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British Advance Into Sinai

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 257th installment in the series.   

November 15, 1916: British Advance Into Sinai 

Fighting in the Sinai Peninsula in 1914-1916 was unusual by the standards of the First World War, in large part because – unlike the nose-to-nose stalemate on the Western Front – the two opposing sides were separated by a “no man’s land” consisting of an inhospitable desert stretching hundreds of miles. Although both sides staged raids and larger attacks in this huge arena with scant success, in between these encounters ordinary troops might not see the enemy for months at a time.

This situation finally began to change – albeit very slowly– on November 15, 1916, when the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force under commander-in-chief Archibald Murray made its first foray into the desert with an eye to permanent occupation, rather than reconnaissance or harassing raids. Above all, the long delay in the British offensive reflected the enormous logistical difficulties attending modern desert warfare. 

The first and most challenging obstacle was also the simplest: water. With the British planning to bring a force numbering hundreds of thousands of men across the desert, the small brackish wells scattered across the Sinai Peninsula for use by Bedouin tribes were obviously going to be totally inadequate. The British decided to overcome the obstacle by building a pipeline to carry water from a base near the Suez Canal, at Qantara, across the northern Mediterranean coast of the peninsula to Palestine. 

The pipeline, and an accompanying railroad (top), were the main target of the failed Turkish campaign against the British in front of the Suez Canal at Romani in August 1916. That fall the pipeline and railroad continued to advance east, while the British received additional valuable information from Jewish Zionists who knew the terrain in Palestine, including the location of wells for when the invaders were forced to leave their pipeline behind.

In mid-November the British began their gradual pursuit of the Turkish force they’d first defeated at Romani, which had now retreated to a position at Bir Lahfan, leading to another British victory at El Arish in late December 1916 and Rafah in January 1917. But here, as in Mesopotamia, anyone expecting a colonial walkover was in for a surprise: following these early successes, Turkish resistance mounted once the British arrived in Palestine, stiffened by German officers and the prospect of a threat to the empire’s core territories. 

For ordinary British soldiers, the slow advance across the Sinai alternated with long periods of tedium, broken up by occasional leave to Cairo or Alexandria as well as a grudging appreciation of the desert’s natural beauty. Oskar Teichman, a junior medical officer serving with the British Army in Egypt, recalled the dramatic natural setting near the Suez Canal in early November: 

The landscape was grand and austere; the enormous vista of endless desert, here and there interrupted by gigantic sand mountains – fashioned into fantastic shapes according to the caprices of the wind – and by occasional palm-studded Hods nestling in tiny valleys, was most impressive. In this clear atmosphere the visibility was wonderful. Perfect silence reigned, and there appeared to be no sign of life except an occasional vulture hovering over the old Turkish battle-field or a jackal slinking homewards to his laid. At sunset the sky assumed most marvellous colours, which it is useless to try to describe. Then followed the deathly stillness of the desert night…

On the other side, conditions were already dire for Ottoman citizens living in Palestine, thanks to growing shortages of food, fuel, medicine, and other necessities. These were further underlined by disparities in the rations provided to German soldiers and officers, versus ordinary Turkish soldiers and civilians, according to the Conde de Ballobar, a Spanish diplomat who found himself acting as caretaker for Allied interests in Ottoman Palestine. On November 17, 1916 he wrote in his diary: 

Truly the contrast is notable in this Austrian-German-Turkish entente. The Teutons and Austrians live the life of princes: Sanatoriums, hospitals magnificently equipped, automobiles, economical restaurants, great free warehouses, very well stocked, while the Turks do not even have shoes, eat almost nothing and are lodged and cared for any old way. 

Lawrence Meets Faisal 

Hundreds of miles to the southeast developments marked the beginning of the end of Ottoman rule in the Hejaz, the west central coast of the Arabian Peninsula, home to the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, as well as the port of Jiddah. Here, in late October 1916 the British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence finally met Prince Faisal, the son of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the feudal ruler of Mecca who rose up against the Turks in June of that year.

