War Movies That Ruined Actors Lives
By Sophia Maddox | June 1, 2023
Brad Pitt Said The Training For 'Fury' Was 'Designed To Make Us Miserable'Are you ready for action? This captivating gallery reveals the grit, sweat, and occasional tears that have peppered the paths of actors while making some of the most memorable war movies in cinematic history. From tales of grueling boot camps that pushed actors to their physical limits, to on-set accidents that left more than just emotional scars, this collection showcases the commitment, endurance, and sheer determination that brought these intense roles to life. Each image and accompanying story highlights the reality behind the spectacle – a world far removed from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Discover the intense training that went into 'Platoon,' the unexpected typhoon that disrupted 'Apocalypse Now,' and the camaraderie that helped the cast of 'Saving Private Ryan' recreate the horrors of D-Day. So, grab some popcorn, settle in, and brace yourself for an inside look at the world of war movies that's as riveting as the films themselves.
In Fury, Brad Pitt plays the role of Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier, the hardened commander of a Sherman tank and its five-man crew. The director, David Ayer, sought to create an authentic portrayal of life inside a tank. For starters, the cast underwent a rigorous boot camp training led by Navy SEALs to understand the physical demands faced by soldiers. The objective was not only to get them in shape but also to foster a sense of camaraderie and understanding of military hierarchy. Pitt, as the tank commander, was tasked with pushing his crew members hard during this training to establish his authority. The cast also spent a great deal of time inside the claustrophobic, confined space of the tank itself, learning about its operation and mechanics. Ayer's desire for realistic battle scenes meant shooting in challenging conditions, with the actors performing their own stunts whenever possible. Pitt reportedly injured himself during one scene, but despite the pain, he was keen to continue shooting. Despite the rigorous and challenging process, Pitt spoke positively about the experience, particularly praising the bond he formed with his fellow actors.
On 'Platoon,' Charlie Sheen 'Really Felt As If I Was Expected To Scrub Latrines'
Platoon, Oliver Stone's 1986 Vietnam War classic, is renowned for its intense, raw portrayal of the realities of war. The authenticity was the result of a rigorous and demanding preparation process that pushed the ensemble cast, which included Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, and Tom Berenger, to their limits and beyond. The actors were quickly stripped of their Hollywood comforts. They dug their own foxholes, slept on the ground, and faced grueling physical drills each day, all while lugging around heavy military gear. As the character Chris, Sheen was a low ranking soldier, and therefore had to do the grunt work:
You had to be treated according to your rank. Willem [Dafoe] and Tom Berenger, playing two sergeants, were in command and I was an FNG – a '***** new guy.' It really felt as if I was expected to scrub latrines, which I actually ended up doing in the movie. I thought we'd go out in the day then return to the hotel at night, but at sundown on the first day, there was no bus pulling up. I looked at Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker and said: 'I guess we're just staying here.'
Making 'Born on the Fourth of July,' Tom Cruise Was 'On Edge Every Day'
Based on the autobiography of Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, Born On The Fourth Of July required an immense commitment from all involved, particularly from its lead actor, Tom Cruise, who played Kovic. To prepare for the role, Cruise went through an extensive period of research and physical training. He spent time with Kovic himself, learning about his experiences and perspectives on the war, the injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down, and his subsequent activism against the Vietnam War. Cruise found the role of Kovic demanding, yet the lines were often blurred between actor and character:
“I’d nailed the character in Dallas, and then we’d done Vietnam, and then I had a scene where I had to be Ron in a wheelchair again. I was just like, ‘I don’t know where I am. I lost it. Am I Kovic now?’ I remember I was so physically exhausted. I said, ‘Oliver, I’m sorry, man, I just don’t have it. I’m lost.’ He said, ‘You are Kovic, just do it, don’t think about it.'”
