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Apocalypse Now: Fun Facts

Prior to our screening of Hearts Of Darkness (1991), here are a few interesting facts on the making of Apocalypse Now (1979).

During filming, Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack and had to be flown to the nearest hospital. While recovering, his brother, Joe Estevez, replaced him for several scenes.

Prior to the movie, surfing was a virtually unknown activity in the Philippines. However, locals observed members of the crew engaging in the sport. When filming wrapped, some of the surfboards were left behind and some Filipinos took it upon themselves to learn the craft, and a surfing community eventually blossomed in the archipelago.

The role of Tyrone “Mr. Clean” Miller was only Laurence Fishburne's third film role. Becoming a part of such a prestigious production so early is impressive enough. It's made even more remarkable in Fishburne's case because he was just fourteen at the time of his casting. A production typically wouldn't hire someone so young to play a soldier, but the actor lied about his age during the audition process.

By the late 70s, Marlon Brando's physical appearance was a far cry from the hunky Stanley Kowalski who made women faint in theaters more than twenty years prior. Coppola was unaware of this, however, and was shocked to find the veteran actor severely overweight to play an experienced soldier. To get around this, Brando was mostly filmed in shadows and from the waist up. This method of hiding his body ultimately proved to make the character more intimidating.

The opening scene sees the main character, Benjamin Willard, going ballistic in his room. In one moment he punches a mirror, causing his hand to bleed profusely. In fact, Martin Sheen really hit the mirror, shattering the glass and cutting his hand. The actor was drunk while filming the scene, at Coppola’s insistence. Filming took place on Sheen’s 36th birthday.

Harvey Keitel was initially cast as Willard and even filmed for a few weeks. Unfortunately, the director was dissatisfied with the performance after seeing the first bits of footage. He was then fired and Martin Sheen, Coppola’s first choice, came in to play the part.

Before Coppola got his hands on the project, fellow filmmaker and friend George Lucas was attached to direct. His ideas were even more radical than what Coppola eventually ended up doing. The future Star Wars creator wanted to shoot the movie with real soldiers in Vietnam at the height of the actual war. Harrison Ford, who has a brief cameo, is named Colonel Lucas in the director’s honor.

When Apocalypse Now debuted at Cannes, the film was screened as a work in progress. Despite this, the movie was well-received, and would be awarded the Palme d’Or, the festival’s highest honor, sharing the prize with Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel, 1979).

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