Hussein had declared himself “King of the Arab Countries,” but as Lawrence already understood he would mostly be a figurehead for the Arab Revolt, which still needed a dynamic political and diplomatic leader. On meeting Hussein’s third son at a walled compound at Wadi Safra, nestled in a valley full of palm groves, Lawrence decided he had found a true revolutionary statesman.

Lawrence later recalled their first meeting, introduced by one of Faisal’s many retainers, in typically dramatic (not to say mystical) fashion: 

He led me through a second gate into an inner court, and across it I saw standing framed between the posts of a black doorway, a white figure waiting tensely for me. This was Feisal, and I felt at the glance that now I had found the man whom I had come to Arabia to seek, the leader alone needed to make the Arab Revolt win through to success. He looked very tall and pillar-like, very slender, dressed in long white robes and a brown head cloth with a brilliant scarlet and gold cord… His hands were loosely crossed in front of him on his dagger. 

Faisal would eventually prove a great leader, as Lawrence guessed – but for now the Arab Revolt was in its infancy, and the Turks felt they had little to fear from a disorganized band of Bedouin outlaws. Lawrence would have to do something to get their attention. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

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What AMC's The Terror Got Right (And Wrong) About the Franklin Expedition
Aidan Monaghan/AMC
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for The Terror. If you haven't finished the show, don't read further!

We know the outcome of Captain Crozier's battle with Tuunbaq in the AMC series The Terror, and that he chose (as some rumors have suggested) to live with the Inuit rather than return to London when he has the chance. Now, it's time for a post-mortem (sorry) of the show's historical highlights. While Dan Simmons, author of the book on which the show is based, created Lady Silence and her supernatural evil spirit—Tuunbaq definitely wasn't stalking the men of the Erebus and Terror back in 1847—much of the show is faithful to the actual events of the Franklin expedition, one of the most enduring mysteries in polar exploration. Here's a rundown of what The Terror got right, and where the show slipped up.

RIGHT: THE TERROR’S ARCTIC ATMOSPHERE

A scene from AMC's The Terror with Sir John Franklin and James Fitzjames
Capt. James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies), left, and Sir John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds) survey the ice.
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

Right off the bat, The Terror envelops viewers in an icy world that increasingly mirrors the crews’ isolation and desperation. In the first tragic scene, a sailor falls overboard into a sea of accurately rendered pancake ice. In another scene, Captain Francis Crozier sees a sun dog—a solar phenomenon caused by sunlight refracting through clouds of ice crystals, often witnessed by polar explorers. The officers' uniforms and caps are also recreated with authentic details. As the hopelessness of their predicament dawns on the officers and men, summer’s 24-hour daylight vanishes, replaced by the 24-hour darkness of winter. The imprisoned ships tilt with the pressure of the pack ice.

There were a few hiccups noticed by sharp-eyed viewers in the Remembering the Franklin Expedition Facebook group, however. Caulker's mate Cornelius Hickey has a fondness for cigarettes, but most sailors probably smoked pipes at the time, and definitely not inside the ship. (Good thing they had that fire hole bored into the ice!) And assistant surgeon Harry Goodsir’s technique with the Daguerrotype camera in the blind would have produced a terrible photo. His 20th-century stopwatch wouldn’t have helped.

WRONG: FRANKLIN’S BACK-UP PLAN

A scene from AMC's The Terror with Sir John Franklin and Capt. Francis Crozier
Captain Francis Crozier (Jared Harris), right, tries to convince Sir John that they're going to need rescuing pretty soon.
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

In a flashback in Episode 3, Sir John Franklin’s good friend Sir John Ross asks the soon-to-depart commander if the Admiralty had any plans for his rescue. When Franklin says one won’t be needed—since the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are the best-provisioned ships ever sent to the Arctic—Ross warns him that he’s being naïve. In real life, this conversation was much different, and it didn’t take place at the Admiralty.

