This is our ar­ti­cle about the 30th an­niver­sary of Stan­ley Kubrick’s war movie. There are many like it, but this one is ours.


BREAK OUT THE Full Metal Cake and get ready to blow out the Full Metal Can­dles — Stan­ley Kubrick’s Viet­nam War mas­ter­piece, Full Metal Jacket, has just turned 30. One of the great­est and most pro­found “war is hell” movies in cinema his­tory, it also launched the ca­reers of two of its stars — Matthew Mo­dine, as the raw and ide­al­is­tic Pri­vate Joker, and Vin­cent D’onofrio, tragic and ter­ri­fy­ing as the bul­lied Pri­vate Pyle. Here the duo, who knew each other be­fore film­ing be­gan, re­flect on the movie, work­ing with Kubrick, and nearly walk­ing off set. Do you re­mem­ber how you got the roles? Matthew Mo­dine: I was in a restau­rant called The Source on Sun­set Boule­vard hav­ing break­fast with an ac­tor, David Alan Grier, and there was a guy sit­ting about ten feet away, look­ing at me say­ing, “Fuck you, fuck you.” David looked over his shoul­der and said, “Oh, that’s Val Kilmer, he’s a re­ally nice guy.” So David went over and started talk­ing to him and he got me to come over and say hello. I said, “Hi, my name’s Matthew Mo­dine.” And he goes, “Yeah, I know who you are. I’m fuck­ing sick of you.” I said, “Look, I’m the youngest of seven kids, I’ve been fight­ing my whole life; I have no prob­lem go­ing out­side if you want to go out­side.” He said, “I am sick of you be­cause you got Vi­sion

Quest, Mrs. Sof­fel and Birdy, and now you’re do­ing Stan­ley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.” I said, “I am not go­ing to apol­o­gise to you or any­one for the work that I’ve done. But I can tell you right now I am not do­ing Stan­ley Kubrick’s film.” Of course, when I fin­ished my break­fast, I rushed out­side and put 20 quar­ters into a pay­phone to call my man­ager in New York and asked him to send Vi­sion Quest to Stan­ley Kubrick, and I’d call Alan Parker in Lon­don to see if he could send him Birdy. How I got the job I still don’t know, but Val Kilmer cer­tainly started a fire. Vin­cent D’onofrio: The first time I heard about Full Metal Jacket was be­cause of Matthew, and then, of course, Stan­ley cast me in the role. I’ve said this to Matthew be­fore and he just brushes it off, but there is a very, very good chance I wouldn’t have my ca­reer if it wasn’t for those two guys.

Mo­dine: I brush it off be­cause you can open the door for any­body but it’s the per­son who walks into the room who gets the job. So I am very happy and hon­oured that I opened the door, but Vince owns his ca­reer.

Full Metal Jacket was the film that started this whole thing of ac­tors go­ing through boot camp. What are your mem­o­ries of that? D’onofrio: It’s not the same boot camp you hear about these days where guys go through rig­or­ous amounts of phys­i­cal stuff. Our boot camp was learn­ing all the things you need to know to look like a Marine. For me, it was learn­ing how to march and putting on weight at the same time, learn­ing how to do Mon­key Pa­trol with the ri­fles, learn­ing how to take a ri­fle apart and put it back to­gether blind­folded. There are very spe­cific things about the Marine Corps we had to fol­low. All of that stuff, when it came to eti­quette, and how we be­haved, we were taught all that by Lee Ermey. What are the R. Lee Ermey in­sults you re­mem­ber? Mo­dine: [Shouts] “I BET YOU’RE THE KIND OF GUY THAT WOULD FUCK A PER­SON IN THE ASS AND NOT EVEN HAVE THE GOD­DAMN COM­MON COUR­TESY TO GIVE HIM A REACH-AROUND!” D’onofrio: [Laughs] That’s one. There are so many. The shout­ing was fine when Lee hadn’t just fin­ished lunch. There were cer­tain days when he’d just drink cof­fee. If you lend your­self to it, it’s re­ally hap­pen­ing. He was amaz­ing in those scenes. What are your most vivid mem­o­ries of Kubrick?

Mo­dine: I think Stan­ley was a dif­fer­ent per­son to each one of us. He was who­ever he had to be in that mo­ment, from a tech­ni­cian to an ac­tor and then the dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties from ac­tor to ac­tor. He was a dif­fer­ent per­son to Vin­cent than he was to me be­cause there were dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments. What I took away from

Stan­ley was that he was a Jewish kid from the Bronx who loved mak­ing movies. He was pas­sion­ate about life, loved his fam­ily and his an­i­mals, and re­ally, re­ally loved mak­ing movies. I be­lieve he wished he’d made more of them.

D’onofrio: Stan­ley was very kind to me. He was never nasty to me about any­thing. I didn’t

get to know him very well. He in­vited us over to his house to watch movies. We watched The

Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo over there. He had these two big pro­jec­tors and he would change the reels him­self. He opened the fridge up and we had these grenade-sized Heinekens we used to drink. He also told me some re­ally per­sonal things, about me and what my ca­reer might turn into, that I would never re­peat but stuck with me my whole life. I was shocked when he did that. To be frank, there is one par­tic­u­lar thing he said to me that ab­so­lutely is true about what has hap­pened to my life. He pegged my ca­reer in one sen­tence to me. I looked at him like he was out of his fuck­ing mind. I look back at it to­day as a 58-year-old man and the long ca­reer I’ve had be­cause of him. And he nailed it per­fectly in one sen­tence. For me, I was blessed to be there and I was treated re­ally well.

What was your ex­pe­ri­ence with Kubrick’s end­less takes?

