Scott Glenn Landed His 'Apocalypse Now' Role After Saving Francis Ford Coppola's Life

From left: Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen, Scott Glenn and Frederic Forrest in 'Apocalypse Now' (1979).
United Artists/Photofest

From left: Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen, Scott Glenn and Frederic Forrest in 'Apocalypse Now' (1979).

The veteran actor explains how it all started with an eye roll.

Scott Glenn was cast in Apocalypse Now after a series of events that included saving Francis Ford Coppola's life.

Breaking down his career for a GQ video published Wednesday, the veteran actor told the story of how he was initially cast in 1979 war epic and then had his pick of role — for the most part.

Glenn went to an open call for the film and said he was among 50 actors vying for various supporting roles. Coppola worked with the men in groups of four on a scene from the film in which soldiers are in a boat floating down the Mekong River, arguing over who should be the Playboy playmate of the year. Glenn, who served in the Marines, said he rolled his eyes at one point. Coppola took exception.

"Francis stopped the improv and said, 'I saw that, Scott. These people are doing serious work. I don't need you making a comment on this work. Why did you do that?' And I said, 'It wasn't that work was bad. But these guys are on a boat with the engine turned off, floating down the Mekong River. You scream and yell like that, you're going to have a mortar round in your laps in five seconds.'"

Coppola cast him instantly, Glenn said.

While on location, events got really wild, the actor recalled. "I got to the Philippines on a Friday. Almost everyone was going back to Manila to have their weekend, and I decided I would just stay on location. That Friday evening, the worst typhoon to hit the Philippines since 1932 came in. Everyone thought we were dead."

Glenn and the others survived, but all the sets had been destroyed, he said. When Coppola returned to the area days later, he was on a boat with a number of other crew. Glenn noticed that the edge of the stream they were on had become white water in the aftermath of the storm. And he realized that because of how the boat was anchored with a rope, there was a chance it could be ripped apart at any moment, so he instantly cut the rope, he explained.

Coppola, as Glenn told it, thanked the actor for saving his life and said he would beef up his role. Rather than do that, Glenn requested he have a role in the final act of the film, sharing screen time with the likes of Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper and Martin Sheen. The only role not cast was an even smaller role than Glenn was in. He told Coppola he would take it. And that is how he became Lt. Richard M. Colby.

Watch Glenn's full career breakdown below.