After 'American Sniper,' Bradley Cooper Checks Possible Threats On Entering Rooms
To embody Chris Kyle's character in American Sniper, Cooper had to undergo an incredible transformation, both physically and mentally. He reportedly gained around 40 pounds of muscle for the role, sticking to a rigorous diet and workout regimen that included consuming 6,000 calories a day and intensive weightlifting training. The making of American Sniper was also emotionally demanding for Cooper. One of the most stressful scenes he had to film was the phone call between Chris Kyle and his wife, Taya, while he was engaged in a firefight. Cooper has mentioned in interviews how difficult and emotionally draining it was to shoot this sequence, and how he felt that Kyle has never truly left him since:
After that, you're more aware of everything. He didn't really leave me.
After 'Saving Private Ryan,' Tom Hanks Felt Omaha Beach Was 'A Holy Place'
For Tom Hanks, filming Saving Private Ryan was a profound and transformative experience. To prepare for the film, Hanks, along with the rest of the cast, was put through an intensive boot camp led by military advisor and former Marine, Captain Dale Dye. The cast experienced the grueling physical demands and lack of creature comforts akin to real military training. Dye's intention was not just to get the actors in shape, but to give them a genuine sense of the bond that forms between soldiers in the face of adversity. The infamous Omaha Beach landing sequence, one of the most realistic and visceral depictions of war ever committed to film, was physically and emotionally draining for all involved. When Hanks visited the real Omaha beach, he felt like he was walking on holy ground:
The movie was shooting the sequences there and I lingered...well, I walked the entire length of Omaha Beach, from one end to the next. And just knowing everything that had happened there, I got to the very end and I was wondering if there was going to be any sort of sign of who we were [in the film] …
Andrew Garfield Was 'Soothed' By The Spiritual Clarity Of His Character In 'Hacksaw Ridge'
The character was so compelling—it was one of those stories that rang a bell inside me... I was so soothed spending time with Desmond because he managed to transcend or get underneath the pervading cultural attitudes through his faith and become a symbol of, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; of, “I will sacrifice myself for my brother.” The fact that he was able to say, in the face of men with guns, with the innocence of a child: “I can’t do that.”
Matthew Modine's Friendship With Vincent D'Onofrio Was Almost Broken By 'Full Metal Jacket'
During the filming of Full Metal Jacket, Matthew Modine, who played the lead role of Private Joker, and Vincent D'Onofrio, who portrayed the troubled Private Pyle, shared a camaraderie that was almost severed by their creative differences. Modine was not a fan of D'Onofrio's method acting, whereas D'Onofrio thought Modine's more laidback approach signaled a lack of motivation:
I asked him: 'What are you gonna do if I don't stop joking around?' And Vince goes, 'Well, I'm gonna kick your ***. ' That was the end of our friendship for the rest of the shoot.
The two actors eventually managed to repair their friendship after the film wrapped, recognizing that the challenging experience had only strengthened their bond in the end.
Martin Sheen Had To 'Wrestle With Demons' While Filming 'Apocalypse Now'
Martin Sheen delivered a career-defining performance as Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now, but the process of filming was a legendary ordeal. Sheen was not the original choice for the role of Willard; Harvey Keitel had been cast initially but was replaced a week into production. Sheen was fully committed to the character of Willard, which was a demanding role that often blurred the lines between fiction and reality. In the film's iconic opening sequence, a drunken and psychologically tormented Willard trashes his hotel room. Sheen, who was genuinely intoxicated during the shoot, improvised much of the scene, even going as far as injuring himself by punching a mirror. Perhaps the most harrowing episode occurred when Sheen suffered a heart attack while on location in the Philippines, at the young age of 36. After a brief hiatus, Sheen returned to complete his scenes, despite not being fully recovered. Despite the physical and emotional toll of the shoot, Sheen's performance in Apocalypse Now is widely regarded as one of his best.
Jeremy Renner Learned How To Build Bombs While Training For 'The Hurt Locker'
While training to film The Hurt Locker, actor Jeremy Renner and his castmates trained with real bomb crews at California's Fort Irwin, learning how to build and dismantle bombs. Renner played the character of Staff Seargant Will James, an expert bomb technician, so it makes sense that he would need to know the ropes when it comes to explosives. However, some of the knowledge he got from the bomb crew while in training was just a little too haunting.
