Stanley Kubrick Knew His Full Metal Jacket Cast Would Miss Him On Future Films

Working with Stanley Kubrick can be an unforgettable experience. The auteur, known for his unflinching dedication to his personal brand of perfection, was certainly capable of bringing the best out of actors on set. Kubrick's research-intensive, carefully constructed method of approaching films has undoubtedly been valuable for those lucky enough to work with him. Conversely, his dogged determination to stay true to his vision often veered toward the brutal mistreatment of actors, who found themselves deeply traumatized by the end of filming. When it comes to Matthew Modine and the cast of "Full Metal Jacket," most of them remember Kubrick's method on set fondly and express admiration for the director's commitment to getting a scene right. Interestingly, Kubrick himself had predicted that the "Full Metal Jacket" cast would miss working with him down the line.

After Kubrick read Gustav Hasford's "The Short-Timers" in 1982, he was immediately convinced to adapt it for his next project. After three years of painstaking research and extensive plans to develop a workable script, "Full Metal Jacket" was conceived. The film dives into multifaceted themes about toxic notions of masculinity and how war spearheads aspects of human evil, which Kubrick expertly weaves into the grounded, intricate character arcs. Working with an ensemble cast gave way to interesting on-set experiences, and Matthew Modine (who plays Sergeant J. T. "Joker" Davis) spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in 2020 about Kubrick's distinctive voice and how it stands apart from standard film-set experiences.

'You know, you're going to miss me'

In his THR interview, Matthew Modine recounted an anecdote told by Arliss Howard (who plays Sergeant Cowboy in "Full Metal Jacket") about Stanley Kubrick, in which the director said that the actor is going to "miss" him while working on different film sets. When Howard asked Kubrick what he meant, the latter explained that most film sets focus on grabbing takes as quickly as possible due to time and budgetary restraints, which prompts directors to "say 'cut, print, we got it, let's move on.'" As Kubrick always leaned toward achieving perfection in every take, he reminded Howard how rare the experience of working in a Kubrick-led film set was. It was an environment that always diverged from the norm.

While Howard jokingly mused that he had, in fact, not missed Kubrick on other film sets, Modine explained the freedom that came with working on a set that constantly aimed for the best version of a possible scene:

"I often think about that when I'm working on films and when I know a director, because of time constraints, has to move on. It's just not as good as it could've been, but they moved on. That never happened on a Kubrick set, and it's a testament to Stanley's great skill at being a film producer. He created an environment for him to be able to have that kind of time and that kind of freedom to work on a scene until he knew that he was satisfied and could move on from it."

Take, for example, Cowboy's death scene in "Full Metal Jacket," which is a stark, emotionally-charged, exactingly-planned sequence about a tragic character. Had Kubrick not worked the scene until he was satisfied, the results would not have been so glorious.

The rationale behind doing lots of takes

Matthew Modine went on to explain how Stanley Kubrick went out of his way to create set environments that could accommodate multiple takes while working on "Full Metal Jacket." While most film sets have a minimum of 50+ folks working on different aspects of a scene at the same time, Kubrick managed to limit the numbers to 10 or 15, making a more flexible approach possible.

The actor also shared an anecdote from Kubrick himself, who explained that the reason why he does "lots of takes" is because it is essential for actors to repeat their lines over and over until they do not have to make a conscious effort to remember them. Per Kubrick, the aim is to memorize and repeat lines to the point that it becomes effortless, like second nature. Modine seemed to agree with Kubrick's rationale and compared the director to an orchestra conductor whose job is simply to conduct the actors playing their parts. He also dispels the notion of Kubrick entering the film set with a preordained plan for a scene:

"Stanley Kubrick wasn't this great manipulator. It would be surprising to so many people to understand that he didn't know where to put the camera or what lens to use until the actors did their performance. He didn't pre-vision how the scene was going to be shot."

While Kubrick's repeated takes seem to be exclusively hinged on an actor's performance, it also conforms to a set standard of perfection that only Kubrick is privy to. As a result, the reactions to and outcomes of such a method are incredibly mixed, and vary throughout Kubrick's filmography. In the case of "Full Metal Jacket," Kubrick's methods paid off.