Over 20 years after Saving Private Ryan, what became of the actors who played Captain Miller’s (Tom Hanks) squad?
The Story & Cultural Impact
Back in 1998, Steven Spielberg released his newest movie, Saving Private Ryan. Written by Robert Rodat, the screenplay adapts the true story of the Niland brothers. All four brothers served during the Second World War and met very different fates.
A group of American soldiers, led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) search for another soldier, Private James Ryan, during the Second World War. Ryan (Matt Damon) has three brothers already killed in action. General Marshall (Harve Presnell) hopes to avoid sending a fourth condolence letter.
Saving Private Ryan was the highest-grossing film of 1998 domestically, at $216.8 million. In the years since its release, the film has been considered one of the most influential war films of the 90s and all time.
In 2014, the Library of Congress added it for preservation in its prestigious National Film Registry. Furthermore, the movie ranked #71 on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 2007 list of the greatest American films.
Over two decades later, Saving Private Ryan remains a popular and culturally relevant film. It served as a star vehicle for Tom Hanks, another hit for Steven Spielberg and a launching pad for many up-and-coming young actors.
Its story – although an unflinching and realistic portrayal of war – also explores the humanity of those in battle at the time. What kind of difficult decisions must be made in such trying circumstances?
Rather than just showing gun fights and battle scenes, the audience has an insight into the wide experiences during the war – including loss and the close bonds formed between soldiers.
Saving Private Ryan: What Did The Cast Do Next?
Of course, there are several cameos throughout the film. This ranged from “before they were famous” – Breaking Bad lead Bryan Cranston, Billions star Paul Giamatti and The Rookie’s Nathan Fillion. Established stars such as Ted Danson (Cheers) also appeared. Each of these actors portrayed military personnel.
More than 20 years later, what became of the all-star cast who brought Spielberg’s vision to life? Courageous Nerd is here with the answers.
Tom Hanks – Captain John Miller
Before Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks was already a 2-time Oscar winner, for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Playing the honourable Captain Miller was the first of many collaborations with Spielberg.
They later worked together a further 4 times; Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, Bridge of Spies and The Post.
Hanks also co-created and produced the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers alongside Spielberg. Much like this film, the series was set during the Second World War. Airing on HBO, the show won Emmy and Golden Globe awards.
After Saving Private Ryan, Hanks continued his acclaimed acting career. Some of his notable projects include The Green Mile, Cast Away, Road To Perdition, Captain Phillips and the Toy Story franchise. He also wrote, directed and starred in 2011’s Larry Crowne.
Matt Damon – Private James Francis Ryan
A year before Saving Private Ryan, Matt Damon won an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting. He met Steven Spielberg on the set of that film, who cast the then relative unknown for the small but pivotal role of Private Ryan.
Since then, Damon has continued to have a successful acting career. He has notably played Jason Bourne in 4 films, beginning with 2002’s The Bourne Identity.
A year after his role as Private Ryan, Damon played the title anti-hero character in The Talented Mr Ripley. He appeared opposite Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett.
Some of Damon’s other notable films include Interstellar, The Martian and the Ocean’s trilogy, comprising Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen.
Edward Burns – Private First Class Richard Reiben
In addition to acting, Edward Burns has had a successful writing/directing career. This covers both before and after playing Reiben, the soldier who questioned Miller’s authority, in Saving Private Ryan.
Burns appeared as himself in 4 episodes of Entourage, HBO’s hit comedy-drama. He has also continued his multi-faceted career with films such as No Looking Back, Ash Wednesday, Purple Violets and Nice Guy Johnny, to name a few.
Tom Sizemore – Sergeant Mike Horvath
Tom Sizemore continued his career after Saving Private Ryan, albeit with some personal struggles.
Having battled drug addiction since his teens, Sizemore was required to take a daily drug test on Saving Private Ryan. If he had failed, Spielberg would recast Horvath to another actor.
In 2003, Sizemore was convicted for domestic violence against his then-girlfriend, Heidi Fleiss. He would later be arrested further times in 2007 and 2019, for drug possession.
In an interview with The Independent, Sizemore revealed that Robert De Niro personally checked him into rehab for his substance issues.
