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The Most Dangerous Part Of Platoon For Willem Dafoe Isn't What You Think

Oliver Stone's masterpiece from 1986, "Platoon," is arguably one of the best films ever made about the Vietnam War. The realistic, gritty portrayal of life in the jungle for a combat unit starred Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, and Willem Dafoe — along with a host of other rising stars, including Forest Whitaker, Kevin Dillon, and even Johnny Depp. A smash hit at the box office, the movie earned $138 million (via Box Office Mojo) off a paltry $6 million budget and won four Academy Awards — Best Picture and Best Director among them. So yeah, it was kind of a big deal.

Dafoe was also a big deal, playing one of his first high-profile roles as Sergeant Elias, the good-hearted mentor to newbie grunt Chris Taylor (Sheen). Elias' toxic relationship with dark-minded Sergeant Barnes (Berenger) is at the heart of the story, with Chris (and his innocence) caught in the middle. Dafoe nabbed a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his turn, and went on to become one of the most sought-after performers in Hollywood, lending his considerable talents to dozens of projects ranging from "Clear and Present Danger," to "Finding Nemo," to the current blockbuster "Spider-Man: No Way Home." IMDb lists him in six new projects as well, all in various states of production. Obviously, he's still in demand.

But while Elias faced serious trouble from all sides in "Platoon," it wasn't the fate of his character that proved to be the most challenging thing for Dafoe to endure while filming. To be sure, though, one incident on set did put his life on the line.

Willem Dafoe lost his mind for awhile

You might think shooting in the wild — the Philippines, in this case — would lead to a snake bite, or perhaps getting lost. But Willem Dafoe's brush with mortality in "Platoon" came from a far more mundane cause. While filling his canteen with water from a river, the actor wound up contracting a jungle disease that made him delirious for a full day. This was corroborated by his "Platoon" co-star John C. McGinley, who told The Guardian that there was a "decomposing" ox downstream at the time Dafoe took a drink from the tainted water. Fun, huh? Although given that Elias enjoyed his share of mind-altering substances to cope with the war, maybe the bout with illness ultimately fueled Dafoe's performance? You be the judge.

It's safe to say that Dafoe didn't begrudge Oliver Stone for the incident, as he would later work with the acclaimed director again in yet another examination of the Vietnam War — 1989's "Born on the Fourth of July," which starred Tom Cruise, who also received an Academy Award nomination for digging into Vietnam with Stone. Apparently, the fever had no long-term effects either, as Dafoe has acted in over 130 more projects since then. So it's possible he just ended up with superpowers.

Considering all the potential for things to go wrong on a film set in the jungle with all the trappings of war, Dafoe's experience on "Platoon" doesn't seem nearly as bad as it could have been. Still, one has to wonder what else might have happened in his brief state of delirium that he doesn't even remember — or care to remember.

One thing is sure — as claimed in the movie, "war is hell." In "Platoon," that was true for both Elias and Dafoe.