How Iceman Helped Pvt. Joker Get the Part in 'Full Metal Jacket'

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James Barber
·3 min read
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Life is full of accidents and mistakes, but "Top Gun" icon Val Kilmer made a giant blunder one morning while enjoying breakfast at West Hollywood's famous The Source restaurant back in the '80s, according to a recent interview for Collider’s interview series MasterWork.

Matthew Modine, enjoying a hot start to his career with the movies "Streamers," "Vision Quest" and "Birdy," was having breakfast with his friend, fellow actor David Alan Grier. Over at another table, Kilmer was giving Modine the hairy eyeball while enjoying his own breakfast.

Modine pointed the guy out to Grier, who said that Val was a nice guy and offered to make the introduction. Matthew introduced himself and Val replied, "Yeah, I know who you are. I'm sick of you." He listed the movies that Modine had been in and said, "And now you're doing Kubrick's film."

Except Matthew Modine didn't know anything about any Kubrick film. He got a quarter and went over to a pay phone (note to kids: starving actors didn't have their own cellphones until at least the late '90s or early '00s) to hurriedly call his agent.

They arranged to have a copy of "Vision Quest" and scenes from "Birdy" sent over to Kubrick and Modine was hired for the role of Private Joker.

Was Val Kilmer up for the part? We all know from another interview with Modine that he helped get his friend Vincent D'Onofrio cast as Pvt. Pyle, so what would "Full Metal Jacket" have looked like if the Iceman had kept his mouth shut?

Related: 5 Surprising Facts About 'Full Metal Jacket,' Revealed by Pvt. Joker

Would a different actor have originally been cast in the role of Gunny Hartman, one who could have learned to play the role from the film's military advisor R. Lee Ermey or was Ermey always destined to play the role?

So many ways the world could be different. The view from here is that we're lucky that Val wanted pancakes that morning.

Matthew Modine expands on the story in his Collider MasterWork interview. He also gets into the details of working with Stanley Kubrick and how the movie evolved. The "Full Metal Jacket" discussion starts about eight minutes into the half-hour video.

Related: It's Been 35 Years Since Matthew Modine's Breakthrough Military Role in 'Birdy'

He also talks about working with Robert Altman on the Vietnam War drama "Streamers" and his breakthrough performance alongside Nicolas Cage as a veteran with PTSD in "Alan Parker's "Birdy." The whole interview is worth a watch and it's embedded below.

Side note about Val and Matthew's encounter: Movie fans might remember The Source from "Annie Hall" in the scene where Woody Allen orders "alfalfa sprouts and mashed yeast." There's also a fascinating documentary about the hippie cult who ran the place called "The Source Family."

Lessons to be learned: Compliment your competition and keep an eye on them but never, ever presume that every rumor you've heard is true. Ask questions, don't make statements. Just ask the Iceman what happens when you don't.

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