Beyond the Screen: The Impact of War Movies on Actors

By Jack Ripley | March 21, 2024

On 'Platoon,' Charlie Sheen 'Really Felt As If I Was Expected To Scrub Latrines'

Are you ready for action? This captivating gallery reveals the grit, sweat, and occasional tears that have peppered the paths of actors while making some of the most memorable war movies in cinematic history. From tales of grueling boot camps that pushed actors to their physical limits, to on-set accidents that left more than just emotional scars, this collection showcases the commitment, endurance, and sheer determination that brought these intense roles to life. Each image and accompanying story highlights the reality behind the spectacle – a world far removed from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Discover the intense training that went into 'Platoon,' the unexpected typhoon that disrupted 'Apocalypse Now,' and the camaraderie that helped the cast of 'Saving Private Ryan' recreate the horrors of D-Day. So, grab some popcorn, settle in, and brace yourself for an inside look at the world of war movies that's as riveting as the films themselves.

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(Orion Pictures)

Platoon, Oliver Stone's 1986 Vietnam War classic, is renowned for its intense, raw portrayal of the realities of war. The authenticity was the result of a rigorous and demanding preparation process that pushed the ensemble cast, which included Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, and Tom Berenger, to their limits and beyond. The actors were quickly stripped of their Hollywood comforts. They dug their own foxholes, slept on the ground, and faced grueling physical drills each day, all while lugging around heavy military gear. As the character Chris, Sheen was a low ranking soldier, and therefore had to do the grunt work: 

You had to be treated according to your rank. Willem [Dafoe] and Tom Berenger, playing two sergeants, were in command and I was an FNG – a '***** new guy.' It really felt as if I was expected to scrub latrines, which I actually ended up doing in the movie. I thought we'd go out in the day then return to the hotel at night, but at sundown on the first day, there was no bus pulling up. I looked at Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker and said: 'I guess we're just staying here.'

Making 'Born on the Fourth of July,' Tom Cruise Was 'On Edge Every Day'

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(Universal Pictures)

Based on the autobiography of Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, Born On The Fourth Of July required an immense commitment from all involved, particularly from its lead actor, Tom Cruise, who played Kovic. To prepare for the role, Cruise went through an extensive period of research and physical training. He spent time with Kovic himself, learning about his experiences and perspectives on the war, the injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down, and his subsequent activism against the Vietnam War. Cruise found the role of Kovic demanding, yet the lines were often blurred between actor and character:

“I’d nailed the character in Dallas, and then we’d done Vietnam, and then I had a scene where I had to be Ron in a wheelchair again. I was just like, ‘I don’t know where I am. I lost it. Am I Kovic now?’ I remember I was so physically exhausted. I said, ‘Oliver, I’m sorry, man, I just don’t have it. I’m lost.’ He said, ‘You are Kovic, just do it, don’t think about it.'”