Franklin and Ross knew firsthand how a well-provisioned expedition can become a fight for survival. (In Episode 6, Captain James Fitzjames hears the story of Ross’s disastrous Victory expedition from the Erebus's ice master Thomas Blanky, who was really there in 1829-1833.) Ross instead offered to rescue Franklin himself, and captained (at age 72!) a privately funded schooner in search of his lost friend in 1850. And because Ross and the Admiralty had had a major falling out decades before, Ross wouldn’t have been chatting with Franklin at the Admiralty's HQ in Episode 3, and he definitely wouldn’t have been there to hear Lady Jane Franklin’s plea for a search party in Episode 4.

Sir John Ross was the uncle of Sir James Clark Ross, whom we see in the first scene of Episode 1 and its replay, from a different point of view, at the end of Episode 10. In real life, Sir James was one of Crozier's closest friends.

WRONG (MAYBE): KILLER CANS

In a foreboding sign of things to come, Franklin removes a tiny blob of lead from his mouth while eating dinner with Fitzjames in the first episode. By Episode 4, the ships’ cooks are complaining that much of the canned meat is spoiled, and able seaman John Morfin shows up in Goodsir’s infirmary with a blackish line along his gums, an ominous sign of lead poisoning. To test that hypothesis, Goodsir feeds the monkey Jacko some of the canned meat, and then reveals his theory to the surgeon Stephen Stanley: The meat is contaminated with lead and the men have been eating it for more than two years.

The storyline is built upon a famous theory that is now in doubt. In the mid-1980s, forensic anthropologists found high levels of lead in Franklin crewmembers' remains. They suggested the source was poorly sealed food cans, and that lead poisoning led to the men’s deaths. But recent research has pointed to the Erebus’s and Terror’s unique water systems [PDF], which used lead pipes, as the primary source of contamination. And, a 2015 study compared lead content among seven crewmembers’ remains and found wide variation, suggesting some men may not have been debilitated.

RIGHT: SERIOUS SCURVY

A scene from AMC's The Terror with Goodsir and Young
Dr. Goodsir (Paul Ready) tries to save David Young (Alfie Kingsnorth).
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

David Young, the first fatality of The Terror, doesn’t show any signs of scurvy in Goodsir’s autopsy. But by the summer of 1848, the remaining crew camped on King William Island hasn’t eaten fresh meat in three years, and the Navy-issued lemon juice rations have either run out or lost potency. Signs of severe Vitamin C deficiency appear: Fitzjames’s old bullet wounds, which he boasted about at the officers' table in the first episode, begin to open up, and a rough-looking Lieutenant George Henry Hodgson loses a tooth as he chews the leather from his boot (a nod to Franklin’s awful 1819-1822 Arctic expedition) in Episode 9. The scenes match what most, though not all, historians and researchers now believe: that a grim combination of scurvy, starvation, exposure, and underlying illnesses spelled the end for Franklin’s men.

(VERY LIKELY) WRONG: FRANKLIN’S CAUSE OF DEATH

A scene from AMC's The Terror with Sir John Franklin and Tunnbaq
Tuunbaq takes a deadly swipe at Sir John.
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

The terrifying scene in Episode 3 in which Tuunbaq mauls Franklin to death and shoves him down the fire hole is most likely not the way it actually happened. Historically speaking, just after the men abandon ship in April 1848, Crozier and Fitzjames updated the note left in the cairn the previous spring. They reported that “Sir John Franklin died on 11th June 1847”—just 19 days after Lieutenant Graham Gore and mate Charles Des Voeux had left the same paper behind on May 24, 1847 and reported the crews “all well.” Unfortunately, it’s the only record ever found about the expedition’s progress, and no one knows for sure how Franklin died or what happened to his body. Inuit oral histories collected by Franklin scholar Louie Kamookak suggest Franklin was buried under a flat stone somewhere on King William Island, but to date, no trace has been found.

