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Kevyn Major Howard and the Kubrick Collection

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By April MacIntyre
Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is one of the most acclaimed war films ever made. As brutal as the 1987 film can be to watch, it had an equally profound effect on the cast and crew.
“Although I haven’t been in a war, I have a much clearer understanding of patriotism, and the pride and courage it takes to serve your country,” says Kevyn Major Howard, who played Rafterman in the film. “Many of the Marines that I have met have seen Full Metal Jacket, and I believe that, although I have never been to war, my work on this film continues to serve as a bridge that allows them to come face to face with the personal sacrifices they have made. It also allows me to stand in silence beside them and bear witness to their own personal tribute to their fallen comrades.”
With the film being readied for release Oct. 23 on HD-DVD and Blu-Ray with hours of new and rare features, Below the Line caught up with Howard to talk about working on the classic film 20 years after its release.

Below the Line: Was there any truth to the story that Stanley Kubrick, casting director Leon Vitali and Warner Bros. placed ads throughout the United States for actors to send in audition tapes for the film?
Kevyn Major Howard: Yes. Mr. Kubrick had sent ads throughout the U.S. to high schools, colleges and a host of other outlets. Most actors in Los Angeles were making their audition tapes to send back per this media blitz campaign Stanley had generated.
Mr. Kubrick and I first were in touch when he sent a personal letter to my agency. He had mentioned that he had noticed my work in three different films: Arnold Shapiro’s Scared Straight! Another Story, Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact and Charles Bronson’s Death Wish II. The letter then went on requesting a return response that if I were interested in working in Full Metal Jacket with him, that all I had to do was write back and answer yes. When we actually had our first conversation, he admitted he was a huge fan of Mr. Eastwood.
BTL: In the film, we see the same sets from so many different angles that Jacket seemed smaller-scaled than most Vietnam films. Do you remember how many exterior sets were utilized in England?
Howard: The exterior sets were in an area east of the Thames River in a place called Beckton Gas Works. It was an area that had been devastated by an earlier war and had never been rebuilt. The city of London, I believe, was to continue building the M1 highway through it, but let it remain in its destroyed condition and permitted Stanley the use of the area. Stanley went in and re-created his set through additional demolitions until he mastered his vision. I would say that the set was not small by any means. There seemed to be a couple miles in any direction where the set could be seen and used. Let’s say perhaps two to three square miles of set. I know that, given the chance, we could have run serious tank races and had plenty of room left over.
BTL: How did you create the Rafterman character? Was he a composite of people you knew, or did he organically come forth?
Howard: Through conversations with Mathew Modine, I realized that Stanley selected his cast through a typecasting of sort. He knew how he felt he wanted his characters actualized and I believe that I recognized Stanley’s need for why I was chosen to play Rafterman. In my world, I don’t seem to naturally fit in with the norm. Rafterman had that quality, being examined constantly as the new guy. He was sort of the odd man out always trying to prove himself. That seemed to be in my nature as well. Always wanting to be a part of the in crowd, but just never fitting in. Rafterman always seemed determined. Rafterman always wanted to be recognized, and so I chose to stick close to home in portraying these facets of Rafterman.
BTL: There is a funny tale in town that Kubrick was quite frugal, to say the least, and used a very small crew, which he would then send to his home for repairs and such. True story or balderdash?
Howard: I don’t know that particular story, per se, but I do know of other stories. I imagine there are quite a few of us who knew stories of that sort that could attest to that frugal Kubrick reputation. However, out of respect and admiration for Mr. Kubrick, I will refrain from making them publicly known. Not that they are horrible stories. They are not. In fact, they are complex shades of his humor and his brilliance. To describe these stories to your readers without meeting and knowing the man would be out of context and perhaps misinterpreted.
BTL: We understand the filming took about six months and was shut down for 20 weeks from June 1985 to September 1986. How long were you in principal photography in character?
Howard: To my best recollection, I was brought to the set the very first day of filming. It began with Rafterman’s camera being stolen. I was on set until the very end. I believe it was approximately 17 months of filming with a three- to four-month delay due to R. Lee Ermey’s road accident.
BTL: Kubrick’s frequent cinematographer, John Alcott, was asked to shoot the movie, but turned it down in favor of the Kevin Costner film, No Way Out. He died of a heart attack in July 1986. I understand it was Alcott’s focus puller, Douglas Milsome, who took over his duties. How did that work on set, and with Kubrick?
Howard: I remember hearing the news of John Alcott and how it affected us all. More importantly, how it seemed to affect Stanley. Stanley was known for generally having a quiet nature but particularly with that extraordinary news. You could see and feel in Stanley that he was quite saddened by the affair. As for Douglas Milsome, he was extraordinary to work with. He gelled well with the cast, crew and Stanley. There were, however, a few moments on set when Mr. Milsome and Stanley would discuss, albeit with bravado, a particular shot. Those were the creative juices talking and of course Stanley would inevitably win the battle, and for good reason – he was the ship’s captain. I sometimes run into Doug Milsome and we smile, laugh and reminisce about the days gone past.
BTL: Former Marine Corps drill instructor R. Lee Ermey was hired as a consultant, not to play Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. Legend has it that his videotaped audition, where he hurled abuse for 15 minutes without stopping, repeating himself or flinching despite being pelted with tennis balls and oranges, really impressed Kubrick. I hear none of you actors were allowed to meet with him or fraternize at all. Tell me about your first impressions and experiences acting with a real gunnery sergeant from the Marines.
Howard: Yes, Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey was originally hired as our technical consultant. I remember a conversation where he approached a few of us and asked our thoughts about videotaping a casting session of extras on the tarmac so that he could point out to Stanley who may be the best to play Marines as extras for Full Metal Jacket. I heard that when Stanley saw the audition tape, he tore the original script in half. Mr. Kubrick said just put the camera on Lee and let him run. Ermey made Full Metal Jacket absolutely brilliant in tone, which stands as a true testament to his talent.
BTL: The Fueled by the Fallen is now your passion. How has the acting experience from Full Metal Jacket translated into drawing out real veterans’ stories from the current war and Vietnam?
Howard: Thank you for introducing Fueled by the Fallen to your readers and, yes, I am that passionate about it. Fueled by the Fallen is a nonprofit foundation I spearhead. I have built the Memorial Race Car Team, which lists the fallen Marines by rank and name on a Memorial Race Car that has begun a five-year American tour. I am building out all branches of the military, so that I may honor, pay tribute and educate our nation’s people and children to never forget our important fallen heroes. More importantly, I am hoping over the five-year tour to raise substantial funds for the families of our fallen, for our injured heroes and for our 230,000 heroes
that will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder when they come home.
The Fueled by the Fallen Foundation will give financial support to the families of our fallen heroes, our injured heroes and to keep a promise that they are never forgotten.

Written by April MacIntyre

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