Interview With Actor Tim Colceri of Full Metal Jacket
With such a storied career that has encompassed over 59 film and television roles that include mainly acting, but also heavily include writing, directing, and coaching, Tim Colceri has a pedigree of history in cinema and is still going strong and putting out quality entertaining roles to this day going on forty years in the industry.
Most renowned and best recognized for is obviously the Stanley Kubrick epic Full Metal Jacket, where he plays the helicopter door gunner in the chopper. “Get Some!” Arguably the best Vietnam movie ever made, and possibly the single best war film ever created, his role was originally that of the drill sergeant who drove Gomer Pyle ( Vincent D’Onforo ) to suicide.
To this day if you catch Tim in one of his rambunctious moods, he will entertain anyone within earshot a near perfect stunning rendition of the first half of that movie line for line. It is just one of those things that if you know the movie at all you just drop your jaw and witness pure brilliance and see the extraordinary skills that these actors do possess.
We cannot express the gratitude and excitement for the opportunity to get to sit down and have a two hour interview with Tim Colceri. Having been familiar with his work for decades long before the chance to personally know him, I will try and do his lifetime work of accomplishments in film and television justice. The man really does need a full fledged live action podcast so you can get the full range of his passion, drive, and enjoyment for life.
Long before his big breakthrough Tim and myself got to speak on his history before Full Metal Jacket which all started with ..
Tim : “ I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona being part of seven kids in the family. I had no desire to be an actor, I actually was a state champion wrestler and went to Arizona State, was a golfer, and went into the Marines. Straight out of high school I went to Vietnam. So yes I am a Vietnam vet. Going into boot camp I weighed 124 pounds! I ended up being in Vietnam for thirteen months. Once that ended I tried being a pro golfer. I tried that for about three years and almost went pro. With golf it was funny you are like a robot. You couldn’t get happy and there was even less of a reason to get mad. I found the better you were at that the better golfer you are. Which is odd because now I get paid to play off emotions as an actor which is totally the opposite.” “It’s really cool to get paid to play emotions.”
Currently Tim resides in Las Vegas, Nevada here’s how that journey took place that ended him up here.
“I first came to Vegas signing autographs and have been here about six years now. I was at a gun show for Full Metal Jacket. They brought me here and paid me an appearance fee and I thought my god, I can not believe they have a gun show here every month ! I ended up finding myself here as much as Los Angeles with all of the activities so began teaching here a bit as well. “I was teaching adults in L.A. for twenty five years and started teaching kids here now in Las Vegas. I really enjoyed the area and thought Summerlin would be a good place to end up retiring one day.”
Was Acting Always in The Cards ?
“Well you see I had a friend from college who kept telling me that I had so much energy and kept asking me why I never wanted to become an actor. Tim answered. You see I’m just not one of those types of guys. Nope. He kept asking me to come to his acting classes and I kept on making excuses. I made seven excuses seven times and on the eighth time I just ran out of excuses. I had a date that night, and I had to tell my date that I kept making excuses for this guy that I made a promise to, and I kept putting him off and we have to go and watch a few quick scenes and then we will blow out of there. At this point I have never seen dialogue on a page or anyone act before, but I found it fascinating and just knew that I could do that. I told the teacher look I do not know you and you do not know me, but I know that I can do that what I just saw. I have been doing it ever since.”
So Tim just walked in cold turkey and started reading lines in front of an established class.
“They all looked at me like hey look the new guy with a chuckle, and some Chippendale’s dancer stood up and proclaimed that they were going to make the new guy go first. In my mind I was saying what a *$&# he was being, but I went ahead and did it anyways. The teacher turned and said to the class that was something that they called ‘born natural’. I said to myself that I would do two years of training and made a promise that I would then give it a shot, and after two years if nothing happened or I did not make it, then I would quit and go on to do something else. Within six months I started landing nation commercials, things for Coors, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Chevy and their Heartbeat of America campaign, and my favorite a Giovanne spot that ended up paying me $80,000 that played for five years!”
TC : “The industry can be so strange at times as you can make more off of a commercial spot than a lead role in a film at times. In fact I still get a check from Who’s The Boss. ( ABC Sitcom aired 1984-1992 ! )
“I was a construction worker, Alissa Milano was 16 years old, and thanks Tony Danza! Yeah its funny how things work out. I said one line and still get a check. I don’t get any money from Full Metal Jacket. It was in England I had a green card, so no residuals.”
“I sent a tape back in 1982 in to the people who were making the film. It wasn’t until three years later I got cast for the role, and as the drill sergeant instructor. This was an eight week guaranteed contract I was thrilled. But not even a week in they gave the role to a technical adviser on set. Lee Ermey. I still got paid $36,000 for the role, but they had to stop production as he hit a tree and broke 6 ribs. They gave me then back a role probably because I was suing them, because then the door gunner that I had done actually got cut out of the film. We worked it out, after all it was $60,000 a day just to rent the helicopter so it was probably much cheaper to just do that. So I did the scene which I ended up being very proud of and it was an enjoyable experience.”
