Found a copy of Matthew Modine’s “Full Metal Jacket Diary” yesterday at the Harold Washington Library, and hot damn, is this ever a book for a lover of Kubrick, cinema, filmmaking, acting, and photography. Modine was 26-years-old when filming of Full Metal Jacket began in late 1985, and the young actor documented his experiences in a diary published 20 years later.
I skimmed the first 30 pages or so, and transcribed a rather revealing portion concerning actors Lee Ermey, Tim Colceri (who ended up playing the brief role of the door gunner — see below), and the role of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. I’d always heard the outlines of this story — that Ermey, the military technical advisor, wrested the role away from Colceri when he proved himself a more realistic drill sergeant — but it was fascinating to hear it from the perspective of Modine, the star of the picture who none-the-less took the cast change as a personal reminder to stay focused and go, as he wrote, “balls out.”
It’s a nice reminder to the rest of us, too:
From September 1985
Lots of activity as we get started. Everyone is excited. One guy, Lee Ermey, is so pumped to have been chosen as the technical advisor of a Kubrick movie. I imagine that hundreds of guys tried to grab that job. I hear that Lee was once a sergeant in the Marine Corps.
(Start below clip at 8:00)
Tim Colceri — who Stanley has cast in the role of the drill instructor — yells at the extras while Lee and Leon* videotape their reactions. Tim has a good voice and look for the role…
After about a half hour of yelling, Tim says he is finished. Probably not a good idea to blow out his voice before Stanley even starts to shoot him. We’re about to film the Vietnam half so Boot Camp should be in about eight weeks.
Tim leaves and Lee steps in and continues the auditions. It’s scary. Lee gets right in their faces and let’s them have it. One of the soldiers gets a little nervous and smiles… Lee goes off: “WHY ARE YOU SMILING? DO YOU WANNA FUCK ME?”
It’s hysterical. If Tim watches how Lee does this he’ll be great.
I find out that Stanley decided to make a change after watching the audition tapes of the extras.
What I think happened is, since the extras were the ones being videotaped, Tim didn’t think that Stanley would scrutinize his performance. Because he wasn’t performing. He wasn’t even rehearsing. He was auditioning extras.
But Stanley doesn’t look at things that way. Everything is a performance. Always. Stanley doesn’t seem to be able to separate acting from life. You either are the character or you are not. It’s not acting.
Anyway, Tim was just going half speed and the thing was, Stanley noticed on the tapes that when Tim was done, Lee would step in and take over. Full speed. Balls out. There was no comparing Tim to Lee. Lee was. Tim wasn’t. So Tim is on a plane home.
I don’t think Lee did it on purpose. He wasn’t trying to take the role away from Tim. It wasn’t an Eve Harrington kind of deal.
Lee was acting in front of the video camera. He wasn’t playing the part. He was chewing the heads off of the Territorial Army soldiers and shitting down their necks.
Lee is gonna be great.
PERSONAL NOTE, written September 5, 1985
Let it be a lesson. Don’t play, Matthew. Balls out. It’s not too late to be stuck on a plane and sent the fuck home!
* Click here for my interview with Matthew Modine, in which we discuss the Full Metal Jacket Diary and his work with Kubrick.
* Kubrick’s longtime personal assistant Leon Vitali, who originally hooked up with Kubrick on 1975’s Barry Lyndon, where he played the petulant, misfiring Lord Bullingdon.