Full Metal Jacket is many things, an epic movie about the Vietnam War, a chilly Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, a star-making opportunity for Vincent D’Onofrio, and a collection of the wit and wisdom of Marine drill instructor-turned-actor R. Lee Ermey. 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 so enjoy these behind the scenes facts about Full Metal Jacket.
30. The Joker
Private Joker’s shirt on Parris Island reveals that his real name is J.T. Davis. It’s a deliberate reference to Spec. James T. Davis, the first officially recognized U.S. casualty in Vietnam, who was killed in 1961.
29. Where did they find this guy?
R. Lee Ermey had been a real-life Parris Island Marine drill instructor during the war. He’d acted in other Vietnam films, including “The Boys in Company C” and “Apocalypse Now.” Kubrick had hired him as a technical adviser, but Ermey wanted to play Hartman, the Parris Island drill instructor who dominates the first half of the movie. So he made an audition reel in which he generated a spontaneous 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. It is also rumoured that Ermey had yelled at Kubrick in Hartman’s character. Not only did this win him the job, Kubrick actually listened to his orders.
28. Other Gunny
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.”
27. Pvt. Pyle
A New York theater actor named Vincent D’Onofrio landed his first major film role in “Full Metal Jacket.” To play the husky Private Gomer Pyle, he packed on 70 pounds, 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 while running the obstacle course that had to be surgically repaired. After filming, it took nine months for him to return to his usual 210-pound physique.
26. This isnt real…right?
Modine 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.
25. Hossenfeffer anyone?
During filming, a family of rabbits were accidentally killed. Stanley Kubrick, an animal lover, was so upset that he canceled the rest of the day’s work.
24. Man can handle a camera
To create a realistic effect during Vietnam battle scenes, Director of Photography Douglas Milsome experimented with a camera with a shutter thrown off sync. This effect was reused in another war movie, Saving Private Ryan (1998).
23. The other guys
Denzel Washington was considered for the role of Eightball and has said that it is a role that he regrets missing out on. 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.” Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down the role of Animal Mother in order to star in The Running Man.
22. Is he ok?
21. The digital age is upon us
20. Too hot for TV
19. The realest plastic trees
For the final battle of Hue, 200 palm trees were imported from Spain and a few thousand tropical plastic plants were imported from Hong Kong. Plastic trees had previously been flown in from California, but upon seeing them, Stanley Kubrick reportedly said: “I don’t like it. Get rid of it.”
18. Pvt Pyle made it
A few days after the movie’s release, D’Onofrio was seen again in “Adventures in Babysitting,” this time as the muscular, blond mechanic. His complete transformation between the two films gave him a reputation for both intense preparation and chameleon like acting skills. It’s a reputation he’s maintained ever since, moving from indie comedies to big-budget spectacle (Men in Black) to a long run as the brilliant detective Goren on TV’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”
17. England is home
The New York City-born Kubrick had famously moved to England and shot all his movies there since 1962 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.
16. Love you long time
The 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. 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’ and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back’.
15. Heath was the best Joker
Initially, Kubrick envisioned Anthony Michael Hall as Joker. According to Hall, negotiations between him and Kubrick went on for eight months before ultimately falling through. Instead, “Vision Quest” star Matthew Modine landed the role.
To create the rubble-strewn city, Kubrick said he spent two months carefully destroying the Beckton 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. 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.
13. Ful Metal Jackets
Kubrick changed the title from ‘The Short Timers’ to ‘Full Metal Jacket’, inspired by the name of a kind of bullet commonly used by Marines in Vietnam. These are comprised of a softer core metal that is fully coated with a harder metal.
12. Worth waiting for
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. He even was back in filming weeks earlier than he should have been – he is a marine afterall.
11. The real story
Gustav Hasford began working on “The Short Timers”, the book on which this film is based, while serving in Vietnam. He based many of the characters and names on soldiers he served with.
10. Come on Canada
Advertisements for this film were censored in some parts of Canada due to the tagline “In Vietnam the wind doesn’t blow, it sucks.” At that time, Canadian censors had not yet decided whether the phrase “it sucks” (or “this sucks”) was obscene.
9. Nice Sergeant
Shooting is a critical skill for Marines to develop, therefore the discipline is usually relaxed somewhat during rifle training. This is apparent in Hartman’s demeanor when he tolerates jokes and treats the recruits less harshly during this time.
8. D’ Onofrio wins
R. Lee Ermey said that he felt that Vincent D’ Onofrio’s performance was the best in the film.
7. He’s the real deal
According to Sgt. Hartman’s medal ribbons on his chest, he previously served in Vietnam where he received the “Vietnam Campaign Medal” and the “Vietnam Service Medal” with two bronze service stars. The latter indicates he took part in at least two operations during the conflict before he was stationed back in the United States as a drill instructor.
6. Can’t rush perfect
The scene of the soldiers advancing on the sniper-occupied building after Eightball is shot took more than four weeks to complete. Dorian Harewood described the experience as “lying on the ground for a whole month”.
5. Seems interesting
As former Marines who had to take part in the exercise will tell you, the “This is my rifle” drill was almost always performed while all the recruits were naked.
4. Sneaky hobbits
During filming, Gustav Hasford contemplated legal action over his writing credit and Hasford was barred from the production. Originally the filmmakers intended Hasford to receive an “additional dialogue” credit, but he wanted full credit. Hasford took two friends and snuck onto the set dressed as extras only to be mistaken by a crew member for Michael Herr.
3. Little recognition
FMJ onlr received one oscar nomination for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay. This was Stanley Kubrick received his final Oscar nomination (his 13th career nod) for this movie.
2. The Americans Are Coming!
Stanley Kubrick shot a scene in the Norfolk Broads where a Westland “Wessex” helicopter (flown by a stunt pilot) was required to fly low down along a canal (the area doubling for paddy fields) while someone fired a heavy machine gun out of the doors. The scene was shot at dawn and the local police were supposed to have warned fishermen but there was a communications problem. The many fishermen were awoken by a US helicopter apparently machine gunning their “positions”. The Wessex itself was subsequently damaged during filming when the tail rotor got pushed into an obstacle while it was parked.
1. Ermey is in charge
Kubrick was notorious for his meticulous micromanaging 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.
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