Full Metal Jacket is a movie defined by the humanity of its characters and the inhumanity of their situation.
When Stanley Kubrick decided to adapt the Gustav Hasford novel The Short-Timers, which is about soldiers in Vietnam, he wanted to cast a wide array of people. He wanted it to look like the real frontlines of Vietnam, and he wanted to take a bunch of chances.
One of those was initially changing the character of Private Pyle from a "skinny ignorant redneck" into a large, portly person we'd feel sorry for. But once that change was made, Kubrick found it nearly impossible to cast that character.
So how did Vincent D’Onofrio find his way onto the set and into the pantheon of legendary characters?
D’Onofrio got his start in live theater. But a chance encounter with Matthew Modine in Times Square would launch D’Onofrio into a film career that would begin with one of cinema’s greatest performances under arguably the biggest name in film—Stanley Kubrick.
Check out this video from CinemaTyler, and let's talk after the jump.
How Did a Chance Encounter Lead to a Legendary Kubrick Character?
One thing I loved about this video, which is a bit of a non sequitur, is the fact that there's a Japanese movie trilogy called The Human Condition, which follows a similar storyline. In it, we see Japanese soldiers forced to fight in WWII, lose their moral standing, and lose their minds. In the second part, a bullied soldier fights back after going through horrific basic training where he does everything wrong. Eventually, he shoots himself in the bathroom.
While there is no definite connection, you have to think Kubrick might have seen some of these movies and incorporated the themes.
So let's get back to D’Onofrio.
As the story goes, D’Onofrio heard about the auditions for the film from Modine. Using a rented video camera and dressed in army fatigues, D'Onofrio recorded his audition.
Despite Kubrick's saying that Pyle was "the hardest part to cast in the whole movie," he quickly responded to D'Onofrio, telling the actor that he had won the part. He had to gain around 70 pounds to portray Pyle, but his weight gain made the character easier to pity and got the audience on his side during some of the bullying scenes. Especially after the jelly donut incident.
This dramatic change of the character from the book was a really good idea and showed that Kubrick was adapting the heart of the novel, and not just the skin and bones. He was willing to tweak things to help the audience be on his side and to understand the stakes.
It's wild to think this all only happened because D’Onofrio ran into Modine in Times Square after Modine was cast. Modine got the part because Kubrick saw the movie Birdy (itself an underrated masterpiece). There are so many pieces of kismet here that all culminated in D’Onofrio sending an unsolicited tape to Kubrick.
His portrayal of Pyle is one of the most complex pieces of acting he's done in his career, and maybe some of the best acting of all time.
So, if your friends ever encourage you to go out for something, believe in yourself and go do it!
It might pay off.