After about a week or so, [the bomb crew] said, 'We put one of our dog tags in a boot.' And I asked why — why d'you put a dog tag on your neck, and one in the boot? [they said] 'When someone gets hit with an IED, you always find boots...You don't find a lot of the other parts, but for whatever reason you always find a boot.' That spoke volumes to me.
Making 'G.I. Jane,' Demi Moore Learned Elite Soldiers Are In 'A Different Reality'
When the movie "G.I. Jane" hit the screens in 1997, audiences were stunned by the transformation of Demi Moore into Lieutenant Jordan O'Neil, the first woman to undergo training in the U.S. Navy's notoriously grueling SEAL program. Under the guidance of former Navy SEALs, Moore's daily routine began before dawn and didn't end until well into the evening. It was a brutal combination of strength training, endurance workouts, martial arts, and extensive weapons training. To emulate the grueling SEAL training, Moore also had to endure a series of physically challenging and psychologically demanding exercises, including obstacle courses, long-distance swims, and live-fire exercises. Much like the real SEAL training, it was designed to push Moore to her limits, to teach her how to dig deep and persevere when every fiber of her being was screaming to quit.
After 'Courage Under Fire,' Meg Ryan Felt An M16 Was 'Too Easy To Use'
When Courage Under Fire premiered in 1996, it offered a fresh perspective on the Gulf War through a lens of intrigue, valor, and self-sacrifice. Denzel Washington's powerful performance as a guilt-ridden officer and Meg Ryan's transformative role as a helicopter pilot demonstrated the depth of character development that was a hallmark of this film. Although Ryan has always been a staunch supporter of gun control, the equipment she was exposed to on set and in training for Courage Under Fire turned her into even more of a fierce advocate:
The M16 has no kick or anything, you hold it one hand; it's just entirely too easy to use. I don't want to think about them on the streets. I don't want to think about any guns on the street.
Shia LaBeouf Came Out Of 'Fury' With One Fewer Tooth Than When He Went In
In the pursuit of authenticity and the quest to fully embody his character, Boyd "Bible" Swan in David Ayer's World War II film Fury, actor Shia LaBeouf took method acting to a whole new level. He spent a month living on an army base, didn't shower for weeks to understand the squalor of the battlefield, and most shockingly, he pulled out one of his own teeth to more accurately represent a soldier's life in the trenches. Apparently, LeBeouf felt that Swan was a rough and tumble character that would likely have a tooth missing. To portray this, he went to a dentist and had a healthy tooth removed, without any anesthesia. That's commitment, alright!
Willem DaFoe Had To Be Medevaced From The Set Of 'Platoon'
Willem Dafoe and his co-actors - John C.McGinley, Charlie Sheen, and Tom Berenger - were put through some pretty rigorous training during the filming of Platoon, but Dafoe (we think!) was the only one who got medevac'd, all thanks to his unfortunate encounter with a dead ox. The way John C. McGinley describes the event, and the entire filming experience, sounds like some sort of terrible nightmare:
Willem [Dafoe] drank water from a river when there was a decomposing ox downstream and he got medevac'd, Tom dropped a knife in his ******* foot - it was just all getting terribly real. And there were snakes. [...] After that boot camp, it took only a tiny imaginary leap to believe what we were saying. When my character said, "I gotta get the **** out of here," I meant it.
It Took Blood, Sweat, Tears, And A Lot Of Money To Film The D-Day Sequence In 'Saving Private Ryan'
The opening D-Day sequence of "Saving Private Ryan" has often been hailed as one of the most realistic portrayals of war in the history of cinema. This 27-minute sequence, depicting the brutal chaos of the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944, is not only a technical triumph but also a testament to director Steven Spielberg's commitment to authenticity. It took over two weeks to shoot, with a total of 1,500 extras involved, and was shot in sequence to maintain the emotional continuity of the scene. Spielberg chose Ballinesker Beach in Ireland for its uncanny resemblance to Omaha Beach in Normandy, the actual location of the invasion. Spielberg and his team painstakingly crafted the soundscape to immerse the viewers in the chaos and brutality of the battle. The ringing silence experienced by Tom Hanks' character, Captain Miller, amid the deafening sounds of war was particularly effective in conveying the disorientation and fear of the battlefield.
