CATEGORIES Movie News"Full Metal Jacket," which opened 25 years ago this week (on June 26, 1987), is many things: a surreal (or hyperreal) movie about the Vietnam War, a compactly chilly Stanley Kubrick masterpiece (aside from "Dr. Strangelove," it's the only movie he directed during his final 40 years that ran under two hours), a starmaking opportunity for Vincent D'Onofrio, and a collection of the wit and wisdom of Marine drill sergeant-turned-actor R. Lee Ermey. ("Your rifle is only a tool. It is a hard heart that kills" is one of his few non-profane maxims.)
Over the past quarter-century, the movie has become beloved by many disparate groups of fans, including general moviegoers, Kubrick kultists, military fetishists, and sample-happy rappers. Still, as familiar as the film is, there's still plenty you may not know about how it was made -- which Brat Packer nearly landed the lead role that ultimately went to Matthew Modine, how Kubrick meticulously recreated Vietnam in the English countryside, how the author of the source novel infiltrated the set after a falling-out with Kubrick, the record-breaking weight gain D'Onofrio underwent in the service of his art, and just how long Ermey can keep unspooling a spontaneous tirade of profane insults.
1. Kubrick developed the idea to do a Vietnam War movie out of his desire to collaborate with war correspondent Michael Herr, author of the celebrated Vietnam War memoir "Dispatches." At first, Kubrick wanted to make a movie about the Holocaust, but the pair soon settled on a novel about Vietnam that they both admired, Gustav Hasford's bestseller "The Short-Timers."
2. Like his protagonist, Private Joker, Hasford was a Marine who had also served as a combat correspondent during the war. Kubrick and Herr eventually enlisted him as a co-scripter of the screenplay. The collaboration was carried out over the phone; Hasford didn't even meet Kubrick in person until an ill-fated dinner party well into the writing process.
3. Kubrick changed the title to "Full Metal Jacket," inspired by the name of a kind of bullet commonly used by Marines in Vietnam.
4. Initially, Kubrick envisioned Anthony Michael Hall as Joker. According to Hall, negotiations between the director and the "Breakfast Club" Brat Packer went on for eight months before ultimately falling through. Instead, "Vision Quest" star Matthew Modine landed the role.
5. R. Lee Ermey had been a real-life Parris Island Marine drill sergeant during the war. He'd acted in other Vietnam films, including "The Boys in Company C" (where he played his first drill sergeant role) and "Apocalypse Now." Kubrick had hired him as a technical adviser, but Ermey wanted to play Hartman, the Parris Island drill sergeant who dominates the first half of the movie. So he made an audition reel in which he generated a sponataneous stream of foul-mouthed insults directed at a group of extras -- all while having oranges and tennis balls thrown at him -- that ran for 15 minutes. That got him the job.
6. Kubrick was notorious for his meticulous oversight of every last detail of his productions, but for the sake of authenticity, he allowed Ermey to write his own lines. Ermey ended up generating 150 pages of insults, many of which found their way into the movie. About half his dialogue in the finished film is self-penned.
7. What's the R. in R. Lee Ermey stand for? Ronald.
8. Tim Colceri had been Kubrick's choice to play Hartman before Ermey seized the role from him. But Colceri got a nice consolation prize: a role as the helicopter door gunner and an unforgettable scene where he talks remorselessly about how many women and children he's killed. His dialogue comes straight from Herr's "Dispatches."
9. A New York theater actor named Vincent D'Onofrio landed his first major film role in "Full Metal Jacket." To play the doughy Private Gomer Pyle, he packed 70 pounds onto his muscular frame, ballooning up to 280 pounds. That Method-acting stunt is believed to be the record-holder, exceeding the 60 pounds Robert De Niro gained to play Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull." The extra weight caused torn ligaments in D'Onofrio's legs that had to be surgically repaired. After filming, it took nine months for him to return to his usual 210-pound physique.
10. Bruce Willis was offered a role in the film, but he had to turn it down, as the production would have cut into his contractual commitment to his TV series, "Moonlighting."
