R. Lee Ermey went to director Stanley Kubrick and asked for the role of Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann. In his opinion, the actors on the set were not up to snuff. When Kubrick declined, Ermey barked an order for Kubrick to stand up when he was spoken to, and the director instinctively obeyed. Ermey got the role.
In the first part of the movie, in the sequences inside the barracks during the drill, a special lens was designed to keep every single Recruit in focus. Director Stanley Kubrick intended that no one was special and they all had the same treatment.
To make Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann's performance and the recruits' reactions as convincing as possible, Matthew Modine, Vincent D'Onofrio, and the other actors playing recruits never met R. Lee Ermey prior to filming. Stanley Kubrick also saw to it that Ermey didn't fraternize with the actors between takes.
Director Stanley Kubrick had nothing but praise for R. Lee Ermey's skills as a performer. Kubrick originally was going to write dialogue for Ermey's character himself, but he became so impressed with what Ermey improvised, he decided it was not necessary. He simply let him ad-lib, an act practically unheard of for a Stanley Kubrick film. Ermey's performances were so faultless that Kubrick only needed two to three takes to get his scenes filmed, which was also extremely rare for a Kubrick film. The only instance Ermey had to film more than two to three takes was in the "Jelly Doughnut Scene," which he claimed was filmed in 37 takes, to the point his voice kept disappearing from time to time.
Private Joker's shirt on Parris Island reveals that his real name is J.T. Davis. It is a deliberate reference to Spec. James T. Davis, the first officially recognized U.S. casualty in Vietnam, who was killed in 1961.
Vincent D'Onofrio gained 70 pounds for his role as Pvt. Pyle, breaking Robert De Niro's movie weight-gain record (60 pounds) for Raging Bull (1980). It took him seven months to put the weight on and nine months to take it off with physical training.
R. Lee Ermey was involved in a jeep accident during the making of the movie. At 1:00 a.m. one night he skidded off the road, breaking all the ribs on his left side. He refused to pass out, and kept flashing his car lights until a motorist stopped. In some scenes you'll notice that he does not move his left arm at all. Stanley Kubrick claimed in an interview that it took four and a half months before Ermey could return to work in which production simply had to be suspended since he was involved in all the remaining scenes.
It is a common misconception that much, if not all, of R. Lee Ermey's dialogue during the Parris Island sequence was improvised. In several interviews Ermey himself has stated that he worked closely with Kubrick to help mold the script so that it was more believable, all while retaining certain dialogue crucial to Kubrick's vision. While filming the opening scene, where he disciplines Pvt. Cowboy, he says Cowboy is the type of guy who would have sex with another guy "and not even have the goddamned common courtesy to give him a reach-around". Stanley Kubrick immediately yelled cut and went over to Ermey and asked, "What the hell is a reach-around?" Ermey politely explained what it meant. Kubrick laughed and re-shot the scene, telling Ermey to keep the line.
According to an interview with Vincent D'Onofrio, the production schedule for the film was so drawn-out that lead actor Matthew Modine got married, conceived a child with his wife, the child was born, and then turned 1 year old...all during the course of filming.
To create a realistic effect during Vietnam battle scenes, DP Douglas Milsome experimented with a camera with a shutter thrown off sync. This effect was reused in another war movie, Saving Private Ryan (1998).
All of the Vietnam sequences of the film were shot first, and the Parris Island basic training scenes were filmed second. The opening shot of the street of Da Nang with the local prostitute was the the very first scene to be filmed. The shot of the Marine recruits marching during their graduation was the very last scene to be filmed.
Regarding his character Sergeant Hartman's brutal discipline of the recruits, R. Lee Ermey once said in an interview that a Marine drill instructor would never physically slap, choke or punch a recruit (at least not openly), even back in his day as a young Marine.
In his memoir, Matthew Modine claims that Stanley Kubrick didn't want him to leave the set to be present at his wife's delivery, and he threatened to injure himself in order to get to the hospital before Kubrick relented and allowed him to leave.
