American actor Tom Berenger has had a career that spans decades. He’s appeared in acclaimed films such as The Big Chill, Training Day and Platoon (which saw him nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), as well as popular hits including Sniper and Inception. Although he’s now 71, it doesn’t seem like Berenger has any plans to retire soon. Here are 25 things you never knew about this dedicated actor.
25. He lost 28 pounds in two weeks at the Platoon boot camp
Stories about the pre-Platoon boot camp that the film’s principal actors endured are the stuff of movie legend.
Before filming commenced, the cast undertook two weeks of intensive training organised by Oliver Stone and led by Vietnam vet Dale Dye, a consultant on the film and actor in the movie (he plays Captain Harris).
As well as being made to shave their heads, the cast underwent 16 to 18 hours of training a day.
They also weren’t allowed to shower or shave, and were made to sleep in two-hour shifts every night.
What’s more, the Platoon actors were only permitted to eat very meagre army rations.
This limited diet plus the physical exertion required by the training programme saw Berenger lose a staggering 28 pounds during the two weeks.
24. He nearly missed out on his Platoon role to Mickey Rourke
Berenger bagged an Oscar nomination – his first and to date only – for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Sergeant Barnes in Platoon.
But he almost didn’t get the role, as director Oliver Stone initially had Mickey Rourke down as his first choice for Barnes.
However, Rourke turned down the role – he made Angel Heart that year instead – which ultimately cleared the way for Berenger to bag the part.
Stone intentionally cast Berenger in the role as he wanted to show a different side to the actor, with Berenger having largely played good guys in films up until that point.
Berenger spoke about his time playing the character in the 2018 documentary Brothers in Arms.
“I don’t think Barnes is psychotic, but I think four tours of duty and all that stuff is making him… He’s just a warrior going mad, I think,” he said. “He’s trying to keep his guys alive and destroy the enemy, and like Oliver said, he was a pretty good soldier to be in combat with. He knew what to do.”
23. He hated making Sliver
Phillip Noyce’s 1993 film Sliver was a notorious flop. Critics universally panned the film – on Metacritic, the film has a measly average score of 38/100.
Part of the reason Sliver bombed so badly is down to the fact that filmmakers faced a major battle with the MPAA.
Pressure from the MPAA meant that producers were forced to conduct multiple reshoots, which ultimately changed the nature of the whole film.
These rushed reshoots necessitated altering huge aspects of the film’s plot, such as the killer’s identity.
Berenger didn’t have a good time making the film due to these endless reshoots and script changes.
He also accused Noyce of “sneaking around and manipulating” the cast. The film was so bad that it even saw Berenger nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor.
22. He turned down the role of Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice
Who else but Don Johnson could play the suave Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice? Tom Berenger, apparently.
The studio reportedly originally wanted to get Berenger to sign up to play the part, but he turned it down.
Don Johnson was actually relatively low down on the studio’s list of potential Sonny Crocketts.
Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges were also approached about playing the role, but like Berenger they too turned it down.
Although Berenger doubtless would have dazzled as Crockett, it’s hard to imagine anyone else but Johnson in the role now.
Johnson went on to win a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series – Drama in 1986 for his portrayal of Crockett.
21. He’s appeared in four films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar
It’s every actor’s dream to be involved in a film that gets nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Amazingly, this has happened to Berenger a staggering four times – a hugely impressive feat by anyone’s standards.
The first Best Picture-nominated film Berenger starred in was The Big Chill back in 1983.
Then came Platoon in 1986, Born on the Fourth of July in 1989 and Inception in 2010.
Out of these films, Platoon was the only one to actually bring home the award.
Berenger was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Platoon, although the Oscar ultimately went to Michael Caine for his performance as Elliott Daniels in Hannah and Her Sisters.
20. He says he’s “glad” his Hollywood career is over
Although Tom Berenger is still making films, he’s definitely some distance from the blockbuster peak he experienced in the 80s and early 90s.
It seems this is a conscious decision, too: speaking to Mandatory in 2010, Berenger said that he was “kind of glad” his career was coming to an end.
“You have actors doing auditions, they mail in their auditions, they Skype it. That’s weird to me. It’s just strange,” he said.
“I’m kind of glad it’s almost over for me in a way. I’m glad I’m done,” Berenger went on to say.
