A Full Metal Jacket Retrospective

The film's star Matthew Modine looks back on the classic war saga
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The film's star Matthew Modine looks back on the classic war saga
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The film’s star Matthew Modine looks back on the classic war saga

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Photo: Mary Evans/Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

The movie that gave us the most memorable drill sergeant of the silver screen and forever tainted the Mickey Mouse Club turned 25 this summer. To celebrate its birthday and anniversary Blu-ray release, we took a trip down memory lane with the movie’s star Matthew Modine. You may know him most recently as that Dark Knight Rises cop Foley, but to us, he’ll always be Private Joker. Check out what Modz Man (it’s cool, we’re friends) had to say about Full Metal Jacket 25 years after the fact.

When He Knew the Movie Was a Classic

It wasn’t until after the first seven or eight years that you started to see that the film “has legs.” Which means it keeps walking.Then after the first decade, you start to see that the film has not just a loyal audience, but a growing and expanding audience. After twenty years, you realize that it’s become part of the culture - there are words and expressions in the film that become part of the vernacular. “You talk the talk, do you walk the walk?” Or when 2 Live Crew took a sample of the Vietnamese prostitute line, “Oh me so horny, me love you long time.”

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Photo: Mary Evans/Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

On the Endurance of “Me So Horny”

I just think it’s funny, you know? It was funny when she was saying it, and [laughs] it’s beautiful too, because that line is accompanied by the song that Stanley [Kubrick] chose to play during the scene, Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking.” The song playing opposite her wanting to give me her boom boom is just funny. It was really funny when we were filming the scene, and it's extraordinary that it’s become part of an expression, and part of our vernacular.

The Real  R. Lee Ermey

He’s just that guy. That’s who he is. That’s why we see him continuing to portray that character in his Geico commercials and his TV series. It is who he is, and I’m happy that Lee found a way to exploit who he is.

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Photo: Mary Evans/Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

On Stanley Kubrick’s Famous Nitpicking

If we were talking about Mozart or Beethoven or Chopin, we wouldn’t say “How long did it take you to write that song?” or to Picasso,”How many strokes are there in that painting or how long did it take you to make that painting?” I’ll tell you a story. Arliss Howard, who played Cowboy, he told me when he was saying goodbye to Stanley to go back to America, he said, “See ya Stanley!” Stanley stopped him and said “You’re going to miss me!” So he said, “Well of course I’m going to miss you.” Stanley said “No, no you’re going to be on a film set, and the director is going to say, ‘Cut, we got it, let’s move on,’ and then you’re going to miss me. Because you’re going to know that he didn’t get it, but he has to move on, and you’re going to miss me.” And Arliss says he has not made a film since making Full Metal Jacket when the director says cut, let’s move on, that he didn’t feel it could have been done a little bit better. And I agree. It’s rare to work on a film and you feel that you really, really got it. But we did it on this movie. I don’t think we ever moved on without accomplishing something beyond the extraordinary.

What Would Stanley Kubrick Be Like in 2012

The question is: Would he be embracing the digital filmmaking and the opportunities that are available today? I’ll use 300 as an example. So, would he make Napoleon today? The film that he wanted to make for so many decades. With digital filmmaking, he would be able to recreate the battles that Napoleon had at sea, which is what Stanley wanted. To make this film would have required a tremendous amount of money to recreate the ships and to restage these battles and now he could do it digitally. Or, would he be like Christopher Nolan, and not be interested in the digital filmmaking and trickery? And wanting to go to actual physical locations like Nolan did for Batman, traveling from India to Scotland, to Wales, to LA to New York to create and film in locations where there were these amazing things that men had built that were spectacular.

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Photo: Mary Evans/Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

On Full Metal Jacket’s Unexpected Recruitment Effects

The thing that’s always so surprising to me is that I’ll meet someone, and they’ll say they saw the film and joined the Marines. There wasn’t much in the film that would make you want to say, “I’m going to join the Marines!” so that’s always surprising to me. The wonderful reaction to the film is from the veterans who served in Vietnam, the young kids who now serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, they say the film really captures something that other war movies don’t. It has a truth in the film because it is not filled with false bravado. It touches nerves that other Hollywood movies don’t. They are painful nerves, nerves that reach deep into our psyche. That’s the genius of Stanley Kubrick. He wasn’t interested in making films that portray life in ideal terms. He chose to hold the mirror up to society so that we can actually see our true selves.

On His Famous Near-Fist Fight with Val Kilmer Over the Role

At the time, I had been lucky enough to get roles that were appealing and attractive and desirable to actors of my generation, with Val being one of those guys. I was in Vision Quest, Mrs. Soffel, and Birdy. And he was saying, “Now you’re doing Full Metal Jacket, and I’m sick of you!” and I said, “Well I’m not going to apologize to you or anyone else for getting work. But if you want to take it outside, let’s do it.” I’m not frightened of defending who I am, and the good thing that came from that was that I actually hadn’t auditioned for the film yet. Val is, in some ways, responsible for getting me a role in the film because he encouraged me to do two things: Send them Vision Quest and send them Birdy.

On Whether He’d Still Fight Kilmer Today

I’d be frightened to fight him today because I’m afraid he’d sit on me! He’s gotten quite large. He’s a sweet guy. I would say that Val is probably a lover, not a fighter. It’s all good.

The Full Metal Jacket 25th Anniversary Blu-ray is available tomorrow!