Everyone knows what an Army drill sergeant is like. He snorts and snarls and the veins stick out of his neck as he curses any recruit whose shirt isn’t tucked in, shoe isn’t tied or bed isn’t creased as flat as a board. They shout more four-letter words than a Joe Pesci character. It isn’t a pretty sight.
Except, they aren’t really like that.
At least, that isn’t the basic training instructor depicted in “Renaissance Man,” a Penny Marshall-directed film from Disney’s Touchstone banner that debuts June 3.
Detractors may think it’s Disney trying to sanitize the Army, but the filmmakers insist they discovered what today’s Army really is like when they filmed basic training scenes at Ft. Jackson in Columbia, S.C. The Army cooperated in the filming.
The original script of “Renaissance Man” called for drill sergeants to do lots of cursing, recalled producer Sara Colleton, who helped develop the project with screenwriter Jim Burnstein.
But Colleton quickly found that their ideas of shrill sergeants stemmed more from old movie cliches than the current volunteer Army.
“It’s very, very different nowadays,” Colleton said. “It used to be that you sort of destroyed them and rebuilt them. Now, the new philosophy is to try to find something in each kid and build them up from there.”
The producer said that the Army gave them free access to Ft. Jackson. “And not just a group of drill sergeants on their best behavior. . . . We were free to go around and soak up reality and were there for about a week on a research trip.”
The film stars Danny DeVito as Bill Rago, an advertising executive who writes clever ad copy to sell Roach Motels and discovers he’s not qualified for anything else. After being dumped, then humbled at the unemployment office, he finds one job that he may vaguely be suited for--a short-term assignment teaching borderline washouts at a nearby Army post. Gregory Hines plays a drill sergeant.
The Army believes that the enlistees--who include Kadeem Hardison and Mark Wahlberg (a.k.a. rapper Marky Mark)--are so dimwitted that they can’t even make it through basic training. Enter DeVito’s character, who gets them to believe in themselves by reading Shakespeare.
Colleton said the actors actually had to go through 10 days of basic training and, as part of the agreement with the Army, the actors came under fort regulations whenever they were in uniform. As a result, Marky Mark got reprimanded one day from an officer who drove by and noticed a recruit--whom he didn’t know was an actor--walking past with his hat on backward.