“I’m glad my kids aren’t in the business because I go where’s the theatre? Where’s all that?”
“I just don’t see it anymore. How does anybody get more than a five-year career anymore.”
19. He had a “hard time understanding” Inception
If you had a hard time understanding Inception, you weren’t alone – even Tom Berenger himself, who stars in the film as Peter Browning, did.
Berenger revealed in a 2010 interview with Mandatory that he struggled to get to grips with the movie’s complex plot.
“I had a hard time understanding it actually. It was kind of difficult but then if you think about it, your dreams are weird,” he said.
“Dreams are weird, right? What was that all about? So they had to be that way.”
“People go, “What does it mean? What do our dreams mean?” The ancients spent a lot of time thinking about that.”
He continued: “I don’t know, I had a hard time understanding it.” You and us both, Berenger.
16. He was given just 24 hours to decide if he wanted to star in Nightmares & Dreamscapes
Berenger stars in the eight-episode 2006 anthology series Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King as successful writer Richard Kinnell.
Berenger almost didn’t take the part, however – as when he was offered the role, he only had 24 hours to decide if he wanted it or not.
While this put pressure on Berenger to decide, it seems it worked, and he gladly accepted the part without even reading the script.
The first time he actually sat down to look at the script was when he was on board the flight to Australia before filming commenced.
The series was an eight-episode anthology based on short stories written by Stephen King. It ran in summer 2006.
The series was well-received and released on DVD in October 2006. It currently holds a 6.9/10 rating on IMDb.
17. He’d like to swap places with Jack Nicholson for a day
Speaking to Larry King in 2018, Berenger revealed the person he’d most like to trade places with for 24 hours.
King asked him “who would you trade places with for a day?”, to which Berenger replied “Jack Nicholson.”
“Just to see what a day in his life was like,” he continued. “It might be scary, but yeah.”
Berenger isn’t the only actor who holds Shining star Jack Nicholson in such high regard.
Many other actors – including Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio – admire Nicholson for his acting talents.
DiCaprio once said: “Out of any actor, I can’t think of anyone who’s got more memorable moments in cinema than Jack Nicholson.”
16. He got his first stage role in a Spanish-language play while he was still learning Spanish
It must be hard for any actor to pluck up the courage to get involved in their first ever play.
Still, it’s even harder to try out acting for the first time when you’re doing it in another language.
Amazingly, Tom Berenger’s first experience of acting in any medium was when he performed a play in Spanish.
This happened when Berenger was still in high school and taking an advanced Spanish class.
Apparently, Berenger was at the time a shy and reserved guy, and so was strongly encouraged to take part in the play by his teacher.
Thankfully Berenger enjoyed the experience and went on to have a prolific acting career (plus he’s fluent in Spanish now).
15. He won the role of Butch Cassidy because he looked a bit like Paul Newman
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a classic American Western film starring Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid.
The 1969 film was so popular that it inspired a 1979 prequel called Butch and Sundance: The Early Days.
The prequel starred Tom Berenger as Butch Cassidy and William Katt as the Sundance Kid.
Berenger apparently won the role partly because of his resemblance to the original Butch Cassidy, Paul Newman.
The prequel went on to receive mixed reviews. Esteemed critic Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4, calling it “technically fine.”
That said, the movie did go on to receive a nomination for the Oscar for Best Costume Design.
14. He was considered for the role of the Master in Doctor Who
British series Doctor Who returned in the form of a movie in 1996 after its suspension in 1989.
It featured Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy as the eighth and seventh doctors respectively.
American actor Eric Roberts starred as the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master – but apparently, the role nearly went to Tom Berenger.
A whole host of other actors were considered for the iconic role, including Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi.
Steve Buscemi, Chevy Chase, Phil Collins, Tim Curry, Timothy Dalton and Richard Dreyfuss were also in the running.
Somewhat bizarrely, musicians David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Sting were also considered for the part.
13. He turned down Richard Gere’s role in Pretty Woman
Richard Gere was a perfect fit for the role of rich businessman Edward Lewis in 1990 film Pretty Woman.
Esteemed critic Roger Ebert heaped praise on his performance: “Gere plays new notes here; his swagger is gone, and he’s more tentative, proper, even shy […] Gere’s career is on a roll right now.”
