R Lee Ermey Full Metal Jacket

On the set of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, actor R. Lee Ermey famously kept himself apart from most of the cast during filming, given that his drill instructor character, Sgt. Hartman, wouldn't actually have a chummy relationship with the recruits he was training. One thing you may not know, however, is that Ermey spent a good portion of that alone time writing dirty poetry -- and what's more, one poem in particular almost found its way into the film. Sitting down with stars Vincent D'Onofrio and Matthew Modine recently, they told me,

Vincent D'Onofrio: We didn't really hang out with Lee. I didn't hang out with Lee. But Lee would kind of do his own thing; I don't know what that was.

Matthew Modine: Write poetry! He wrote the most obscene poetry.

Vincent D'Onofrio: We tried to get it into the movie.

Matthew Modine: We did try to get it in the movie! When he says, 'Who do you think you are? You think you're a writer? You're not a writer; you're a killer! So there was going to be a scene where I go to his office at nighttime and he was going to read me his poetry.

I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Vincent D'Onofrio, Matthew Modine, and Stanley Kubrick's assistant/casting director Leon Vitale this past weekend during a special 30th anniversary press day for Full Metal Jacket -- and it was then that I learned about this special bit of R. Lee Ermey trivia. While discussing the experience making the film, I turned the conversation to their working relationship with Ermey, and it was then that they told me about the actor's exercises in the written word.

But they didn't stop there. Matthew Modine then proceeded to actually tell me what the entire poem was about, and I won't be ruining the punchline for you here. You'll just have to read it below:

Matthew Modine: There was this poem about this woman who would go and open a cage and go in and make love to this person, and...

Vincent D'Onofrio: It's nothing you can say now.

Matthew Modine: It's not a thing that can be repeated. But the reveal, the punchline to this beautifully written poem -- it rhymed and everything -- was that the woman was making love with a gorilla. It was really good.

Vincent D'Onofrio: I didn't think you were going to go there!

I've now had a couple of days to reflect on hearing this story, and as funny as it is, it's also not particularly hard to understand why Stanley Kubrick didn't ultimately include it in Full Metal Jacket. The scene with the "You're not a writer; you're a killer" dialogue that Matthew Modine referred to is from the sequence where the recruits were graduating from boot camp -- which means that the recital of the poetry would have been featured almost immediately before Modine's Pvt. Joker finds D'Onofrio's Pvt. Pyle in the latrine ready to kill both Hartman and himself. It not only would have been a serious tonal shift for the classic movie, but also would have had the effect of completely changing the way audiences look at R. Lee Ermey's character.

You can watch Matthew Modine and Vincent D'Onofrio discuss R. Lee Ermey's Full Metal Jacket poetry clicking play on the video embed below!

Full Metal Jacket's 30th anniversary is exactly one week from today, as the film was released back on July 10, 1987. And this story goes to show you that as much as you think you know about a movie, there is always more to learn!

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