This evening, a buddy and I, socially lubricated and intent on mutual amusement, found ourselves plunging gleefully, if briefly, into the rabbithole that is the career of R. Lee Ermey. You know: this guy, from Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket:
a long career besides the one film, but even if Texas Chainsaw was the only thing he'd ever done, I would be just fine on him milking it for all it was worth, for as long as he could, as long as he was enjoying himself in so doing.
The thing is, though: much as Edwin Neal makes an impression in the 1974 Texas Chainsaw, R. Lee Ermey makes a bigger one in Full Metal Jacket. A bigger splash in the cultural pool - that's why Family Guy has included a satirical variation of the Gunnery Sergeant character, and Toy Story, and... well, you get the idea. In fact, considering that Ermey has been in some 120 films and TV shows, and IS occasionally required to stretch himself in his performances, it seems a bit sad that Ermey is really only famous for this single role, and that he should have to break out variations on it time and again. Is Ermey enough of an actor, one wonders, that he is hungry for scripts where he gets to act against type? Does he ever complain - like Max von Sydow, say - about how boring it is to get asked to do the same part over and over again?
(For those of you who did not click the link, Mr. von Sydow says therein, "I would love to do parts I have never done before, but unfortunately if
you have had success in a particular type of character the casting
agents think, 'Oh! We'll have something exactly like that.'" He then, apparently, sighed heavily to the interviewer and added, "It's very boring.")
The last time I re-watched David Fincher's Se7en, where Ermey changes it up a little, playing a character who is mostly bone-weary and cynical, rather than actively authoritarian, I tried to attune myself to his performance, to be conscious that, yes, this is R. Lee Ermey in a DIFFERENT ROLE. He's not at all bad in it, though still somewhat typecast. I may have to re-visit the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes to refresh my memory as to how he fares there; there's only so much common ground possible between a violently-tempered gunnery sergeant and a psychotic ex-slaughterhouse worker. I have seen only a few of his films, but I wonder how far "out" from the gunny Ermey actually gets? What is his least typical role in his body of work? Has he ever cried onscreen? Laughed? Kissed a woman? Played a homosexual, a crossdresser, a socialist, a criminal, a victim of a crime, a used car salesman, or a liar? Has he played someone with a physical handicap, or a disease, or a foreign accent, or a drug addiction? Has he ever had to apologize for a failing onscreen? Has he ever done Shakespeare? (The R. Lee Ermey version of King Lear, for instance? I'm not sure it would work, but... by damn, some part of me is curious to see what he would do with such a part!)
In any event... what my buddy and I discovered tonight is that Ermey, in fact, has made several commercials for guns. (And knives, and other such things). He does indeed appear to be one of "them" - a card-carrying NRA type: there's a link to the NRA on his webpage, should you wish to become a member. He has even written a self-help book, Gunny's Rules, on how to "square yourself away like a Marine," in which, the blurb says, "he teaches you how to get fit, stay fit, and defend yourself. Then, he teaches you how to conduct yourself the way real men do: with assertiveness but also with wisdom and courtesy. Finally, Gunny motivates you to use your new fitness and new attitude to live life like a man of honor: to work hard, reach for high goals, and set an example with your life." Hell, maybe I should read it! To all appearances, R. Lee Ermey takes the business of being R. Lee Ermey seriously enough that one wonders if he ever felt concerned with the degree to which Kubrick was making an anti-authoritarian, anti-military film, where Ermey's character was not exactly meant to be attractive? If he has noticed any irony in the fact that he became famous for a role that was criticizing and pathologizing at least some of the values he appears to endorse?
Of course, as a Canadian small-L liberal who favours gun control and thinks the United States in general is a bit pathological about firearms, I might be expected to disapprove of such things, but whatever my values, R. Lee Ermey's gun commercials are fascinating and entertaining little mini-movies, and not only because I have never seen a gun commercial before tonight. In fact, they seem a pretty good use of Ermey's talents. They're not exactly stretching his abilities, but can you imagine a better actor for these roles? (Has Clint Eastwood ever made a gun commercial? Did Charlton Heston?). I may not really agree with the ease of access that Americans can get firearms - but I am delighted to see that R. Lee Ermey has found such a suitable home for his talents. I'm going to go watch some of his Gunny and Glock commercials now...