On the work side, Sizemore’s projects include many television guest appearances. This wide variety of shows includes the Twin Peaks revival, Southland, Lucifer, Hawaii Five-0 and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
Barry Pepper – Private Daniel Jackson
Born in British Columbia, Canadian actor Barry Pepper was the only non-American among the main cast. A year after Saving Private Ryan, Pepper reunited with Tom Hanks in The Green Mile. He played prison guard “Dean Stanton” opposite Hanks’ “Paul Edgcombe”.
Since his role as sniper Daniel Jackson, Pepper’s films include Seven Pounds, True Grit (reuniting with Matt Damon), 61*, and Flags of Our Fathers. Pepper also appeared in The Maze Runner film series, where he played “Vince” in later instalments.
In 2011, Pepper won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie. He had played Robert F. Kennedy in the miniseries The Kennedys alongside Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes.
On the flip side, Pepper also won a Razzie Award in 2000 for his role in Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000, starring John Travolta and Forest Whitaker.
Vin Diesel – Private Adrian Caparzo
Although better known nowadays as “Dom Toretto” in Fast and Furious, Vin Diesel appeared in Saving Private Ryan.
The actor, whose real name is Mark Sinclair, had a small role as Private Caparzo, a member of John Miller’s squad.
Despite – *spoiler alert* being the first central character to die, Caparzo’s memory emanates through the film. Most notably, a letter addressed to his family changes hands several times as the previous holder dies in battle.
Diesel has also voiced the popular character “Groot” in the MCU. First appearing in 2014’s Guardians of The Galaxy, Diesel reprises this role once again in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, to be released in 2023.
His other film roles include The Iron Giant, XXX and The Chronicles of Riddick. In 2020, Diesel played Valiant Comics character Bloodshot in a film adaptation. He is also slated to appear in the upcoming Avatar sequels.
Giovanni Ribisi – Technician 4th Grade Irwin Wade
Character actor Giovanni Ribisi had a supporting role as Wade, the group’s medic. Prior to his appearance in Saving Private Ryan, Ribisi had recurring roles on The Wonder Years and Friends.
Ribisi has worked extensively with Seth MacFarlane, appearing in his films Ted and A Million Ways To Die In The West. As well as this, Ribisi has guest-starred on Family Guy and had a lead role on Dads. The latter series had MacFarlane as an Executive Producer.
In 2007, Ribisi received an Emmy nomination for his role as “Ralph Mariano” on My Name Is Earl. He was also the lead of Amazon’s Sneaky Pete (co-created by Bryan Cranston) for all 3 seasons.
Ribisi has also continued his film career. His varied roles include Avatar (and its upcoming sequels), Gangster Squad, Selma and Gone In 60 Seconds, to name a few.
Jeremy Davies – Private Timothy Upham
Jeremy Davies has played a diverse range of roles since “Upham” in Saving Private Ryan. In the movie, he portrayed Private Upham, a translator brought into Miller’s squad of battle-hardened soldiers.
In the late-2000s, he played physicist “Daniel Faraday” in the ABC drama Lost. Davies’ other notable TV appearances include Justified (his role as “Dickie Bennett” won Davies an Emmy), Texas Rising and Sleppy Hollow. More recently, Davies played “Dr John Deegan” in the Arrowverse superhero franchise.
On the film side, Davies appeared opposite Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle in Ravenous. He also acted in Dogville and Manderlay, two separate films written and directed by Lars von Trier. In 2017, Davies lent his voice to “Richie Simpson” in Justice League Dark.
Adam Goldberg – Private “Fish” Mellish
Not to be confused with the television producer of the same name, Adam Goldberg has maintained a steady career since Saving Private Ryan. He played Private Stanley “Fish” Mellish, a Jewish soldier and member of Miller’s squad.
Goldberg has an extensive filmography, with roles in A Beautiful Mind and Zodiac. He has also been the lead actor in several independent features, such as 2 Days In Paris (directed by Julie Delpy) and The Hebrew Hammer (directed by Jonathan Hammer).
Meanwhile, Goldberg has arguably found even greater success with his television roles. He appeared in Joey, the short-lived Friends spin-off, having previously guest-starred on the latter. Goldberg also had a critically acclaimed role as “Mr. Numbers” in Season 1 of Fargo and stars as “Harry Keshegian” on CBS’ The Equalizer.
His many recurring roles include episodes of Entourage, My Name Is Earl, God Friended Me and Will & Grace, as some examples.