Charlie Sheen about making Platoon: ‘We screamed for the doctor!’ | Movie

Charlie Sheen played Chris Taylor

My brother Emilio Estevez and I were big fans of Scarface and Midnight Express, both written by Oliver Stone. Emilio kept talking to me about Oliver’s new Vietnam movie, which he auditioned for. He got the lead role, Chris Taylor, but then could not do so due to planning conflicts. When I went to audition, Oliver said I was “too masculine” and needed more work. So I did The Boys Next Door and Lucas – and I got the role, but only if Willem Dafoe approved it. I did not meet Willem until we came to the Philippines. He ran past me at our hotel and gave me a hug. Later, Oliver came up to me and said, “Willem digs ya.”

Oliver dumped us in the jungle and put us through a grueling training course. It was insane. You should be treated according to your rank. Willem and Tom Berenger, who played two sergeants, had the command, and I was an FNG – a “fucking new guy”. It really felt like I was expected to scrub latrines, which I actually ended up doing in the movie.

I thought we would go out during the day and then return to the hotel at night, but at sunset the first day there was no bus stopping. I looked at Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker and said, “I guess we’ll just stay here.” It was a shock – but I do not know if we could have captured the authenticity without the intense bootcamp. Relationships that were forged there still exist to this day. We survived together.

Watch out for the bamboo vipers… Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger on the set.
Watch out for the bamboo vipers… Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger on the set. Photo: Hemdale / Allstar

Everyone was tired and angry. At one point, we found a coconut grove, and Forest somehow got a coconut. I can still see him now trying to line it up with his machete. Before I could say, “Your thumb is too close!” he swings and hits the dead center of his thumb. He stuck it in his mouth and two thick jets of blood ran out on both sides. It was a “scream for the doctor” moment – and it was still in training camp.

Oliver is easily one of the smartest people I have ever met, but he likes to show it off. When I knew I could get a laugh out of him and he saw that I was giving him a respite from his self-imposed darkness, we famously came out of it. I remember the scene where Kevin Dillon goes crazy in the village with a poor guy. While my character shot the ground and lost his mind, I could see Oliver right by the camera pumping his fist, jumping up and down and wanting to scream “Fuck yeah!” but do not ruin the roof.

When I packed up, there was a coup going on in Manila, and Oliver took his photography director and a camera out into the street to film it, which was insane. I boarded the plane home, and as we knocked across the country, I could see everything I had left behind, everything we had all experienced. I started crying because I was just happy to be alive.

Veterans thank me for finally telling their story, and many of them have tears in their eyes. It’s their life.

John C McGinley, played sergeant O’Neill

I did not find the training so great physically, but what was difficult was learning to read cards, leave weapons and be in this triple canopy jungle out in the middle of nowhere. We ate MREs – Meals Ready to Eat – and no one could pee.

Willem drank water from a river when there was a rotting ox downstream and he was medivacked, Tom dropped a knife in his fucking foot – it all just became terribly real. And there were snakes. Two weeks earlier, we were running around New York’s West Village eating coffee, bagels, and talking about Hamlet. Now we’re in the jungle with bamboo vipers. Oliver loved it, of course.

After that boot camp, it only took a small imaginary leap to believe what we said. When my character said, “I have to get the hell out of here,” I meant it. My mom had brain surgery back in Pittsburgh. There were no plays.

I only felt in danger once when I almost fell out of a helicopter. It was up about 1,000 feet. It was going to land and we would run out and past the camera. Something went wrong on the ground so they wanted to go to another area. For three weeks we had been practicing that the one thing you never let go of is your weapon – so when the helicopter turned, I started falling out because I was holding it. Francesco Quinn, who played Rhah, grabbed my backpack and pulled me inside. If he had not done so, I would have fallen out. I was pretty fair to Oliver after that.

During the last fight of the film, my character hides by covering himself with a dead body. Afterwards, on a press trip, I saw veterans and did self-help chat – which I was not entitled to. Dozens of vets would tell me that they also covered themselves with corpses. They would cry. I was just this 26-year-old donkey, far out of my depth, but none of it was lost to me. What Oliver touched, all that, was overwhelming.

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