Captain Benjamin L. Willard is played by Martin Sheen. He is formerly 505 Battalion, 173rd Airborne, assigned to MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - Studies and Observations Group). He has undertaken a number of special operations for the U.S. Army and the CIA and is well versed in COMSEC. His final mission is to track down and kill renegade Col. Walter E. Kurtz.
Willard completed one tour of Vietnam and then returned home to the United States, where he was unable to re-adapt to his normal life. He and his wife divorced, and Willard returned to Saigon. He is clearly unsettled at the beginning of the film, completely drunk and high in a Saigon hotel room. Over the course of the film, Willard is only able to address the darkness in his own heart as he gets closer and closer to Kurtz. His character is loosely based on Charles Marlow in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Lt. General Corman
Lieutenant General Corman, Military Intelligence (G-2) is played by G.D. Spradlin. He is from the American south, and exhibits good manners, even though he is responsible for assigning Willard to his classified mission to track down and kill Kurtz.
Colonel Lucas, played by Harrison Ford, is the other military officer, along with Lt. General Corman, who assigns Willard his mission.
Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, is the Commanding Officer of 1st Squadron, 9th Air Cavalry Regiment. He is confident and filled with bravado. He has an air of absurdity, leading him to do things like send his soldiers out to surf in the middle of a battle and play Ride of the Valkyries during an airborne attack. He is a surfing fanatic, and gets very excited when he finds out that Lance Johnson is on Willard's PBR.
3rd Class Jay "Chef" Hicks, played by Frederic Forrest, is part of Willard's crew. He is a machinist from New Orleans, whom Willard describes as "wrapped too tight." Out of Willard's crew, he is the most affected by the brutality of the war. He has an affinity for smoking marijuana and looks forward to letters from his girlfriend, Eva. Before the war, Chef was studying to become a saucier. He dies by decapitation at Kurtz's compound.
Lance B. Johnson, played by Sam Bottoms, is a famous surfer from Los Angeles who is now Gunner's Mate, 3rd Class L. He is tan and blonde and has a handsome baby face. He enjoys psychedelic drugs, especially acid. Over the course of the film, he appears to become more and more spacey, speaking infrequently and painting his face. While at Kurtz's compound, Lance is enchanted by the Montagnard tribe, even participating in their final sacrifice ritual. Eventually, Willard pulls Lance back onto the PBR - the two men are the sole survivors of the mission.
Tyrone "Clean" Miller, played by Laurence Fishburne (who was only 14 at the time), is 17 years old when he joins Willard's mission. He is from the South Bronx. Clean and Chief develop a father-son bond. He displays arrogant behavior, drumming on the boat and playing loud rock music, which annoys Willard. He also opens fire on a sampan full of innocent Vietnamese people. Clean dies after being hit by Viet Cong fire from inside the jungle.
Chief Quartermaster George Phillips, played by Albert Hall, is the commander of the PBR that takes Willard and his crew up the Nung River. He is serious and usually tries to follow the rules, leading to frequent clashes with Willard. He eventually dies after being stabbed through the heart by a spear after the PBR ventures into Cambodia.
A manic American journalist and follower of Kurtz, played by (the equally unstable) Dennis Hopper. He greets the PBR as it arrives at Kurtz's compound for the first time. The character of the Photojournalist is based on Sean Flynn (the son of actor Errol Flynn), a news correspondent who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970, and the Russian "harlequin" from Heart of Darkness.
Col. Walter E. Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, was a highly decorated member of the U.S. Army Special Forces and the 5th Special Forces Group. However, he has gone rogue and is running his own command out of Cambodia. He is a powerful man, feared by the American military as well as the Viet Cong, the Cambodians, and the NVA. He has a wife and a son back home, whom he still cares about, but he is too far gone to ever return to his pre-war life. Kurtz is based on the character of Kurtz from Heart of Darkness.
Captain Richard M. Colby
Played by Scott Glenn, Colby was assigned to kill Kurtz, but instead, he defected and joined Kurtz's army. Originally, he was thought to be dead, but Willard receives a memo at Do Lung bridge containing Colby's missive to his wife, instructing her to sell all their possessions (and their children) because he is never coming back. Willard recognizes Colby at Kurtz's compound, but he never speaks.
Or the "agent," played by Bill Graham, is in charge of the USO Show where 3 Playboy Playmates perform for the troops at Hau Phat. After the troops become rowdy and start pawing at the playmates, The Promoter must hustle the girls back into the helicopter and take them to safety.
The third man, (played by Jerry Ziesmer) present at Willard's initial briefing, who only speaks one line: "Terminate. With Extreme Prejudice."
Cynthia Wood (1971 Playmate of the Year), Linda (Beatty) Carpenter (August 1976 Playmate), and Colleen Camp ("Miss May" Playmate).
Apocalypse Now Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Apocalypse Now is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.