Louis Gossett Jr.'s Best Supporting Actor Academy Award win was the first ever Oscar in that category won by an African-American and the first for an African-American in any acting category since Sidney Poitier Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field (1963).
Although she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in this film, and it remains her biggest commercial success to date, Debra Winger despises the movie, and has said she likes to deny that she ever had any involvement in it to begin with.
According to Louis Gossett Jr. in his book "An Actor and a Gentleman", Richard Gere and Debra Winger did not get along during filming, and would distance themselves from each other significantly while the camera wasn't rolling. Publicly, she called him a "brick wall" while he admitted there was "tension" between them. Even though, Gere was playing the title role and had top billing and more screen time, he reacted badly when he realized that Winger had the acting chops and charisma to steal every scene she was in, resulting in an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. Thirty years later, Gere was complimentary towards Winger when he said that she was much more open to the camera than he was, and he appreciated the fact that she presented him with an award at the Rome Film Festival.
Producer Don Simpson unsuccessfully demanded that the ballad "Up Where We Belong" be cut from the film, saying, "The song is no good. It isn't a hit." The song later became the #1 song on the Billboard chart and won the Academy Award for Best Song. He wanted a similar song called "On The Wings Of Love" by Jeffrey Osborne. The song was released a few months later. It peaked at #29 on the Billboard charts.
Casting the Sgt. Foley role was very difficult. First, none of the A-list actors approached for the part (including Jack Nicholson) were interested. Second, Mandy Patinkin gave an audition that the producers loved, but director Taylor Hackford nixed their plan to cast Patinkin because he felt the actor was "too ethnic" to play a drill instructor. Finally, the producers did research in Pensacola, Florida and learned that all of the top drill instructors there were African-Americans; this led to Louis Gossett Jr.'s being cast for the role that would win him an Academy Award.
Debra Winger negotiated her own contract (no agent) before she had seen the revised script and was not happy when she found out that she would be doing a nude scene. She asked to be covered up for the scene, but was told that since she hadn't thought to ask for a "no nudity" clause in her contract, she would have to do the scene as written.
Paula shows Zach a photograph of her biological father, revealing that he was an Officer Candidate. The picture is actually of Douglas Day Stewart, the writer of this movie, when he graduated from Pensacola.
In a 2013 interview, Richard Gere said that he and Louis Gossett Jr. were specially trained for the karate scenes that are used in the basic training sequences in the film. Gere had apparently mastered his karate moves, while Gossett reportedly continued to struggle with them after being trained. Frustrated, by accident Gere accidentally kicked Gossett in the groin during filming, to which Gossett responded by leaving the set very abruptly. He did not show up again to the set for another two days afterwards. In order to keep filming moving and not fall behind, Gere and director Taylor Hackford, called upon another African American karate expert who stood in as a double for Gossett so the scene could wrap up filming. Despite this incident, Gere has said he takes full responsibility for it, even all these years later, and that it has not ruined a mutual friendship between he and Gossett. He has said he and Gossett still see each other on occasion and reminisce about how much they enjoyed making this film together.
Former Marine drill instructor turned actor R. Lee Ermey coached Louis Gossett Jr. for his role as Sgt. Foley. Ermey would later play a tough and profane drill sergeant himself in Full Metal Jacket (1987). Ironically, he was initially hired as a coach for that movie as well, before landing the role.
The script languished around Hollywood for almost eight years with no studio willing to finance it. Finally at Paramount, former executive and then Disney CEO Michael Eisner was very much against the film, but relented after much persuasion by producer Don Simpson. The final budget was only a mere $6 million - part of it is due to Navy's refusal to support the production and the scepticism of the studio on whether it will be a commercial success.
According to "High Concept", Charles Fleming's biography of producer Don Simpson, the producer was alleged to have said to the auditioning Debra Winger, "There may be somebody else for this part. I need somebody fuckable. You're not fuckable enough."
Zach tells Paula that he will later be stationed in Beeville, Texas to learn to fly jets. Beeville was actually home, until the mid nineties, of Naval Air Station Chase Field, where navy pilots trained. The base has since been closed and the site converted into prison transfer units and a trustee camp. It is near the site of a maximum security prison.
Initially the M.P.A.A. gave he film an X rating because of the sex scene in which Debra Winger was on top of Richard Gere and moved her hips in a way the censors did not approve. Thought was given to an appeal, but ultimately Taylor and Paramount opted to move in from the wide shot to closer one, making it less objectionable in the censor's eyes.
