10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About ‘Platoon’

Entertainment
A screenshot via YouTube shows Charlie Sheen in the Vietnam War drama “Platoon.”

When Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War drama “Platoon,” premiered in December 1986, the cast was concerned it wouldn’t do well. Massive military blockbusters like “Top Gun” had captured movie-goers attention, and for the actors who worked for 54 days in the sweltering heat in the Philippines on “Platoon,” it seemed like the film might go unnoticed. Or worse, the gritty war epic might get mistaken for a bland action movie that only took place in Vietnam, rather than a film about what it felt like to serve there.


Instead, it received critical acclaim, almost immediately. That year, “Platoon” won the Oscar for Best Picture, and Stone won an Oscar for Best Director.

Stone began writing the script in 1969 and after multiple rewrites and a few failed attempts to secure funding, filming began in earnest in 1986. Shot in under two months, the film cost roughly $6.5 million, a shoe-string budget for a major war film.

Related: 10 Things you never knew about ‘Saving Private Ryan’ »

The movie was inspired by Stone’s experiences as an infantryman in Vietnam, where he served from September 1967 to April 1968. Stone received a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat and was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with a “V” device for valor.

The movie focuses on a ragged group of soldiers — a mix of draftees, misfits, idealists, and pessimists thrown together in a hellish environment. The characters fight among themselves as much as they fight an elusive enemy.

Beyond capturing the low morale of troops fighting a war that feels unwinnable, it’s also a master-stroke of filmmaking. Here are 10 obscure facts you might not know about “Platoon.”

The filming of "Platoon" was almost canceled due to a revolution.

The filming was almost canceled due to political upheaval in the Philippines when then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos was deposed and fled the country in February 1986. In an interview with The Guardian, Willem Dafoe, who played the war-weary and compassionate soldier Elias, in the film, explained that he was the first to arrive. After his flight he decided to take a nap in the hotel.

“When I woke up I opened the curtains of my room and there were tanks out in the street, and I thought, ‘Oh man, what's going on?’” he told The Guardian. “I checked out the TV and sure enough there was a revolution and I was stranded there as I was one of the first actors there and I was told that the film was not going to be happening and I couldn't leave. That was an interesting way to start the movie.”

In the scene where everyone gets really high, they were all actually stoned.

According to an interview with Dafoe for the documentary “Making of Platoon: A Tour Of The Inferno,"  some of the actors wanted to get into character for the scene where the platoon gets nice and lit. So, they gathered the weed they could get their hands on and got stoned on set.

The plan didn’t go so well, though. When it came time to shoot, the actors had either come down from their high or were so out of it they were useless.

It was Johnny Depp’s first time outside the states.

Aside from being Johnny Depp’s first role in a major movie, the film was shot in the Philippines and it was Depp’s first time outside of the United States.

Dafoe and Berenger traded places.

Prior to “Platoon” Dafoe had traditionally played villains, something Dafoe said he was particularly conscious of. Tom Berenger on the other hand, was often cast as a sympathetic hero or anti-hero, but in the film, the two took on different roles than they were used to.

Dafoe played Elias, a soldier that was set in sharp contrast to Berenger’s character, Sgt. Barnes, the cold-blooded platoon sergeant.

In an alternate reality, “Platoon” may have starred Jim Morrison.

After Stone wrote the first draft of “Platoon,” in 1969, he sent it to the Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the Doors. Stone wanted Morrison to play the part of Chris Taylor, the lead role that Charlie Sheen would ultimately play. The script was in the singer's possession when he was found dead in Paris in 1971.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

This photo image of Jim Morrison is from the Smother's Brothers Show, 1968.

Dafoe drank contaminated water and hallucinated for a full day.

During the filming, the actors were warned not to drink from the river water for fear of malaria, but Dafoe filled his canteen with fresh water, dropped a purification tablet in and drank. As the cast moved further upstream, they found a dead pig rotting and bloated in the center of it. Dafoe was extremely sick and delirious for the following 24 hours.

Charlie Sheen almost lost the lead role to his brother.

During one of Stone’s early attempts to get the movie made, Sheen auditioned for the role and failed to impress Stone, who was actively trying to cast his older brother, Emilio Estevez, for the part. However, financing fell through and when Sheen read for the part again a few years later, Stone was taken by surprise.

"The first time around," Stone said in an interview with People. "Charlie was a kid. He was thinner, he hadn't filled out. But this time I knew in 10 minutes he was right."