11. The New York City-born Kubrick had famously moved to England and shot all his movies there since 1962's "Lolita," in part to avoid the interference of Hollywood executives in his productions. So it was with "Full Metal Jacket," which recreated a Marine boot camp and a Vietnamese city in the English countryside. The Parris Island sequences were shot at the Bassingbourn Barracks army base. The abandoned and condemned Beckton Gas Works became the ruined city of Hue.
12. To create the rubble-strewn city, Kubrick said he spent two months carefully destroying the gas works, blowing up buildings and strategically punching holes in others with a wrecking ball, all with photographs of Hue circa 1969 as his guide.
13. To make England look more like tropical Vietnam, Kubrick said he flew in 200 palm trees from Spain and 100,000 plastic jungle plants from Hong Kong.
14. Modine, who documented the year-long shoot in photographs and published them in a book called "Full Metal Jacket Diary" in 2005, claimed that the gas works was an environmental disaster area, strewn with asbestos and other toxins, that made cast and crew ill.
15. Modine also wrote that he and the other actors playing Marines underwent realistic boot camp training, which included being yelled at by Ermey for up to 10 hours a day. They also had to have their heads shaved once a week.
16. After years of hours-long phone conversations with the director, Hasford came to England to meet him in person. They met only once, Hasford later noted, at a dinner. In "Kubrick," his own memoir about the production, Herr recalls that, during the meal, the director passed Herr a note that read, "I can't deal with this man." A bitter dispute over the writing credits followed (Hasford wanted a full credit, not an "additional dialogue by" credit), and Hasford was barred from the production. Contemplating legal action, Hasford said he wanted to make sure the movie was actually filming, so he and two friends snuck onto the set at Beckton. They were wearing camouflage, disguised as extras. Hasford was spotted, but he was mistaken for Herr.
17. One reason filming took so long is that Ermey was in a car crash in which he broke all the ribs on one side of his body. He was sidelined for four-and-a-half months.
18. The "Abigail Mead" credited with composing the score is actually the director's daughter, Vivian Kubrick.
19. According to Box Office Mojo, the film cost an estimated $30 million to make. It earned back $46.4 million in North America.
20. "Full Metal Jacket" earned just one Oscar nomination, for its adapted screenplay.
21. Hasford shared that nomination, having won his credit battle. Still, his career never reached similar highs. He wrote two more novels, including a "Short-Timers" sequel called "The Phantom Blooper," before he died in 1993 at age 45.
22. A few days after the movie's release, D'Onofrio was seen again in "Adventures in Babysitting," this time as the muscular, blond-tressed, Thor-lookalike mechanic. His complete transformation between the two films gave him a reputation for both intense preparation and chamelionlike acting skills. It's a rep he's maintained ever since, moving from indie comedies ("Mystic Pizza," "The Player") to big-budget spectacle ("Men in Black") to a long run as the brilliant and eccentric Det. Goren on TV's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."
23. The melodically named model/actress Papillon Soo Soo, who played the Vietnamese hooker, also had a big pop-cultural footprint -- but it wasn't from her movie roles. (She'd been in just one other film, the James Bond movie "A View to a Kill," before "Full Metal Jacket," and she made only one more afterward, action drama "Split Second," with Rutger Hauer.)
24. Rather, it was her memorable delivery of such phrases as "Me so horny" and "Me love you long time" that found their way into audiences' brainpans, thanks to endless uses as samples in rap songs. Most notoriously, there was 2 Live Crew's "Me So Horny" (which made the group the center of a landmark censorship battle in 1990) and Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back."
25. Ermey, too, found his dialogue sampled in numerous rap and hard rock tunes. Now 68, he's spent the last quarter century capitalizing on his "Full Metal Jacket" fame by playing similar characters (usually Southern, authoritarian types) in dozens of movies (from "Fletch Lives" to "Dead Man Walking"), TV shows, video games, and commercials. He's been a pitchman for several products, including Glock weapons, SOG knives, Coors Light beer, and pistachio nuts. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema patrons know him as the voice warning them to be quiet during the movies. And when R. Lee Ermey tells you to shut up, you'd better listen, maggots.
CORRECTION: As several readers have pointed out, "drill instructor" is the proper Marine Corps term for R. Lee Ermey's role, both in real life and in "Full Metal Jacket." "Drill sergeant" is an Army term.