Fascinating Facts About ‘Platoon’ — Oliver Stone’s Best Movie

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The movie Platoon and its iconic poster have, alongside films like Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now, become the ultimate representation of Vietnam War movies. The war itself still garners interest because unlike the clearly defined “good guys” and “bad guys” of WW2, Vietnam’s good and bad were no so obvious.

The movie was directed by a Vietnam veteran and has a long list of interesting trivia, like not being allowed to actually film in Vietnam, to the cast smoking marijuana and surviving in the Philippine jungle for two weeks. Here is a list of some of the most interesting facts about the 1986 movie Platoon.

1. They Imported Vietnam’s Distinctive Red Dirt

Willem Dafoe and Chris Pedersen filming Platoon
Photo Credit: Orion Pictures / MovieStillsDB

Director Oliver Stone initially wanted to film Platoon in Vietnam, but Vietnamese authorities prevented this because of the way the movie would depict their troops.

Instead, the Philippines were chosen as a stand-in for Vietnam, which worked for the most part, except it lacked the country’s famous red soil. Stone had to import the soil to the Philippines and distribute it around sets for scenes.

2. The Department Of Defense Didn’t Want to Help Make Platoon

Platoon‘s filmmakers attempted to obtain authentic equipment and uniforms from the U.S. Department of Defense. The DoD will often supply equipment and uniforms to movies featuring the U.S. military, as it can help with public perception and increase recruitment numbers. In fact, the DoD has the Film Liaison Unit, which supervises the production of movies they have sponsored.

However, the DoD declined to help Platoon, due to its rather “unglamorous” depiction of the U.S. military. Instead, the movie had to purchase equipment and borrow it from the Philippine military. This did help with authenticity, though, because the equipment was real and used.

3. Keith David Saved Charlie Sheen’s Life

Charlie Sheen and Oliver Stone in the Philippines during the filming of Platoon
Photo Credit: Roland NEVEU/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

While the cast was filming a scene inside a helicopter, it made a sudden banking turn, catching Charlie Sheen off guard while he was already unbalanced. The movement threw him towards the helicopter’s open doors, but thankfully Keith David managed to grab onto him before he fell out the door. Afterward, Sheen credited David with saving his life.

4. Ben Stiller Tried to Audition But Was Immediately Told No

Platoon featured many actors who would eventually become very famous, like Johnny Depp, but others did not have much luck in auditioning for the movie. Stiller walked into the audition room, but was turned down by Stone before he could even talk.

Stone said Stiller was “too cute” to be in the gritty movie. Stiller would eventually get his wish to perform in a Vietnam War movie when he was cast in Tropic Thunder, a film that parodied Vietnam War movies including Platoon.

5. The Actors Actually Smoked Marijuana For A Scene

Close-up of Charlie Sheen from Platoon
Photo Credit: Orion/Getty Images

When preparing for a scene involving marijuana, many of the actors actually did smoke it for real to help get into character. Unfortunately, according to Willem Dafoe, the men were “coming down” by the time the shoot began and were “tired and useless.”

6. The Actors Wrote What They Wanted On Their Helmets

During the Vietnam War, US soldiers famously wrote slogans and phrases on their helmets. To establish authenticity in the movie and to help the actors get into character, Stone allowed the cast to chose and write their own slogans on their helmets. This would normally be dealt with by the costume department.

7. The Actors’ Authenticity Was One of Stone’s Main Priorities

Oliver Stone behind the scenes, directing Platoon
Photo Credit: Roland NEVEU/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

As mentioned in some of these facts, getting the actors into character was key for the film’s authenticity. Like the smoking of marijuana and writing on the helmets, the men were pushed to become the characters they were portraying. Director Oliver Stone was a veteran of the Vietnam War and was notoriously harsh on his actors. Before filming began, Stone set up a two-week boot camp for the actors, which was run by film-advisor Dale Dye, a decorated Vietnam veteran.

The cast spent the two weeks in the Philippine jungles, in their uniforms, digging holes and eating rations. This was not to bond them, though, but was meant to exhaust and burn the men out before filming even began, to make them more convincing in their roles.

8. Tom Berenger And Willem Dafoe Were Specifically Chosen For Their Roles

Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe glare at each other in a scene from Platoon
Photo Credit: Orion Pictures / MovieStillsDB

At the time the casting process began, actors Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe were usually subjected to typecasting (Berenger usually played good guys while Dafoe played bad guys).

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Stone decided to reverse this and chose Berenger to be the ruthless and harsh Sergeant Barnes, while Dafoe played the caring and heroic Elias. The actors were able to show off their full acting range and were both nominated for an Oscar.