Full Metal Jacket is technically a film about Vietnam, although it's mainly famous for its first half, perhaps the most harrowing depiction of boot camp ever filmed. This series of scenes featuring bald recruits scrubbing toilets while drill instructor Hartman screams at them was a huge success. Not only that, but it propelled R. Lee Ermey, the guy behind the yelling, to a legitimate film career where he ... yelled at people more. Hey, if you're good at something, you're good at something.
"THANK YOU FOR ASSISTING WITH MY VOICE COACHING, MAGGOT!"
Ermey was actually a former Marine drill instructor, which helped with his character's authenticity. This was needed, because Hartman was originally an utter disaster. According to Ermey, Hartman had "no rhyme or reason" behind what he was doing, and was a sadist who made a hobby out of torturing recruits. In Ermey's mind, Hartman shouldn't treat recruits like worthless fucks because he gets off on it. He should treat them like worthless fucks because he cares.
Unfortunately, a guy named Tim Colceri already had the role, and Ermey was merely a technical advisor. He found a solution, though, utilizing his two favorite weapons: volume and profanity. Ermey lined up a bunch of extras and recorded himself spewing insult after vile insult at them, not missing a beat or repeating himself once, for over 15 minutes. He then played the tape for Kubrick, who immediately demoted Colceri to Helicopter Door-Gunner Guy #1, hiring Ermey on the spot.
"Texas? Only two things come from Texas -- steers and also a goodly portion of America's milk supply. And you ... um, actually, I forgot my point."
But there was still the matter of the script being dogshit. So Ermey, who was either unaware of Kubrick's hatred of improv or simply uninterested in giving a shit, ripped up at least half of Hartman's dialogue, replacing it with selections from 150 pages of insults and threats that he had written himself (OK, he might be a bit crazy). This dialogue was not only funnier and more biting than before, but also more in tune with how Ermey felt the character should act.
Clearly, the former military man had a point. He wrote some of the best lines in a film that received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Oh, and he earned himself a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor as well. The moral: If a Marine wants to play a Marine in a movie about the Marines, you let him play the Marine. It really is better than faking it.
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For more brilliant changes to scripts, check out 5 Insane Early Drafts of Famous Movie Characters and 7 Terrible Early Versions of Great Movies.
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Extra Credit: Your favorite pop culture moments involved way less forethought than you suspected. Even The X-Files was pretty much improvised from the get-go. And the infamous Vulcan salute? Also made up on the fly. And did you know the Joker almost ended up cut from Batman altogether? It's true!