The story of how R Lee Ermey commando raided his way from film set military advisor to snaring the pivotal onscreen role of drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is a hoary old anecdote.
In pre-production Kubrick needed to audition a whole cadre of young actors as newly-conscripted marines entering Parris Island and being faced with the implications of military life for the first time. Knowing that Kubrick, who was in the habit of not being present for such run-throughs but instead preferred to have them videotaped for his later inspection, Ermey figured out that someone would be needed to deliver the feed lines from the drill instructor to each one of the actors. He further realised that this was his chance to show Kubrick (who had earlier turned down his request to audition for the part of the drill instructor) what he himself could do with the part – in effect hijacking thirty audition tapes, ostensibly of other people, but in which he was the biggest, brashest, most electric element. It was a power play that worked, particularly as a prompter rather a player he was unrestrained by Kubrick’s unwavering demand for actor’s to stick to the dialogue as written, and could instead fall back on his lived experience as a Viet Nam-era DI to machine-gun the shell-shocked Hollywood young bucks with soul-crushing putdowns and the foulest of insults.
It was a power play that worked. The director was amused by Ermey’s sneakiness, and impressed by his embodiment of the character. So Kubrick, that master micro-manager of movies, hired him to be his Hartman – and sacked the actor whom he had hired for the part years previously, despite having had him rehearsing for twelve hours a day, six days a week for eight months on his own, apart from the rest of the cast.
This video is the story of the hoary old anecdote, told not from the perspective of cheeky old Ermey, but from that of the man whose part he snatched: Tim Colceri. An interesting watch.