RIGHT: THAT CRAZY CARNIVAL

The wild masquerade party in the middle of the bleak and frozen Arctic, which Fitzjames orders as a morale-booster for the men in Episode 6, may seem like a total anachronism. In real life, it was a time-honored tradition. (We don't know for sure if the Erebus and Terror had a carnival because no logbooks from the expedition have been found, but it's likely that they did.) In 1819-1820, Sir Edward Parry led the first polar expedition to purposefully overwinter in the Arctic. He worried about how the men would fare psychologically during the months of darkness and teeth-cracking cold, so he brought along trunks of theatrical costumes and launched the Royal Arctic Theatre, a fortnightly diversion for the officers and men to perform silly plays and musicals. It kept the men busy writing shows, practicing their parts, and building sets, which Parry thought was the key to staying sane. The scheme was such a success that subsequent expeditions kept the tradition going. But unlike in The Terror, the frivolities didn’t end in fiery conflagrations and mass casualties. 

(POSSIBLY) WRONG: HICKEY’S MURDEROUS MUTINY

A scene from AMC's The Terror with Cornelius Hickey
Mr. Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) cooks up a mutiny.
Aidan Monaghan/AMC

In Episode 7, Hickey plans a mutiny and convinces enough of the desperate men to follow him, splitting the remaining officers and men into two groups and, in Episode 9, taking Crozier captive. Hickey also kidnaps Goodsir because, as the expedition’s sole remaining surgeon, he is the only one who knows how to wield a bone saw. We don’t know, though, if there was an actual mutiny among the Franklin survivors. The remains of some of Franklin's men were found in different locations, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a breakdown of order. Smaller groups may have split off from the main group because they simply couldn’t march any farther or had decided to return to the ships. Despite the harsh conditions of service in the Royal Navy, mutinies were quite rare.

RIGHT: CANNIBALISM

Hickey’s followers, starving and desperate, dine on morsels of steward William Gibson in one of Episode 9’s most wrenching scenes with historical precedent. Hudson’s Bay Company trader John Rae discovered the truth about the Franklin expedition from interviews with Inuit in 1854, including testimony that the men resorted to cannibalism to survive. In his infamous letter to the Admiralty, he wrote, “from the mutilated state of many of the bodies, and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last dread alternative as a means of sustaining life.” Victorian England refused to believe it—but Inuit testimony and forensic research [PDF] supported Rae’s account, finally revealing the expedition’s fate.

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15 Actors Who Could've Played Han Solo
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Before Harrison Ford (watch his audition tape here) and Alden Ehrenreich were cast as Han Solo in the Star Wars film franchise, a number of young and famous Hollywood actors had a shot at playing everyone’s favorite “stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerfherder.” Here are 15 of them.

1. AL PACINO

After the massive success of the first two The Godfather films, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon, Al Pacino was the toast of Hollywood. He was given the script to Star Wars and was offered the Solo job, but turned it down to star in Sydney Pollack’s Bobby Deerfield instead.

“It was at that time in my career when I was offered everything,” Pacino told MTV in 2014. “I was in The Godfather. They didn’t care if I was right or wrong for the role, if I could act or not act. ‘He’s in The Godfather. Offer him everything!’ So they offered me this movie. And I remember not understanding it when I read it. Another missed opportunity!”

2. MILES TELLER

 Actor Miles Teller attends the 2018 DIRECTV NOW Super Saturday Night Concert at NOMADIC LIVE! at The Armory on February 3, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Christopher Polk, Getty Images for DirecTV

Fresh off the success of Divergent and Whiplash in 2014, Miles Teller’s name appeared on the shortlist of young actors being considered to play the title role in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Believe it or not, he had never watched a single movie set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” before his audition with Lucasfilm.

“I had never even seen any of the original Star Wars movies until maybe a month or a couple weeks before my first audition because I was like, ‘I should check this out,'" Teller told MTV’s Josh Horowitz on the Happy Sad Confused podcast. “I just love Harrison Ford, I think that’s a great character. I love his brand, I mean so many guys would’ve played that part so wrong and he has humor at the right times.”

3. SYLVESTER STALLONE

Before he wrote and starred in Rocky, Sylvester Stallone met with George Lucas and auditioned for the part of Han Solo. He knew he wasn’t going to get the job based on the director’s ambivalent demeanor during his reading.