The film’s military advisors ruthlessly screwed with the actors during boot camp.

Two weeks prior to shooting the movie, Dale Dye, a military technical advisor and a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, ran the actors through 14 days of training. The actors had to refer to each other by their character’s names and ranks, carry all of the gear their character’s would carry, and fulfill the duties and responsibilities of their characters.

In a documentary about the making of the film Depp talked about falling asleep on post and waking up with Dye pressing a gun to the back of his head, whispering “you’re dead, Johnny.”

“I want them to know what a year with no sleep feels like,” Stone said in the documentary. “I want them to feel that in two weeks.”

The way the movie was filmed made the cast feel like they were taking casualties

Because the movie was shot sequentially, as the platoon in the film took casualties, the cast size began to shrink. By the end of shooting, only a handful the original actors remained on set.

A YouTube screenshot from the documentary “Making of Platoon: A Tour Of The Inferno” shows, Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, and Willem Dafoe on set in the Philippines.

It gave an added effect of loneliness and a sense of loss to those still on set, explained John C. McGinley, who played Sgt. O’Neil in the movie.

“It was getting very strange,” said McGinley. “Those guys are gone, they’re out of sight, out of mind. It’s like they’re dead.”

Charlie Sheen improvised part of the finale.

In the closing scene, after Sheen’s character kills Barnes, he can be seen holding a hand grenade as he sits on a mound of sandbags. When his fellow soldiers approach, Sheen drops the grenade.

“What I’ve done, is I’m holding the grenade and I’m about to pull the pin when he comes through, and do myself,” Sheen said in an interview about the making of the film. “I didn’t tell Oliver I was going to do this, but I looked at him afterward and asked him ‘does that work,’ and he said ‘don’t change a thing.’”

A Marine wanted for killing his mother's boyfriend reportedly escaped police by hiding inside an RV they'd spent hours searching before towing it to a parking lot, where he escaped under the cover of darkness.

It wasn't until more than two weeks later authorities finally caught up to Michael Brown at his mom's home, which was the scene of the crime.

Brown stuffed himself into a tight spot in his camper during an hours-long search of the vehicle on Nov. 10, according to NBC affiliate WSLS in Virginia. A day earlier, cops said Brown fatally shot his mother's boyfriend, Rodney Brown. The AWOL Marine remained on the lam until Nov. 27, where he was finally apprehended without incident.

Read More Show Less

No motive is yet known for last week's Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard shooting tragedy, which appears to have been a random act of violence in which the sailor who fatally shot two civilian workers and himself did not know them and did not plan his actions ahead of time, shipyard commander Capt. Greg Burton said in an "All Hands" message sent out Friday.

Machinist's Mate Auxiliary Fireman Gabriel Antonio Romero of San Antonio, an armed watch-stander on the attack submarine USS Columbia, shot three civilian workers Dec. 4 and then turned a gun on himself while the sub rested in dry dock 2 for a major overhaul, the Navy said.

"The investigation continues, but there is currently no known motive and no information to indicate the sailor knew any of the victims," Burton said.

Read More Show Less
A projectile is fired during North Korea's missile tests in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on November 28, 2019. (KCNA via Reuters)

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said it had successfully conducted another test at a satellite launch site, the latest in a string of developments aimed at "restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the U.S.", state news agency KCNA reported on Saturday.

The test was conducted on Friday at the Sohae satellite launch site, KCNA said, citing a spokesman for North Korea's Academy of Defence Science, without specifying what sort of testing occurred.

Read More Show Less

Since the Washington Post first published the "Afghanistan papers," I have been reminded of a scene from "Apocalypse Now Redux" in which Army Col. Walter Kurtz reads to the soldier assigned to kill him two Time magazine articles showing how the American people had been lied to about Vietnam by both the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations.

In one of the articles, a British counterinsurgency expert tells Nixon that "things felt much better and smelled much better" during his visit to Vietnam.

"How do they smell to you, soldier?" Kurtz asks.

Read More Show Less
Erik Prince arrives for the New York Young Republican Club Gala at The Yale Club of New York City in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., November 7, 2019. (REUTERS/Jeenah Moon)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Erik Prince, the controversial private security executive and prominent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, made a secret visit to Venezuela last month and met Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, one of socialist leader Nicolas Maduro's closest and most outspoken allies, according to five sources familiar with the matter.

Read More Show Less