Breaking News Bar

Du Quoin grad, now actor, to play Audie Murphy in film: 'I get to bring this man back to life'

  • Jared Lee Becker

    Jared Lee Becker
    Courtesy of Diana Bassett/Diana Bassett Public Relations

  • Michael Akkerman

    Michael Akkerman
    Courtesy of Michael Akkerman

 
By Renee Trappe
rtrappe@loalsouthernnews.com
updated: 8/14/2021 2:40 PM

A Du Quoin native will bring one of the nation's most iconic war heroes to life on film, for a new generation of Americans.

Actor, musician and writer Jared Becker is taking on the role of Audie Murphy in a independent short film, "Reveille," based on part of one chapter of Murphy's wartime memoir, "To Hell and Back."

Becker, who graduated from Du Quoin High School in 2012, is honored to be playing the iconic Murphy.

"Audie Murphy was the most decorated veteran in World War II," Becker said Wednesday from Los Angeles, where he has lived since 2019. "He was the definition of doing more for your country than it can for you."

Becker, 28, will be playing Murphy when he was just 18, a corporal leading a squad of privates in the Italian hills near Mignano Monte Lungo, about 43 miles northwest of Naples. Fierce fighting in November 1943 led to Murphy's squad ambushing a German unit - killing three and taking four prisoners, three of whom were mortally wounded. Whether to end their suffering or abide by the rules of war that say you cannot kill an enemy that has surrendered, is the question Murphy struggles with, and is at the moral center of the film.

Becker's youthful countenance makes it possible for him to pass for 18, one of the attributes that attracted "Reveille" director and writer Michael Akkerman. "Not only do I have a fine actor who looks like Audie Murphy and sounds like Audie Murphy, but he has that natural leadership that Murphy exhibited," Akkerman said Wednesday from his home in Boise, Idaho. Akkerman initially had settled on a younger actor to play Murphy and had Becker in mind for a different part.

"But he (Becker) wanted to try out for Audie Murphy," Akkerman said. "I looked at his head shots and thought, hey, he really does look a lot like him."

When he discovered that Becker's natural gravitas stems, at least in part, from his six years in the U.S. Air Force, Akkerman decided it was meant to be. He plans to shoot the 30-minute film over two weeks this coming November, substituting the rocky hills of southern California for Italy, with the help of a digital artist to erase the palm trees. The final print will be ready in January or February to start making the rounds of film festivals.

Becker was born in suburban Chicago, the youngest of four boys whose father was a jockey at Hawthorne Race Course.

When their father retired the family moved to 36 acres in rural Pinckneyville, where Ken and Karen Becker built the family home from scratch.

"I remember being very little and carrying rebar," Becker laughed. In 2008 he moved to Du Quoin with his mom, who owned Jackson Pool & Spa stores in Du Quoin and West Frankfort. While in high school Becker started work on a career in country music, playing acoustic guitar and piano, and singing. He played the Holiday Lights Fair at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds, and in shows around the Tri-State area.

He signed with an agent in Nashville, and got a few commercials and some background work, "but being 16 and 17 I didn't get to do a whole lot," he says.

After high school he joined the Air Force, looking for a life of service and spurred by the tales he had heard from his Air Force-veteran grandfather.

"I worked really hard in school to be the best I could, and when I graduated I wanted to do something different," Becker said. "I wanted to make my family proud."

He spent most of his military years based in California, working in intelligence. While in service he earned bachelor's and master's degrees, the latter in project management. Getting the bachelor's wasn't difficult -- when he graduated from DHS in 2012 he already had enough college credits to be classed as a junior.

After his discharge in 2019, he took off for Los Angeles like a shot to resume a career in acting, only to soon hit the wall that was the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Becker had kept up his contacts in the entertainment industry, and started getting work once there was work to be had. He starts filming on a TV show pilot later this year (sorry, he can't talk about that) and during the hiatus he wrote a short film, "Sorry For My Loss," that will start principal photography in August and be out next summer. He and a friend co-wrote an original song for the film that Becker sings.

He was a finalist for Best Short Film at the LA Independent Shorts Awards and a finalist for Best Actor, losing to Kevin Bacon. For a full list of his screen credits, visit https://resumes.actorsaccess.com/jaredbecker.

In November he will head south for "Reveille," a project that means a lot to him.

"I just love playing characters and telling stories," Becker says, adding he read about Audie Murphy when he was in service. With the help of an older sister, Murphy had lied about his age in order to join the U.S. Army.

"Audie just had an urge to do what it was right even when nobody was looking, which is the definition of character," Becker added. "Playing him now is a full circle moment for me, as I get to bring this man back to life and let a whole new generation know how he was."

Akkerman's film isn't a typical war film, where it's easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. In "Reveille," the Germans aren't just a faceless enemy -- as an audience we get to know them as intimately as we know the Americans. The film opens with the perspective of the German squad, and once they are ambushed by Murphy's squad the film switches to the Americans' perspective.

"A true war movie should be complicated and not easy," Akkerman says. In "To Hell and Back," Murphy changes the names of his American comrades, presumably to protect their privacy. Akkerman researched the real men and uses their correct names, in some cases speaking to their living families.

Meanwhile, Becker's brothers still live in and around Du Quoin with their wives and children, and he says he comes back to see them as often as he can. Du Quoin will always be home, he said.

"Anytime I get to go back is such as wonderful moment," he says. "Du Quoin helped shape me."