The 1986 Oliver Stone film, Platoon, has – along with Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Apocalypse Now (1979) – become the ultimate representation of Vietnam War movies. Stone himself is a veteran of the conflict, and incorporated his own experiences into the film. The following is a list of some little-known facts about Platoon, from the cast having to survive in the Philippine jungle for two weeks to the US Department of Defense’s reluctance to help in its production.
The filmmakers imported Vietnam’s distinctive red dirt
Director Oliver Stone initially wanted to film Platoon in Vietnam, but the authorities prevented this because of the way the movie would depict Vietnamese troops. Instead, the Philippines were chosen as a stand-in. It worked for the most part, except it lacked the country’s famous red soil.
To make the film look more authentic, Stone had Vietnamese soil imported to the Philippines and distributed around the set.
The Department Of Defense didn’t want to help make Platoon
Platoon‘s filmmakers attempted to obtain authentic equipment and uniforms from the Department of Defense. Oftentimes, the Department will supply equipment and uniforms to movies featuring the US 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’ve sponsored.
However, the Department declined to help with the production of Platoon, due to its “unglamorous” depiction of the US military. Instead, the movie had to purchase and borrow equipment from the Philippine military. This did help with authenticity, though, because the equipment was real and used.
Keith David saved Charlie Sheen’s life
While filming a scene inside a helicopter, the craft made a sudden banking turn, catching actor Charlie Sheen off-guard while he was already unbalanced. The movement threw him toward the choppers open doors. Thankfully, co-star Keith David managed to grab onto Sheen before he fell out.
Afterward, Sheen credited David with saving his life.
Ben Stiller was turned down by Oliver Stone
Platoon features a number of actors who eventually became very famous, such as Johnny Depp, but others didn’t have much luck in auditioning. Ben Stiller walked into the audition room, but was turned down by Oliver Stone before he could even talk. The director said Stiller was “too cute” to be in such a gritty movie.
Stiller eventually got his wish to perform in a Vietnam War film when he was cast in Tropic Thunder (2008), which parodied Vietnam-era movies, including Platoon.
The actors did, in fact, smoke an illicit substance for one Platoon scene
When preparing for a scene involving marijuana, many of the actors actually did smoke the illicit substance to help get them into character. Unfortunately, according to Willem Dafoe, they were “coming down” from their high by the time filming began, which led to them being “tired and useless.”
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 and help the actors get into character, Oliver Stone allowed them to chose and write their own slogans on their helmets. This was unique in the entertainment industry, as things like that would normally be dealt with by the costume department.
Authenticity was among Oliver Stone’s biggest priorities
As mentioned in some of the above facts, getting the actors into character was key for Platoon‘s authenticity. As Oliver Stone was a veteran of the Vietnam War, he was notoriously harsh on his cast. Before filming began, he set up a two-week boot camp for the actors, which was run by film-advisor Dale Dye, himself a decorated Vietnam veteran.
The cast spent the two weeks in the Philippine jungle, in their uniforms, digging holes and eating rations. This wasn’t to create a bond between them, however. It was meant to exhaust and burn them out before filming began, to make them more convincing in their roles.
Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe were specifically chosen
Whenever being cast in movies, Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe were usually subjected to typecasting – Berenger typically played the good guy, while Dafoe was the villain.
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Oliver Stone decided to reverse this and chose Berenger to be the ruthless and harsh Staff Sgt. Bob Barnes, while Dafoe played the caring and heroic Sgt. Elias. The actors were able to showcase their full acting ranges, and both received Oscar nominations for their performances.