The inscription "I Am Become Death" is written on Animal Mother's helmet. This is a quotation from the Bhagavad-Gita, spoken by J. Robert Oppenheimer after the explosion of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo.
While location scouting for the film Stanley Kubrick was driving his wife's new SUV around the countryside with cinematographer Douglas Milsome and R. Lee Ermey as passengers. At one point Kubrick noticed a potential location out his window, and became so distracted describing to Milsome how he wanted the location used in the film that he crashed the car into a six foot deep ditch, rolling the SUV onto its side. Undeterred, Kubrick continued talking about the location uninterrupted as they climbed out of the car and walked back home.
According to director John Boorman, Stanley Kubrick wanted to cast Bill McKinney in the role of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. However, Kubrick was so unsettled after viewing McKinney's performance in Deliverance (1972) that he declined to meet with him, saying he was simply too frightened at the idea of being in McKinney's presence. Kubrick then hired Tim Colceri to play Hartman. Colceri never got to play the role, as former US Marine Corps Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey, consultant for the Marine Corps boot camp portion of the film, performed a demonstration on videotape in which he yelled obscene insults and abuse for 15 minutes without stopping, repeating himself or even flinching - despite being continuously pelted with tennis balls and oranges. Stanley Kubrick was so impressed that he cast Ermey as Hartman. Colceri was bitter but accepted Kubrick's consolation prize of a small role as a helicopter door-gunner.
Val Kilmer auditioned for the part of Pvt. Joker. According to Matthew Modine, Kilmer confronted Modine in a restaurant and challenged Modine to a fight because he believed that Modine had stolen the part from him. But Modine was not even aware of the film at the time. Modine later sent Kubrick footage from Vision Quest (1985) and won the part.
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.
The entire film was shot in England (Pinewood Studios and Bassingbourn Barracks). Footage of an actual graduation ceremony at Parris Island was used in the film, with an insert from England added to it. For the final battle scenes set in Hue, Stanley Kubrick was able to use the abandoned gasworks town of Beckton on the River Thames. Researchers painstakingly went through dozens of shots of the real Hue in order to make sure Beckton looked authentic, and palm trees were brought into the area to create a tropical effect.
Most actors auditioned for their roles by submitting videotapes of themselves performing a scene in Vietnam. Director Stanley Kubrick and the studio placed ads throughout the United States for young aspiring actors to send in audition tapes for the film. They received around 3,000, of which Kubrick personally watched about 800.
In the book Sergeant Gerheim (as he was known) isn't near as vulgar, but calls people into his office or the showers to beat them in private. He encourages other punishments -some worse- or orders the other recruits to perform. R. Lee Ermey once recalled that story and pointed out that any DI who ever tried something like that would never have been able to command respect among his recruits again.
For the final battle of Hue, two hundred 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, director Stanley Kubrick reportedly said, "I don't like it. Get rid of it."
Michael Herr, a very close friend of director Stanley Kubrick, helped write much of the screenplay, particularly the part set in Vietnam. His contributions to the script were based largely on his own experiences as a reporter covering the war. Like Joker and Rafterman, he was essentially freelance and allowed to travel anywhere in the country. Additionally, the scene where Joker and Rafterman watch the crazed gunner in the chopper machine-gun civilians is taken directly from "Dispatches," Herr's memoir of his experiences.
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.
According to a 1988 interview in Playboy magazine, Bruce Willis was offered a lead role but was forced to turn it down because filming was about to start on the first six episodes of Moonlighting (1985).
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 the copter was parked.
Stanley Kubrick had extensive phone conversations with writer Gustav Hasford over the screenplay, to discuss the adaptation of his novel into a movie. He eventually wanted to meet with Hasford in person, even though co-screenwriter Michael Herr tried to talk Kubrick out of this, as he thought Hasford was a 'scary man'. The meeting took place at Kubrick's house, but it went so badly that Hasford was kept out of the writing process for the remainder of production. Hasford later considered legal action to obtain a full writing credit on the screenplay.
