Charlie Sheen on Making Platoon: “We Screamed for the Doctor!” | Movie

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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 telling me about Oliver’s new Vietnamese movie, which he was auditioning for. He got the lead role, Chris Taylor, but was unable to do so due to scheduling conflicts. When I auditioned, Oliver said I was “too high” and needed to do more work. So I did The boys next door and Lucas – and I got the part, but only if Willem Dafoe approved. I did not meet Willem before arriving in the Philippines. He walked past me in our hotel and gave me a hug. Later, Oliver came up to me and said, “Willem loves you.”

Oliver dumped us in the jungle and put us through grueling training. It was crazy. You were to be treated according to your rank. Willem and Tom Berenger, playing two sergeants, were in charge and I was an FNG – a “damn new”. It really felt like I was expected to scour the latrines, which I ended up doing in the movie.

I thought we were going out in the day and then back to the hotel in the evening, but when the sun went down on the first day there was no bus stopping. I looked at Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker and said, “I guess we’re staying here.” It was a shock – but I don’t know if we could have captured the authenticity without this intense training camp. The relationships forged there still exist today. We survived together.

Watch out for bamboo vipers… Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger on set. Photography: 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 him up with his machete. Before I can say, “Your thumb is too close!” he swings and hits his thumb right in the center. He put it in his mouth and two thick streams of blood flowed from both sides. It was a “cry for the doctor” moment – and it was still in training camp.

Oliver is easily one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but he likes to show it. When I knew I could make him laugh and he saw that I was giving him a break from his self-imposed darkness, we hit it off. I remember the scene where Kevin Dillon goes crazy in the village with a poor guy. As my character pulled on the ground and lost his mind, I could see Oliver right next to the camera pumping his fist, jumping up and down and wanting to scream “Fuck yeah!” but not spoil the catch.

When I finished, there was a coup brewing in Manila and Oliver was taking his cinematographer and a camera out into the streets to film it, which was madness. I took the flight home and as we flew over the country I could see all that I had left behind, all that we had all been through. I started crying because I was just happy to be alive.

The 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

Physically, I didn’t find the training that important, but what was hard was learning how to read maps, load weapons, and be in this three-canopy jungle in the middle of nowhere. We were eating MREs – Meals Ready to Eat – and no one could poop.

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

After that training camp, it only took a little imaginary leap to believe what we were saying. When my character said, “I have to get the hell out of here,” I meant it. My mom was having brain surgery in Pittsburgh. There was no acting.

I only felt in danger once, when I almost fell out of a helicopter. It was about 1,000 feet. It was supposed to land and we were running and past the camera. Something was wrong on the ground, so they wanted to go to another area. For three weeks we were taught that the one thing you never let go of is your gun – so when the helicopter spun around I started to fall because I was holding it. Francesco Quinn, who played Rhah, grabbed my backpack and pulled me inside. If he hadn’t done that, I would have fallen. I got pretty fair with Oliver after that.

During the final battle of the film, my character hides by covering himself with a corpse. Then, on a press tour, I would see veterans and have self-help talks – which I was not allowed to do. Dozens of vets would tell me that they covered themselves in corpses too. They would cry. I was just this 26-year-old ass, completely out of my depth, but none of that was lost on me. What Oliver touched on, all of this stuff, was overwhelming.

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