“I did not find out until 17 years later that I had actually beat out Val Kilmer and Bruce Willis for that role.”
“Stanley Kubrick did not actually like my original take with the laughter that I added. He wanted it to be a colder and more serious tone. He said I needed to do it like an everyday killer, and to do it fifteen more times. Before the final production Warner Brothers called me back and said that they put the original laughs back in that Kubrick did not like, as over 300 vets previewed different versions of the movie and they received reaction and feedback. Everyone came back and said the best and most authentic guy in that movie was the door gunner.”
TC : “Watching Lee Ermey play the drill seargant role I actually did learn quite a bit about acting, and said to myself well I could have done that better, or that. With th door gunner we did not know what really to do with that role.
The original line for the part was “I shoot like I like shooting people !| They had cut that line out but I carried the character on in exactly that way however.
For that one part in the movie I actually shot a M60 and over 6,000 rounds.”
IM : Were those actual live rounds ?
“Oh yeah, and the machine gun almost went off like a laugh, like my laugh, hahah, hahah, hahah” ( rapid fire machine gun improv insert here )
“I really had no idea what the final cut was in it. After so many takes in a serious tone, it was a relief to find out that my character was most definitely fun to watch.”
“I try and teach this to all of my students in acting that no matter what role you play even the villain, you either need to have an element of being likable or memorable. Take No Country For Old Men for example. You just couldn’t wait for him to kill another, it was fun to watch even being the bad guy.”
“You just don’t lead em so much was a bit harder to remember, but it had more thought in it, and once you got it, it was like oh that is deep, and real, funny but not.”
“The line ended up being ‘Anyone who runs is a VC ( Viet-Cong ), anyone who stands still is a well disciplined VC. HAHA.’ See that is funny, in a dark sense of the way. The fact that the guy would even think that way is what got ya. In the end you got the joke.”
WEEDS AND THE DRILL INSTRUCTOR SERGEANT ROLE REPRISED
TC : “It wasn’t until 17 years later after that film that I call the call up to be another drill instructor. The hit Showtime series Weeds with Mary-Louise Parker was destined to be the calling. I was in a few episodes of Weeds with Andy Botwin in Boot Camp where I really got to give him hell.”
“They saw every actor in L.A. from 19 years of age to 70 for that role. Any military looking face crossed their desk and casting agents. They ended up getting down to twenty of us. Five of those were active WWE wrestlers and they had some huge ol guns and were very well built. We were all in a room yelling having beat out literally hundreds to just get to that spot. Thankfully with my previous background in the military it just gave me that cadence that they ultimately fell short with. So it got booked thankfully.”
“I am very very proud and grateful for that roll, and it got the fact that how close I came to it with Full Metal Jacket off of my mind.”
TC : “I did get to play an Admiral in a roll again however, and again with my co-star from Full Metal Jacket Lee Ermey who was the President of the United States. My best friend at the time is vice-president and here I am in an Admiral jacket and the guy who took my lead role was my standing president ! The movie was Omega something I cannot recall, it did not come out due to 9/11 and so much terrorism. It really was a different time then.”
“Another great movie and time I had was when I was in Eraser with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a movie that I shot at the same time as Leprachaun in Space. It was crazy going back and forth one being a hundred million dollar movie where sushi and Indian food was catered everyday. The other had a 2 million dollar budget where I am doing all of this dialog over and over again. And with the director he was really pushing it to the max, just getting every last dollar out of the guys every day. We really had to work hard for that one. But at the end of the day it ended up being one of my more favorite experiences.”
“I knew the director back from the days of Omega so I did not even have to try out for the roll, he just gave it to me. During the film I turn into a woman, at the end my head pops off, I’m a cyborg, hell I am not even human ! Then I am a sergeant with a metal head and a hooker ! I did not even know what I was going to do that much but most of it ended up being a one take thing.”
How Has The Film and Movie Industry Changed Since 1980 To Today
TC : “Well back then you had to actually send your photo, head shot, and a letter off everywhere to everyone. Today they just click online and see a digital film reel of what you have done in the industry. I do not even have a reel actually I do not actively pursue it like I used to. You honestly get to a certain point where you do not even have to audition. They are either going to give you the role or you are not going to get it. I am not like that personally, in that I enjoy the auditioning and have never felt I should get any special service.”
With over 59 credited roles according to IMDB Tim Colceri we feel he is more than qualified.
It has always been great to have so many ideas for stories, screenplays, and ventures, but honestly I am just best when I have only a job to do. Maybe say it is my military background, but line me up, tell me what to do, when to show up, and I will be there on time, doing my absolute best.
Here in Las Vegas people do not come prepared. They just got the material maybe the night before, etc. What I am saying is that even if I get it last minute I went in prepared doing the best I could with no excuses. Even ten minutes before I would be out in my car cramming it all into my brain with again no excuses and just do it.
