Oliver Stone talks 'Platoon' and Charlie Sheen on the Vietnam film's 25th anniversary -- EXCLUSIVE

platoon_sheen

Image Credit: Everett Collection

When Oliver Stone returned from Vietnam, the budding filmmaker wanted to capture his harrowing wartime experiences on screen. After years of frustrating false starts with director Sidney Lumet and producer Michael Cimino (and even a very early flirtation with legendary Doors singer Jim Morrison to star), Stone finally stepped behind the camera himself for 1986’s Platoon. His gut-wrenching masterpiece, starring a young Charlie Sheen as Stone’s onscreen alter ego, wound up winning four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Platoon is being released on Blu-ray today and looks better than ever. We spoke with Stone about his revolutionary film, his fresh-faced leading man, and that strange encounter with the Lizard King.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When was the last time you saw Platoon?
OLIVER STONE: About five years ago.

So you haven’t seen the Blu-ray?
This is the first Blu-ray, right? I get confused.

Yes.
Does it look good?

It looks great!
Oh terrific. We didn’t have much of a budget, so some of the lighting was always a little shaky in the jungle. I should watch it again. I think it still works emotionally and as a mythology of a war. We didn’t have much money for effects. Today, some of that stuff could have been done with technology, but we just didn’t have it back then. We did it very well for what we had. We blew up a lot of stuff very close to people.

Do you see things in it now that you aren’t happy with?
It’s lit awfully. But it was pretty bold at the time.

Are you the kind of guy who goes back and watches your own movies?  If you’re watching TV and one comes on do you keep it or turn the channel?
Oh, it depends on the movie. (Laughs). No, I go back so I can learn from it. And, sometimes I’ll play with it like with Alexander Revisited. I added an hour and made a new movie out of it in two parts.

What do you remember about the Oscars the year Platoon won?
It wasn’t my first time there. I won in 1979 for the Midnight Express screenplay. I was handed the Oscar from Lauren Bacall; that was quite a high. In ’86, it wasn’t easy to sit there for three hours. If you look at the broadcast actually, they cut to the wrong person when I won. It was actually a friend of my mother’s! They really screwed up. I got a kiss from Elizabeth Taylor, who was my love object when I was young. It was a great night. Very special. It was a movie that was very low-budget and made independently. We overcame incredible odds. It came from nowhere. Also, the same year I was nominated for my screenplay for Salvador. So it was an emotional night for me — being accepted as a director in Hollywood after so many years of trying.

For Best Picture, you were up against Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, Children of a Lesser God, and A Room With a View. Who did you think would win?
Well, I think Platoon was the odds-on favorite. So I would be disingenuous if I said I didn’t think it would be us.

For the role of Barnes that Tom Berenger played, I read that you considered Mickey Rourke and Kevin Costner. True?
Yes, but they were not who they were at that time. There were others, too, because there were so many layers of time with this film. It was written in ’76 and was almost made then by Sidney Lumet and Pacino. Then there was a period in ’84 when Michael Cimino was going to produce it and Emilio Estevez was going to play the role, actually. Costner passed on it, I believe, because his brother had been in Vietnam.

For the Elias character that Willem Dafoe plays, one of the stars considered was Jeff Bridges?
Quite possibly, I don’t recall. I liked Willem because I’d seen him as a bad guy in To Live and Die in L.A. and I liked the idea of him being a more positive character.

I’ve read that a lot of people were also considered for Charlie Sheen’s role: Keanu Reeves, Kyle MacLachlan, and maybe Johnny Depp as well.
That’s right, Keanu turned it down because of the violence. He didn’t want to do violence.

How did you land on Charlie?
Charlie was a dumb-struck 17-year-old the first time he came in for the film, back when we were going to make it in ’84. And in those two years, he’d grown and seemed perfectly wide-eyed and had a vaguely privileged look.

Looking back, what do you think of his performance? He’s pretty much the stand-in character for you and your experiences in the war, right?
Yeah, you could say that. I think he did a great job. He was perfect for the movie. He conveys the horror of the place. I like his performance.

Are you still in touch with him? What do you make of what’s been going on with him lately?
Well, it’s not the Charlie I recognize from several years ago when we did Wall Street and Platoon. This is another character. He’s grown in many different directions and he’s made so much money … I have no idea.

I heard that you wrote a very early draft of Platoon back in 1970 and sent it to Jim Morrison of The Doors?
That’s correct. In ’69 I wrote it. It was another version of it — a very mythic version. The character dies in Vietnam and goes to the Underworld. A lot of mythology. I couldn’t deal with Vietnam yet in a completely realistic way at that point. And I did send it to Morrison because it had a lot of Doors music in it. And he had it in his apartment in Paris when he died. It was returned to me in 199o when I made The Doors. Very bizarre.

