15 Facts About Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Even if you already have most of Fast Times at Ridgemont High memorized, get to know the teen sex comedy on a deeper level with these behind-the-scenes facts.

1. Fast Times at Ridgemont High began as a non-fiction book.

While a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, screenwriter Cameron Crowe spent a year secretly embedded at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California under an assumed name (and in cooperation with the school’s administration) to gather stories for a non-fiction book with the same title. Crowe’s book was published in 1981; a year later, it was adapted for the screen.

2. The inspiration for Mark “The Rat” Ratner would go on to become a real-life computer guru.

Crowe based the geeky Rat on then-Clairemont High School student Andy Rathbone. Rathbone eventually became rich and famous for writing many of the “…for Dummies” books about computer programs like Windows.

3. Fast Times is Amy Heckerling’s directorial debut.

Heckerling, who would go on to direct Look Who’s Talking and Clueless, was hired to direct Fast Times at Ridgemont High based on her AFI thesis film. Called Getting it Over With, it’s about a 19-year-old girl trying to lose her virginity before she turns 20.

4. Jennifer Jason Leigh also did a bit of undercover work to prepare.

Twenty-year-old Leigh took a job at the actual Perry’s Pizza in the Sherman Oaks Galleria mall, where parts of the movie were shot, to get into character as Stacy Hamilton.

5. Nicolas Cage made his big screen debut in Fast Times as “Brad’s Bud.”

Cage was originally supposed to play Brad, but the filmmakers relegated him to a background role after his improvisations during the auditioning process were deemed too weird. The credits list Cage as “Nicolas Coppola.” He later changed his last name professionally to avoid charges of nepotism—he is the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola.

6. Despite being a movie about high school, Cage was the only cast member under the age of 18.

Because of the sometimes-explicit nature of the film’s subject matter, casting directors made sure actors who auditioned were 18 years of age or older. Cage, who was only 17, lied about his age to snag a role.

7. Sean Penn didn’t have to audition for the Spicoli role.

He was cast after a brief chat prior to his scheduled audition.

8. Penn stayed in character during the film’s entire shoot.

Always the method actor, Penn forced everyone on-set to call him “Spicoli” and wouldn’t answer to his actual name. Other Fast Times actors made fun of him behind his back by calling him “Sean DeNiro.”

9. Fast Times is Best Actor Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker’s first film.

He plays enraged football player Charles Jefferson.

10. Herman Munster thought the movie was too obscene.

Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster from the television show The Munsters) was originally offered the role of Mr. Hand, but he turned it down because he objected to the teenage sex and drug use in the script.

11. Universal Studios originally approached David Lynch to direct.

He politely turned them down, saying the script wasn’t in his wheelhouse.

12. Bruce Springsteen’s sister has a cameo.

She plays the dark-haired cheerleader on the left during the pep rally.

13. No original music was written for the film.

The score was taken from Universal Studios’ library of prerecorded music.

14. Heckerling and Crowe filled the cast with friends and lovers.

Judge Reinhold was asked to play Brad because he was director Amy Heckerling’s upstairs neighbor in Los Angeles. Heckerling also cast her ex-husband, David Brandt, and his real-life band, Reeves Nevo & The Cinch, as the band at the dance and her ex-boyfriend, Beverly Hills Cop and Scent of a Woman director Martin Brest, as the doctor on the field trip near the end of the film. The woman who pulls up next to Brad’s car and laughs at him while he’s wearing his Captain Hook’s Fish and Chips uniform is Crowe’s then-girlfriend and ex-wife Nancy Wilson, guitarist for the band Heart.

15. Heckerling originally wanted to keep the fate of each character open-ended.

But Universal Studios mandated she end the movie with updates for each character, just like 1973’s American Graffiti.

15 Facts About Rushmore On Its 20th Anniversary

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

On December 11, 1998, Wes Anderson introduced the world to his unique brand of whimsical comedy with Rushmore. Though it wasn't his feature directorial debut—he had released Bottle Rocket, which he adapted from a short, in 1996—it was his first major Hollywood movie. And kicked off his still-ongoing collaborations with a stable of talented actors that includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was also the second film Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson.

To celebrate the quirky comedy's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about Rushmore.

1. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.

Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot the movie. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.

2. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.

Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.

3. Film critic Pauline Kael had a private screening.

Pauline Kael’s film criticism was a major influence on Anderson’s view of cinema. “Your thoughts and writing about the movies [have] been a very important source of inspiration for me and my movies, and I hope you don't regret that," he once wrote to her.

Kael retired from The New Yorker in 1991, so Anderson arranged for her to have a private screening of Rushmore before the film came out in 1998. He wrote about the screening in the introduction to the published version of the screenplay, and shared what Kael told him about the film: "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie."

4. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first film role.

