By Patty Fantasia

Oscar winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. received a new honor on Saturday, July 21st at the Las Vegas Hotel when he was awarded the 2012 Male Indie Icon Award during the Las Vegas Film Festival. The festivities included an audience Q&A following a screening celebrating the 30 year anniversary of the film “An Officer and a Gentleman”. Gossett won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in the film and was joined for the on stage ceremony and audience Q&A by the movie’s screenplay writer Douglas Day Stewart and moderator actor/director Ash Adams.

Photo credit: Patty Fantasia

Adams started off the conversation by commenting on how after viewing the film again he noticed that it is actually a three tier love story between Mayo (Richard Gere) and Paula (Debra Winger), Foley (Gossett) and Mayo and Mayo and Sid (David Keith) and that it has a perfect script and “the mark of a classic”.

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Ash Adams, Louis Gossett Jr. and Douglas Day Stewart

When asked how he came up with the idea for the story Stewart replied, “I was a naval officer in the Vietnam era.” He wanted the chance to write a personal story and confided that he had once suffered under the tough hand of a man like the character Gossett plays in the film. Stewart had hoped in the beginning that the Navy would get behind the film, but after receiving a list of requirements he’d have to follow in order to receive their endorsement he realized the changes would have taken the balls out of his script. “We decided to do it our way,” he related.

Stewart went on to say that originally actors Scott Glen and Marc Singer were the frontrunners for the part of Foley and that director Taylor Hackford had been set on Singer until Gossett came into consideration. Stewart, who was a big fan of Louis’s earlier project “Roots”, admitted that he thought “That’s our Foley” as soon as the actor entered the running.

Adams remarked how the location itself, Port Townsend, was like a 4th character in the film. Gossett explained how they had built a mock base there and that the town had been inhabited by out of work lumberjacks and draft dodgers wanting to be near the Canadian border as well as locals from the area and said they had a “nice combination of people there”. Shot in 1980 and 1981, Port Townsend sits on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. The U.S. Navy didn’t let them film at NAS Pensacola in western Florida, which is the traditional site of the Aviation Officer Candidate School, so Port Townsend stood in for the real NAS (Naval Air Station) in the Puget Sound area, Whidbey Island.

Stewart, who was on set for the shoot, said that one advantage to filming in the remote location was that no “suits” showed up to look over their shoulders. He maintains that the 9 million dollar low budget movie was greenlit because of a big writer’s strike happening at the time and said that it was the only one of a group of 10 that received funding anyone’s actually heard of. “Somehow we got made and made history,” he said.

For Gossett the shoot required being separated from his cast mates and the crew most of the time and not being able to bond with anyone on the set. “I had to stay away,” he said. The part also required that he train with Gunny Sergeant Buck Welcher from the Marine Corps Recruitment Division which he did for about a month before he was able to do the work out course. When he first showed up admits he wasn’t taken very seriously, but eventually he got the right respect. “He kept me kind of straight,” Gossett said of Welcher then shared that he was dressed by a DI (drill instructor) every morning who corrected his actions anytime he did something that didn’t ring true. “I don’t mind being worked hard,” Gossett said referring to all the preparation. He believes it makes the day go quicker. He added that Welcher was seen briefly on camera with his platoon intact as the drill instructor leading the group running by Gossett’s. Although the training and isolation from everyone else including co-star Richard Gere was difficult the outcome was well worth it.

A 2nd degree black belt in Taekwondo, Louis learned martial arts when he worked for the military between the Korean and Vietnam Wars doing training films. “You don’t forget it. You don’t forget that training,” he asserted although he didn’t use it again until making “An Officer and a Gentleman” and had to requalify. A staunch believer in the philosophy behind the martial arts, Gossett stayed away from the bars and people who wanted to challenge him. Discussing the film’s famous fight scene between him and Gere, Louis said that it took three days to film with the sequence being shot six times each day. “It was amazing. I’ll never do it again,” he laughed then added he suffered a micro fracture in his rib cage and Gere dislocated a shoulder before they finished.

Gossett also discussed the DOR scene between him and Gere, which took a day to shoot. Hackford pushed the hell out of Richard recalled Louis. “I had never seen Richard Gere that good,” Gossett said explaining that at the time “An Officer and a Gentleman” had been the last commitment on Gere’s contract with Paramount and that he could have just gone through the motions. “He opted to work hard and not be like a movie star,” Gossett continued. “That’s why I think the man should have won the Oscar. He gave all he could to that one scene,” he added. Ironically enough Gere wasn’t even nominated for the award and neither was Hackford for Best Director or the picture for Best Film although aside from Louis winning for Best Supporting Actor, it won for Best Music, Original Song for “Up Where We Belong” and the movie scored nominations for Best Actress for Debra Winger, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen and Best Film Editing.

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Ash Adams, Louis Gossett Jr. and Douglas Day Stewart
Photo credit: Patty Fantasia

In addition to the Oscar, at the age of 76 Gossett has also won 3 Golden Globes, 2 Emmys and been nominated for a Tony. “He’s virtually won every award there is,” Ash Adams commented. However, it was playing Foley that turned Gossett into a pop culture icon since the film’s popularity has endured throughout the years. In fact Stewart worked for over 10 years to transform the movie into a musical, which debuted on the stage in Australia. Explaining that he was afraid people would take away the story’s edge if it premiered on Broadway, Stewart discovered that the show drew various types of people including members of the generation that fell in love with the film and others who had never heard of it. The father of a 24 year old daughter he is determined to make her and her friends fans. Gossett added that actors and filmmakers hope to do one movie that stands the test of time. “We got lucky with this one,” he concluded.