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Masters of the Air's Nate Mann on Rosie's 'Warrior Spirit' Ahead of the Hundredth's Tragic Missions

'What are you fighting for? And what would you risk your life for?'

Hunter Ingram
Nate Mann, Masters of the Air

Nate Mann, Masters of the Air

Apple TV+

Major Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal quite literally tap dances into the fourth episode of Apple TV+'s limited series Masters of the Air.

The newest addition to the Hundredth, along with the men he leads known as his Riveters, arrives amid heavy losses for the famous World War II bombing group. But they still take a moment to celebrate the wins, including the 25th successful mission for one of their own — a milestone that means a crew will get to go home. During the party, Rosie makes his entrance by waltzing in with the music of a jazz band playing for the men. It is a moment of levity that will come to define the kind of leader he is for his men, even as the Hundredth faces some of their darkest days of the war.

Nate Mann, who plays Rosie in the series, couldn't have asked for a better or more appropriate introduction to the real-life hero.

"He was such a lover of big band jazz and there is this throughline of music throughout the show with his character," Mann tells TV Guide. "I think that kind of warm, woodwind brassy tenor just really sings for me with Rosie, and it just grounded the whole experience of playing him."

A native New Yorker, the real Rosenthal was a celebrated athlete and lawyer before he enlisted in the Air Force the day after Pearl Harbor. To prepare for the role, Mann joined his costars in a two-week boot camp and flight schooling. But more importantly, he spoke with Rosie's son, Dan.

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"What surfaced was this man of great warmth and grace," Mann says. "I just thought that the balance between his courage and his warrior spirit, and his gift as a leader to connect with his guys, I knew I had to ground it in that."

But Rosie comes into the Hundredth in 1943 with a reputation, and it's not the one about him and the Riveters flying in their skivvies (hey, it's hot in Texas!). Rather, he's been busy training gunners 12 hours a day and, as he tells Majors Clevan (Austin Butler) and Egan (Callum Turner), he and his men have been requesting combat positions for months. In other words, they are eager to see the action.

"It is surprising actually, when you read about the history of these guys, how common a sentiment that was: being at home and itching to be overseas to be a part of it," says Mann, who talked with Rosie's son, Dan, to prepare for the role. "Rosie is about as experienced as they come, but he just truly does not know what he is in for. I mean, some of his first missions are some of the most devastating in the Hundredth's history."

That certainly is the case in Episode 4 when his first mission as pilot with the Hundreth takes a tragic turn, leaving Clevan's crew and others missing in action. Back at base, the dancing man from earlier in the episode changes his tune as he solemnly debriefs with superiors about the losses they witnessed and whether or not they saw any survivors parachute out of doomed planes.

Nate Mann, Masters of the Air

Nate Mann, Masters of the Air

Apple TV+

It was the nature of war, especially for those in the dangerous airspace above Europe. But in preparing to play Rosie, Mann says he grappled with why these men who witnessed tragedy day after day still got in the cockpits to keep fighting.

"The question I had to ask myself over and over again was what would get me back in the plane?" Mann says. "If you are coming back from something harrowing like that, what are you fighting for? And what would you risk your life for? These men were asked these questions. At the time, there were publications that would go to the frontlines and ask these men what keeps them going? In addition to putting a bomb on Hitler's doorstep and defeating this enemy, what mostly prevailed for them was, 'I have to do this for the love of the guys they are up there with.' Who you take in your care as a pilot and navigator to keep safe. I think that is what I connected to the most throughout this. This sense of if you can place your trust and indeed your love in the men you are going up there with, then that's the only way you make it back."

As the season unfolds, Rosie will be tested even more deeply by what he bears witness to and experiences personally. But Mann says what he admires most about Rosie is that he continues to be the smile in the room for his men, and the much needed laugh when it is hard to muster anything but sorrow.

"I think the color and texture of Rosie's love for his guys, there is something to the fact that his name is Rosie," Mann says. "There is just this kind of somewhat blush-faced warmth to him. It isn't necessarily jolly, but there is something strong about it."

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In the coming episodes, Rosie will step up to become an even more crucial leader among the Hundredth as some of its established figures, like the missing-in-action Clevan, are scattered to the winds. But there will also be quieter moments, particularly in Episode 6 when a battle-tested Rosie is sent on leave after some of those aforementioned disasters in the air.

Although Mann trained for weeks with the other cast members to convincingly fly the Hundredth's planes into battle, it is the quieter moments that he most looks forward to sharing with audiences.

"So much of this show, even as we get introduced to the scale of it and the life in the air, it becomes about life on the ground too," Mann says. "Rosie gets taken to places we don't expect him to and places he doesn't want to be that have nothing to do with flying. All of it brings up challenges that we maybe don't think about when we consider the context of a soldier's life. But that was the most rewarding aspect of it to work on because it is one of the things that makes this show so unique."

Masters of the Air Episodes 1-4 are now streaming on Apple TV+. New episodes of the series premiere Fridays on the streamer, with the series finale set to debut on March 15.