The film itself was a hit, making $463 million at the box office to become the third-highest-grossing film of 1990.
Unfortunately for Tom Berenger, Gere’s success could have been his, as he was briefly in the running for the role of Edward.
Berenger ultimately turned the role down. Burt Reynolds was also offered the part but, like Berenger, rejected it.
Gere reportedly needed some convincing but – thankfully – ultimately came around and signed up for the role.
12. Oliver Stone ordered Berenger to make the little girl cry in Platoon
One of the most harrowing scenes in Platoon is when Berenger’s character, Sgt. Barnes, holds a gun to a young girl’s head.
The young girl – credited as Li Thi Van but now known as Edith Thomas – appeared in the film when she was just 12 years old.
Apparently director Oliver Stone demanded that Berenger make Thomas – who was not an actress – cry real tears.
Berenger succeeded, but making Thomas cry with fear has never been something he felt particularly proud of.
“When I had to put the pistol to the little girl’s head, that to me was tough,” he admitted in the 2018 making-of Platoon documentary Brothers in Arms.
Thomas and Berenger were reunited for the first time at the Key West Film Festival in 2018 and Berenger was finally able to assuage his guilty feelings about the scene.
11. He refused to shoot a scene in S&M gear for Sliver
Berenger has spoken freely about how displeased he was with the number of reshoots he was required to do for Sliver.
There was one planned scene that was intended as part of the re-shot ending which Berenger even flat out refused to do.
The revised ending required Berenger and his co-star Polly Walker to film a scene wearing S&M gear.
Both actors refused to do this – and there was nothing producers could do as this wasn’t in their original contract.
Instead of changing the scene (again), producers opted to use body doubles of both Berenger and Walker.
The film was ultimately panned by critics and today holds an impressively bad rating of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
10. He believes actors are going to be replaced by holograms
Back in March 2020, the late Larry King interviewed Berenger and asked him about the future of the entertainment industry.
“You think actors will soon be replaced by holograms?”, King asked Berenger, referring to a comment the actor made a few years ago.
“I did say that,” Berenger said. “I think it’s going towards that. I think that could happen.”
“I mean, and you think about it, could they just steal Humphrey Bogart’s image or John Wayne’s and then create them again?”
“And you could see them in a play or see them in a movie again,” he continued. “And then they could control them – the producers could run the whole thing.”
“I don’t know if you’d have to pay their estate. But you could invent actors too, and then you don’t need them anymore.”
9. He gave the Gettysburg cast engraved swords addressed to their characters from ‘General Longstreet’
As a history buff, filming 1993’s Gettysburg and portraying General Longstreet was a memorable experience for Tom Berenger.
Berenger was so excited to shoot the film that he decided to give all the principal cast members a present before filming commenced.
At the start of production, Berenger gifted each of his fellow Confederate cast members with a real sword.
The swords were engraved with their respective characters’ names and said they were ‘from General Longstreet.’
Berenger loved his role as General Longstreet so much that he went on to open a club named after him after shooting wrapped.
The club was located in Wilmington, North Carolina and was named Longstreet’s Irish Pub. The club has been closed since 2019.
8. He got into acting by chance after hearing an ad on the radio
As aforementioned, Berenger’s first taste of acting came in high school when he performed in a Spanish play.
But he only really got into acting while he was a student at the University of Missouri.
Berenger revealed when speaking to Larry King in March 2020 that he fell in love with theatre completely by chance.
“It was at university. I was a sophomore – I think I was about 19,” he began.
“I heard an ad on the radio for tryouts for a play at the university theatre…I told my roommate, I said, ‘I’m gonna go do that.’ And he goes, ‘come on, you’re not an actor.'”
Thankfully, Berenger didn’t listen to his roommate and managed to get a part in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, starting him on the path to becoming a Hollywood star.
7. He’s been married four times and has six children
Like many other big names in Hollywood, Berenger has not had the most uncomplicated love life.
In total, Berenger has been married four times and has six children from three of these marriages.
The actor was married to his first wife Barbara Wilson between 1976 and 1984. The couple had two children together.
Berenger’s first daughter Allison was born in 1977 and his first son Patrick was born in 1979.
