Actor Martin Sheen portrays the role of Capt. Benjamin Willard in the Vietnam War epic "Apocalypse Now." Clint Eastwood said he was approached by the film's director, Francis Ford Coppola, to play the role before it went to Sheen. Photo: Lions Gate/YouTube
HOLLYWOOD, March 20 (UPI) -- One of the most successful actors and directors in cinema history, Clint Eastwood has had more than his fair share of big film roles. But a fact that may not be well known is that director Francis Ford Coppola wanted him for the lead role of the 1979 Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now.
Winner of two Academy Awards and nominated for six others, including Best Picture, the film follows a special operations soldier who goes into the jungles of Vietnam to locate and assassinate a maverick colonel. The lead role of U.S. Army Capt. Benjamin Willard was portrayed by Martin Sheen and the colonel, Walter Kurtz, by Marlon Brando.
In an interview with Hollywood Reporter editor Stephen Galloway, acting veteran Clint Eastwood mentioned that he was approached to play Sheen's role by both Coppola and later fellow actor Steve McQueen.
"[Coppola] asked me if I wanted to play that [role] and I said, 'gee, I don't know. I don't understand this show too much,'" Eastwood recalled.
Although intrigued, and having read the source novel -- Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" -- Eastwood said he ultimately turned the role down because he didn't want to spend four months filming in the Philippines.
"I said, 'no I don't think I can go off for that long a time,'" Eastwood said. "I'd just gotten through building a house and everything, and I thought, 'no I don't want to go away that long.'"
But, Eastwood said, that wasn't the end of it. Another superstar of that era subsequently asked him about it.
"Steve McQueen called me and he says, 'why don't you come on and play this role?" the Dirty Harry star remembers, adding that he had heard McQueen was lined up to take the role. The Bullitt star, though, wanted the role that went to Brando.
Eastwood made the remarks during an interview, moderated by Galloway, in the Hollywood Masters series at Loyola Marymount University's Film School.
Apocalypse Now is considered by some as one of the greatest films ever made, and has spawned numerous spoofs, iconic scenes and dialogue. It was also noteworthy for the tremendous difficulty filmmakers encountered during production. Sheen suffered a heart attack during filming, production sets were destroyed by bad weather and the film was behind schedule.
In 2001, Coppola released an extended version of the film, titled Apocalypse Now Redux.
Eastwood, meanwhile, has made and starred in several war films of his own -- including Kelly's Heroes, Heartbreak Ridge, Flags of Our Fathers and last year's Oscar-nominated American Sniper.