I

t was 1982.

I had done a few national commercials and a couple of small roles in films. I had only been acting for about a year, and with little on my resume, no one was going to represent me theatrically. I needed to take things in my own hands. So, when I heard Stanley Kubrick was doing a film about Marines in Vietnam — and since I spent 13 months in Da Nang, Vietnam, as a Marine — I knew this was right up my alley.  

He was casting through tape submissions. I grabbed a friend (Glenn Borrella) fresh out of boot camp and asked him if I could yell at him for my audition tape; he agreed, and I began shooting the tape as I played the drill instructor. Since he wasn’t a real actor, he started laughing while I was screaming at him. I stayed in character, and I screamed even louder, “Do you think this is funny? Down for push-ups! Up! Down! Up! Down!”  

I can still remember scraping up enough money to send it off, hoping it would get into the proper hands. The tape wound up in the hands of Leon Vitali, Stanley’s right-hand man. Stanley and Leon had met while Leon was starring in the film Barry Lyndon; the two worked hand-in-hand up until the very end, and to this day, Leon is still in charge of the Kubrick estate. All of this is to say that the tape ended up in the right hands, where it stayed for three years as the legendary and reclusive director completed his meticulous prep work.  

I had completely forgotten about the tape — three years is a long time for a prayer to go unanswered — and then I received a call from Leon: “Tim … Stanley is really impressed with your work but who is this other guy, Glenn? He is brilliant.”  

“I don’t know … I think he is still in the Marines,” I said.

Well, Leon found him. (You don’t become the fixer for a master without a certain set of skills.) He was on leave from the Marine Corps and in Hermosa Beach, so he asked me to direct him through three scenes and then send them back to London. I learned later that Kubrick found it captivating the way Glenn was cracking up and showed it to Mathew Modine, who in turn recommended a guy from his acting class also with very little credits, Vincent D’Onofrio (Private Pyle). It is truly fascinating to me that one tape got two no-name actors starring roles and a huge boost in their acting careers. Fate’s fickleness is often commented upon, but you rarely see it firsthand like this.

When I met up with Glenn, I was excited to see him.  

“I told you they might want to use you, didn’t I?” I said, and then we began filming. The excitement was short-lived: I realized fairly quickly that he wasn’t an actor whatsoever. I sent the tape back to London, and just three days later, I received a call from Louis Blau, a heavyweight who handled all of Kubrick’s film activities in Hollywood.  

“Tim, I have a tremendous amount of faith in Stanley Kubrick, and Stanley Kubrick has a tremendous amount of faith in Tim Colceri.”  

I took the phone and went and opened the window and yelled out as loud as I could “Stanley Kubrick has a tremendous amount of faith in ME..EEE!”  

After meeting with Mr. Blau and signing an eight-week guaranteed contract, he handed me the 160-page script, saying, “I think you have the finest role in the film … you play the role of the drill instructor.” I took the script and rather than go to the elevator, I went right to a stairwell and began reading. My character didn’t stop talking for 60 pages. I couldn’t believe it. The role of a lifetime, and it was mine. It was as if I hit the lottery, and everywhere I went, I told everyone I was starring in a Stanley Kubrick film.

“Tim, I have a tremendous amount of faith in Stanley Kubrick, and Stanley Kubrick has a tremendous amount of faith in Tim Colceri.”

Five months later, as they were finishing up the Vietnam scenes, I found myself in London, residing in a basement flat underneath the apartment of actor Michael Biehn, who was starring in the film Aliens. We immediately bonded one Sunday afternoon and have been great friends since. On the rare occasion I wasn’t rehearsing with Leon, I would go with Michael to the set of Aliens, where all warmly welcomed me. I felt at the time with my big role that I belonged at their level, and that I was finally in the big leagues. They treated me as such.  

I became friends with Sigourney Weaver and Bill Paxton; Mark Ralston is still a dear friend of mine. Stanley said he wanted me to be isolated from the other actors, so I would be more intimidating when we had our scenes together. So I actually spent more time talking with James Cameron than I did with Stanley Kubrick. Rehearsals for my role ran on for three months; many times, I’d undergo preparations to shoot, only to be told, “Not today.” Delays, delays, delays. Something was wrong. With Christmas only a couple of weeks away, I was sipping on some eggnog on a Sunday afternoon at Michael’s. I looked out the peephole only to find Leon pacing around my basement door. He had the look of death, one I will never forget. He handed me a letter from Stanley.  

Stanley Kubrick (left), Tim Colceri (right) discuss scene

“After a painful deliberation,” the letter began. Disaster. It concluded with Stanley offering me the role of the door gunner, which he described as a “very powerful scene.” After having the role for almost eight months — after prepping and rehearsing and living in a foreign country and waiting, working, waiting — I wish he would have talked to me man-to-man instead of sending his errand boy. Since he likes letters, I sent him back one saying the following: “Just as a painter loves to paint and a singer loves to sing, I’m an actor who loves to act and nobody can do this role better than I. Very Depressed, Tim Colceri.”  

