How a ‘Band of Brothers’ Actor Became Part of His Real-Life Counterpart’s Family
Not long after production began on the “Band of Brothers,” Trish Zavrel got a telephone call from her father, Edward “Babe” Heffron, one of the U.S. Army paratroopers being portrayed in the groundbreaking HBO miniseries. He wanted to tell her about the actor, Robin Laing, who was going to play him in the television show, which premiered in 2001.
“My dad called me when Robin got hired,” she recalled in an interview with HistoryNet. “He said in his usual streetwise style, ‘Kid, you’re never going to believe me. Wait till you hear this. Guess who they got to play me in the movie? A Scotsman! He’s not going to be able to do a Philly accent!’ He was very skeptical.”
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As doubtful as he was, Babe quickly warmed up to Robin, who did indeed master the intricacies of a South Philadelphia drawl. The two spoke several times so the Scot could learn just how to portray the American, a decorated soldier in the now-fabled Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, which jumped behind enemy lines at Normandy just before D-Day, June 6, 1944. The unit played a critical role in securing crossroads and other key objectives as the Army advanced from Utah Beach.
“Babe was very generous with his time and attention,” Robin said in a telephone interview from Scotland. “The first time we spoke, he said, ‘What do you need to know?’ He was very open and answered all my questions. We got to know each other and really hit it off.”
Not only did Babe and Robin become friends, but so did Robin and Trish. The unusual experience brought the actor and his character’s family together in an unexpected way. The two bonded over their love of Babe and still have a strong friendship today. The speak frequently over the phone or online and get together in person when they can.
“In addition to Babe, Robin and I discovered we have a lot in common,” Trish said. “We laugh at the same things and have a great time. My husband, Ed, and I love getting together with Robin and his wife, Pauline, whenever we can.”
Added Robin, “We’ve spent time over the years in lots of interesting places. We’ll have loads to talk about once we get started!”
Heffron and daughter Trish Zavrel in 2006. (Photo: Trish Zavrel)
“Band of Brothers,” which recently held a 20th anniversary reunion (a year late because of Covid) at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, had a similar effect on other performers and the people they played. Close friendships sprang up between many of the stars and soldiers.
Emmy Award-winning actor Damian Lewis developed a very tight bond with the man he played in the miniseries, Richard Winters, Easy Company’s commander. The two spent a lot of time together before, during and after production of the show. They became so close Lewis wrote a dedication to Winters after his death in 2011.
James Madio bonded immediately with his soldier, Frank Perconte. The actor attended numerous military reunions and other events with Perconte, who died in 2014. At that time, Madio wrote on his Twitter page: “I lost my friend.”
Binge 'Band of Brothers' stories
Robin got to know Trish after the filming of the epic TV series, which was based on the 1992 book “Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne: From Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest” by Stephen Ambrose. They met for the first time at the Philadelphia premiere of the program.
“My husband and I showed Robin around Philly,” Trish said. “We took him to some of Babe’s old haunts, including the Irish pub. Got him a real Philly cheesesteak. We stayed in touch from there.”
Babe was in the hospital at the time and could not take part in the tour. However, as soon as he was well, the former paratrooper connected with Robin. The two continued to visit each other in Europe and the United States until the soldier’s death in 2013.
“We spent a lot of time together,” Robin recalled. “Babe would take me all around to his favorite places, including the bars. There were a few late nights involved.”
Trish also became friends with actor Frank John Hughes, who portrayed her godfather, William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, who was also from Philadelphia. Babe and Guarnere were lifelong friends and even wrote a book together: “Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story.”
“I actually met Frank before Robin,” Trish said. “Robin turns up later in the series, which was being filmed in chronological order. I got to know Frank first.”
As Robin spent more time with Babe, he gained more insight into the paratrooper’s personality. Though he had been a tough kid from the streets of Philadelphia, Babe was quite gregarious and generous.
“We’d go out for an evening, and somebody would say, ‘Oh, I love that shirt you’re wearing,’ and Babe would give it to them,” Robin said. “He didn’t really care for things in a material sense. He was always giving stuff away.”
Trish also learned more about her father after “Band of Brothers.” He didn’t talk much about his experiences in World War II but seemed to find his voice once the miniseries aired.
“My father took care of feral cats,” Trish said. “When I was kid, he would buy food and put out warm bedding for them in the winter. I never thought much about it at the time. After ‘Band of Brothers,’ he said to me, ‘Now you know why I feed the alley cats. I’ve been cold and hungry, and no one should have to feel those things. Not even a cat.’”
Band of Brother and Sister
Because of Babe, Robin and Trish’s relationship blossomed into an unbreakable bond — similar to that of a brother and sister. “Siblings who don’t fight,” Robin joked. “We’re buddies.”
Trish and her husband have been to Scotland twice now to visit Robin and his wife. In turn, Robin has visited Trish in the United States when his schedule permits. Together, they have shared many times and laughs, as well as memories of Babe.
“I think he would absolutely love that we have become such really good friends,” Trish said. “Babe would get such a kick out of it. He liked to think he wasn’t sentimental but he really was. He wouldn’t say things like, ‘Oh, that’s sweet.’ He would just say, ‘That’s great, kid!’”
Robin Laing and Trish Zavrel. (Photo: Trish Zavrel)
Trish and Robin took advantage of the “Band of Brothers” reunion symposium to get together once again in New Orleans. They spoke about Babe to those attending in person and online. After that, the families took in the sights in the Big Easy.
“We’re going to see the city and spend some time together,” Robin said. “We’ll do some sightseeing and really enjoy it. And we’ll be thinking of Babe.”
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