In what is widely considered the best role of his acting career, legendary film and television star Louis Gossett Jr. plays Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley, a hardcore drill instructor, in the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman.
Gossett Jr.’s portrayal of a no-nonsense DI in the film earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. If you watch his performance, you’ll quickly see why Oscar came calling. The character is crude and tough on the group of would-be pilots attending a 13-week Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School where he serves as the primary instructor.
Like many great actors who have donned the campaign hat on the silver screen, as DI Foley, Louis Gossett Jr. imparts knowledge on how to survive the daily challenges of life in his own unique way.
Here’s what we can all learn from Gossett Jr.’s Oscar-worthy performance.
Some of the best and most memorable lines of the film come in the early scenes when new recruits line up to hear Gunnery Sergeant Foley talk about what they should expect in the next 13 weeks of training. Foley knocks each person down a couple of pegs by making them understand they are, in fact, not special.
When Foley asks one of the recruits named Della Serra if he was a “college boy,” the character quickly lists his academic accolades, saying he graduated in mathematics with honors.
Della Serra gets a rude awakening from Foley when the Marine shows him his cane with notches on it. Each notch represents each “college puke” who has dropped on request during his time in the program. Foley suggests Della Serra may be one of those notches and then tells the group that half of them will not make it through the training.
In this powerful scene, DI Foley lets all the recruits know that his authority outweighs their individualism.
Have good character
Although Mayo has all the skills and physical traits to pass the course, Foley consistently questions Mayo’s strenght of character. Officer Candidate Mayo is an arrogant and self-centered individual only looking out for himself. He’s also quite the hustler, selling inspection-ready boots and belt buckles to his fellow recruits to make a quick buck.
After discovering Mayo’s little racket, Foley gives him a chance to straighten up his act during a weekend-long smoke session. Foley breaks Mayo down physically and emotionally. It’s during this sequence that the audience is treated to the film’s famous scene in which Gere’s character screams, “I got nowhere else to go!” This is the turning point. From here on out, we see a change in Mayo’s character and attitude.
The importance of teamwork
Mayo’s change of attitude is clear when instead of trying to achieve an individual obstacle course record, he goes back to encourage one of his fellow classmates, a young lady named Seeger, as she struggles to get over a 12-foot wall. Thanks to Foley, Mayo learns the true value of teamwork.
Quitting is not the answer
Tensions between the two main characters rise yet again toward the end of the movie. Following the death of his friend, Mayo wants to speak with Foley in private.
After Foley dismisses his request, telling him to get back to work, Mayo gives his DOR. Instead of accepting his resignation, Foley asks to meet Mayo a nearby hanger — where they fight it out. After fists fly, Foley tells Mayo that if he still wants to quit, he can. By that point, Foley knows the recruit has come too far to quit now.
At the end of the movie, the officer candidates earn the rank of ensign. Per tradition, each new officer receives his or her first salute from the instructor and, in turn, each officer hands Foley a silver dollar. When Mayo hands Foley his coin, the Marine places it in his right pocket instead of his left. This act symbolizes respect for Mayo as an exceptional candidate.
“I won’t ever forget you, sergeant,” Mayo says after the salute. You can see Foley start to choke up just a bit when he replies, “I know.” The mutual respect between the two is evident.
Although it’s only a movie, many veterans may have encountered someone in real life who reminds them of DI Foley.
Tell us who made an impact on your life during your time in the military in the comments.
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