That’s spooky.
Spooky, yeah. (Laughs)

Johnny Depp has a small part in the movie as one of the soldiers. What did you see in him 25 years ago?
Frankly, it’s going to sound cliche, but I clearly believed he was going to be a star. He was a great looking kid. He was considered for other roles, but I didn’t think he was quite ready at that time to play Charlie’s role. We got to know each other pretty well in the jungle and I really thought he was going places. He was shy. I think it was before Jump Street.

You shot in the Philippines during a very turbulent period there. What was your Coppola-Apocalypse Now moment during the shoot?
Well, we didn’t have all the money they had! It was very low-budget. And for me to finally get there after two close calls in making it in ’76 and ’84, was a real highlight. And then out of nowhere there was this people’s revolution. I mean, I was happy for the people in the Philippines, but it really threatened our shoot. We had made all of these deals with the military. And when the change came, we had to make new deals with the new military. You had to get a lot of permissions and bribe a new set of people. I remember the helicopters were pretty dangerous because they weren’t maintained well. But I ended up going back there three years later for Born on the Fourth of July.

Why did the two earlier versions fall through?
The ’76 version was just not considered upbeat enough. It was too realistic, which is why Sidney Lumet liked it. So who knows? And then I wrote Midnight Express, which was my big breakthrough in Hollywood. And at that point, Platoon was stashed away in a closet because no one wanted to make a realistic movie. And then you had films like Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter. And the feeling was our moment had passed. So I was sad about it — really heartbroken. I forgot about the script for a while, thinking it would never get made. And then Michael Cimino [who also directed The Deer Hunter] said I should bring Platoon back and he would produce it. This was in ’84. And I thought it was going to happen, but Dino DeLaurentiis f—ed us over, big time.

How so?
He was only willing to go so far. The script was mine and he hadn’t paid for it, really. He considered it his, but he hadn’t paid. We had to threaten to go to court to get the movie back. It’s a miracle it eventually got made. It’s also a miracle that it was received well because it was supposed to be past due. We’d had Rambo and a bunch of other Vietnam movies. And the thinking was no one wanted another Vietnam movie.

Do you think a great movie will ever be made about the war we’re in now?
Oh yeah, I think so. It’s not going to be a pretty movie. It’s a dirty business. I mean, the hunt for Osama Bin Laden? They’re going to end up glorifying all these guys again.

Read more:
Osama Bin Laden and the great movie the search for him could make
Gallery: 17 Memorable Anti-War Movies
‘Platoon’ 20th anniversary DVD review

Comments (56 total) Add your comment
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  • George W.Bush = incompetent. Obama rocks!

    Thank God for guys like Stone! Without them, guys like Bush would slip away into the cracks.

    • Esox

      Huh?

      • Esox

        Ah, my bad. Disregard my post above. I just went to IMDB and saw that Oliver Stone made a movie about “Bush” while he was still in office. I get it.

    • greg j

      And please tell me what you have done your lifetime?

    • owen

      A movie that plays so nice with Bush it’s barely watchable. With World Trade Center, W, and Wall Street 2, Stone has become so placid and mainstream that he may as well change his name to Ron Howard. Where’s the fury, the RAGE, that made Platoon, Wall Street, Born On The Fourth Of July, JFK and Natural Born Killers the most defining movies of our generation? I beg Oliver to have a few drinks, snort a few lines, and start working on something that doesn’t whitewash the sickening globalist agenda which has become mainstream news over the past 10 years. We need him more than ever.

      • D. Zaster

        Stone jumped the shark with JFK. That was an overblown, dishonest pile of conspiratorial claptrap. If you didn’t know the history of the assassination and JFK’s foreign policy, it might be possible to buy Stone’s tale of Kennedy as a martyr to peace murdered by Military-Industrial-Complex warmongers, the this is a fairy tale.

  • Jimbo

    Very interesting interview.

  • Shakespeare

    Stone has only made one decent movie, Natural Born Killers, and that is only because it had the sprinkle of Tarantino!

    • JOHN LONGENECKER

      Each of Your own feature movies are wonderful. Amazing. As I understand it you are a screenwriter as well. You don’t even need a sprinkle of Quinten. You have plenty of talent on your own. All of your work is way beyond decent. Well done sir. A big fan…

      JOHN LONGENECKER
      Academy Award Winner
      Live Action Short Film

      • JOHN LONGENECKER

        Bill –

        I have some of your works on iBook and on Kindle. You are often quoted. Smart fellow. Keep up the good work.

        JOHN LONGENECKER

    • Skinny

      Tarantino wrote the story of Natural born Killers. Tom sizemores’ character of the cop named Scagnetti, is the same name of Michael Madsen’s characters parole officer in Resevoir Dogs. NBK character wrote a book called “Scagnetti on Scagnetti: an autobiography”. Cracked me up.

      • shawna

        yes, and Tarantino hates the movie Stone made

      • Tarantino

        No I don’t. Don’t put words into my mouth. I don’t know you so piss-off!

