Austin Butler and Callum Turner Dissect Emotional ‘Masters of the Air’ Reunion: ‘Their Whole Relationship Has Changed’

Rexa Vella

Austin Butler and Callum Turner Dissect Emotional ‘Masters of the Air’ Reunion: ‘Their Whole Relationship Has Changed’

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers from “Part 6” of “Masters of the Air,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

When Major John “Bucky” Egan (Callum Turner) is marched through the front gates of the Stalag Luft III prison camp in the final moments of Part 6 of Apple TV+’s “Masters of the Air,” the last thing you’d might expect to see is a smile. And yet, despite the atrocities he’s just endured on the road to get here, there is reason for Bucky to smile — even if there’s a changed man behind it.

Going into last week’s mission, Egan was driven by a singular need to find his missing-in-action friend, Major Gale “Buck” Clevan (Austin Butler). But when he is forced to eject from his doomed plane, Egan finds himself with a new mission to survive behind enemy lines.

“This friendship means so much to him,” Turner tells Variety. “Up until Episode 5, Bucky is a superstitious man. He lives by his own rules and they keep him safe. But he breaks away from those rules to go and find his friend. I think when you destabilize yourself, you open yourself up to a different sort of vulnerability and, ultimately, he goes down. He betrays his lucky jacket because Buck doesn’t like it. That’s such an extreme thing for him to do. And once he is on the ground, it is just about survival. It is really extraordinary what he went through, and the violence he witnessed. So yes, by the end of the war, Bucky is a completely different human being.”

That fight for survival begins with Egan stealthy moving through the German countryside, evading detection and stealing cabbage from backyard patches to eat. But when he’s captured by vigilante locals, he’s marched with other prisoners of war (POWs) through a hostile, shell-shocked town still reeling from an Allied forces bombing. When the townspeople get ahold of the roving prisoners, their grief and anger turn into a violent, unrelenting massacre, with military escorts using the chaos to execute American prisoners at will. Egan only survives after being knocked unconscious and carted off under a pile of dead bodies, which he uses as cover to slip away. On foot, he’s arrested again and, after refusing to spill secrets to a weaselly Nazi officer, is put on a train bound for the Stalag Luft III prisoner camp housing Allied air force pilots in Germany.

Walking through the front gates of the POW camp, Egan begins to recognize the familiar faces of his fellow Hundredth bomb group men who have also been MIA. Instantly, he starts searching for Clevan, who emerges from the crowd with a stoic smile and a quippy remark –– “What took you so long?”

It’s the only thing that could elicit a smile from a beaten-down Egan, and Butler says that playful greeting came directly from the real Clevan.

“I spent time with Clevan’s nephew the other night and he said that his uncle always told him [about that arrival in the POW camp],” Butler says. “He told me that the line was completely accurate. That’s apparently what Clevan said to Egan.”

Butler hasn’t been seen on screen since Clevan and his crew went missing during a mission in Episode 4, his fate left uncertain until now. Holding back the reveal of his fate meant Butler wasn’t able to play out Buck’s own remarkable journey to the camp after ejecting from his plane. It’s the one thing he wishes could have been included in the series.

“One of the details that I loved was that when Buck goes down, he pulls the parachute and apparently, he ended up landing directly into somebody’s kitchen,” Butler says. “He was trying to navigate, and he ended up going through their back door and into their kitchen, and he said it was a farmer who had held a pitchfork to him. That was his rude awakening when he landed, and it is one of those details I kind of wanted to see in the show. But I guess for the narrative, we were keeping the mystery alive.”

Although reunited, Egan and Clevan’s new reality as POWs will change their dynamic and force them out of the familiarity of the cockpits into a new method of warfare. Early in the series, Egan is established as the talented playboy pilot and ball of energy, while Clevan is the wise man of precision and few words. Butler describes it as the “yin and yang of Egan and Clevan, Buck and Bucky.”

Their differences have been what made them such a perfectly balanced duo to lead the Hundredth –– until now. In the coming episodes, Turner says the tension of their circumstances will test their friendship.

“Their whole relationship has changed because they are in a completely different space, and for the first time have different mindsets and ways of thinking on how to approach the situation,” Turner says. “That’s what’s so beautiful about their friendship because they give each other the space to continuously be who they are, and they come to blows because the tension is rife. It is ravaging their friendship. But they are best friends, and that’s what happens to best friends all the time.”

One thing that will strain their bond is figuring out the best way to help the cause from within the prison camp.

“I think it was incredibly frustrating for them because you want to be up there doing what you do best,” Butler says. “You want to be a part of the action and make a difference. But there was also a part of the training where even if you are taken as a POW, you have to find a way to disrupt the enemy. In whatever ways that you can.”

To prepare for “Masters of the Air” –– which hails from Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, the team behind “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” –– the cast went through two weeks of boot camp to experience some of the real training for wartime pilots and build their camaraderie as brothers in arms. It also asked each of them to get to know the real men they were playing.

“Honestly, it was a draining experience but so rewarding because I fully committed myself to this person,” Turner says. “By the end of that year, I probably spoke more as Egan than myself. I stayed in his accent pretty much all the time. I really enjoyed that commitment and leaning into someone else.”

But Turner also played a game with himself where he would put a mental barrier between him and the planes that define Egan’s service in the war.

“I know that Egan didn’t like being up in the skies,” Turner says. “There’s nothing comfortable about that situation, and nothing comfortable about being back on the ground having to think about going back up. I hated getting in those planes, and I just built that friction between myself and that experience. The feeling is fear, and the adrenaline is the thing powering you through.”

Conversely, transitioning from the skies to Egan and Clevan’s time as POWs posed a different kind of challenge for Turner and Butler. The latter says this new test was a rude awakening for their real counterparts, fraught with harsh weather, tough living conditions and, as the show will depict, the threat of not knowing what’s happening on the frontlines or back home.

As one prisoner puts it upon Evan’s arrival to the POW camp: “Welcome to Stalag Luft III, where you’re going to spend the best years of your wives.” That sobering remark wipes the smile off Egan’s face as quickly as the sight of Clevan put it there.

“It is a different psychological toll when they don’t know how long the war will go on and have very little information beyond the camp,” Butler says. “So keeping the morale in a healthy place, as healthy as it can be, it really becomes a core pillar of being a leader for Buck and Bucky in the camp. And then figuring out how you can get out of there and how you can get back. That becomes really exciting in the next episodes.”

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