Masters of the Air is an epic war saga recounting the bravery and heroism of World War II’s 100th Bomb Group.
With an all-star cast featuring some of a generation’s most laudable talent, the series plunges viewers into the bellies of bombers as pilots and their crews work together to complete missions when the odds are they will be lucky to make it home alive.
Created by the same team as Band of Brothers and The Pacific, Masters of the Air adds another puzzle piece to the coordinated layers of warfare required to defeat the greatest enemy mankind has ever experienced.
On a recent Apple TV+ press day for Masters of the Air, TV Fanatic had the opportunity to chat with some of the stars and an executive producer of this magnificent series.
Rafferty Law plays St. Ken Lemmons, a mechanic responsible for keeping the flying machines in the air, and Saltburn star Barry Keoghan is pilot Lieutenant Curtis Biddick.
We asked how participating in a production like this adds to his perspective of the historical events they portray.
As an Irish lad, Keoghan grew up learning the textbook version of the men they portray in Masters of the Air. The war took not far from his roots, and he knew many people whose families were changed forever as a result of the war.
He said it’s surreal bringing those experiences to life and putting himself into their shoes carried a massive weight and respect of what they accomplished.
Law points to the privileges we take for granted and how the young men from the 100th Bomb Group had a hand in ensuring we are living that life today.
Today, there is a more significant support system and technology available that aid in military endeavors.
Law notes that when they went through Masters of the Air boot camp, a process that helped them acclimate to the rigors of military life in the time of war, he realized how lucky we are in so many ways.
When it comes to being a part of this production when Band of Brothers and The Pacific have taken on such an important cultural role even years after they aired, Keoghan said, “There’s a little bit of pressure involved, but I always say pressure is good.”
Focusing on the material and the arc his character goes through removes some of the intimidation that can come from playing a fellow human being.
The production offered them a safe space to tell the story in a way that feels authentic not only to the men who lived it but to the actors as they portray them.
They agreed that from the audition process forward, and with Steven Spielberg’s leadership, the impact of the series that came before Masters of the Air was never out of reach, and their desire to carry on such an impressive legacy was in their sites.
Law credits the boot camp process with allowing the actors to meet and begin feeling like a team behind the scenes, which breathes life into their on-air experience.
Aside from participating in military drills and getting a feel for that experience, they helped each other with dialects and bonded in different ways.
That experience sets the tone for the whole story, as it not only drives home why they are there but also enables them to come together in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do.
The full interview is below.
Executive producer on all three productions from Band of Brothers to The Pacific and now Masters of the Air, Gary Goetzman, was in a fine mood when we caught up.
As soon as he began to speak, it was apparent that four minutes wouldn’t be enough time to put a dent into everything he could offer about this new series and its predecessors.
After talking a bit about the low ratings of the Emmy Awards presentation, he shared how Masters of the Air continues the story they began with Band of Brothers and The Pacific.
This is the first time in the universe they’re creating that they went into the air, and doing it so that it felt as if you were “flying with the boys” was quite an achievement.
This series is over a decade in the making, and Goetzman agreed that technological advances have been so impressive that the timing worked to their benefit.
They weren’t sure they would be able to pull off the stories they wanted to tell, but all of that changed as technology changed, as well.
At the recent Apple TV+ premiere event, members of the 100th Bomber Group veterans group were on hand to share their reactions.
The veterans had a visceral reaction to watching the episodes on the big screen, with some breaking out in cold sweats.
Goetzman said it was never their intent to traumatize the men, but they got the nicest notes from them, and their reactions were the highest praise.
They did have one criticism, though. They said the bars portrayed in the series weren’t crowded enough. After watching the episodes through the eyes of the brigade, it’s easy to imagine the popularity of the canteen after a mission.
You can see Goetzman’s full interview here:
And finally, we spoke with Callum Turner and Austin Butler, who play Major John “Bucky” Egan and Major Gale “Buck” Cleven, respectively.
Bucky and Buck are the leaders of the 100th Bomb Group, both literally and figuratively, as even if they weren’t in charge, the men around them would still look to them for leadership.
Their friendship is a major throughline in the story, and how they care for one another, and the men in their charge speaks volumes about the young men who changed the course of the war, ensuring freedom for the world.
Preparing themselves for such an honor was asking the impossible. As Turner says, “The truth is, I don’t think you really can prepare yourself for such an honor.”
It’s one of the greatest things he’s ever been a part of, and even in hindsight, he cannot fully comprehend it. “What these men did was the most extraordinary thing,” Turner said before noting that 77% of the men who took the air didn’t come home.
What goes up must come down, and part of what makes the show incredible in Turner’s mind is watching these men you love try to hold on with all of their might in spite of the inevitable.
How those who remain deal with the grief and trauma while still going on to complete more missions is also featured prominently in the story, and representing men whose minds, bodies, and spirits were forever affected by their actions is a true honor for him.
Knowing all of that, going up in the air with these men from a viewer’s perspective is daunting. Experiencing it from the vantage point of the flight simulator, which is how they filmed those stunning sequences, “Really took my breath away,” Butler shared.
Realizing the tin-can nature of the flights and the freezing temperatures for hours on end really hit home for him.
When he had the chance to speak to one of the 100th veterans, he learned that there was a time they had to chip the man’s feet off the pedals because the ice had “encapsulated his feet.”
Knowing all of those elements helped Butler and his fellow actors prepare for the intensity of those flights, and they were bolstered with the high-definition screens that worked to put them right inside the cockpits as the action proceeded.
See the full interview below:
Please join us on Friday, January 26, for a review of the first two episodes, which premiere on that date only on Apple TV+.
When history sometimes feels malleable, programs like Masters of the Air remind us of the realities that brought us to where we are today.
If you were a fan of Band of Brothers and The Pacific, you do not want to miss the story of the 100th Bomber Group and how their courage and fortitude secured the present we live in today.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on X and email her here at TV Fanatic.