‘Standing in Joker’s Shoes’ aka Matthew Modine’s Full Metal Jacket Diary

Music ‘Standing On Higher Ground’ by The Alan Parsons Project

Holy crap!

I have just finished my third re-read of Matthew Modine’s new book ‘Full Metal Jacket Diary’. This book is simply unbelieveably cool. Even if you don’t know VDO from Adam.

I’d love to spew a bunch of laudatory adjectives right now, but instead I think I’ll just post a few excerpts [NOTE: all the profanity is Modine’s, quoted verbatim] …

“Date: 1984
Location: [Modine’s] Greenwich Village Home

A script arrives called ‘Full Metal Jacket’. The cover is yellow and shows three Marines jumping out the door of a Huey. Cool. It’s not a script cover from a studio or an agency. It’s a script cover from Stanley Kubrick. Fucking awesome.

There’s a simple, handwritten note from Kubrick asking me to call him when I’m finished reading the script. His handwriting is sharp. Quick strokes. Legible strokes.

I look at the note for a long time. I imagine him writing it. Jesus. He sent it to my house! How did he do that?

I wonder if that chance meeting with Val Kilmer at The Source had anything to do with what’s happening now. Who knows? But thanks, Val!

[The Source is a restaurant in L.A. shown in Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’ and a hangout for actors — earlier in the diary, Modine and Kilmer were apparently at The Source. After being introduced to Modine by mutual acquaintance David Alan Grier, Kilmer lets Modine know he’s ticked that Modine has beaten him out for the part of Pvt. Joker, something about which Modine is clueless and unapologetic]

The script itself is different. It’s not formatted like the other screenplays I’ve read. It reads like a treatment. There’s nothing in Kubrick’s note that tells what character he’s interested in me for, so as I read the script, I imagine myself in a couple of the roles.

I quickly eliminate the role of the Sergeant. I’m not old enough. Then there is Pvt. Pyle — a great role.

I wonder if [director] Alan Parker ever sent footage of my work in ‘Birdy’ to Kubrick. Birdy is a psychologically scarred victim of the Vietnam war. I bet Stanley wants me in the role of Pyle. I understand Pyle. Many times in my life I have been in Pyle’s shoes. They hurt.

But halfway through the script, it’s clear to me I’m more suited for the role of Joker.

I understand Pyle. But I am Joker…

Date: June 1985
Location: Kubrick Estate

…Stanley says he feels like he’s found some of the best actors around. Some great faces. He’s cast everybody now but the character of Pvt. Pyle. I don’t hesitate to recommend an actor.

Date: Summer 1982 (Three Years Earlier)
Location: Central Park

I have just met Vince [VDO] at an audition for the movie ‘Private School’ [Modine got cast, VDO didn’t]. We walk through the park and talk about acting and technique.

Vince studies Lee Strasberg’s ‘Method’ with Sharon Chatten, a teacher from the Actors Studio. I study with Stella Adler. Adler and Strasberg have different approaches and are thought to be absolute enemies. I think it would be interesting to see the differences between the two. Vince agrees.

Vince: You can visit my class and I can visit yours.

Time: Days Later
Location: Acting Loft

In Vince’s class, I do exercises that are very different from the work I do with Stella. In one exercise, we are supposed to relax and fill ourselves up with the “life of our characters”. Everyone is calm. Except for one girl. I can see her body filling with tension as she goes into fits of spastic cursing. During class the girl launches into her monologue from ‘In the Boom Boom Room’. She’s playing an angry go-go dancer. I smile at her during a break. She doesn’t smile back. She is angry. Even after the class is over, she’s angry.

The impression I get from Vince’s class is that once you get into character, it’s easier to stay in character. My approach is contrary. When the director says ‘Cut’, I like to let it go. Try and be myself again. Hang out.

Unfortunately Vince never gets the opportunity to go to my school.

Time: A Year Later
Location: The Hard Rock Cafe [New York City]

I walk down

57th Street

and see Vince in front of the Hard Rock Cafe. He’s working as a bouncer. We had lost contact with each other and it is great to see him again.

Vince knows I’ve been having a good run lately and is happy for me. I promise Vince that if ther is ever an opportunity to recommend him for a part I will.

Time: Two Years Later
Location: Kubrick Estate

Modine: (to Kubrick)

Vince D’Onofrio

In the script, Pyle is described as an overweight country boy. I tell Stanley that Vince is neither southern nor fat, but that he is a good actor and can put on the weight and do an accent. Stanley tells me to get in touch with him [VDO] and have him audition.

Good luck, Vince!”

Well the rest is cinematic history. And yes, *that’s* the VDO this blog’s all about.

Thanks to Matthew for the loan of Joker’s combat boots. The view from them is pretty interesting… 

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