He was married to his second wife, Lisa Williams, for 11 years between 1986 and 1997. They shared three children together: Chelsea, Chloe, and Shiloh.
Berenger had his last child, Scout, with Patricia Alvaran. Alvaran and Berenger were married between 1998 and 2011. Berenger is currently married to Laura Moretti, with whom he tied the knot in September 2012.
6. He loved The Big Chill’s location so much he got married and bought a house there
1983 American comedy-drama film The Big Chill was one of Tom Berenger’s first successful movies.
It seems that the movie – and the filming location in particular – made a huge impact on the young actor.
Apparently Berenger loved the American countryside location in the film so much that he went on to buy a house in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Not only that, but he even ended up getting married on the garden lawn of the Tidalholm Mansion.
It seems as though the slower pace of life in South Carolina suits down-to-earth Berenger more than the glitz of Hollywood.
Speaking to Larry King in March 2020, Berenger also added that he moved to South Carolina because he “likes hurricanes.”
5. His Platoon makeup took three hours to apply every day
Berenger’s character in Platoon, the uncompromising Sgt Barnes, is a distinctive one to say the least.
Barnes is an important character – but he’s also particularly memorable due to the scarring on his face.
If you only knew Berenger from Platoon, you’d be forgiven for thinking he really did have a huge scar on his cheek.
But, of course, in real life Berenger doesn’t really have a scar across his face like Sgt. Barnes does.
The scar was achieved by skilled makeup artists who needed three hours every morning to get the scar on Berenger’s face looking just right.
Apparently the crew managed to cut down on the amount of time it took to draw on Barnes’ scar as they got more skilled as filming went on.
4. Rough Riders’ Teddy Roosevelt was the “most exhausting part” Berenger ever played
Another fan wrote in to Larry King Now in March 2020 to ask if any particular role had stood out in his career.
“A big one for me was Teddy Roosevelt from Rough Riders,” Berenger revealed in the interview.
“It was the most exhausting part I ever played because he just wore me out,” he continued.
“But it went splendidly for me. I had a field day with it. I could improvise.”
“And he’s one of the funniest presidents we’ve ever had, so that was nice.”
The Rough Riders miniseries was actually pitched to producer Ted Turner by Berenger after they successfully worked together on Gettysburg.
3. He’s a history buff
Berenger is a huge fan of history. In an interview with Larry King in 2018, King asked the actor what his guilty pleasure was.
Berenger’s response? “I read a lot of history books and stuff. I’m fascinated by history.”
King later asked Berenger to name a luxury he couldn’t live without, to which he responded: “sneaking into Barnes and Noble and getting a couple more history books.”
Berenger’s interest in history has even led him to pursue acting projects which offer him the chance to dive into historical research.
One of his favourite roles was as Lt. General James Longstreet in Gettysburg, set during the American Civil War.
The film received rave reviews from critics, with Roger Ebert claiming that Civil War buffs would find the movie “indispensable.”
2. There’s now an acting scholarship in Berenger’s name
It’s always nice when a successful and prolific actor tries to use their privilege for good and to help other people.
Many actors have done charity work or set up scholarships to help disadvantaged young people get into acting.
Tom Berenger is one such actor. In 1988 he set up the Tom Berenger Acting Scholarship Fund.
The award is available to undergraduate theatre majors at the University of Missouri-Columbia (Berenger’s old college).
Applicants for the award must have 75 semester hours completed and be involved as an actor in the production program with a minimum 2.6 GPA.
The award programme is still going to this day, so you’re in luck if you’re a theatre major at the University of Missouri-Columbia!
1. His great-great-great-great-grandfather was a famous Irish poet and songwriter
Speaking to Larry King in 2018, Berenger revealed that his Irish great-great-great-great grandfather was a hugely successful poet and songwriter.
“He wrote Garryowen which was the regimental song of the seventh cavalry – and they still play it when they salute,” he revealed.
“You might remember the movie We Were Soldiers Once and Young, and when they salute they go ‘Garryowen sir.'”
“And they still do that in the seventh cavalry regiment of the first air cav division,” he continued.
“It was an Irish drinking song which was based on a fight that happened in Limerick between college students, and he just wrote this funny drinking song.”
“The band played that at Lincoln, Nebraska when Custer said goodbye to his wife and they all headed off to Montana,” he said.