The Stuntmen On 'Lone Survivor' Suffered A Myriad Of Injuries
Bringing a story like "Lone Survivor" to life required an unparalleled dedication to authenticity, not only from the actors but also from the stuntmen who were tasked with executing some of the film's most dangerous scenes. One sequence, in particular, stands out for its intensity and inherent danger — the cliff fall. This sequence, where the SEAL team members throw themselves down a rocky cliffside to escape enemy fire, was as perilous to film as it appeared on screen. On screen, this was performed by experienced stuntmen, who still experienced numerous injuries, but the actors - Ben Foster, Mark Wahlberg and co, originally wanted to do the fall themselves. Director Peter Berg had to remind them to leave it to the professionals:
Oh, [the stuntmen] went for it. Broken ribs, punctured lungs, concussions...Particularly Ben Foster and Taylor Kitsch, I had to keep pulling them off the hill, because they wanted to throw themselves off. A lot of my job was just to tell them, ‘You’re not going to throw yourself off a twenty-foot cliff.’
Vincent D'Onofrio's Record-Breaking Weight Gain In 'Full Metal Jacket' Caused Him To Tear The Ligaments In His Legs During The Obstacle Course Scene
Actor Vincent D'Onofrio underwent a massive transformation for his role as Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. He gained a staggering 70 pounds, making him almost unrecognizable, and putting a tremendous strain on his body. Due to the extra weight, he tore the ligaments in his legs during the memorable "obstacle course" scene of the film. The physical toll was only part of the story, as D'Onofrio's character suffered intense emotional and psychological abuse throughout the film, primarily at the hands of R. Lee Ermey's character, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. It took D'Onofrio over nine months to return to his normal body weight after filming wrapped.
During The Filming Of '1917,' The Crew Had To Get A License To Exhume Ancient Cadavers
Many of the scenes from 1917 were filmed near Stonehenge, so location manager Emma Pill had to dot all her i's and cross all her t's before altering any of the landscape - including doing all the paperwork in case they accidentally uncovered any ancient corpses.
I had to get a license to exhume bodies. Obviously if they were modern bodies, you’re calling the police. But ancient bodies, you have to have a license to have permission to exhume them from the ground.
Luckily, no bodies were discovered during the trench-digging, though the film crew was responsible for refilling all the holes they had dug by the time the movie wrapped.
George MacKay Actually Fell During The Trench Run In '1917'
Remember the Trench Run scene? Well, part of it was a total accident. On the way mid-jog to Colonel Mckenzie, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Lance Corporal William Schofield, played by George MacKay, is unceremoniously knocked into by a fellow soldier. This little tumble wasn't part of the screenplay, as MacKay was supposed to be dodging all the extras, but the scene ended up working so well that they decided to leave it in the final cut:
As soon as the collisions happened, they felt inevitable. There’s a grace to the run, but there’s also a reality to the fact that he got knocked about on the way.
The Weather Was So Bad During The Filming Of 'Starship Troopers' That Everyone Had To Be Evacuated
Filming Starship Troopers, director Paul Verhoeven's satirical take on militarism and fascism, came with its own set of unique challenges, the least of which was not the unpredictable and often brutal weather conditions. The majority of the film's action sequences, set on an alien planet, were filmed in the Badlands of South Dakota. These locations were chosen for their otherworldly, desolate landscapes that perfectly fit the alien world Verhoeven was trying to create. However, these locations were also known for their harsh and changeable weather, with extremely hot days and frigid nights. Then came a two-week long rainstorm, forcing the cast and crew to evacuate. Yet, in spite of these challenges, Starship Troopers managed to create a compelling, visually striking portrayal of an alien world at war.