During the scene at TJ's where Zack says goodbye to Paula, Seegar says "I can still taste that bug!" This refers to a deleted survival training scene (included in the novelization) where Zack goads Seegar into eating a bug that is crawling on the roof of their shelter, then is forced to eat one himself to avoid disgrace.
Though not stated, Sgt. Emil Foley is a Vietnam War veteran which is shown by his medal ribbons which includes the "Vietnam Service Medal" with three Campaign Stars, "Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal w/ 1960's device" and "Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation". Foley also holds a "Bronze Star" with a Valor (V) added, a "Purple Heart", "Presidential Unit Citation", "National Defense Service Medal", "Combat Action Ribbon" and more.
Eric Roberts was seriously considered for the lead role, but his manager, Bill Treusch, attended the meetings between Eric and director, Taylor Hackford , which led Hackford to finally have reservations that Treusch would not allow for a vital director/actor relationship to develop between Taylor and Eric.
Richard Gere rides a 750cc Triumph T140E Bonneville introduced halfway in the 1978 selling season. Two T140E Bonnevilles were supplied by Dewey's Cycle Shop in Seattle, Washington. One had Receipt no.16787 dated April 8, 1981 as sold to Paramount Pictures.
In the United Kingdom, Paramount successfully linked with Triumph Motorcycles (Meriden) Ltd to do a mutual promotion. Cinemas showing the film would be promoted at their local Triumph dealer and T140E Triumph Bonnevilles supplied by the dealer would be displayed in cinema foyers.
As Zack is leaving his father's in the beginning, the battleships New Jersey (62), Missouri (63), and the aircraft carrier Hornet can be seen in the shipyard in the background. All three ships are now museums.
Richard Gere balked at shooting the ending of the film, in which Zack arrives at Paula's factory wearing his naval dress whites and carries her off the factory floor. Gere thought the ending would not work because it was too sentimental. Taylor Hackford agreed with Gere until, during a rehearsal, the extras playing the workers began to cheer and cry. When Gere saw the scene later, with the music underneath it ("Up Where We Belong") at the right tempo, he said it gave him chills. Gere is now convinced Hackford made the right decision. Screenwriter Michael Hauge, in his book "Writing Screenplays That Sell", echoed this opinion: "I don't believe that those who criticized this Cinderella-style ending were paying very close attention to who exactly is rescuing whom."
The decompression chamber was one of the only sets constructed for the film and as of 2013, it is still intact in the basement of building number 225 of the Fort Worden State Park. It can be seen through the windows of the building's basement.
A real motel room in Port Townsend, The Tides Inn on Water Street (48.1105°N 122.765°W), was used for the film. Today, there is a plaque outside the room commemorating this (although the room has been extensively refurbished in the interim). Some early scenes of the movie were filmed in Bremerton, with ships of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in the background.
The blimp hangar used for the famous fight scene between Louis Gossett Jr. and Richard Gere is located at Fort Worden State Park and as of 2013 is still intact, but has been converted into a 1200-seat performing arts center called the McCurdy Pavilion.
The U.S. Navy did not permit filming at NAS Pensacola in the Florida panhandle, the site of the actual Aviation Officer Candidate School in 1981. Deactivated U.S. Army base Fort Worden stood in for location of the school, an actual Naval Air Station in the Puget Sound area, NAS Whidbey Island. However, that installation, which is still an operating air station today, was and is a "fleet" base for operational combat aircraft and squadrons under the cognizance of Naval Air Force Pacific, not a Naval Air Training Command installation.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
At the graduation ceremony when Zack says he's going to get his "first salute", he is referring to his father. A scene was shot at the graduation where Zack's father salutes him. This goes back to a point in the beginning when Zack's Dad said he'd never salute him. Robert Loggia protested that being cut out of the movie. The footage is considered lost.
It is a Navy tradition for newly-commissioned officers to give a silver dollar to the person who gives them their first salute. In the scene where the new graduates of Foley's class receive their "first salutes," you can see them giving Foley a silver dollar prior to each salute. It is also a tradition for the D.I. to place the silver dollar of his memorable students in his right pocket; you can see that Mayo's dollar is placed in Foley's right pocket, rather than the left pocket as it is for, for example, Ensign Della Serra.