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5 Things You Might Not Know About Stanley Kubrick's 'Full Metal Jacket'

by Oliver Lyttelton
August 7, 2012 11:22 AM
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3) Anthony Michael Hall was the original choice to play Joker, while Kubrick considered casting "Deliverance" rapist Bill McKinney as the Drill Sergeant.
The cast of "Full Metal Jacket" didn't quite contain any future A-listers, but a number of the major actors -- Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Arliss Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio (who put on 70lbs for the role, more weight than Robert De Niro did for "Raging Bull," and which took him nine months to lose) -- went on to long careers elsewhere. But as ever, the cast could have looked quite different. "The Breakfast Club" star Anthony Michael Hall was in fact Kubrick's first choice to play the lead role of Private Joker, but after nearly eight months of negotiations, dropped out. The actor, more recently seen in "The Dark Knight," said in an interview "we negotiated for eight months and could not come to an agreement. My dad was managing me and we decided not to do it. It was not just about the money, as some people have said. I was not prepared psychologically to give the guy a year of my life at 18." Val Kilmer was another actor up for the part, and according to Modine, insulted him in a coffee shop when he discovered that he'd lost out -- the first time Modine knew he'd landed the role. Meanwhile, Bruce Willis said in an interview with Playboy in 1988 that he's also been offered a role in the film, but had to turn it down because he was already committed to the first season of TV series "Moonlighting." Finally, Kubrick had, according to "Deliverance" director John Boorman, expressed an interest in hiring Bill McKinney, who played the 'Mountain Man' rapist in the 1972 film. Boorman relates "Kubrick phoned me up and said, 'What's Bill McKinney like?' And I said he's a very good actor and a lovely guy. And Kubrick said [adopting a skeptical tone] 'Come on now – that's the most terrifying scene ever put on film and that guy has gotta be an awful person.' He phoned me two or three times about Bill McKinney and eventually offered him the part. Bill told me later that he was in the LA airport about to come to London and he got a message from Kubrick to cancel. He was paid in full but Kubrick couldn't bear to face him – he was just too afraid!"

4) R. Lee Ermey, who played Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, was originally only a consultant on the film, but pursued the part, and was allowed to ad-lib.
His inability to face McKinney meant that Kubrick needed someone to play the fearsome drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. The director originally cast a relative unknown, former Marine Tim Colceri, in the part. But the film's technical consultant, R. Lee Ermey, had his eyes on the role. Ermey was a former Marine Sergeant who had served as a drill instructor before doing two tours of duty in Vietnam, and then making his acting debut in 1978's "The Boys In Company 'C.'" He then served as a technical advisor on both "Apocalypse Now" and "An Officer And A Gentleman," appearing in a cameo in the former, and helping Louis Gossett Jr. win an Oscar for playing another Gunnery Sergeant in the latter. To begin with, Ermey was set to only be an advisor on "Full Metal Jacket," but filmed his own audition tape, improvising insults while being pelted with oranges and tennis balls. His unfazed fury convinced Kubrick that he had the right man, and the rest was history. Ermey was allowed to improvise his profane insults (having to explain to the director what a 'reach-around' was at one point), with as much of 50% of the actor's dialogue being ad-libbed, which was quite unusual for the meticulous Kubrick. Colceri, as consolation, was given the small but memorable role as the door gunner of the helicopter, while Ermey went on to a long career as a character actor, including essentially reprising his "Full Metal Jacket" role in films as diverse as "The Frighteners" and "Toy Story."

5) The film was the unlikely inspiration for two hit singles.
Stanley Kubrick was not known, in his earlier films, for a keen interest in pop and rock music, but the 1960s setting of "Full Metal Jacket" called for some more contemporary sounds. After poring through Billboard Top 100 lists, the filmmaker came up with a soundtrack that included Nancy Sinatra and, over the end credits, The Rolling Stones, among others. Kubrick had also intended to use a score of Japanese drum compositions, but the director was played a synth composition by his daughter Vivian (who was also on set making a documentary, as she did for "The Shining," although it was never completed; she can also be seen in a cameo as a news camerawoman at the mass grave), he elected to get her to write the whole score of the film, under the pseudonym 'Abigail Mead.' One of the more curious effects of the movie was the release of a single, "Full Metal Jacket (I Wanna Be Your Drill Instructor," soon after the release of the film in the UK in October 1987. Credited to Abigail Mead and the mysterious Nigel Goulding, it featured samples of R. Lee Ermey's drill chants from the film, in an almost hip-hop style, and proved a surprise success, reaching number 2 in the UK charts for two weeks, kept off the top spot at first by "Pump Up The Volume," by M/A/R/R/S, and then by The Bee Gees' "You Win Again." That wasn't the film's only contribution to the music world: two years later, 2 Live Crew sampled dialogue from Joker, Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) and the prostitute in Da Nang (Papillon Soo Soo) for their huge hit "Me So Horny." Listen to both below. 

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  • Mitchell | August 15, 2012 5:23 PMReply

    The correct title of Hasford's sequel to 'The Short-Timers' is 'The Phantom Blooper.'

  • Art | August 8, 2012 11:07 AMReply

    Lots of Kubrick info I'd never heard. Thanks!

  • Joe | August 7, 2012 1:15 PMReply

    Full Metal Jacket's second half may be one of the most misunderstood pieces of cinema ever. Kubrick made arguably the three greatest war films of all time (this, Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove) and FMJ is his most critical, brutal, symbolic and difficult one... which may be the reason for this. Which is a shame.

  • rotch | August 7, 2012 12:56 PMReply

    My problem with Full Metal Jacket is that once Ermey and D'Onofrio exit the film, it looses all its steam.

  • Rodrigo | August 7, 2012 1:10 PM

    This has also been one of my issues with it too. It's 2 movies. Training and Vietnam and I've always liked training. Thought the paranoia of the sniper shoot out in Vietnam is great.

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