Stanley Kubrick decided to hire Anton Furst to do the production design for this movie after being impressed by his work in the horror movie The Company of Wolves (1984). This was an especially challenging job, since Kubrick's phobias prevented him from flying, which meant filming a movie set in South Vietnam on a constructed set outside of London. Because the Vietnam part was set in the coastal city of Hue, there was no need to construct large areas of jungle. Several hundred palm trees were brought in from Spain to give the location a tropical feel. This also explains why some outdoor scenes (like the exposed mass grave scene) have clouds of smoke in the background to prevent the viewer from seeing the outskirts of London.
The manual of arms scene where Hartman slaps Pyle on the left and right side of his face for his mistake appears to show Pyle disobeying an order (to pick up his cover, or hat, after Hartman knocked it off). This is because it wasn't in the script for Pyle's hat to be knocked off, and since Hartman was mostly ad-libbing his lines, he told Pyle to pick it up by force of habit, but Pyle wasn't supposed to move for the rest of the scene.
Anthony Michael Hall was originally set to play Pvt. Joker. Hall spent eight months preparing for the role but could not reach an agreement with Stanley Kubrick regarding the salary and the schedule. He was replaced by Matthew Modine. Also Hall was fired for objecting to Kubrick's perfectionist style of directing.
Stanley Kubrick was well known for having a very small crew on set. On one occasion, after the electrician finished lighting a set, Kubrick told him, "Okay, this is how I want the scene lit and I'm not going to change it." Kubrick then sent the man to fix some wiring in his house.
The 7.62mm full metal jacket round that Pvt. Pyle refers to was the standard infantry round leading up to the Vietnam War. It was used in the M-14 infantry rifle that was designed during WWII and manufactured up until the Vietnam war era. Although the M-14 was used in the Vietnam War the M-16 had replaced it as the standard rifle. The M-16 uses a 5.56mm round.
The Charles Whitman shootings (which Sgt. Hartmann describes to the recruits as an example of "what one motivated Marine and his rifle can do") took place August 1, 1966, presumably a few months before the recruits arrive on Parris Island. Though only one person (Cowboy) raises his hand when the recruits are asked who Charles Whitman was, the Associated Press and United Press International called the shootings the second most important news story of 1966--trailing only the Vietnam War.
In the Sea Tiger editorial scene, an American flag was seen at the back of the Quonset hut. This was Gustav Hasford's nod to his fellow combat correspondent Bob Bayer who donated photographs and various items for set decoration of the movie. The flag seen was also his and it contains signatures of all First Marine combat correspondents of 1967-68.
Some scenes of the ruined city of Hue were shot at a dockyard on the Isle of Dogs, London, that was scheduled for demolition. The ruins of Hue in the sniper and final nighttime scenes were shot at the Beckton Gasworks in London's East End, which was also slated for demolition. In some shots there is a rock in the background that looks very much like the monolith from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Kubrick said it wasn't intentional, but only noticed while watching the rushes. Beckton Gas Works was used a year before for the movie Biggles: Adventures in Time (1986).
Tony Spiridakis (Captain January) was deleted from the final print. In the screenplay, Captain January has the longest dialog scene - which was the first scene of the movie to be shot. Rehearsal was done in one week and filming of the scene was shot in 4 weeks. However, during post-production, Stanley Kubrick realized that the off-screen actor performing the scene with Spiradikis was completely out of timing and decided to scrap the scene. All of his scenes were subsequently cut out.
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.
The gasworks town of Beckton (used for the climatic battle in Hue) was also used in the film Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984). Incidentally, some of the buildings seen were designed by a French architect who also worked in Hue.
