“I have to go…”: the day a Full Metal Jacket actor took out a knife in front of Stanley Kubrick to leave the set

Stanley Kubrick and Matthew Modine had a confrontation during the filming of “Full Metal Jacket”: a look back at the time the actor pulled out a knife to force the director to let him temporarily leave the set…

To say Stanley Kubrick was demanding is an understatement. The director was a notorious perfectionist, known for shooting for months (and months) and “forcing” his actors to do countless takes in order to get the most perfect scene possible. If some were able to adapt to the intensity of the filmmaker, like Tom Cruise or Jack Nicholson, for others, it was much more difficult. This was the case, for example, for Shelley Duvall who almost left the set of Shining because of stress – and also, according to Anjelica Huston who shared the life of Jack Nicholson at the time, because of Kubrick’s particularly harsh treatment of her.

And if there’s one actor who also had trouble adapting to the Kubrick method, it’s Matthew Modine (Stranger Things) during the filming of the director’s penultimate film, Full Metal Jacket. The production of the feature film was huge – and by huge, we mean filming that spanned two years and required the construction of a replica of the Vietnamese jungle in the UK.

All the main actors were still very young and were immersed in this painful production recreating a most terrible war. But for Modine, it was an event in his personal life that led to a heated argument with Kubrick, a disagreement that actually led the actor to pull out a knife in front of the director!

He almost missed a very important event

It was in an interview given to Unframed in 2013 that Matthew Modine recounted his argument with Stanley Kubrick which arrived at a time when he should have been the happiest. Indeed, while he was filming Full Metal Jacket, his wife was about to give birth to their first child, Boman Modine (who became a producer and assistant director). Naturally, the actor wanted to be at the hospital for the birth of his son but Kubrick wasn’t very enthusiastic about it…

We discovered that [ma femme] was going to have an emergency C-section. The baby was not growing in the womb. [Ma femme] was early, seven months. I knew I couldn’t not show up for work. When they came to get me [pour m’amener sur le plateau]I knew I wasn’t going to work that day – they were filming Dorian Harewood [qui jouait à Eightball]. I was not involved in this scene. So I ran onto the set and Stanley didn’t show up on time. It was seven o’clock, eight o’clock, nine o’clock. I was panicked. He finally showed up for work and I explained the situation to him. He said, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to stand in the operating room? You’re going to faint as soon as they open it. You’ll see all this blood and you’ll faint! You’ll just embarrass the doctors.’

Warner Bros.

Matthew Modine in “Full Metal Jacket” (1987)

But Matthew Modine undeterred by Kubrick’s protests, he pulled out a knife in front of the filmmaker – but not for the reason you might think…

I said, ‘No, I have to go. I have to be there with my wife.’ And he started telling me all these very practical reasons why I didn’t need to be there. I had a pocket knife with me, and I put it in my palm and said, ‘Look, I’m going to cut my hand open and I’m going to have to go to the hospital, or you can let me go to the hospital to be with my wife. He walked away from me and said, ‘Okay, but come back immediately after it’s done.’

And this is how Matthew Modine was able to go and join his wife to attend the birth of their son. Anyway, it’s not like Stanley Kubrick was in a hurry, himself being late for filming that day. The actor was even able to enjoy a few days of “rest” afterwards: “I came back and handed out cigars. I didn’t film for another three days.

Oppose Stanley Kubrickyou had to dare it but Matthew Modine did it and for the best of reasons!

Full Metal Jacket can be seen again on VOD.

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