That is exactly what I had to do with Full Metal Jacket with one of the lines I had in the early days. They told me “Tim you have to shoot with the drill instructor tomorrow.” It was only two lines but two very difficult lines. ( At this point Tim Colceri instantly transforms back into character as if this was 1985 and time never skipped a beat )
“You are about to receive your first marine core recruit hair cut. You will be shaved completely bald. If you have so much a mole, a bump, a scar, or anything else protruding from your head and I mean by protruding I mean anything else sticking OUT of your head the minute you sit in that chair..”
It was the minute you sit ‘down’ in that chair. It was a tough line and come on you are going to stop me for leaving out the word down ? So I ended up beating up that chair for a good fifteen minutes and got back into character. You place a figure on that spot on you head and you let that barber know that I have a mole on my head. Do you understand?!
This is what I had to do for twelve hours one day. What I got was “Stanley will be very impressed.” Thankfully I was not going to lose the role due to a memorization error. Thirty-five years later I still have the timing memorized. I have the entire original drill instructor dialog embedded in my brain. The Weeds dialog as well. It’s because I just worked so hard at it and cared for it. That is your job. If there is anything as an actor you do it is memorize.
And you know where I learned to memorize ? Boot camp. Marine core boot camp. If you did not know the answer they beat the hell out of you. So as I was marching around I was memorizing the entire time. By the time I get to any audition I am there and ready to go, no excuses.
The Future For Tim Colceri
TC : “Well I am 66 right now and it is a strange place to be in. I always did think that I would be married at this point. I do love kids tremendously. I see them and it just lights up my entire day. I want to do impressions and voices for them as much as I can. It’s one of those things that I do miss, and I do still enjoy making films, but I have never been good at asking for help. I do not have an assistant, or anybody helping me to get more done. This has always been on me. Maybe If I had more time it would be for a family and for kids, but my craft does keep calling at me and I have so much more to get done. That is what I probably really need, an assistant so I could have more personal time.
However now I do train and teach kids with acting and their careers. Kids are what makes me smile when I get that opportunity.
In fact I was doing voice overs for cartoons. Imagine this, an evil overlord set to overtake the world but during the dialog I started coughing, on accident. I just could not help it, but it in the end became his character. I never thought that one could improvise a cartoon voice as I have done countless times in my movies, so I had just started doing it from that point on. Even in voice over you can still create and this is what I teach people.
It is much different with commercials. Let me tell you this.
Here are my three tips for doing commercials.
- Articulate what you are selling
- Talk a lot louder
- Always have a big smile
This helps so much because you only have thirty seconds while filming a commercial. You have to talk louder because people turn down their volume just because it is a commercial that comes on. So you want to get their attention. And usually you are selling something so that is where the smile comes in.
It is quite the opposite as when you work as an actor because there is when you want to be real.”
The thing about acting is I try and go about it as if it was myself in that exact situation. Then I play off of that. Get it as real as possible as if you are the one actually in that exact situation. Do not just react to what is going to happen. We are so used to reading to that dialog that we forget or overlook the emotion of actually being in that situation. Taking the written dialog and breaking it up, or adding pauses can really add extra emotion to a scene or line. That is where it is up to a great actor make something special. Just reading a line anyone can do, but knowing when to accentuate a particular moment makes all the difference. Slight changes in your rhythm and a moment with your voice will completely change the context of what you are getting across.
A lot of people want to and resort to yelling to get their point across. What if yo happened to whisper it. ( Tim here whispers a very powerful message ) it all of a sudden becomes much more powerful and emotionally charged.
Not only is it fun to do, but you can teach that.
TC : “I look back at my life and as an actor and say well I did more than most I guess I ain’t the most famous person out there, but at least in the marine corps they all knew my name.”
“I use that as motivation to go to hospitals now in my spare time and thank veterans for serving their country. I go in fully dressed blues and immediately get respect but they are like hey who is this guy? I then go into character and recite my dialog and they all go wild. It really brings a smile to their faces. But at the end it is about thanking them. That is what I call ‘Thank You Sir!’ It is what I have to say, many of them hearing it for the final time, days away from dying but they manage to get out a smile. We share a few stories and laughs afterwards, but the rewards come from the families that approach me and say that they have not seen their father smile in years. And I manged to get him there, thank you.”
“The fact that you can make an entire hospital smile for an entire day is what coming full circle is about at this point. Passing out posters and signing autographs is great, and even though you are not making any money off of it, you do have to go through so much legal to just to do something like this. The government does not want you making any money, so signing release forms and such takes up the majority of the time and gets in the way. Some places will not even let you film, but you can get photos. Honestly I am just trying to give back and re-connect with other marines and veterans.”
Tim Colceri Come Get Some Tour Comedy Live
The Indie Mag of Las Vegas would like to express a sincere gratitude to Mr. Tim Colceri for his time. Since this interview everything has been going according to plan, his Donald Duck impression is spot on, and he is still making children and vets smile alike.
You can contact him for Acting Coaching or comedic performance appearances