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Behind 'The Pacific' -- Hanks, Spielberg discuss HBO miniseries

'The Pacific,' HBO's 10-part, $195 million miniseries debuts tonight.

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"You get to see who these men were before they come into the war, where they came from, why they wanted to get into it. ... You get to see how they came out of it, if they did at all," said cast member Joe Mazzello. "You get the full scope of what it's like to be an American Marine in that time."

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Mazzello, like his co-stars, plays a real member of the First Marine Division. The miniseries focuses on Eugene B. Sledge (Mazzello) and Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), both privates and authors of memoirs used in developing the miniseries, as well as Sgt. John Basilone (Jon Seda), awarded the Medal of Honor.

"The hardest part was portraying these men and trying to tell their stories truthfully," said Dale, a sentiment echoed by Mazzello and Seda during a joint interview.

Even as the producers vowed to go deep into the truth of the Pacific fight and whether U.S. troops emerged as heroic or not, producer Goetzman said he eventually realized, "You just can't help but have such an unabiding respect for these vets."

According to Hanks, the Pacific theater they faced was far different from the European one.

"The war in the Pacific was more like the wars we've seen ever since, a war of racism and terror, a war of absolute horrors, both on the battlefield and in the regular living conditions," he said.

IN PICTURES: Scenes from the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC

Besides the suffering faced by soldiers, there are scenes in the miniseries depicting Japan's forced use of civilian islanders as unwilling suicide bombers. In one scene, a woman is blown up by a body bomb; her infant is in her hands.

"We want the viewing public to be prepared that there is a level of savagery in 'The Pacific' that is more intense than in 'Band of Brothers,'" Spielberg said.

"Anything less than the graphic nature of that war, or for that matter any war, would have been met by scorn by the veterans who fought in it," he said. "It would have just been one more Hollywoodized portrayal of an event that rends your body ... and often doesn't create even a memory of your existence. That's war, that's what happens."

Co-executive producer Bruce McKenna, a writer who started research for "The Pacific" shortly after working on "Band of Brothers," said the violence is historically accurate.