D’Onofrio, Vincent

D’Onofrio, Vincent
(June 30, 1959– )
   Vincent Philip D’Onofrio moved from Brooklyn to Miami with his three older sisters at a young age, and he also spent some of his formative years in Hawaii. When he was 18, D’Onofrio returned to New York to study acting at the American Stanislavski Theater. After touring with that company for several years, he earned the leading role in the 1984 Broadway production of Open Admissions at the Music Box Theater. D’Onofrio’s first film role was a small part in Troma Studios’ teen sex comedy The First Turn-On! (1983), but it was his haunting performance as Leonard Lawrence (“Private Pyle”) in STANLEY KUBRICK’s FULL METAL JACKET that made him famous. Cinematographer DOUGLAS MILSOME says of Pyle’s murder-suicide scene, “That scene was very powerful; D’Onofrio flashes what people are now referring to as the ‘Kubrick crazy stare. ’ Stanley has a stare like that which is very penetrating and frightens the hell out of you sometimes. I gather he’s able to inject that into his actors as well. ”
   D’Onofrio landed the job based on several videotaped auditions and an audio tape which he mailed to Kubrick. He originally learned of the part through his old friend and future costar MATTHEW MODINE. “I rented a home video camera, found a green stoop that resembled an Army barracks, put on an Army cap and green fatigues, and did a monologue about a rookie cop, except that I left out all of the lines about cops. I sent it off and got a call right back. ” Kubrick said of this particular bit of casting: “Pyle was the hardest part to cast in the whole movie. I wanted to find new faces. We received about three or four thousand videotapes. ”
   To fit the part of the overweight, self-conscious Private Pyle, the normally physically fit D’Onofrio put on more than 70 pounds, of which he said, “Physical transformation is part of being an actor. If for every role I could delve deeply into a character, I would. That’s how I was trained, the same way as De Niro and Duvall, and the people who change themselves when they do things. The emotion can come, but the physicalness is very important. The secret is to put yourself totally in the circumstances of your character. . . . I gained weight everywhere; my thighs were tremendous, my arms were tremendous, even my nose was fat. I had a tough time tying my shoelaces, but this was the only way I could play Leonard, because I had to be weakminded in the same way. Because of the weight and the fact that he was totally out of his element, Leonard’s mind became weak. He was slow to start, a country bumpkin, but I don’t think he was insane. What they did to Leonard was they made him into a very efficient killing machine. . . . I’m not fashion conscious; but during that time I had to always think about what I was wearing and what I looked like. I wore big pants and big shirts for ease of movement. ”
   As a result of all the excess poundage, D’Onofrio tore a ligament in his knee while shooting Full Metal Jacket. Doing the marching scenes after the injury proved to be a frustrating, painful experience for the actor, whose mental state during filming may have found expression in the more than 200 oil paintings he created during the production: “The colors were very red, black, and gray, but as the shooting ended for me, more blue and green appeared. . . . I haven’t talked to [Kubrick] since the day I left. He’s the kind of guy I would work with again in a second, but you don’t necessarily want him as your friend, and he doesn’t necessarily want you as his friend, either. ” For a long time after Full Metal Jacket, D’Onofrio found himself typecast, seemingly inescapably bound to Private Pyle:“Everyone thought I was [that] character. . . . After Full Metal Jacket I got endless offers to play either really fat people or psychotics. But I wanted people to see me as a normal guy. I wanted to start being looked at for romantic leading man roles. ” Despite that sentiment,Vincent D’Onofrio has focused much of his career on independent films of a darker, more serious nature, including The Player (1992), Claire Dolan (1998), and The Whole Wide World (1996, in which he stars as pulp fantasy author Robert E. Howard). D’Onofrio later said, in apparent self-contradiction,“It was always my plan to build a reputation as a character actor. I have this niche, and I’ll be working forever. I don’t look like a leading man. I look more like the guy who’ll fix your car than steal your girl. ”
   Leading man or not, D’Onofrio’s career came to fruition as he turned out to be one of Hollywood’s busiest actors of the 1990s, starring in more than 21 new theatrical releases in that decade. Many of those were independent films, but D’Onofrio also appeared in some mainstream blockbusters, such as Men in Black (1997). He explained, “Doing a studio film fills my bank account up, so I can take some time off and produce my own films or work in new directors’ films, which don’t pay so much. So, I don’t mind doing studio films if the situation is right. ” Indeed this strategy has paid off, allowing D’Onofrio to produce or executive-produce such films as Steal This Movie (2000), The Velocity of Gary (1998), Guy (1996), and The Whole Wide World. His TV appearances include Miami Vice, The Equalizer (1985), and Homicide: Life on the Street (1993), and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. His theater work has included Sam Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime, in 1997. More recent films include The Cell (2001), Ethan Hawke’s Chelsea Walls (2001), and with Jodie Foster, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2001).
   ■ Anderson, John, “An Actor Stretches Out,” Newsday, August 13, 2000, p. D-21;
   ■ Atkinson, Michael,“Hype: Man in Black,” Movieline, May 1997, p. 14; Bennetts, Leslie, “New Face: Vincent D’Onofrio: The Trauma of Being a Kubrick Marine,” New York Times, July 10, 1987, p. C-16;
   ■ “Doing the Tango,” New York Times, May 18, 1989, p. C-8;
   ■ “Hollywood’s Busiest Actors,” Variety, October 19, 1998;
   ■ Marks, Peter, “A Star is Found,” New York Times, September 27, 1996, p. C-2;
   ■ Russell, Candice, “Acting Has Its Ups and Downs,” Daily News, September 7, 1987, p. 31;
   ■ Spelling, Ian, “As Men in Black’s Bad Bug, Vincent D’Onofrio Gets Under Your Skin,” Starlog, October 1997, pp. 80–81;
   ■ Tallmer, Jerry, “Taking a Bite Out of Crime,” Playbill 97, no. 1, (January 1997): 28;
   ■ “Vincent Philip D’Onofrio,” Mystic Pizza press book, ca. 1988.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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