Martin Sheen Begged Coppola to Film His Bloodied 'Apocalypse Now' Breakdown

Apocalypse Now (1979) - Martin Sheen - Photofest-H 2020
United Artists/Photofest

The celebrated actor turned 80 on Monday.

Martin Sheen had to beg Francis Ford Coppola to keep the cameras rolling during an Apocalypse Now take where the actor severely hurt himself, thus capturing one of the most iconic scenes in the film. 

The celebrated actor, who turned 80 on Monday, once told Bob Costas the story of how he was so desperate to wrestle his demons, he needed to take full advantage of his moment in the 1979 epic war film. 

The scene occurs early on in the film, when the audience is introduced to a drunk, nearly nude Capt. Benjamin L. Willard (Sheen) having a mental breakdown alone in his room. At one point, the character punches a mirror, badly cutting his hand, and smears blood all over his face. Sheen said the moment was real ("I've still got the scar"), and he "begged" the director to keep the cameras rolling. 

"I bled quite a lot and Francis tried to stop the scene, and I begged him to continue rolling. There were two cameras going," Sheen explained to Costas. "He said he couldn't do it and they had a nurse standing by. And I said, 'Please. I must do this for myself.' And he did. And he allowed me, in a sense, to wrestle with some demons that I had been wrestling with for quite a while. Now, I was doing it in a public forum, and in a sense, I got them out."  

Sheen, who told Costas he was an alcoholic, said he did not exactly plan the breakdown in the scene, but he knew it would be intense for him. 

"I had done that scene at bars, I had done that scene at home," Sheen said of his actual drunken breakdowns. "I had to come to grips with it. I had to exorcise that out of myself." 

Asked what it looked like when Sheen saw the moment on film, he responded, "Pretty frightening. Today I don't recognize that man. Pretty sad guy. Trying to be something he wasn't, afraid of things that he shouldn't have been. Very painful guy." 

Watch the entire segment below.