‘Masters of the Air’ Star Nate Mann Details ‘Challenging’ Finale Connection to His Own Family History

Mann and Anthony Boyle also discuss their characters’ evolution over the course Apple TV+ series

Nate Mann in the finale of "Masters Of the Air" (Apple TV+)

Note: The following story discusses spoilers for “Masters of the Air” Episode 9.

As “Masters of the Air” chronicles the final moments of WWII, the finale’s portrayal of the brutal reality of the Holocaust through the eyes of Robert ‘Rosie’ Rosenthal hit home for Nate Mann.

After ejecting from his failing B-17, Rosie lands east of the Oder river between German and Russian lines, where Russian forces assist him on his way back to England, stopping through Poland along the way. As traffic halts on a crowded Polish road, Rosie’s interest is piqued by an abandoned concentration camp, which he enters, only to realize the genocide happening just behind the walls.

“It required me to look at my own family and my own family’s history,” Mann told TheWrap, adding that the Holocaust resulted in the separation of his great grandfather and the rest of his family. “It was challenging, but it also forced me to take seriously some some aspects of in both my own personal life and my family’s history that ended up being very satisfying.”

In addition to grappling with his family’s ties to the tragedy, Mann noted the challenge of putting himself “in the shoes of someone who’s taking all that in, very much without any expectation” as Rosie struggles to come to terms with the scope of the pogrom.

Just a snapshot of Rosie’s greatest hits are shown in “Masters of the Air,” as the Lieutenant Colonel utilized his legal background to prosecute Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials.

“Even after the war was over … this war effort was so important to him that he knew that if he could help in any way, and be a part of that prosecution team to try and bring it all to a close that, that’s what he needed to do in order to feel like like his war was over,” Mann said.

Just as Mann’s Rosie rises from a green officer to one of the most decorated real-life B-17 pilots in the span of nine episodes, “Masters of the Air” spotlights the steep journey of navigator Harry Crosby (Anthony Boyle), who grows out of his air sickness to become a Lieutenant Colonel.

“This story takes place over a few years, and a lot happens for our characters in it,” Boyle told TheWrap, adding that various shifts in character development were often marked with a new director coming on board. “It’s about trying to have a through-line that’s interesting for the audience to watch that rings true, and is emotionally true for you to play.”

Mann added the actors tried to connect with what kept their characters grounded, asking themselves, “how they were able to get back in the plane after the kind of devastation that these men witnessed?”

While Crosby stands alongside Rosie, Major Gale ‘Buck’ Cleven (Austin Butler) and Major John ‘Bucky’ Egan (Callum Turner) by the end of the series as peers, Boyle leaned into Crosby’s kindheartedness in his portrayal.

“I felt that like so many of the lads on the page were ready-made heroes, and I felt like Crosby was our real in into ‘the every man,’” Boyle said. “I really wanted to give him a quality of overall niceness and goodness.”

Unlike many of the other officers portrayed in the series, Boyle could draw from Crosby’s book, titled “A Wing and a Prayer: The ‘Bloody 100th’ Bomb Group of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in Action over Europe in World War II,” as well a handful of clips that helped him piece together what day-to-day life was like for Crosby.

“I had a 10 minute clip that I would watch every day going to work, and he was about 60 or 70 in this clip, but he just had such childlike eyes even after he had seen so much devastation and heartache,” Boyle said. “It’s a beautiful childlike mask and there’s this beautiful quality shining to it, and I tried to bring that into the character as much as possible.”

Boyle looked to performances by Buster Keaton as inspiration for Crosby, while Mann refreshed himself on car-centric or race-car flicks to capture to energy of “being behind the machine.”

The actors faced a steep learning process on set as they got acquainted with the B-17s their characters would spend dozens of hours in, with Boyle joking “your acting partner was a B-17.”

“Learning how the planes worked is its own challenge of grappling with how these missions were flown and the machines and which switches operated what,” Mann recalled. “That’s its own element, and then there’s the emotional challenges of trying to understand the life of these men and their bonds with one another that might get severed at any point.”

As “Masters of the Air” closes out the WWII trilogy from “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific,” collaborators Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, Mann and Boyle noted their gratitude to work with the “holy trifecta.”

“They take these stories so seriously,” Mann said. “Seeing their passion for telling it and, and seeing the sense of responsibility and duty they feel they have to the lives and the legacy of these men is inspiring for us and makes us feel really welcome to to come on board.”

All episodes of “Masters of the Air” are now streaming on Apple TV+.


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