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Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now is unquestionably one of the most iconic war films of all time, and it wastes no time at all hitting audiences with some breathtaking sequences. The start of the film features not only a stunning and horrific shot of a plane coating a forest in napalm, but also a devastating sequence featuring Martin Sheen's Captain Benjamin L. Willard alone in a hotel room being emotionally crushed by his experiences in Vietnam.
It's a jaw-droppingly intense scene that is made only more powerful by the presence of Sheen's actual blood, the actor cutting himself badly on a piece of glass mid-shot. It's a famed Hollywood moment from the famously chaotic production, but what you may not know about it is that its presence in the final cut can be attributed to Sheen begging his director to keep the cameras rolling.
In celebration of Martin Sheen celebrating his 80th birthday last week, The Hollywood Reporter dug up an old interview from the early 1990s in which the Apocalypse Now star talked about his experience making the war movie, and how he had to essentially fight to keep bleeding on screen:
I bled quite a lot and Francis tried to stop the scene, and I begged him to continue rolling. There were two cameras going. He said he couldn't do it and they had a nurse standing by. And I said, 'Please. I must do this for myself.' And he did. And he allowed me, in a sense, to wrestle with some demons that I had been wrestling with for quite a while. Now, I was doing it in a public forum, and in a sense, I got them out.
For those who don't recall the details of the sequence, Martin Sheen managed to slice up his right hand as a result of choosing to punch and shatter a mirror . If you watch closely during the scene you notice that there is a very quick cut immediately following the moment (perhaps to disguise the on-set conversation between Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola) and then Willard is shown somersaulting over the bed, leaving a red trail behind him on the sheets, before examining his bloody fist while sitting on the floor.
If one doesn't know the behind-the-scenes story, one might watch Apocalypse Now and think that all of the blood is fake and just a choice made by the filmmakers, but knowing the truth makes it all the more intense and incredible.
For those of you who haven't seen Apocalypse Now yet, the especially good news for you is that this article features absolutely no spoilers, and it hopefully has increased your curiosity in watching the movie. And if you do want to check it out – either for the first time or the millionth – the good news is that the war epic is widely available. The film is presently available to stream for HBO subscribers (including HBO Max, HBO Go, and the Hulu add-on), can be rented or purchased digitally, and can be found physically on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD.