Matthew Modine And Vincent D'Onofrio Couldn't Stand Each Other On The Set Of Full Metal Jacket

On the set of "Full Metal Jacket," life (unfortunately) imitated art. In Stanley Kubrick's 1987 war film, Private J.T. "Joker" Davis (Matthew Modine) and Private Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio) are thrown together by their drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey), who singles out Pyle as a target for bullying and berating. While Joker initially succeeds in helping Pyle improve by adopting a kinder, more patient approach, Hartman's sadistic tactics and peer pressure from the other recruits soon drive a wedge between them.

After being subjected to abuse by Hartman and brutal hazing by the other recruits, Pyle's mental health takes a terrifying turn for the worst, culminating in a violent outburst. But it was Modine who was almost driven to violence on-set, as he and D'Onofrio's contrasting creative approaches put them at odds with each other.

"I really wanted to [kill D'Onofrio]," Modine confessed to The Independent. He recalled that he even acted on those urges a little in a scene where Pyle is pinned down and Joker joins the other recruits in beating him with a knotted towel: 

"In the film, I give him a couple of whacks, stop, and then give him a few more. I often wonder if that was, 'Here's a couple for the movie, and here's a couple more from me, you f*****.'"

Modine didn't seriously hurt his co-star, but he did rough him up a bit. "We were doing it take after take. Poor Vince was covered in bruises," Modine added remorsefully.

D'Onofrio's method acting freaked out his co-star

Before starring in "Full Metal Jacket" together, Modine and D'Onofrio were actually very friendly. In fact, it was Modine who got D'Onofrio an audition for the movie. 

"Vince and I had met at an audition a couple of years before 'Full Metal Jacket,'" Modine recalled in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. When Kubrick told his lead actor that he was in search of someone to play Pyle, Modine recommended D'Onofrio. He credits D'Onofrio himself with actually landing the role, though: "All I did was open the door, and it was obviously Vince who had to walk through the door and convince Stanley Kubrick that he was the right actor to play the part."

The tension between Modine and D'Onofrio first arose from their contrasting acting styles. "He was studying with somebody from Lee Strasberg's school, and I was studying with Stella Adler," Modine explained. "Stella said that actors should work from their imagination, and Lee Strasberg said that you should work a different way ... a sort of theater of realism."

Once the two actors got on set, their varying creative approaches caused a rift between them. Modine found D'Onofrio's method totally disconcerting. "He just got weirder and weirder as he went into the world his character was entering into," the actor said. Meanwhile, D'Onofrio seemed to think that Modine wasn't as committed as he was, and chastised him for goofing around with extras between takes. 

"I asked him: 'What are you gonna do if I don't stop joking around?" And Vince goes, 'Well, I'm gonna kick your a**,'" Modine recounted, per The Independent. "That was the end of our friendship for the rest of the shoot."

Modine and D'Onofrio later rekindled their friendship

Pyle and Joker have a troubled relationship in "Full Metal Jacket," so it makes sense that the actors did too. Their contrasting acting schools drove a wedge between them before the film even began. "[D'Onofrio] had the school that he was going to, versus me working from the imagination, and as it got closer to Vince entering into the role of Private Pyle, our friendship started to separate," Modine explained to The Hollywood Reporter.

The distance and silence between them soon evolved into anger. "We stopped talking to one another to the point where we became so antagonistic toward each other," Modine recalled. "In many of those scenes where I'm teaching him how to make his bed or lace his boots or take apart and then reassemble a rifle, we wanted to kill each other. We were just so fed up and angry with each other."

"Full Metal Jacket" may have caused a rift in their friendship, but Modine knew that this tension made the conflict between their characters more believable onscreen. "I think it worked well for the film," the actor conceded. And luckily, the real-life story of their friendship has a much happier ending than poor Pyle's fate in the movie. "We're friends today," Modine confirmed. "We're very good friends and love one another. But yeah, during the making of the movie, it got really ugly."