Christopher Walken Was Actually Slapped While Filming 'The Deer Hunter'
Michael Cimino's Oscar-winning film The Deer Hunter is filled with numerous impactful scenes. But none are as potent, as chilling, or as controversial as the infamous Russian roulette sequence. The tension of the scene is palpable, with Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken clearly on edge - perhaps, because they were actually being slapped by the gamerunner! In fact, apparently the first actor hired found himself unable to slap DeNiro, so they hired a local with a dislike of Americans. The repeated slapping left the actors quite unsettled, which, of course, gave the scene some added intensity.
Typhoon Olga Destroyed Many Of The Sets For 'Apocalypse Now'
The production of Apocalypse Now was nothing if not tumultuous, plagued by cast health issues, shooting delays, and an ever-increasing budget. In the middle of it all, nature decided to add to the mix. In 1976, Typhoon Olga swept through the Philippines, ravaging the sets with high winds and heavy rain. The storm was catastrophic, destroying much of the film's expensive sets and equipment. The typhoon halted the production for nearly two months, forcing the crew to evacuate and leaving a large part of the shooting schedule in disarray. Coppola, however, was not easily deterred. He viewed the disaster as part of the process, a physical manifestation of the chaos and unpredictability that the film was trying to capture. And so the typhoon became a part of the film's lore, a testament to the tumultuous journey of bringing Apocalypse Now to the screen.
An Extra Was Concussed While Filming 'Gettysburg'
It was a surreal experience as we were all wearing period uniforms, reenacting a famous Civil War battle charge and my brother was truly wounded—to what extent and how serious, we did not know. In the confusion of battle and being momentarily knocked out, he doesn't recall exactly what happened but remembers seeing the stock of a musket swing up toward his face. No one came forward taking responsibility of the accident and apparently was just off camera so it will forever be a mystery of exactly how Bradley was wounded on the Little Round Top set.
Luckily, Egan's concussion was mild, and both he and his brother walked out of Gettysburg unscathed.
Channing Tatum Burned His Bits While Filming 'The Eagle'
It's often said that actors must suffer for their art. In his portrayal of a Roman soldier in the 2011 film The Eagle, Channing Tatum unfortunately found this to be all too true. Part of the production involved filming in the harsh, cold weather of the Scottish Highlands, a challenge that would lead to an unexpected ordeal for Tatum. In an effort to stave off the numbing cold, the actors would pour warm water into their pants, over their wetsuits. On this fateful day, however, Tatum was given scalding water rather than warm water, leading to burns on his nether regions, and panic.
I started hyperventilating and screaming, jumping back into the river because it was a hypothermic river. We had wetsuits on, which was the worst part about it.
Brad Pitt Tore His Achilles Tendon While Filming 'Troy'
In Troy, Pitt portrayed the legendary Greek hero Achilles, known for his near invincibility with one notable exception - his heel. However, when art decided to imitate life during the filming, Pitt ended up tearing his Achilles tendon, the very body part his character is famously associated with:
It's just wear and tear and all the jumping and fighting in that sand. It was near the very end and we'd been shooting and training for months at that point and it just said, 'I'm done. I need a rest.'
Although it was a slight setback for Troy, the event also added an extra layer of mythology to the film, a bizarre real-life parallel that underscored the vulnerability of the seemingly invincible Achilles.
Eric Bana And Brad Pitt Agreed To Pay Each Other Every Time They Landed A Hit In 'Troy'
So that's where all that Hollywood money goes! On the set of Troy, Eric Bana, playing Hector, and Brad Pitt, playing Achilles, decided to eschew stunt doubles and film their fight scenes themselves. To make it more interesting, they decided to put money on it - $100 for landing a good blow, $50 for a love tap. Apparently, this was a bad move for Pitt, who ended up owing Bana $750. That's gotta hurt!
