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'Chasing the Light:' Oliver Stone Goes Beyond His New Memoir

The director gets personal about his parents, the Vietnam War and his documentaries about Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin

Oliver Stone at the Beyond Fest 25th Anniversary Screening of Natural Born Killers

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Chasing the Light, Oliver Stone's newly published memoir of his first 40 years, is a ride as wild as any of his movies. But the scariest part isn't the Vietnam War, where he enlisted after dropping out of Yale (inspiring his Oscar-winning Platoon); nor his stint in a Mexican jail (which influenced his Oscar-winning Midnight Express); nor his druggy, crazy days as wunderkind director of Salvador, JFK, and Born on the Fourth of July. It turns out, as the 73-year-old director and screenwriter tells AARP, that the biggest drama was his own family life.

Your talent seems rooted in your parents’ personalities. Your dad — a conservative, unhappy Wall Street man with unproduced plays in his desk drawer — thought you were a radical bum and wished you were like your cousin, the millionaire Harvard economics teacher. And your mom?

Oliver Stone: Looking back, I can see the patterns of my father's discipline merging with my mother's indulgence. My father — that's where the writing came from. And as a director, you gotta look at my mother, who's a partygoer, a party animal.

They both took you to the movies a lot, but in a way she was making a movie in your house every night.

Yeah. Mom would be the director in me. I think I am the contradiction of those two. I'm double-minded, as Homer said of Odysseus.


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The book cover of the Oliver Stone memoir Chasing the Light

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Your parents might as well have been in parallel universes.

Totally. Many children of divorce will tell you the same thing: It creates this distrust in a child, especially an only child. What a shock that was. You think with your parents, everything's fine. And then you get a call at school, and it's all falling apart. And not only that, your house is gone, your home is gone — there is no family, basically. It's over. It's like death, like they've been wiped out in a car crash.

It turned out they were both cheating on each other, in a way living in a false reality.

She married a fantasy, like Scarlett O'Hara. You can't live in a fantasy. She tried. She's a fascinating figure. I wish I had finished my movie about her. It's the biggest hole in my life. You know, I should have made a movie about my mother, but I never did.

She said, “I wish you'd make a love story.” Well, some love story! It's more like a broken love story.

RELATED: Oliver Stone names his 10 favorite iconic films for Baby Boomers, here.

Some say you don't write great women characters, but is that really true?

I have strong women — I did a movie about a strong Vietnamese woman, Heaven and Earth [1993].

Your third movie about Vietnam, after Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.

I loved it, it was beautiful, but it didn't score. Joan Allen was strong [as Pat Nixon] in my film Nixon. So is Juliette Lewis in Natural Born Killers and Cameron Diaz in Any Given Sunday. I mean, I love women, but I never did that one story that really connected with the American public.

You were blown 20 feet in the air by an artillery shell in Vietnam. Did jungle war prepare you for Hollywood?

I certainly learned resilience in the infantry. You know how to survive. Keep jungle instincts — that's very important to moviemaking.

RELATED: Read about Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, whose own memoir inspired Stone's Born on the Fourth of Julyhere.

Like Vietnam, Hollywood is an out-of-control world, and you have to seize control of it or die.

That's correct. I'm very good at chaos. In my early days I was known as a chaos guy.

Willem Dafoe Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger during the filming of Platoon

Roland Neveu/LightRocket via Getty Images

Willem Dafoe (left), Charlie Sheen (center) and Tom Berenger during the filming of "Platoon."

Also, your autobiographical Platoon is about the Oliver Stone soldier (Charlie Sheen, 54) caught between two father-figure sergeants — kindly Willem Dafoe, who turns 65 July 22; and brutal Tom Berenger, 71 — who were based on your actual sergeants. Was that conflict influenced by your parents’ conflict?

You can say my father [and] my mother were a clash, so I was looking, seeing clashes. And I got into trouble. I was always in trouble with authority figures, right? So obviously I had a problem! [Laughs]

Was it painful to revisit your past and shape it into a book?

I enjoyed going back. You rediscover, you appreciate those moments that you missed. It was so fast when you live life, you're going like a train sometimes. Thank God I kept a diary. To understand these moments outside time and what they mean. I'm not looking to grind an ax or settle scores. I just wanted to write the truth.

Are you retired?

I'm easing into it. I'm semiretired, so to speak. I'm not interested in any script. It's exhausting and the tension levels are very high, and you risk having a heart attack or a stroke or something. Trying to keep up with the latest fad doesn't give me a thrill.

But you're making documentaries now, about Putin and Castro.

I am keeping my hand in. I've made eight or nine documentaries. I'm almost finished with JFK: Destiny Betrayed, a factual record of what the Assassination Records Review Board found in 1982 to 1996. Before I die, I want a record to come out of what they put out. And then the other one I'm doing, hopefully by the end of the year, is a documentary on clean energy — including nuclear energy — based on Joshua Goldstein's book A Bright Future.

Do you miss making feature films?

Frankly, I'm enjoying the memory business. If you can scrape out a book, you can really bring light and consciousness to the planet. No greater satisfaction exists now than a paragraph well-written in honor of something you value — more and more the older you get.

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