard. Out work everybody. Stay in the game and don’t quit. Eventually everyone to the left and right will drop off. Just crush everything and keep charging and you’ll break through eventually.