    • Phil Esteen

      Tarantino?????
      The guy who made Grindhouse?
      Puh-lease! Spare me that garbage.

  • Juliet

    Very interesting little interview.
    Platoon was Stone masterpiece..he made some really great films back in the day (Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born Killers and Midnight Express; he was the writer for this one i know ..) these last years on the other hand..well..
    I love Johnny Depp but Charlie Sheen was the right actor for the role..i still don’t understand why he did not get an oscar nomination as Berenger and Dafoe got (and they deserved it, it was a great cast).
    Too bad you did not talk to him about his feud with Sheen, he gave him the Born on the Four of July part and at the last moment he chose Tom Cruise and never told it to Charlie, the latter discovered it via his own brother Emilio Estevez..not a nice move Oliver..
    Anyway Platoon was one of the most powerful film war with Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and Full Metal Jacket imo..and after that there is also the Terrence Malick’s Thin Red Line but it was about the 2nd world war.

    • Juliana

      He did the same thing to Viggo Mortensen, whom he had promised the Willem Defoe part to. Viggo prepared for a year while Stone worked on the financing, and then found out that Stone had cast Defoe, but it was not Stone that told him. Defoe was great, but Stone is a creep.

      • JOHN LONGENECKER

        So far Sone has not yet offered me a part. In preparation however I did take the Universal Studio Tour. That ought to help somewhat.

        JOHN LONGENECKER

    • Sam J

      Charlie Sheen was always right about one thing. His dads movie Apocolypse Now is “winning”, while Platoon was just good.

  • Cheri

    I’m aggravated that this came out on just Blu-ray. Not everyone owns a Blu-ray player. Not fair. Not fair at all!

    • shawna

      Are you kidding? You do realize you can get the regular dvd, right?

  • Iggy

    Saw Platoon when I was 16,up until that point I never understood my father(Vietnam Vet).Remember crying hard at the ending of this powerful film.Oliver Stone at his peak!

  • John Grey

    QUOTE:
    “Too bad you did not talk to him about his feud with Sheen”

    Agreed! Sheen is a serious looser.

    • JOHN LONGENECKER

      All the best to Charlie. A talented actor.

      JOHN LONGENECKER

      • Hai

        Oh My God, that is simply sinnntug, the starkness of the image juxtaposed against the emotionality of the subject grabs me. I am glad I live in a world where there are people who have the vision to capture this on film thank you

    • Olivia Moon (Keith almost daughter)

      Actually Charlie Sheen is a talented actor and in this little story/feud it is Oliver Stone who was not cool.
      You seem to be the looser John Grey (and also a loser in term of grammar too…it is LOSER).

      • Alexander

        She participated in a pocdast with Jerod, which will help you get to know her Read more on Midwest Sports Fans 0 Comments Leave a comment! Previous PostNext Post

  • casey

    I’m not trying to be flip, but a Blu-ray player is very inexpensive. A good one is less than $100.

  • Mikey M

    I bet he didn’t think Charlie would turn into a loser.

    • JOHN LONGENECKER

      Charlie Sheen is way cool. We’ll see more very good work from Charlie Sheen

  • Mark

    Heaven & Earth is probably my favorite Stone movie, such an underrated film. I knew nothing about it, it was like a discovery for me.

  • GoldenChild

    I feel like Stone and Sheen will come back together for something very soon. Within the next 5 years soon.

    I also feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t end this with

    JOHN LONGENECKER in all caps because JOHN LONGENECKER does it. And because JOHN LONGENECKER thinks that Ollie reads this board.

    JOHN LONGENECKER JOHN LONGENECKER JOHN LONGENECKER

  • Oliver Stone

    Did I mention that we had a very low budget for this film?

  • Chucklehead

    Oliver Stone is a legend in his own mind.

  • Brian Griffin

    “And here comes wackadoo film director Oliver Stone.
    Oliver is here promoting his new movie ‘Born of the Fourth of July 2: Born on the 5th of July’ which he promises will be even Julier then the original. A dangerously insane human being.”

    • Chucklehead

      Gawd, I forgot he did that POS too. Wow, talk about a lousy movie!

      • DFSF

        The middle section in the hospital was excellent. Almost made Cruise seem human.

  • Jon

    Interesting interview. Funny to hear they showed the wrong person when he won his Academy Award (since it would be fairly impossible to not recognize him today). But the most fascinating tidbit is about sending an early draft of “Platoon” to Jim Morrison and that Morrison had it in his apartment when he died. That’s frankly bizarre.

    • Chucklehead

      Morrison had a half eaten burrito and old pizza boxes lying around too but I wouldn’t call that bizarre.

    • TIM

      Whats funny is how the interview makes it seem like the Jim Morrison Script story is brand new when EW itself mentioned it in their 1990 Cover story on the film.

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