While moderating a Q&A session with Leon Vitali and Tony Zierra about “Filmworker” at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles, actor Matthew Modine shared some stories about the making of Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” In the 1987 war film, Modine plays Private Joker, one of a dozen soldiers who endure Marine Corp basic training under the brutal and abrasive instruction of their drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (the late R. Lee Ermey). Following graduation, he heads to South Vietnam to work as a war correspondent for the Stars & Stripes newspaper, and it is there he witnesses the atrocities of war up close. The question is, how much of his humanity can hold onto in the face of death and destruction?
The stories of Kubrick’s behavior and work ethic have long since become legendary in regards to the methods he used to get an actor into a specific emotional state and the number of takes he puts his cast through. The first story Modine shared with us about Kubrick, however, proved to be a bit unexpected.
“Stanley liked to carry a walkie talkie because he wanted to be a part of every aspect of the filmmaking,” Modine said. “Why shouldn’t he have a walkie talkie and know what the assistant directors were saying and what kind of movements were happening? We broke for lunch and the assistant director, Terry Needham, got a call from Stanley, and Stanley asked Terry to come over here. Terry said, ‘Okay, but where is here?’ He said, ‘I’m over here,’ and Terry said come out of the tent where we were having lunch. Terry didn’t want to say on the radio that he was stuck in the portapotty. He couldn’t get the door open. So that’s just a little window into a different part of Stanley that doesn’t appear in the documentary.”
During the Q&A, we learned how the crew on a Kubrick film was actually very small, and the one on “Full Metal Jacket” totaled about 15 people. Vitali even said there was only one electrician, and his job was simly operate the lights on a dimmer. Modine ended up adding a nice bit of trivia to this story.
“The one electrician that we had working on the film, because of the union, he would come in and turn the lights on, and then Stanley would tell him to fuck off to his house because there was some wiring problem in his house,” Modine said. “He had to pay him for the day so he said go wire my house.”
Perhaps the most bizarre and hilarious story Modine shared with us was when he talked about Dorian Harewood who played Eightball, the soldier who experiences an especially brutal and bloody death which is captured in slow motion. The way this scene was shot, however, makes sense when Modine discussed what Harewood demanded from Kubrick.
“Dorian Harewood is a wonderful actor,” Modine said. “We were originally contracted for about six months I think, and the contracts were coming to an end. So they wanted to renegotiate the contracts, and it wasn’t a renegotiation. It was just a reupping to continue the contracts for a longer period of time, and Dorian came to Stanley and said, ‘I want to renegotiate. I want more money,” and Stanley couldn’t believe the audacity of this young guy. He’s like, ‘You’re working for Stanley Kubrick and you are asking me to pay you more money?’ And he (Harewood) said, ‘Well yeah, I have to go back to Los Angeles. I have a singing career, I have an acting career, there’s other jobs, and if you want me to stay here, you’re gonna have to pay for it.’ Stanley couldn’t believe it, and I remember him stumbling around for hours furious with that crazy look on his face, and then he turned and he said, ‘I’m gonna kill him!’ I really thought, oh fuck, Stanley’s gonna commit murder. He’s going to kill Dorian Harewood. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He goes, ‘I’m going to kill him.’ Remember when Dorian gets shot all over the body? It was because however number of days were left upon Dorian Harewood’s contract, Stanley was going to put in all the bullet hits he could. It was really cold. You could see Stanley wearing that hat and two coats, and we were wearing Vietnam khakis. It was freezing cold and snowing in London, and we were dressed up for North Vietnam. He killed him for as many days left that he had on the contract, and he had five days left lying on the cold earth with bullet hits. He (Stanley) would say, ‘Nah, we have to do it again. Put more bullet hits on him.’ And they were full loads full of exploding blood and everything.”
It was great to hear Matthew Modine share his stories about “Full Metal Jacket” as it remains one of Kubrick’s most memorable films. Many critics have called it the best war film ever made, and it features images which are impossible to forget. The actor also left us with something he wanted to share with all the directors in the audience.
“My favorite direction from a director ever was from Stanley Kubrick,” Modine said. “He would clear his throat and pull on his beard and say, ‘Matthew, you’re not going to do it that way, are you?’ It’s my favorite direction because it’s so specific.”
In 2005, Modine published “Full Metal Jacket Diary,” a collection of photographs he took and of diary entries of his experiences which he kept during filming. Please click here to get more information about it.