Mo­dine: All that prepa­ra­tion he did was all he needed in or­der to be able to tell a story. There was one story he told about peo­ple talk­ing about the num­ber of takes he does — as if it mat­tered. He said you would never go to Beethoven and say, “Hey, Beethoven, how many notes in that con­certo?” Or to Pi­casso, “How many strokes in that?” He said it was just ab­surd. The process of mak­ing a film is the same kind of ex­plo­ration into art as a mu­si­cian or a painter. So why should you con­sider the num­ber of takes im­por­tant? What’s im­por­tant is you’ve found the one you needed in or­der to tell your story.

D’onofrio: I never had any prob­lem with it. In the boot camp stuff, there was not one time we did any­thing dif­fer­ent from any other movie. The blan­ket party scene I did some­where around nine times and that’s nor­mal for a scene like that. It was a long, dif­fi­cult shot. Did I want to do it nine times? No. But ac­tors are fuck­ing lazy by na­ture, they never want to do things too much.

Mo­dine: One more thing about the num­ber of takes. When we fin­ished the film, Arliss Howard [who played Pri­vate Cow­boy] told me he was say­ing good­bye to Stan­ley and Stan­ley asked, “You are go­ing to miss me?” Arliss said, “Of course, I am go­ing to miss you.” And Stan­ley said, “No. You are go­ing to miss me when you are on another film set be­cause you are go­ing to be do­ing a scene and the di­rec­tor is go­ing to say, ‘Cut, we got it, let’s move on.’ And you are go­ing to know we didn’t get it and we shouldn’t be mov­ing on and you are go­ing to miss me.”

Matthew, is it true that he didn’t let you leave for the birth of your first son?

Mo­dine: No, he did let me go but it took some con­vinc­ing. It took me threat­en­ing to cut my hand and say that I would have to go to the hospi­tal to have my hand stitched up. I think what it was, I started on the wrong foot by say­ing, “I am not film­ing to­day. You are shoot­ing the scene where Eight­ball [Do­rian Hare­wood] is shot by the sniper and I won’t work to­day.” That was a bad ap­proach: I was ac­cus­ing him of do­ing a lot of takes and be­ing slow. He was like, “What are you talk­ing about? We’re go­ing to shoot Do­rian and then we’ll be onto you in the afternoon.”

D’onofrio: Or four months later… Mo­dine: So I started off on the wrong foot. My wife and I named our son Bo­man about five years be­fore he was born. We were jok­ing and said, “We’ll have chil­dren and when it’s a boy we’ll call him Boy and when he’s older we’ll call him Man. And as a teenager we’ll call him Bo­man.” We thought it sounded like a base­ball pitcher.

[Does an­nouncer’s voice] “Now pitch­ing for the New York Yan­kees — Bo­man Mo­dine!” But what never oc­curred to me was Keir Dul­lea’s char­ac­ter in 2001: A Space Odyssey was Bow­man. So I think he thought we were nam­ing our son af­ter Keir Dul­lea.

What are your mem­o­ries of liv­ing in Lon­don dur­ing the shoot?

Mo­dine: How bad the food was. It was ex­plained to me by Kubrick’s as­sis­tant Leon Vi­tali that Eng­land was still pay­ing for World War II. It didn’t make sense that you couldn’t get good fruit and veg in Eng­land with all that grain and good soil. You’d go to buy car­rots at the veg shop and they were like a 90-year-old man’s erec­tion. D’onofrio: At least they were erect.

What does the film mean to you now?

D’onofrio: I’ve only seen it twice. I saw it when it first came out and then we had to do this commentary thing where you talk through the film. It’s just an in­cred­i­ble com­ment on war and the hu­man psy­che. I think it’s amaz­ing. The re­ac­tion I get for the char­ac­ter I played is never-end­ing. There’s not a man or a woman who recog­nises me for that film who has been in the mil­i­tary who can’t help them­selves but stop and say some­thing about it. That’s been hap­pen­ing for 30 years. So when­ever any­body asks me what my favourite film is, many things go through my mind but I can’t help but say Full Metal Jacket be­cause of the ex­pe­ri­ence I had.

Mo­dine: Peo­ple have ex­pec­ta­tions about Stan­ley Kubrick that are un­re­al­is­tic when they first see his films. I think this film con­tin­ues to have rel­e­vance be­cause we con­tinue to teach young peo­ple to go through mil­i­tary train­ing and then go out and kill peo­ple. It is some­thing very pri­mor­dial and sadly nec­es­sary to van­quish peo­ple who want to kill us. I think Stan­ley Kubrick was say­ing if we con­tinue to use vi­o­lence to solve our prob­lems, we’ll be rid­ing that bomb like Slim Pick­ens at the end of Dr. Strangelove, de­stroy­ing life as we know it on this planet. We have to learn from the mis­takes of our past if we’re go­ing to move for­ward as a con­scious so­ci­ety that’s achiev­ing the goals of civil­i­sa­tion as we desire.

Far left: Gun­nery Sergeant Hart­man (R. Lee Ermey) un­leashes hell over a jelly dough­nut.

Left: The Marines un­der fire in Viet­nam (ac­tu­ally the Isle Of Dogs in East Lon­don).

Born to drill: Pri­vate Joker (Matthew Mo­dine) and Pri­vate Pyle (Vin­cent D’onofrio) on the pa­rade ground.

Right: Stan­ley Kubrick calls the shots on the of­ten freez­ing Lon­don set of Full Metal Jacket.

Be­low (top to

bot­tom): Pri­vate Pyle has his fa­mous break­down in the show­ers; Pri­vate Joker has a close shave.

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