When asked about the audition in 2010, Stallone told Ain’t It Cool News in 2010, “It didn’t meet with much approval since when I stood in front of George Lucas he didn’t look at me once, obviously being very shy. Then I said ‘Well obviously I’m not the right type.’ but it all worked out for the best since I don’t look good in spandex holding a Ray gun.”

4. ANSEL ELGORT

 Ansel Elgort attends New York City Ballet 2018 Spring Gala at Lincoln Center on May 3, 2018 in New York City
Steven Ferdman, Getty Images

The Fault in Our Stars and Baby Driver star Ansel Elgort was one of the names on Lucasfilm’s shortlist of young actors for Solo. While he has the good looks to play the rugged space pirate, Elgort was relieved that Alden Ehrenreich was selected instead. 

“Yeah, I was pretty worried, honestly,” Elgort told The Huffington Post. “I was pretty worried that if I got it, I’d have to change my DJ name. So I’m relieved.” (Elgort is also a musician and singer with the DJ name of “Ansølo.” He publishes electronic dance music and remixes on Soundcloud under the pseudonym.)

5. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN

Before his breakout appearances in Annie Hall and The Deer Hunter, a struggling young actor named Christopher Walken auditioned for Han Solo in Star Wars. Although the role went to Ford in the end, Walken was reportedly Lucas’s second choice for the space smuggler.

6. DAVE FRANCO

After starring in hit comedies like Neighbors, Dave Franco auditioned for Lucasfilm. During pre-production in 2016, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller—who both also directed Franco in 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie—were set to direct Solo: A Star Wars Story. The pair left the project well into filming due to “creative differences.” Despite a strong audition, Franco ultimately didn’t get the role.

“I’m not good with impressions or anything like that,” Franco told MTV. “I think that’s the reason why it’s so hard to cast this role. Do they want someone to perfectly embody who Harrison Ford is, or do they want to go a completely different route? Do they want someone to look really similar to him? I don’t know, I think they’re struggling with that.”

7. KURT RUSSELL

During the mid-1970s, Kurt Russell auditioned for both Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, but Lucas wasn’t sure he was right for either job. While the director was still making up his mind, Russell dropped out of the running altogether to be a series regular on a TV Western called The Quest instead.

“[I was] interviewing for the part of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo," Russell told USA Today. "On tape, it exists. I didn’t have any idea what I was talking about. Something about a Death Star and a Millennium Falcon. I was actually pretty [close], in the final running, but I needed to give an answer to ABC to do a western show. I asked George, ‘Do you think you’re gonna use me?’ He said, ‘I don’t know if I want to put you with him, or those two guys together.’ I got to go to work, so I did the western. Clearly, made the right choice.”

When later asked about his decision to work on The Quest, which lasted just one season, Russell told Vanity Fair: “I don’t have any regrets. As an actor you can’t dwell on those things or you’ll go crazy. Things happen for a reason and I’m happy how things turned out in my career. My life and career may have been different, maybe for better or for worse, if I did Star Wars, but you can’t focus on it. You move on.”

8. SCOTT EASTWOOD

 Scott Eastwood attends the 6th Annual Hilarity For Charity at The Hollywood Palladium on March 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images

In 2016, Lucasfilm auditioned more than 2500 actors roughly between the ages of 20 and 25 for Solo. The production company wanted an actor who was young enough to grow with the character through multiple movies. The list was whittled down to just eight names after screen tests, with actor Scott Eastwood—son of Clint—among those in the running. Although he was a favorite with Star Wars fans, Eastwood was 29 years old at the time and the oldest actor on the shortlist.

