Matthew Modine Thinks Lou Gossett Jr. Cost R. Lee Ermey His Oscar For Full Metal Jacket

Galling Oscar snubs are often as well remembered as the actual winners. R. Lee Ermey's performance as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" is a legendary one, but it was totally unrecognized by the Academy. Ermey, a former Marine and drill instructor himself, drew on his past life to play the psychopathic Sergeant. Hartman goes above and beyond what's required of him, speaking in a constantly raised tone and saying nothing but bigotry and abuse. In the end, he pushes Private Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio) too far and gets a personal taste of how successful he was at making the boy into a killer.

When awards season came around, the best result Ermey came to was a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor nomination (he also won the Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor). Matthew Modine, who played the movie's protagonist Private/Sergeant "Joker" has a theory of why Ermey was snubbed by the Oscars. In Modine's view, it comes down to bad timing; five years earlier at the 55th Academy Awards, Louis Gossett Jr. had won the award for playing a similar character to Hartman, Sgt. Emil Foley in "An Officer and a Gentleman."

Only room enough for one drill sergeant

"An Officer and a Gentleman" stands in contrast to Kubrick's cynical portrait of the American war machine. Richard Gere plays Zack Mayo, a naval candidate under Foley's training. Foley is just as demanding and foul-mouthed as Hartman; "Full Metal Jacket" even reuses Foley's line that only "steers and queers" come out of Oklahoma (albeit with the state in question stopped for Texas). However, Foley's relationship with Mayo isn't purely adversarial; the sergeant encourages the cadet not to quit and they part on respectful terms. Hartman deconstructs Foley's character, showing the ruinous consequences such demeaning behavior could bring.

Since the characters were so similar, Modine felt that left no room for Ermey to be honored (via the Guardian):

"Had Lou Gossett Jr. not won the Oscar for 'An Officer and a Gentleman,' Lee would have won for that performance. But the way the Academy works is, 'Oh, we already gave it to a guy who played a drill instructor. Let's give it to somebody else.'"

That's not to diminish Gossett's performance, though. he's the most memorable part of "An Officer and A Gentleman" and offered a model for Ermy's performance (as Modine also notes, Ermey wasn't a trained actor and had to spend long hours working with casting director Leon Vitali). Gossett also made history, being the first black man to win Best Supporting Actor.

Is there a lesson here in this history of snubs? Cherish performances on their own merits, not by the awards they rack up.