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World Trade Center - Will Jimeno interview

World Trade Center

Compiled by Jack Foley

WORLD Trade Center survivor Will Jimeno talks about the film of the same name, plus why he thinks the message of the movie should never be overlooked.

Q. Did you have any misgivings about the prospect of a movie being made about that day and your suffering?
Will: I’ll be honest with everybody – we were hesitant. They approached me and John [McLoughlin] about making a movie and we said we didn’t want to do that. In my opinion, I couldn’t see how Hollywood would take our story and put it on the big screen. So, we were hesitant about it.

But our meeting with Debra Hill – who unfortunately passed away last year – started the ball rolling. Meeting Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher from Double Feature Films, we felt a trust beginning to happen. Then they brought in [screenwriter] Andrea Burloff.

Then on Memorial Day weekend in May 2005, I was flipping a burger and they said that Oliver Stone was going to be the director – we were floored. Myself and Allison knew at that moment that this had the potential to be a great film. Whether you love or hate this man, and I love him, he stands up for what he believes in.

He’s not going to let political correctness dictate what he’s going to do. We knew that they’d picked the right director and he promised me that he would do the film in the spirit of camaraderie, about men that lost lives, with positive messages.

After we saw the completed version of the film for the first time I walked out and gave him a big hug and kiss and told him he’d kept his word to me – that he’d done good for America and for the world. I hope people see Oliver as a talented director who believes in something and goes forward with that. That they stop sharpening their blades, because he did good for the world on this project.

Q. Can you talk us through some of the production design issues, as well as having enough light to film the scenes under the World Trade Center. Was it like that?
Will: Oliver will tell you that Scott Strauss – who led my operation from NYPD ESU truck one – probably drove him crazy because he would say: “Oliver, it’s not cramped enough, it’s not dark enough.” But we had to understand filmmaking. Otherwise there would be no movie.

How else do you work a camera in there? We had to give and again he did enough in there, so when you have these men whose chests are full of medals, who’ve seen action, when they see the film, they fall apart because it takes them back to that moment. He hit it. He got it.

Q. What was Allison Jimeno’s reaction to seeing the film?
Will: I think it was the same reaction all four of us had, it goes back to loving Oliver and his craftsmanship. He knows how to cast people, he cast the correct people that embodied, not so much us physically, but how we felt.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, in particular, really captured Allison, not so much her word but her emotions. That’s the big thing here that everybody can identify with in this film, because it’s about us as human beings. It’s enough that my in-laws were on set the night they were filming the night shot with her walking to the house and seeing our daughter. They had to leave the set, that’s how moved they were. Her mannerisms were there. All four characters spent time with the real people.

Again it goes to the casting. Oliver chose the right people for the right characters, it really came through. And in America the ‘too soon’ question has been answered, the Box Office has spoken. More important than the box office, people have been calling. I’m still getting calls from home while I’m here with people saying: “What an amazing film!” And that’s because you identify with it, no matter what religion, race or creed you’re from – we all bleed the same, we all feel the same and that day was about us as humans.

Q. What sort of emotions were shared by you all upon seeing the film for the first time?
Will: We do everything together, the McLoughlins and the Jimenos, and we saw the film that first evening. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, once you get over the part of us regular people seeing ourselves portrayed on film, you have the emotions of happiness as we were leaving the house.

I’d just bought my first house six weeks before the attacks, my wife was pregnant, I had a beautiful little girl and I was going to work at – for me – the best job at the Port Authority Police Department in New Jersey. And then you get to work and you have fear, you have power, you have pain, you see the loss of life. But at the end of the film we walked out with a lot of honour.

The most important thing is faith, hope and love. That’s when I walked out and gave Oliver a hug and a kiss. I feel bad for anybody who doesn’t walk out with those emotions, because then I don’t know what you’re seeking in life. Those things are there.

It happened on 9/11, it happened in London, it happened in Spain, it happened in India. I keep using Edmund Burke’s quote: “All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good men to stand by and do nothing.” There were good men and women on 9/11, Oliver’s showing that. And from our experience everybody throughout the world can gain from it if they’re confronted with a tragedy. How do we overcome it? These people did. I talked about the little girl in Turkey that helped me live, I saw Jesus, I talked about getting my leg cut off. All of these experiences, Oliver has taken and brought to you from real people.

Q. How long were you and John trapped underground?
Will: I was buried for a total of 10 hours before they found us, and it took another three hours to extract me and another seven hours to extract John.

Q. How many operations did you require afterwards?
Will: If I was in shorts, and usually I am but I get barked at by certain people for wearing them, you would see that I have a brace because my leg’s disfigured. But John took double the injuries. But you know what? Those are physical injuries and with the love and support of people we’ve been able to overcome that.

I always say that you might look at my leg and say it’s bad, but when you’re in the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and you see double amputees, people with no arms, you take the bravery and heroism from those people. There was also the post traumatic stress disorder that we had to deal with. Through therapy, I learned to live with that. I chose to go to therapy because one thing I learned from another Vietnam vet – and I like to remind everyone that Oliver is a combatant, so he knows what it’s like to lose a comrade – but this guy said to me: “You know what, don’t let the terrorists touch another generation.”

If I’m angry and I make my kids suffer because of my experience, they would have touched another generation. That’s where I cut it off. Me and my sergeant, we choose to live our lives in a positive way, and that’s the way we cut off the terror right there.

Q. Much has been reported about the lung condition of many of the resucers because of what they inhaled. What’s your view on that?
Will: Our lungs cleared out, you see in the film that rocks are coming out of my lungs, we were breathing in concrete. The rescue workers, God bless them, who were bringing everybody home for months… my Dad – who was a welder – said that the time we spent down there we just got one hit of it real quick, but the men and women that went, stayed and brought people home, they’re suffering from that right now.

We’re in the process of hopefully addressing that right now and it’s something Paddy McGee suffers from – one of the rescue workers. He coughs up green stuff because he felt that obligation to bring people home. He doesn’t regret it and hopefully we’ll be able to find a cure for this. 9/11 is going to be with us for a long time, we’re going to have to deal with this as human beings and figure out what the best course of action is. But again, at the end of the day in the future we’ll be able to see what happened and hopefully it can be a teaching tool for future events.

Read our review of World Trade Center

Read our interview with Oliver Stone