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman wears the following decorations: Silver Star, Purple Heart (with silver star, indicating five awards), Navy Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross (with palm), Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal (with silver star, indicating five awards), Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, National Defense Service Medal (with bronze star, indicating two awards), Korean Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal (with bronze star, indicating two awards), Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Service Medal for Korea, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Rifle Expert marksmanship badge, Pistol Expert marksmanship badge.
In every dialogue scene with Animal Mother, he delivers his lines employing what Paypack describes and what's commonly referred to as the one thousand yard stare. Also known as the two thousand yard stare, one would describe as a far off emotionless gaze typically washed over battle weary soldiers who have seen traumatic battle and death.
Editor Martin Hunter admired Kubrick's energy after one lengthy editing session. Editing for hours, Hunter, tired and weary, looked over at Kubrick, who was also tired and suggested they have a break. Kubrick agreed, and said that a festival print of "Doctor Strange" had just come in and that they could "relax" by winding the reels through and checking it over.
Lines from the scene in which Private Joker (Matthew Modine) and Private Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) are approached by the Da Nang Hooker (Papillon Soo) were sampled in 2 Live Crew's 1989 hit "Me So Horny" on the album 'As Nasty As They Wanna Be'. The exchange between Joker and the hooker - "What do we get for ten dollars? / Every t'ing you want. / Everything? / Every t'ing." - is used at the very beginning of the song. While the "Me so horny. Me love you long time" sample is used in the chorus of the song, as well as throughout. You can also hear the hooker's "Me sucky sucky" during the hook. If you listen carefully to the samples at the very beginning and end of the song, you can hear Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'", which plays under the original scene in the movie. The song also contains a sample from Which Way Is Up? (1977).
All the out door scenes during basic training were filmed at Bassingbourne barracks in Cambridgeshire. In WWII this was an 8th Airforce bomber base, home to the 91st Bomber Group. This was the Bomb Group that the Memphis Belle belonged to and the base is where all 25 of her missions were flown from. (Matthew Modine starred in the movie Memphis Belle (1990) as the pilot of the plane on its final mission.)
Stanley Kubrick's frequent cinematographer John Alcott was approached to shoot the movie but turned it down, instead focusing on US-based projects, and Alcott's focus puller Douglas Milsome took over his duties. Filming took about six months and was shut down for 20 weeks from June 1985 to September 1986. Alcott died of a heart attack at end of July 1986.
During filming, Gustav Hasford contemplated legal action over the writing credit. Originally the filmmakers intended Hasford to receive an "additional dialogue" credit, but he wanted full credit. The writer took two friends and snuck onto the set dressed as extras only to be mistaken by a crew member for Michael Herr.
Production designer Anton Furst went through 6000 photos of the Vietnam War as research. He wanted to create an image of a nightmarish inferno: "We didn't want blue skies; if the sun came out, Kurbick didn't shoot. When the squad went into the burned out city of Quai, we had every building on fire. Paris Island was supposed to train them for their tour of Vietnam, so we contrasted the unbelievable cleanness of the boot camp with the incredible filth of the actual war; the point was that they came up against something they could never have trained for."
Many of the M16 rifles seen in the movie are actually variants developed only for use by the US Air Force, and were never used by the US Army or the US Marine Corp. These USAF variants lack the Forward Assist Bolt, and you will notice that many (not all) M16 rifles seen in the movie lack this.
Vincent D'Onofrio claimed that he based his performance as Pvt. Pyle on the silent film performances of Lon Chaney, and he was overjoyed when he heard Stanley Kubrick tell him "I want you to be big. Lon Chaney big" without knowing that D'Nofrio had been studying Lon Chaney's films all along.
There is virtually no background information about any characters, basically nothing is known about anyone before they were a Marine. The only details the audience knows is that Joker wrote for his High School newspaper, Cowboy is from Texas, and the Sergeant they interviewed played football at Notre Dame.
The phrase "In a world of shit" was said four times in the film. First by Gunnery Sargent Hartman, later by Joker, and Gomer Pyle shortly after, and by the end of the movie it is said once more by Joker right before the closing credits.