That same week, while hanging out with Vincent D’Onofrio and Michael, they tried to soften my pain by saying, “At least we are still movie stars.” And then Vince said he was worried he might lose his role, too. It seemed everyone was worried about getting fired by Kubrick. I plowed into working on the door gunner when barely a week later Leon told me I had the prime drill instructor role back again. R. Lee Ermey had run his car off the road after three days of filming and would need months of recovery. I went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. It was destiny for me to play this role. And then it was snatched away yet again. The insurance company stepped in and said, “You started with Lee … you will finish with Lee.” Production would be suspended while Lee recuperated.  

For seven months, I continued to rehearse until my ICM agents, whom I had hired in the meantime, informed me the door gunner had been cut from the film altogether. Stanley couldn’t get a grasp on the character, and he considered Bruce Willis and Val Kilmer as well before cutting it entirely. I was devastated; I’d gone from the lead in Kubrick’s film to no involvement whatsoever. I had spent two years of anticipation for greatness and now nothing. I got a lawyer to fight for me. Nothing. Sue Warner Brothers, too? Sure, why not. I then got a letter from Kubrick saying that it wasn’t unusual to lose your role to another actor or have your role cut out, that he would use me in future roles if suitable. Big deal, what good does that do me?  

And then fate smiled again. Two months after finally wrapping, Stanley decided he needed that character after all and wanted to know if I still wanted to play it? I’m back again! GET SOME! I had two starring roles both taken away and both brought back in a Stanley Kubrick classic. Not too many actors can say that.

It was destiny for me to play this role.

In England, I was taken to Stanley’s home the night before shooting. I had been rehearsing again with Leon, trying to time my dialogue with the other actors who shot weeks earlier on the ground. As written, the door gunner sported shaggy hair, had joints tucked behind both ears, and wore a hula shirt. Stanley asked me to do the lines I had been working on. I started, and he stopped me. He then looked at Leon and said: “You gave him the wrong dialogue to memorize?” I looked at Leon, thinking, “Really? You got to be kidding me! Is he trying to make me crazy just to play this role?” Stanley said, “Come with me,” and I followed him up to his room and typewriter — the same typewriter on which he wrote all those sad letters.  

He started typing, and in about 30 seconds he finished. “Here. You will go with Leon to Norfolk, England, about 280 miles from here and I will meet you tomorrow around eleven o’clock.” I was still pretty upset at memorizing the wrong dialogue, so I didn’t talk with Leon the whole way. The next day, early in the morning, I started shooting the role and there was no way I was wearing a Hula shirt with joints in both ears. (Maybe in the Army but not as a Marine.) I played him sleeveless in a flak jacket and did one-armed push-ups before each take. I tried to create a likable character who was bizarrely enjoying his job and laughed as I shot the women and children. When Stanley showed up around 11, I couldn’t wait to hear what type of direction he would give me. I really felt that he would pull something unbelievable out of me. He watched what I shot earlier and said, “Lose the laughter and give me an everyday killer smile.” I went back up and did exactly what he wanted me to do, and he said, “Good Tim ... now go up and do it again 13 more times.”

Fast-forward to eight months later when I started hearing from my friends that I was in the trailer for the film running in the theaters and on television. Thank God, I thought, I now know I made it in the film. Finally. Michael and I attended the premiere, and I muttered Ermey’s lines with him through his scenes, sometimes thinking, “I could have done that better and sometimes, “Wow that’s a good line he added.” Being a Marine and recalling my own experiences of boot camp, I was sucked into the film. After my scene, Michael elbowed me said, “You were great.” I could hear chuckling throughout the scene, so it must have made the viewers feel something.  

At the end of the film, the credits started to roll, and my name came up all by itself. Kubrick gave me a starring credit. I almost cry every time I think of that. With all I went through, just that bit of respect almost makes it all worth it. The one scene made me famous in the Marine Corps: Many Marines have told me they joined after watching that scene, and I’ve had actual door gunners tell me they were just like the character I performed. The words “GET SOME!” echo throughout Marine bases around the world. I even had an 8-year-old boy playing paintball say to me just recently, “Are you the original ‘Get some’ guy?”  

I went through so many ups and downs during my two years dealing with Stanley Kubrick. I believe it reinforced my spirituality: At the time, I was furious and uncomprehending with God as I was with Stanley. For a time, I focused on what I had lost rather than what I had gained; when someone would say “Oh, you were in Full Metal Jacket,” I’d reply, “Yeah, I was SUPPOSED to be the Drill Instructor.” But as the years went by, I understood that this was the wrong way to look at it, that I had crafted a classic role in a classic movie. If that role was a bit smaller than the one I had initially landed, well, so be it.  

In the long run, it made me who I am. I’m the DOOR GUNNER … GET SOME!

Tim Colceri has been a Marine, Viet Nam Veteran, pro golfer, flight attendant, actor, director, stand-up comedian, and an acting coach. He is currently doing a one-man show called The GIT SOME Tour.