This R. Lee Ermey interview [dead link: http://www.radaronline.com/features/2006/10/tough_love.php] has been bothering me all week:
After working on Seven, you called David Fincher “a little chicken shit.” I’m assuming you guys aren’t discussing a second project?
As far as I’m concerned, if a director won’t even listen to an actor, that’s a black mark. Fincher stuck to the script even when actors came up with ideas that were 10 times better. One of the most important aspects of acting is bringing something to the fucking table. And most actors don’t. They just show up, the director says, “Action,” they say the words the writer has written, and, for them, that’s good enough. But it’s never good enough for me. That’s what made Stanley Kubrick. If anyone had any idea, he wanted to hear it. If you saw Full Metal Jacket as it was written, you would understand what I’m saying.
Did you and Kubrick become close while shooting Full Metal Jacket?
Very close. Stanley called me up all the time. He’d call at three o’clock in the morning and say, “Oh, it’s 10 o’clock over here.” [Laughs] “Yeah, well, it’s three o-fucking-clock in the morning here, Stanley. Oh well.” He called me about two weeks before he died, as a matter of fact. We had a long conversation about Eyes Wide Shut. He told me it was a piece of shit and that he was disgusted with it and that the critics were going to have him for lunch. He said Cruise and Kidman had their way with him—exactly the words he used.
What did he mean?
He was kind of a shy little timid guy. He wasn’t real forceful. That’s why he didn’t appreciate working with big, high-powered actors. They would have their way with him, he would lose control, and his movie would turn to shit.
Kubrick is great for listening to actors yet regrets being bowled over by them days before his death? But Fincher is a “chickenshit” for not being bowled over?
It’s hard to know with Ermey if that’s for real. His interpretation of Kubrick’s reclusiveness as shyness: interesting, but not the last word. The critics did, of course, eat Kubrick for lunch on Eyes Wide Shut, but I always thought it was a brilliant movie. Kubrick certainly stuck to his guns on the story, having a feud with co-adapter, novelist Frederic Rafael.
It seems improbable that the Napoleonic Kubrick could have been “bowled over” by the (then) disintegrating A-couple, Tom and Nicole. It is possible that he confessed inner doubts to Ermey and Ermey’s recollection exaggerates them.
Then again, maybe I shouldn’t feel bad for liking a movie that the filmmaker himself didn’t. There are plenty of movies that filmmakers are proud of that they really shouldn’t be. Kubrick was a perfectionist, that much is not disputed. Can we be surprised that his final move fell shy of his exacting standards? We’d only be surprised to learn any movie of his oeuvre ever met them.