‘Apocalypse Now’ Star Robert Duvall Explained How He Developed Iconic Lt. Colonel Kilgore Character

by Josh Lanier

Robert Duvall based his character in Apocalypse Now, the napalm-loving, goofy-footed Colonel Kilgore, on people he met while serving in the Army. The Godfather star rewrote much of the character because he didn’t think it was accurate to someone you’d meet in the military.

Francis Ford Coppola didn’t cast Robert Duvall to play Bill Kilgore. Coppola created the character of Bill Carnage, a cigar chomping wannabe cowboy, he told WTOP. Duvall thought it was too “over the top” and asked the director for time to do some research into 1st Cavalry commanders. He also worked with a Vietnam veteran who helped ground the character in a more realistic place.

“[The air cavalry] did wear cavalry hats, cross sabers, boots with spurs, the cavalry of the last century, that went into helicopters and tanks in the following century,” Duvall said. “So I did my homework and Coppola let me find my research and come up with that, which was different from the actual script.”

Robert Duvall said he used the special service soldiers he met while stationed at Fort Bragg as inspiration. He also used them to help him sell the movie’s most iconic line.

“When I was in the service in the army, I remembered how the special service officers stood and talked and knelt and dealt with each other,” Duvall said. “I remembered those images from when I was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, so that influenced me in that part of the performance when I said those lines, ‘The napalm in the morning, smells like victory.’”

Robert Duvall On ‘Crazy’ Experience Filming ‘Apocalypse Now’

Making Apocalypse Now was a nightmare. The stories of the behind-the-scenes chaos and inter-cast fighting are legendary.

The movie got off to a bad start after Francis Ford Coppola hired and then fired Harvey Keitel from the lead role. Keitel is obviously a great actor and had served in the Marines, but he wasn’t what Coppola wanted for Capt. Willard.

He decided to hire Martin Sheen and re-shoot everything they’d already filmed with Keitel.

The production was snake bit after that. Problems plagued the war film on all fronts. Storms destroyed the sets in the Philippines. Rewrites and production issues delayed shooting for days at a time. Some of the actors used their downtime to drink and do drugs, which brought their own set of problems.

Martin Sheen admitted to staying drunk for entire days during filming. He suffered a heart attack and a nervous breakdown because of all the stress, he said.

Robert Duvall is shocked they were even able to finish the movie.

“There are things I won’t go into! But it was pretty crazy,” he told CNN. “Sometimes we’d get one shot in a day — if that. Everything was in disarray. The hurricane came in and ruined the sets, s**t! Then they had to build them again, and we were there nine or 10 months. Dennis Hopper all doped up, not doing it Francis’ way. Francis would do 45 takes, and then he said, ‘Now, would you please do one my way,” he’d say to Dennis. Martin Sheen got the heart attack, and they didn’t know what they would do if they lost Martin. Francis said it was like warfare.”