The casting of Joker and Animal Mother can be seen as a case of art imitating life: Matthew Modine is an outspoken liberal Democrat, not too dissimilar to Joker; who is clearly more of a dove, and may not have any religious preference (He tells Sergeant Hartman he does not believe in the Virgin Mary). Meanwhile, Animal Mother's hawkish instinct can be somewhat of a parallel to Adam Baldwin's conservatism.
Vivian Kubrick: Stanley Kubrick's daughter makes a cameo appearance during a scene in Vietnam where Joker and Rafterman encounter a mass open grave. She can be seen wielding a motion picture camera, shooting into the open grave for a few moments. Vivian Kubrick was also the film's composer, credited as Abigal Mead. According to her, the name was based on Abbott's Mead, the mansion where the Kubricks lived from 1965 to 1979. It was located near to MGM's Borehamwood studio.
There was supposed to be an extra scene after Joker killed the sniper, it even was in the script. After Joker killed the sniper, Animal Mother would bring out his machete and chop off the sniper's head and throw it out the window. The scene was cut for obvious reasons. Journalist Jon Ronson describes finding the prop of the decapitated head in his work "Stanley Kubrick's Boxes".
According to Matthew Modine (Pvt. Joker) in an interview with Philadelphia radio station WMMR's Preston & Steve Show on May 19, 2017, originally and throughout the shoot, Joker was supposed to die in Vietnam however during a creative argument with director Stanley Kubrick, Modine blurted out that Joker should live. Kubrick pressed him as to why he should live and Modine explained that Joker saw his D.I. killed in basic training, the recruit he tried to help (Pyle) blow his brains out in a Paris Island head, the only man he knew from basic (Cowboy) die in his arms during battle, and a teen aged female sniper killed by his own hand. Joker had to live because living with those experiences was worse than dying and "that's the real horror of war." Kubrick replied, "that's the end of the movie." Modine never knew if he convinced Kubrick to change the end or if Kubrick already planned the ending and just confirmed it when Modine said it.
The term "full metal jacket" refers to the type of small arms ammunition used in warfare, as heard in Private Pyle's famous line spoken on the toilet, "7.62 millimeter, full... metal... jacket." Full metal jacket ammunition has a copper coating covering the lead core of its projectile. Under the Geneva Convention, only FMJ can be used by military personnel. FMJ bullets while very deadly are more likely to pass through a person without greatly expanding or breaking up than other types of bullets (hollow point or unjacketed soft lead bullets). Thus the title is a commentary on the absurdity of trying to make civilized rules for war.
Mickey Mouse is referred to at the end of both segments: when Hartmann enters the head to confront Joker and Pyle, he cries "What is this Mickey Mouse shit?" ("Mickey Mouse" was GI slang for something - or someone - that was petty, stupid and senseless); and Joker and company sing the theme from The Mickey Mouse Club (1955) as they march through the burning city. A third Mickey Mouse reference is in the press room: a Mickey Mouse figure can be seen near the window behind Pvt. Joker. Mickey Mouse and Matthew Modine have the same initials too.
Cowboy's death scene shows a building in the background that resembles the famous alien monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Stanley Kubrick described the resemblance as an "extraordinary accident."
The only three female actors with lines (not counting stock audio footage in the soundtrack) are Papillon Soo as the Da Nang hooker, Ngoc Le, as the Vietcong sniper and Leanne Hong as the Motorbike Hooker.
According to actor Matthew Modine, the "Mickey Mouse" scene would have originally continued to show Joker marching along with his platoon, inter-cut with flashback footage to Joker as a five year old boy playing with a toy rifle. His voice would have then narrated "Your feet tells your head to pick your body up and to run from these things that pursue you." It then would have been shown child Joker pretending to die in combat, while adult Joker is suddenly shot and killed for real in an ambush. This idea was later abandoned.
The scene of the Marines 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."