The 5 Most Underrated Roles of R. Lee Ermey's Acting Career

Chevy Chase, Julianne Phillips and R. Lee Ermey in "Fletch Lives." (Universal Pictures)

Everyone knows R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in the 1987 Vietnam War movie "Full Metal Jacket." It was a role that led to a number of similar roles throughout his 40-year career. He played a drill sergeant in commercials, a drill sergeant in space and even the ghost of a drill sergeant.

Ermey, who died in 2018 at the age of 74, played a slew of military roles in movies, television and video games, but his acting had something in common with the weapons he used while fighting in Vietnam: range. He was the father of a murder victim in the award-winning film "Dead Man Walking," the gruff police captain in the horror thriller "Se7en" and an insane sheriff in the 2003 remake of the slasher classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

Here are five of Ermey's most underrated roles you might have missed.

On Deadly Ground

It feels weird to be recommending a Steven Seagal movie that isn't "Under Siege," but here we are. It's easy to forget just how big an action movie star Seagal was in the early 1990s, but he was big enough to get Michael Caine as a villain and shoehorn an environmental speech at the end of the movie.

Ermey plays Stone, the leader of a group of mercenaries hired to track down and kill Seagal's character, Forrest Taft. They fail, of course, because Taft is like every other Seagal character: a government-trained spook with a past so ultra top secret, it would kill you just to read about it.

Fletch Lives

In this 1989 sequel to "Fletch," Chevy Chase reprises his role as the funny but clever reporter Irwin "Fletch" Fletcher, whose aunt just left him a sizable piece of run-down property in Louisiana.

Despite its condition, he gets wrapped up in a conspiracy of murder and mayhem to intimidate him into selling. One of the interested buyers is local televangelist Jimmy Lee Farnsworth, played by R. Lee Ermey. Farnsworth wants to build an amusement park on the land, but it turns out Farnsworth and his ministry are facing problems of their own.

Mississippi Burning

Based on the true story of the 1964 murder of three civil-rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi, "Mississippi Burning" stars Willem Dafoe ("The Boondock Saints") and Gene Hackman ("Unforgiven") as FBI agents sent to find the bodies of the missing.

The FBI believes the local sheriff's department was involved in their disappearances and brings in more agents from Washington to a small Mississippi town. Mayor Tilman, played by Ermey, is amicable at first, but grows more frustrated as time goes on. When the Ku Klux Klan plays hardball, the FBI turns up the heat -- specifically on Mayor Tilman.

The Siege of Firebase Gloria

OK, this is a military role for Ermey, but if you loved Gunnery Sgt. Hartman as a drill instructor, wouldn't you be a little interested in what it might be like to ship off to Vietnam with Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in your platoon? That's what the low-budget Australian movie "Siege of Firebase Gloria" gives us.

Ermey plays Sgt. Maj. Bill Hafner, who is leading a Marine Corps Long Range Reconnaissance Platoon at the start of the Tet Offensive, waiting to be rescued by the U.S. Army. They come upon Firebase Gloria, whose captain is a drug addict. Hafner takes command so it can withstand a coming Viet Cong attack.

The Boys In Company C

Before Ermey was Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket," he was Staff Sgt. Loyce in "The Boys In Company C." The boys in question are five naive teenagers from all across the United States, who meet in Marine Corps basic training in 1967. The man who has to mold them into Marines is Staff Sgt. Loyce.

Ermey walked off the set of "Apocalypse Now" in the Philippines and right onto the set of "The Boys In Company C," helping an actor prepare for his role as a drill instructor. After watching Ermey, the director and producer of the film asked Ermey to be the drill instructor instead. It led to his being cast in a number of other military movies, until eventually, he was cast in "Full Metal Jacket."

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on LinkedIn.

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