Under the Circuit: R. Lee Ermey

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Screen-Shot-2012-12-12-at-9.00.12-PMMost Known For: “Full Metal Jacket,” “Se7en,” “Toy Story”

Snubbed For: “Full Metal Jacket”

Memorial Day was this past Monday, a day when he honor the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces. Turner Classic Movies ran military movies the entire weekend, as Hollywood has a proud and rich history of celebrating the armed forces through film. Under the Circuit will also recognize a vet who crossed over to film and TV this week, R. Lee Ermey.

A member of the Marine Corps for 11 years, Ermey served in Vietnam and two tours in Japan, eventually rising to the level of Gunnery Sergeant. After he concluded his service he made the transition into film with a handful of war films – “The Boys in Company C,” “Purple Hearts” and an uncredited role in “Apocalypse Now” as a helicopter pilot; he also served as a technical advisor on the film.

maxresdefaultBut the role that Ermey is best known for and remains his only real flirtation with the academy is his turn as the drill sergeant in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” Once again, Ermey was initially brought on to serve as a technical adviser for the film, but he asked Kubrick if he could audition for the role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Kubrick initially turned him down, reportedly not thinking he was intimidating enough after his performance in “The Boys in Company C.” Ermey convinced Kubrick after he videotaped himself berating a group of extras.

From there, Kubrick had his man and let Ermey make the part his own. Ermey’s role in the film is roughly only about the first 30 minutes of the movie, but he commands the screen from the get go with his introduction to the new recruits, most of which he spends insulting them in some of the most degrading ways possible. Perhaps the most amazing thing about that is that Ermey mostly improvised the entirety of that scene.

Ermey earned a win for Best Supporting Actor from the Boston Society of Film Critics and a nomination from the Golden Globes. “Full Metal Jacket” had little love at the Oscars, however, only earning one nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Ermey hasn’t been as close to landing an Oscar nomination since.

He has however enjoyed a long career in Hollywood, including a very impressive year in 1995 when he had credits in six movies – “Murder in the First,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” Se7en,” Under the Hula Moon,” “Toy Story” and “Dead Man Walking.”

It would be a long shot for Ermey to end up with an Oscar nomination at this point in his career, but an Oscar nomination would mean little in how we should view him. Ermey has provided memorable roles in some classic movies and will forever have a place in film history and pop culture for his role in “Full Metal Jacket.” Most importantly, he is a veteran and deserves all of our honor and respect, as do all our vets. That means a heck of a lot more than a little gold statue.

  • While an Oscar nomination for his role in Full Metal Jacket was very much deserved, I’m willing to bet becoming the first Marine to be promoted after retirement will end up being the honor that means the most to him personally.

  • Ryan

    Full Metal Jacket is a film that I always thought deserved better awards recognition, but Ermey is a complete force of nature in that role. He makes you sit up in your seat at the sound of his voice. It’s great to see a veteran bring such a presence to the screen like he does. What a great performance.

  • Luke McGowan

    Can you guys do an Under the Circuit for Vincent D’Onofrio? He was heinously snubbed for Full Metal Jacket, and I reckon he was the best performance in The Judge (forget Duvall).