What did you say?
I told him my theory about why war movies sucked, and gave him my view on how to make a good one. He liked what I said and hired me. By the way, I still have that matchbook from the bar on Sunset.
What was your first order of business on Platoon?
I took 33 actors into the mountains of Central Luzon in the Philippines for three weeks, completely cut off from the outside world. The day I brought them back to civilization was the first day of filming. They were ready. They looked and performed just like the soldiers in Vietnam.
Were you the first to train actors in this way?
Yes, and it changed the methodology of war movies. Training had been provided, but there wasn't full immersion in it. Until Platoon, an actor wasn't going to submit himself to such indignities. Since then, a lot of people have copied my approach.
What makes yours unique?
I'll absolutely physically abuse you to the point where you're so tired you're cross-eyed. Then your ego goes away. That way, I can talk to your heart.
Do actors complain about your approach?
Absolutely. But so do the kids who climb off the bus at Parris Island who aren't actors. They whine, piss, moan, and complain that they're being mistreated. Nowadays, actors seem to come in to my program acknowledging, He's gonna nail my butt. He's gonna unscrew my head and pour all the crapola out and then put the right stuff in. And that's precisely what I do.
On Platoon, was it obvious during the production that you were making a different kind of war picture?
I knew we were on to something, and that I was working with a powerful, visionary film director. And because of the nature of the story, I knew that there were going to be detractors.
Did you disagree with Oliver Stone about certain story aspects?
Yes—and there were a few places where I succeeded at getting him to change things. In the original script, the G.I.'s of Bravo Company completely destroy a village with the civilians inside. I told Oliver, "You know damn well we wouldn't do that. You didn't do it when you were a soldier in Vietnam, and neither did I. So how about if those G.I.'s carry the civilians out? Relocate them. That's what we would have done." He agreed, and that scenario is the one that's in the picture.
Toward the end of Platoon, there's this bizarre scene where an American tank has a Nazi flag flying above it. U.S. soldiers also have German Shepherds on leashes, an image reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Why would American soldiers in Vietnam have a Nazi flag above the tank?
For the same reason that soldiers had flags with the skull-and-cross bones image on it. We carried state flags as well.
Did you see that when you were there?
Sure. But all that didn't mean that much to us at 19. We were young, rebellious kids. We weren't making political statements. We were making a military statement: We're Stormtroopers, we'll tear your ass apart. We also put horrible graffiti on our helmets and flak jackets.