Platoon Star Details Intense Training Camp For Iconic Vietnam War Movie – Screen Rant

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Platoon actor John C McGinley opens up about how tough, and sometimes dangerous, the Vietnam War film’s military bootcamp was for its cast.
Platoon star John C. McGinley has disclosed just how extreme the training camp for the 1986 film really was for the cast. McGinley portrayed Sergeant O’Neill in Oliver Stone’s Academy Award-winning blockbuster, an abrasive soldier who is part of the infantry that newcomer Chris (Charlie Sheen) is assigned to when he joins the Vietnam War. Also featuring performances from Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger and Forest Whitaker, Platoon was a massive critical and financial hit, winning four Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director) and went on to gross over $138 million at the box office.
Much of Platoon‘s success was thanks to its grim and unflinchingly realistic portrayal of the Vietnam War. However, never one for the orthodox approach, director/screenwriter Oliver Stone’s preferred method to achieve this was by dropping his actors in a Philippine jungle and leaving them to undergo a back-breaking military training course organised by military consultant Dale Dye, who would later coordinate something similar with the cast of Saving Private Ryan. The course itself proved to be extremely tough for the cast, with Forest Whitaker sustaining a serious injury whilst training.
Related: Platoon Movie Ending And Chris Taylor’s War Speech Explained 
McGinley has now also opened up on how, although he didn’t find the physical nature of the training especially arduous, the mental effort of being in a canopy jungle and acting like soldiers certainly took its toll. It was learning things such as how to carry and load weapons, read maps and consume ready-to-eat meals that proved challenging for the actor. Speaking in an interview with The Guardian, the actor outlined just how intense, and sometimes dangerous, the Platoon cast’s training got:
“…What was hard was learning how to read maps, load weapons and be in this triple canopy jungle out in the middle of frickin’ nowhere. We were eating MREs – Meals Ready to Eat – and nobody could poop … Willem [Dafoe] drank water from a river when there was a decomposing oxen downstream and he got medivacked, Tom dropped a knife in his f***king foot – it was just all getting terribly real. And there were snakes. Two weeks earlier, we were running around New York’s West Village having coffee, bagels and talking about Hamlet. Now we’re in the jungle with bamboo vipers.”
The Scrubs star went on to elaborate just how much of an effect the rigorous training had on his performance when shooting finally began. It seemed to McGinley that there was in fact very little acting involved when delivering certain lines, since the intensity of what he had gone through meant it was virtually no effort to believe the reality of what he was saying. However, despite the training camp clearly achieving its goal of guaranteeing gritty war realism from the stars, as well as helping establish a precedent that Spielberg would follow with Saving Private Ryan, it was clearly not entirely without risk. As well as the injuries Whitaker and Berenger acquired, McGinley went on to describe how during the actual shoot he almost fell out of a helicopter 1,000 feet in the air because he had been so thoroughly drilled to never to let go of his weapon. Clinging on to nothing else but his gun when the helicopter suddenly turned, the actor escaped the imminent drop only when fellow cast member Francesco Quinn swiftly grabbed his backpack and pulled him back into the airborne chopper. McGinley said he had a few very stern words with his director, Stone, after that.
Directors looking to add that extra flavour of realism into their work isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Stanley Kubrick famously cast real Marine drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey in his Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket to help give his actors a better sense of the unforgiving life of a soldier. However, based on the serious harm and near-death experiences of his cast members, it does appear that Stone may have pushed it a little too far in trying to harness the grim reality of the Vietnam War. That being said, despite almost falling to his demise, McGinley evidently wasn’t so put-off by Stone’s unconventional (and sometimes unsafe) style of film-making. The actor continued working with him on his next films Wall Street and Talk Radio over the next two years. Regardless as to whether the trials the Platoon cast had to endure were worth it or not, it cannot be argued that their effect on Platoon was a huge part in cementing its status as one of the greatest war films ever made.
Next: Platoon True Story: How Accurate Is The Vietnam War Movie
Source: The Guardian
Toby is a Movie/TV News writer for Screen Rant. With a degree in Scriptwriting and Performance from the University of East Anglia, his fascination and love for film goes all the way back to his first viewing of ‘Chicken Run’ (which he maintains is still the greatest film of all time). He is currently based in the North East of England and in his spare time can be found writing plays, going for runs (or otherwise a short jog and calling it a run), and watching Classic Doctor Who.

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