Military film icon visits Fort Sill
May 7, 2009
It's the voice.
One of the most recognizable voices on film. A voice that you expect to growl at you to "drop and give me twenty, maggot!".
Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey was at Fort Sill April 28 and 29 to shoot scenes for a new show for the History Channel called "Lock and Load."
While here, he met with the Marine Detachment and watched them fire the M-777 howitzer while filming scenes for the show.
Ermey is Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket," Sarge in the "Toy Story" movies, the escaped football coach in "Saving Silverman" and Dr. House's father on the television show "House." Those are just a few characters among more than 100 he has played.
His film career has spanned almost 30 years, beginning with him being hired as a technical adviser and a small part in the epic "Apocalypse Now." His breakout role was as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, a Marine drill instructor, in "Full Metal Jacket."
Ermey said it was his 11 years in the military that prepared him for an unexpected life in front of the camera.
"It taught me discipline." Ermey said while waiting for filming in the field artillery museum to begin. "It conditioned me to stand in front of a large group of people and speak. It also taught me to be prepared. I find that the people who are camera-shy are people who are not prepared. The military basically conditioned me to step in front of the camera and do what I do."
Ermey said he studies very hard to prepare for a role and knows the lines for his entire role before the first day of shooting, not just that day's lines. He said he also knows most of the other dialogue as well and a movie may take three of four months to shoot. He says learning dialogue is not easy for him to learn, but through the discipline and learning techniques he was taught in the military, he presses forward.
"Once it's in there, it's locked in and I can recall it as soon as the director yells, 'Action!'"
He proved his retention abilities by reciting the opening scene dialogue of Gunny Hartman. A scene he learned in 1986.
Since 1979, Ermey has more than 150 film and television credits listed, according to IMDB.com.
Ermey's breakout role, of course, was Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket," a role he rewrote for director Stanley Kubrick.
Hartman was originally written, Ermy said, by a writer who had been dishonorably discharged from the Marines. The role was written so that Hartman disciplined the Marine recruits for his own pleasure. Ermey had a problem with that.
"I tore that part of the script up," he said. "Of course, nobody smiles and nobody laughs however, drill instructors found out a long time ago that if you inject humor into everything you do, the privates will not only listen to you, they will retain what you say."
He said acting is not very different from being in the military. You have a job to do and you do your job, it's all about discipline.
"The most humiliating thing for me would be for the director to say, 'Action,' and I'm standing there like a [expletive] idiot and not know my words, which is my job, and there's people standing there depending on me to get it right. Acting and the military are not very different at all."
Ermey went on to say that what he does as an actor is "a piece of cake" and he's not comparing what he does with the work servicemembers do on a daily basis.
"Work is something you do with a shovel and a wheel barrel. What I do is white-collar stuff. It's easy," he said.
<b>Back then and now</b>
Ermey was in the Corps for 11 years before being medically retired as a staff sergeant. In 2002, the Comandant of the Marine Corps, James Jones gave Ermey an honorary promotion to gunnery sergeant.
Ermey spent two years as a Marine drill instructor during the Vietnam war. He's aware of the recent rules that have changed the way drill instructors and drill sergeants can interact and train trainees.
"I think the bureaucrats handing down orders to drill sergeants that they can't even raise their voices at a recruit is detrimental to the military," he said. "I have problems with some of the changes I've seen in the military, but it still seems those men and women are rising to the occasion. If they're undertrained, then we've failed them."
<b>Still in his blood</b>
Ermey will always be a Marine. He said he gives the Corps more than 100 days a year. He has made trips to Iraq, Afghanistan and various bases in the states. He said he handed out more than 10,000 Christmas presents to servicemembers in Iraq during the last holiday season.
"I spend more time with military members than I do my own family," Ermy said. "And, my wife of 35 years understands because, that's what I do."
He said the Marines are his brothers, but he's just as happy to visit with Soldiers, sailors and airmen.
"I've learned to play well with all," Ermey said. "They're still young American men and women who have their hearts in the right place and they've stepped up to the plate and they've given themselves to the military to take care of America's business. Some people don't respect that, but those people are [expletive]-heads that I have no use for anyway."
Ermey said he rewrites mostof the parts he plays simply because the original writers have no military experience.
He felt the producers of the television show "House" lied to him so he refused to play the character of House's father again until the episode featuring the father's death. Then he charged them $10,000 to lie in a casket.
He was hired as a technical advisor for the Gunny Hartman role and then did it so well, he replaced the original actor before filming began.
Ermey said his favorite role was as a detective in a small-budget movie called "Love is a Gun." But, he said Gunny Hartman comes in a close second because it garnered him a Golden Globe Award nomination.
Ermey has done voices for the "Toy Story" movies, "The Simpsons," "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Family Guy" and numerous other films and television episodes. He said the toughest thing about voice-over work is driving into Los Angeles.
"Lock and Load" premiers on the History Channel in July. Producers don't know when the episode featuring Fort Sill will air.