9. ROBERT ENGLUND

Before he was known as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Robert Englund auditioned for Han Solo. While he didn’t land the gig, Englund took the script home with him, because he thought his roommate would be perfect for the role of Luke Skywalker—and he was right! Englund’s roommate at the time was Mark Hamill, who played the iconic role for more than 40 years, most recently in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

“At that time, Mark Hamill was always on my couch,” Englund told ForceMaterial.com. “So there he was, halfway through a six-pack, watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I went in and I said to him, ‘Look at these sides, I think you’re right for this, man. This character is like a space prince, and it’s George Lucas!' ... I was just saying, ‘Wow, what if you got to be in a George Lucas movie, Mark? You’re the kind of actor he loves!’ So he got on the phone to his agent and the rest is history.”

10. LOGAN LERMAN

After gaining critical and commercial success in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Fury, Logan Lerman was reportedly on Lucasfilm’s shortlist of young actors to play Solo. While he didn’t end up landing the gig, Lerman said of the role to MTV, “I don’t think I’d be intimidated. It would just be fun.”

11. JACK REYNOR

 Jack Reynor arriving at the 'Detroit' European Premiere at The Curzon Mayfair on August 16, 2017 in London, England
Tristan Fewings, Getty Images

While audiences might know him as the lead character in the Irish drama What Richard Did or as the love interest in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Irish actor Jack Reynor was on the shortlist for Solo, and was ultimately happy he didn’t get the gig.

“That Han Solo movie is going to be really tough,” Reynor told The Irish Times. “I think the guy who is doing it is a really good actor, but, for myself, I was afraid of it. I kept thinking: if you f**k this up you’ll ruin people’s childhoods. If it doesn’t turn out great, you won’t be forgiven. That’s a lot of responsibility. And even if it goes great, you’ll do it, people will know you only from that and that defines your career. That would be very difficult. For me, working on original material is very important.”

12. BILL MURRAY

While still on Saturday Night Live, it was rumored that Bill Murray was up for Han Solo in A New Hope. In 2015, while at San Diego Comic-Con, Murray addressed the nearly 40-year old rumors: “I don’t know if I was up for it. I can’t tell you for sure. But I am working out in hopes of getting this new thing,” he joked. “I’m doing a lot of swimming and pilates."

13. TARON EGERTON

 Taron Egerton attends the EE British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) nominees party at Kensington Palace on February 17, 2018 in London, England
Jeff Spicer, Getty Images

Welsh actor Taron Egerton, who starred in Kingsman: The Secret Service and its sequel, was reportedly one of the three names (alongside Reynor and Ehrenreich) on the final shortlist for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Like Reynor, Egerton admitted he was very apprehensive of the role.

“Roles of that level are always going to be life-changing,” Egerton told The Guardian in 2016. “I wouldn’t run into it blind. It would definitely be a shutting-a-door-behind-me moment. That is something that I’d be wary of.”

14. GLYNN TURMAN

Coming off his breakout success in Cooley High in 1975, actor Glynn Turman auditioned for Lucas—but he didn’t even realize he had auditioned for the part of Han Solo until he read about it in Dale Pollock’s book, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, in 1983.

“In those days it said ‘black actor,’ ‘white actor,’ ‘Hispanic actor’ for every role, but it didn’t say either for the Han Solo part,” Glynn Turman told Empire Magazine in 2017. “It didn’t specify ‘black actor.’ I was rather pleased because I was just being called in as a talent. I remember George was very professional.” Turman must have impressed Lucas, as he was apparently considered for the role of Lando Calrissian as well.

“Later, I was approached for the role, in that same franchise, that [was given to] Billy Dee Williams,” Turman told Yahoo! Entertainment. “Handsome, swashbuckling, dashing Billy Dee. I hate him! Not true. Dear friend and a talented man. Lando Calrissian! That wouldn’t have fit me anyway. But it fits a Billy Dee Williams.”

15. EMORY COHEN

 Actor Emory Cohen attends the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival after party for Vincent N Roxxy at Black Market on April 19, 2016 in New York City
Cindy Ord, Getty Images for 2016 Tribeca Film Festival

In 2016, New York City-born actor Emory Cohen, a.k.a. “the cute guy from Brooklyn in Brooklyn,” was among the contenders to play Han Solo. "I read for it once," he later told The Daily Beast, and joked that, “They don’t even want me!”

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