Casting directors searched throughout the United States, Canada, and England to find a young actor to play the lead role of Max Fischer. Australian actor Noah Taylor was the frontrunner for the part when, on the last day of casting in Los Angeles, Jason Schwartzman auditioned. He was wearing a prep school blazer with a Rushmore Academy patch that he made himself.

5. Owen Wilson's private school experiences inspired some of the movie's plot points.

As a sophomore at St. Mark High School in Dallas, Texas, Rushmore co-writer Owen Wilson was expelled for stealing his geometry teacher's textbook (the one that contained all the answers); he went to Thomas Jefferson High School to complete 10th grade. This was the inspiration for when Max is expelled from Rushmore Academy and is forced to attend Grover Cleveland High School.

Although Wilson doesn’t have a credited role in Rushmore, he does appear as Ms. Cross’s deceased husband, Edward Appleby, in a photo in Appleby’s childhood bedroom.

6. Wilson's Dad Inspired a Moment in the Movie.

Wilson’s father, Robert Wilson, was the inspiration for Herman Blume’s speech about privilege at the beginning of Rushmore.

7. Alexis Bledel was an extra in the film.


Getty Images

Before she starred as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, actress Alexis Bledel was an uncredited extra—she played a Grover Cleveland High School student—in Rushmore. You can see her in the background in various scenes, including dancing with the character Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) at the end of the film.

8. Both Anderson and Wilson's brothers had parts in the movie.

Owen and Luke Wilson’s older brother Andrew plays Rushmore Academy’s baseball coach, Coach Beck. He also appeared in Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket, playing the bully John Mapplethorpe.

Eric Chase Anderson, Wes's brother, plays the architect who designs Max’s aquarium.

9. The Movie's Editor Made a Cameo.

Rushmore editor David Moritz plays the Dynamite Salesman; he sells Max the dynamite and explosives for his stage play Heaven and Hell at the end of the film.

10. Producers Made a Deal to get a Bentley.

Producers needed a Bentley for Murray's character, Herman Blume, but Rushmore’s production budget was only $20 million and they couldn’t afford to rent one. A Houston resident was willing to lend them his Bentley if they gave his daughter a role in the film. Producers agreed; the man's daughter plays an usher who seats Miss Cross at Max’s play at the end of the movie.

11. Mason Gamble's role in Dennis the Menace almost cost him the part of Dirk Calloway in Rushmore.

Mason Gamble in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Wilson referred to the character of Dirk Calloway, played by Mason Gamble, as the conscience of the film. Originally, Anderson didn’t want to cast Gamble in the part because of the actor’s previous—and very recognizable—role as Dennis Mitchell in the 1993 live-action movie Dennis the Menace.

12. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.

Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)

13. Anderson's Brother Did the Movie's Criterion Collection Artwork.

The Criterion Collection edition of 'Rushmore' (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Eric Chase Anderson did the artwork for the Criterion Collection DVD cover, an interoperation of a shot from the montage of Max’s extracurricular activities at the beginning of the movie. The Yankee Racer shot is itself a recreation of a photo from French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, taken in 1909 when he was only 15.

14. Schwartzman waxed his chest to play Max.

Although Max only shows his chest once in the film (during the high school wrestling match), Anderson made Schwartzman wax his chest for the duration of Rushmore's filming.

15. The Max Fischer Players Appeared on MTV.

During the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, the Max Fischer Players recreated the year's hit movies—The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight—as stage plays.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Says Broadway Made Him a Better Actor

Dominik Bindl, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl, Getty Images

For 10 years, moviegoers watched as Daniel Radcliffe matured on film throughout eight Harry Potter films. But the 29-year-old recently revealed that he believes the bulk of his professional growth has occurred as a result of his Broadway stage work.

“It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe told Variety. “I feel like doing theater ... it was really very important for me psychologically.”

Radcliffe starred in a number of films after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final film in the franchise, including The Woman in Black, Now You See Me 2, and Lost in London. His Broadway credits include Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.

“There’s something about doing it without an editor to save you, or a myriad of things in post-production that can help you out, something that made me go: ‘OK, I can act,’" Radcliffe continued. "I’ve grown a little bit as an actor every time I’ve gone back to the theater."

Radcliffe crediting his professional growth to working in theater may leave some Potterheads wondering if he thinks playing Harry Potter for so long held him back.

“Not professionally, at all,” he said. “There were moments when probably I coped with the personal effects of Harry Potter not as well as I could have. But professionally, no.”

According to Radcliffe, "There are directors that were, I think, excited to—I am quoting one of them here and I won’t say who—'reinvent' me.”

Radcliffe fans can gauge that reinvention for themselves with The Lifespan of a Fact, the new Broadway play starring Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and Cherry Jones. It is running at New York City's Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.

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