Real Soldiers Playing Soldiers

These guys can hit their targets and their marks

These guys can hit their targets and their marks

Movies constantly ask us to believe some highly improbable casting, but there’s nothing worse than watching Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett stare vacantly into the distance as “soldiers.” That’s why we appreciate it all the more when Hollywood taps actors with military backgrounds, or even plucks soldiers with nary a 5th grade Oliver! role and puts them in front of the camera. Act of Valor is the latest film to do this, but hardly the first. Men of the military and the movies, we salute you.

Eric Kocher

Notable Role: Generation Kill

Photo: HBO | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

At the age of 31, Eric Kocher is the youngest soldier-turned-actor on the list. He completed a tour in Afghanistan before participating in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, an event which inspired the HBO series Generation Kill. Since the story was based on his experiences, he scored a role as Gunnery Sergeant Rich Barrett. He hasn’t acted since, but before some eccentric producer casts Jesse Eisenberg in a Deer Hunter remake, might we suggest this alternative?

Jesse Ventura

Notable Role: Predator

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox/Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

In his six decades on the planet, Jesse Ventura has already served as a Navy SEAL, beaten a bunch of wrestlers in the ring, and hunted down aliens in Predator. He was also the Governor of Minnesota, but we’re saving that tidbit for our forthcoming “Real Governors Who Were in Predator” story. Based on this evidence, we are left to conclude that Ventura’s parents are actually Thor and a former queen of the Amazons.

Morgan Freeman

Notable Role: Glory

Photo: TriStar Pictures/ Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

We always kind of assumed Morgan Freeman spent his younger years lending gravitas to local sporting events and beauty pageants as an all-purpose announcer, but he actually joined the Air Force at the age of 18 and served as a mechanic for five years before attending community college. So Air Force, if you ever find your commercials lacking, we suggest approaching Morgan about using this gem and just slapping “Air Force” on at the end. People will be too entranced to care about the disconnect.

Dale Dye

Notable Role: Platoon

Photo: Orion Pictures | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

When you need an older military dude for your movie, you call Dale Dye. He’s been in everything from Platoon to Born on the Fourth of July, is way cheaper than Tom Hanks, actually served in the Marines, and is rumored to go by the alias “The Silver-Hair Sot.” Also, his name makes us think he’s a comic book hero.

Robert Duvall

Notable Role: Apocalypse Now

Photo: United Artists/Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Duvall’s time in the Army was brief – he served in 1953 and 1954 – but he managed to earn the rank of private first class and the National Defense Service Medal while enlisted. He’s also a direct descendant of Robert E. Lee, which makes us wonder why Bobby has been diverging from the MASH and Apocalypse Now path and journeying down the terrifying Four Christmases walkway.

R. Lee Ermey

Notable Role: Full Metal Jacket

Photo: Warner Bros/Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

When Full Metal Jacket called for an insane drill sergeant, they went for the real deal, casting Vietnam vet R. Lee Ermey. And thus such inspirational, heart-warming lines as “I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck” were born. (And most of those lines weren’t in the script.) FYI: If your phone contains anything other than the R. Lee Ermey soundboard app, you might just be a slimy, communist, twinkle-toed fucker.

James Earl Jones

Notable Role: Dr. Strangelove

Photo: Columbia Pictures | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

If you’re like us, you have a hard time imagining James Earl Jones as anything but the floating voice of Darth Vader or the old baseball guy in Field of Dreams and Sandlot. But his first role was a young bombardier by the name of Lothar Zogg — best bombardier name ever — in Stanley Kubrick’s war satire Dr. Strangelove. About 10 years earlier, Jones had been called up from the reserves in the midst of the Korean War, though he stayed stateside with a unit in Colorado. Given this backstory, Scar’s murder of Mufasa seems all the more ballsy.

Chuck Norris

Notable Role: Missing in Action

Photo: Cannon Films/Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Before he starting making movies and schilling Total Gym, Chuck Norris was a military policeman for the Air Force. But we have a feeling Chuck Norris didn’t maintain order abroad so much as roundhouse kick global threats in the face while patrolling the skies without a plane.

Clint Eastwood

Notable Role: Kelly’s Heroes

Photo: Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Clint served as a swimming instructor for the Army during the Korean War, which we imagine was an especially difficult job to perform in his poncho and cowboy hat. But Eastwood rose to the occasion, and later drew upon his military experience in movies like Kelly’s Heroes. Just to help you avoid the same mistakes we made, it is not a prequel to From Justin to Kelly.

Special International Bonus Section!

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Notable Role: Predator

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox/Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Is it even remotely surprising that Arnie was in the Austrian Army? Or that he’s played a military guy in movies since? Frankly, we’re shocked nations haven’t recruited him to be their sole soldier.

Michael Caine

Notable Role: Zulu

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

Long before he was butlering it up for Batman, Michael Caine was playing an old timey officer in Zulu. And before that, he was serving in the Royal Fusiliers, which is, contrary to popular belief, not a Monty Python-esque comedy troupe but a regiment of the British Army. Caine’s military days may be long gone, but ifHarry Brown is to be believed, he can still kick some major (teen punk) ass.

Sean Connery

Notable Role: The Longest Day

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

Lest you doubt Sean Connery’s claim to the title of official mascot of Scotland, consider this: He enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of 16, and promptly got two tattoos: “Mum and Dad” and “Scotland Forever.” We hear the third tat reads, “Roger Moore SUCKS,” but he doesn’t like to talk about it. The tat speaks for itself.

Anthony Hopkins

Notable Role: A Bridge Too Far

Photo: Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

A Bridge Too Far is kind of like the Valentine’s Day of war films, only way less vomit-inducing. It’s got not one (Michael Caine), not two (Sean Connery), not three (Gene Hackman), but four (Anthony Hopkins) former soldiers in the ensemble cast. Hops, as we call him, completed two years of national service as a bombardier before taking on this role, and haunting our dreams with that damn leather mask. We can only hope meager military rations didn’t provide early Hannibal Lecter prep work.