The Cast Of 'Inglorious Basterds' Was Nearly Incinerated During The Theater Scene
Quentin Tarantino's films are known for their audacious narratives and explosive climaxes, and Inglourious Basterds is no exception. In the film, the climax takes place at a movie premiere in Nazi-occupied Paris. A plot has been hatched by the Basterds, a group of Jewish American soldiers, and Shosanna Dreyfus, a theater owner with a personal vendetta against the Nazis. Their plan? To lock the Nazis in the theater and burn it down. Things go fairly according to plan on screen, but apparently almost went off-the rails behind the scenes. Eli Roth, who played Donny Donowitz, mentioned in an interview that it was a close call:
[The flames] were spreading so exponentially. They said if we were in there another 15 seconds, the stage we were on would have collapsed and we all would have been killed.
The Thin Red Line Broke Adrien Brody's Heart
The Thin Red Line, directed by Terrence Malick, is not your typical war film. Released in 1998, it stands out as a philosophical and introspective exploration of the human condition, set against the backdrop of the Guadalcanal campaign during World War II. Characters played by a star-studded cast including Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, and Jim Caviezel, grapple with their fear, guilt, and the moral ambiguities of war. Brody, however, was heartbroken with how his role in the movie appeared in the final cut. Originally billed as a lead character, his character, Geoffrey Fife, was edited down to only two speaking lines:
It was extremely unpleasant because I’d already begun the press for a film that I wasn’t really in. Terry [Malick] obviously changed the entire concept of the film. I had never experienced anything like that.
Eric Bana Says The Hardships Of Filming 'Black Hawk Down' Brought The Cast Together
When you think of the 2001 film Black Hawk Down, the phrase "grueling endeavor" might just spring to mind. The actors were put through a grueling Ranger orientation program, led by the veteran military officers who were actually involved in the real-life battle. The training was incredibly intense, pushing the actors to their physical and mental limits, mirroring the conditions faced by the soldiers they were portraying. The sweltering Moroccan climate posed a significant challenge to the cast and crew. Despite the challenges, Eric Bana, who played Hoot, thinks the experience really helped bring the cast together:
The shoot was insane... It was long, and I think the location really added to the intensity of the experience. The chaos around the shooting schedule and the fragmented way that we put the film together added to it as well. We all found ourselves on the streets of Rabat, Morocco, running around making noises...Three-quarters of my closest friends are from the shoot, and everyone is the same. Every little enclave has their own little two or three grouping of really, really close friendships. That's definitely not normal. We're all really grateful, and I think the film and the subject matter had a lot to do with that.
Jeremy Renner Was Stuck In The Bomb Suit During 100 Degree Days On 'The Hurt Locker'
Jeremy Renner, who played EOD bomb technician William James in the movie The Hurt Locker, described his relationship with his blast-resistant bomb suit as "love-hate". We understand why - Renner had to wear the suit for hours a day while shooting, during achingly hot days in the desert. At the same time, the 100 lb suit was a monumental part of The Hurt Locker:
The suit was such a big part of that character, a massive part of that movie - visually, and then just physically. If it was a fake suit without all the Kevlar in it, I would have not walked the way I walked. I wouldn't be able to move the way I moved in it. Something very sort of lunar.
The Actors In 'Paths Of Glory' Couldn't Get On Kubrick's Wavelength
Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick's 1957 anti-war film, is renowned for its deep critique of the military establishment and the futility of war. Behind the scenes, the cast and crew had to deal with Kubrick's infamously meticulous direction all while delivering emotionally intense performances. For example, for the "last meal" scene, Kubrick ended up demanding 68 takes - each one requiring a new roast duck to be prepared. During the shooting of the prison scene where the characters contemplate their fates, filming extended beyond schedule into a Saturday. The producer showed up to remind Kubrick that overtime filming was not permitted in Germany, but he continued till he was satisfied, after Take 74. Despite these challenges, or perhaps because of them, "Paths of Glory" has stood the test of time.