Matthew Modine shares photos and insights from the making of ‘Full Metal Jacket’

By Andrew Dubbins

Matthew Modine gets fired up between scenes during shooting for Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket”

On the set of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam War film “Full Metal Jacket,” actor Matthew Modine felt so lost at one point that he fell to his knees and prayed — “asked all the souls of soldiers who’d fought in wars for some guidance,” he tells The Argonaut.

Modine, currently a Venice resident, revisits that time through “Full Metal Diaries,” his LA Art Show exhibit featuring photographs and writings he created while shooting the film.

To inhabit the role of young war correspondent Private Joker, Modine took hundreds of photographs on set and kept a meticulous journal throughout the grueling two-year shoot. He and fellow cast members had to shave their heads once a week and each day endure up to 10 hours of vitriol from actor R. Lee Ermery, who played sadistic Gunner Sgt. Hartman (Ermey, a former drill instructor, personally wrote 150 pages of insults to prep for the role.)

Then there was Kubrick, who could be obsessive to the point of cruel.

During the filming, 26-year-old Modine had to convince the director to let him attend his son’s birth. “I had a pocket knife with me,” Modine recalled in a 2013 interview. “I put it in my palm and I said ‘Look, I’m going to cut my hand open and I’m going to have to go to the hospital, or you can let me go to the hospital to be with my wife.’” Kubrick let him go, but ordered him to “come back immediately after it’s done.”

Kubrick’s countless takes and retakes wreaked havoc on Modine’s nerves.

“You start to think, because of your ego, that you’re somehow responsible for the lack of progress,” Modine recalls 30 years later.

Eventually, the actor realized the slow pace had nothing to do with him; it was merely Kubrick trying to “find his film.”

Kubrick has said his vision for “Full Metal Jacket,” was to capture the reality of war, free of clichés or romanticism. To that end, he instructed Modine not to play a character. Don’t give me John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart, Kubrick told him — “I just want you to be yourself,” Modine recalls. “What Stanley was interested in was who I am. I grew up in Utah, my dad was a drive-in theater manager — which was a completely alien world to Stanley, having grown up in the Bronx. That was fascinating to him.”

Modine captured the making of the film using a medium-format Rolleiflex camera. He’d learned the basics of composition from his dad, who’d taught him how to lay out and photograph newspaper ads to promote his drive-in films.

In 2005, Modine collected his behind-the-scenes photographs and diary excerpts into a book and app titled “Full Metal Jacket Diary.” Re-reading his diary entries, Modine said he gained a deeper respect for Kubrick.

“What I have newly discovered is how difficult it is to be an artist of his singularity,” says Modine. “How rare that is.”

The actor and director became friends during the filming, Kubrick often inviting Modine to his London home for dinner and conversation. Kubrick even sought input from the young actor, asking whether they should kill off Joker in the film’s finale. After months of discussion and some heated arguments, Modine suggested that surviving Vietnam and having to remember its horrors was a crueler fate and, thus, a more fitting ending.

Modine believes the film succeeds in capturing the grim reality of war.

“I meet Marines and Army soldiers that were in Vietnam, and they tell me how much they love ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and that we got it right,” Modine said in a 2012 interview.

Modine and Kubrick maintained their friendship until Kubrick disappeared into his next project.

“[Kubrick] didn’t have room in his space [for others] because of how committed he was to his working process,” Modine says, recalling a telephone conversation three years after “Full Metal Jacket,” just as the late director was beginning pre-production on “Eyes Wide Shut.”

“Hey Stanley, what’s going on?” Modine asked him.

“Hey Matthew,” Kubrick replied. “What do you want?”

It was the last time they’d speak.


“Full Metal Diary” is on display through Sunday (Jan. 14) as part of the LA Art Show at the L.A. Convention Center, 1201 S Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles. Tickets are $25 at laartshow.com.

 

Matthew Modine gets fired up between scenes during shooting for Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket”

 


“Full Metal Diary” is on display through Sunday (Jan. 14) as part of the LA Art Show at the L.A. Convention Center, 1201 S Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles. Tickets are $25 at laartshow.com.

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