R. Lee Ermey's instructional tape (lost audition footage for Full Metal Jacket; 1985)
Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 war drama directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick. Based on the 1979 novel The Short-Timers, the film is split into two sections; the first half focuses on boot camp training for a platoon of US Marines under Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, played by R. Lee Ermey. Originally, Ermey was not originally selected by Kubrick for the role of Hartman. However, an instructional video where Ermey improvised insulting dialogue against a group of people auditioning to be extras for the boot camp scenes, helped Kubrick change his mind.
Prior to filming Full Metal Jacket, Ermey had served in the US Marine Corps since 1961 and had been a drill instructor from 1965 to 1967. He had also served with the Marine Wing Support Group 17 in South Vietnam in 1968 for 14 months, before spending the remainder of his service in Okinawa, Japan, and retired in 1972 on medical grounds due to suffering from several injuries. He then turned towards a career in acting, including as a First Air Cavalry helicopter pilot in Apocalypse Now, and a Marine drill instructor in The Boys in Company C.
Ermey's performance as Staff Sergeant Loyce in The Boys in Company C influenced Kubrick into initially not casting Ermey for the role of Hartman. Kubrick's reasoning was that based on the Loyce portrayal, Ermey simply lacked the viciousness needed to play Hartman. Hence, Ermey was only given the role of technical advisor for the film, while Tim Colceri was cast as Hartman.
The Instructional Tape
Ermey was undeterred, however. In fact, his role as a technical advisor was actually part of his plan to convince Kubrick to cast him. In one interview, Ermey claimed that his plan to break into Hollywood would be to become a technical director based on his military knowledge, and then showcase to the filmmakers that he should play a prominent character in their films. This tactic worked for Apocalypse Now and The Boys in Company C, with Ermey now seeking to execute the plan for a third time.
The opportunity arose during the auditioning for extras participating in the boot camp scenes. Ermey recorded several sessions where Colceri and himself went at an extended tirade against some young men who were auditioning. The purpose of the videotape was twofold; firstly, it would give a useful insight for Kubrick et al. on how drill sergeants are capable of breaking down the civilian aspect from the recruits. Secondly, it would act as Ermey's audition for the Gunnery Sergeant role. Whereas Colceri would tire out after a thirty-minute tirade, Ermey would take over, and he never relented. Further still, oranges and tennis balls were being flung at him, with Ermey remaining undeterred throughout the sessions, improvising his insults. Matthew Modine, who played Private Joker, wrote in his book Full Metal Jacket Diary to state how scary Ermey was in these sessions, being right in the extras' faces and snapping at the sight of any of the soldiers being nervous or smiling.
After viewing the videotape containing each session, Kubrick was so impressed with Ermey's performance compared to Colceri that Ermey ended up replacing the latter as Hartman going forward. Modine claimed that Kubrick made the decision because how Colceri was simply going at half-speed in the tapes, whereas Ermey was at full speed, with Kubrick seeing this as a clear difference in each actors' performance for the role. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Kubrick stated that throughout the course of the auditions, Ermey had come up with approximately 150 pages of insults, with Ermey later being responsible for fifty percent of the dialogue for his character in Full Metal Jacket.
Despite the videotape's significance towards Full Metal Jacket, it has never been released to the public. It is possible that it is included as part of the Stanley Kubrick Archive, which has preserved much of the media surrounding Kubrick and his films. However, because the Stanley Kubrick Archive is only accessible to University of the Arts London students and staff via appointment, verifying this is difficult. Alternatively, the footage could have been destroyed as part of outtakes and other content Kubrick requested be burned prior to his death in 1999. Regardless, no images or footage are currently available to view.
- MarineParents detailing Ermey's military and acting careers. Retrieved 9 Sep '21
- Stanley Kubrick, which details why Ermey was originally only given the role as a technical advisor for the film rather than as Hartman. Retrieved 9 Sep '21
- Sydney Morning Herald, which detailed the interview where Ermey would use his technical director/advisor roles as means to get acting roles in films. Retrieved 9 Sep '21
- Hollywood Reporter discussing the audition tapes from Colceri and Ermey that would later lead to the latter being cast as Hartman. Retrieved 9 Sep '21
- Indie Wire article discussing the tape. Retrieved 9 Sep '21
- Extract of Full Metal Jacket Diary where Colceri discussed the auditions and Ermey's relentless performance. Retrieved 9 Sep '21
- Esquire article discussing the estimated 150 pages of insults Ermey came up with during the auditions. Retrieved 9 Sep '21
- The Stanley Kubrick Archive where the tape may be accessible at. Retrieved 9 Sep '21
- DVD Talk interview with Leon Vitali, who discussed burning many outtakes and other footage from Kubrick's films. Retrieved 9 Sep '21