It’s strange to have the story of your life become a best-selling memoir. It’s stranger still to have that memoir become a movie that opens on more than 2,400 screens. And it’s strangest of all to know millions of Americans are looking at Jake Gyllenhaal wearing little more than a Santa hat and thinking that guy is you. EW asked Anthony Swofford, 35, to take us on his long, strange trip through Jarhead’s opening weekend. Join him on the ride.
Friday, November 4
8 AM Check calendar, yes this is the fourth. Movie opens. Hosted screening last night in Philly, escorted out of theater by a cop who’d served in the Gulf War and said he was going to see the movie over the weekend.
Coffee for breakfast. Beautiful day in New York City. Walk the streets.
1 PM Interview on Fox News, female host asks for Jake’s number on air. Guest after me: a Chihuahua.
2 PM Lunch alone on Ninth Avenue, carrot soup.
3 PM Mother calls to tell me she and 10 friends from her poker game are watching the movie in Sacramento tonight. Wonder, will the theater be full? Second time she’s seen the film. How must she feel, Jake on screen being called Anthony, Tony, Swofford. Will she want him as a son? Will she tell me to go to the gym? Will she now ask me about the Santa hat? What is my mother doing playing poker?
6:15 PM Arrive at studio for taping of MSNBC show. Big show tonight with members of West Wing cast. Wonder, where does news begin and entertainment end these days? How does the viewer know? I only watch TV in hotel rooms and greenrooms. Storms: news. Newscasters who report storms: entertainment. Interviewed on annoying satellite link, staring into eye of camera. Disorienting.
7:30 PM Dinner on East Side with friends, the Movermans. Oren and Yael, their children Maya and Amir. Order in, Italian: Eat three pounds of pasta. Appetite from? Stress? What if the theaters are empty? No way to know.
Amir asks if I met anyone famous at the premieres. In L.A. I saw George Lucas across the room. In New York I heard that Ang Lee and Spike Lee were there, but I didn’t speak to either of them. I would’ve wanted to talk to Spike: School Daze and Do the Right Thing, favorite films of youth, and Ang’s Ice Storm favorite film of late 20s.
Amir seems disappointed I didn’t meet anyone famous: I tell him the jokes I know about Hollywood and writers, they are the same jokes he has heard from his screenwriter father. Maya tells me they saw the trailer 48 times last week. Amir breaks in, ”See this kid,” and does a perfect rendition of Jake from the trailer voice-over. As I leave, Amir asks, ”Swoffie, you think the opening-weekend numbers will beat Black Hawk Down?”
10:30 PM Asleep in my apartment.
Saturday, November 5
9 AM Awake from deep sleep. Look at Empire State Building from bed. Building never changes. Begin to count windows on Empire State. Realize this might be sign of mental deterioration, continue to count. Two messages on cell phone — the Friday box office exceeded studio projections. People want to see this movie. Trade phone messages with Jarhead screenwriter Bill Broyles. He tells me his son returned from Iraq on Friday and that they dropped their rucksacks in the squad bay and headed to a theater to watch Jarhead. Important that vets from current and former wars watch movie and relate.