A version of this story about “The Outpost” first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
When he started planning his combat movie “The Outpost,” based on the Jake Tapper book about the Battle of Kamdesh in which a few dozen Americans were ambushed by hundreds of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, director Rod Lurie wanted to include a song that would be sung on screen by one of the soldiers. But he didn’t know what that song would say until the most tragic event of his life, when his son, Hunter, died suddenly of a blood clot during preproduction.
“My son passed in front of my eyes when he was 27,” said Lurie, who had flown back from the Bulgarian set to a Michigan hospital. “I started being contacted by the Gold Star families offering their support, which was amazing because I’m making a movie in support of them and now they’re supporting me.
“I’d been talking to them about not just the meaningfulness of the deaths of their children, but the lives of their children. And as I was on that plane (back to Bulgaria), I realized that the song should be about trying to find a meaning in the life that you are leading, because you could go at any point.”
Lurie wrote the song through tears on the plane. “I began writing it as more of a poem than a song,” he said. “I spent 10 hours writing it on my computer and writing it on paper. This is not my forte, necessarily, but lines just struck me, like when the song says, ‘There is nothing more brave/ Than those voices from the grave/Only they can tell us why/Only they will never lie.’ They know the truth of what they are doing.”
By the time he landed in Bulgaria, Lurie had a melody to go along with the words, so he sang it into a recorder and let songwriter Larry Groupé “translate what I did into music.” Apart from the brief rendition sung by a soldier in the film, he had a male country singer do a version for the end credits — but that voice, he said, “sounded too obvious and too masculine. I knew I wanted a female voice.”
On the advice of a friend, he contacted actress, singer and songwriter Rita Wilson, who also contributed to writing the song. “To me, it was about the undeniable truth that we have children, young men and women, who are going out and defending our country,” she said. “They don’t know if they’re going to make it back, and Rod didn’t know that his son was going to die or he was going to get that call.
“I think the song is about what we do in those moments, and I loved that they wanted a female singer, because men have traditionally been told it’s not manly to cry, and women have not been given that message.”
Wilson also found a connection between the song and the mournful folk music that was played after the death of her father, a Bulgarian immigrant. “In many cultures, they have people who will come and sing at a grave – a sort of lamentation that allows people to cry and have the emotions they need to have,” she said. “And that is what Rod was trying to do, to allow people to have that moment at the end of the movie.”
Wilson’s rendition of the song is dramatic but also understated, a lovely performance that conveys the emotion of the moment but never overplays it. “If you were at a funeral talking to somebody who just lost someone, you would be talking in quiet tones,” she said. “A bad way to do it would be, like, ‘I am SO SORRY that you’re GOING THROUGH THIS!‘ That makes it more about the other person than the person who’s having the emotion. So in some ways it’s like that: How would you be singing the song to somebody if you were standing in front of that person?”
“Everybody Cries” is now a title of great meaning to Lurie. “Ever since Hunter died, I find myself crying all the time,” he said. “I cried when Joe Biden won. I cry when I see great art. I really cried when I’m in our studio in Burbank and Rita’s in Greece singing the song. To me, it was the tribute to these men, inspired by my son, and we were able to do something beautiful because of them.”