Today is Charlie Sheen’s 49th birthday. I have no idea how many porn stars will be in attendance or how much cocaine is mixed into the frosting of his birthday cake, but he’s only got five more years before he’s legally considered a senior citizen and livin’ the “Sheen Dream” everyday will start to look a little ridiculous. Rather than focus on Charlie Sheen’s antics — I’ve opted focus on Charlie Sheen the actor. Yes, the man used to act in legitimately good movies that weren’t part of the Scary Movie franchise. Possibly the crown jewel in Charlie Sheen’s film repertoire is Platoon — though it’s certainly a lot easier to enjoy Major League on a lazy Sunday than the horrors of the Vietnam War.
Charlie Sheen was already on his way to becoming a successful young actor — having appeared in The Boys Next Door and Lucas — but it was Oliver Stone who showcased him as a leading dramatic actor. Stone’s gut-wrenching war epic that was based on his own Vietnam War experience almost never got made because money issues and films like Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter had already successfully portrayed the war experience. When Platoon finally did happen some 15 years after Stone had originally written the script it became a huge success and launched Charlie Sheen into a new stratosphere, landing him a star on the Hollywood walk of fame at just 29 years-old.
1. Oliver Stone was hoping that Jim Morrison would appear in the movie. It seems odd that Stone would have any hopes of Morrison appearing in his movie considering that singer died 15 years before the film came out, but at one time it was a real possibility. Oliver Stone told Entertainment Weekly that he had been working on his Vietnam War epic since the late 60s and had gotten a rough draft to Jim Morrison in 1971.
“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 1990 when I made The Doors. Very bizarre.”
2. The actors really were getting high on set. Whether it was a commitment to realism or Charlie Sheen just broke into Oliver Stone’s personal stash, the actors opted for real weed for the “underworld scene.” William Dafoe has said that by the time the cameras actually started rolling though most of the high had worn off and nobody felt much like acting.
3. The movie’s poster is based on a famous war photo. The movie’s famous poster with Elias throwing his hands up in the air is based on an even more famous photo from the Vietnam War. The photo was shot in 1968 by Art Greenspon and in 2000 was recognized as the 13th greatest military photo by Army/Navy/AF Time.
4. Oliver Stone made Charlie Sheen and the rest of the cast go through basic training. Sheen got an easy break with only two weeks of basic training — compared to the traditional 10 week boot camp — but had no contact with family or managers for those two weeks, as Stone wanted him to fully absorb the boot camp process. Sheen credited the experience with helping his acting once the film started shooting.
5. Charlie Sheen went to his father for advice on shooting the movie. Martin Sheen had starred in his own Vietnam movie with Apocalypse Now and Charlie spoke with his dad about that experience to help him better prepare. The actor was actually on the Apocalypse Now set for some time as a child and said filming Platoon felt like deja vu.
Charlie had spent eight months there as a 10-year-old when his father made Apocalypse. “I stepped off the plane and stopped,” Charlie recalls. “That smell hit me immediately: burning rubber, that poverty, that stench, that malaria that’s always in the air. I thought, ‘I’m back. I’m back here doing it again.’ “
6. William Dafoe ignored those warnings about malaria in the water. In the movie a soldier is warned not to drink from the water because it might carry malaria. This was probably a good rule to follow while shooting in the Philippines as well, but William Dafoe ignored the advice and drank river water, unaware that there was a rotting pic carcass just upstream. The actor didn’t get malaria, but did come down with a nasty 24-hour stomach bug.