15 Colorful Facts About Varsity Blues
For what it's worth, Varsity Blues beat Friday Night Lights by a good five years in bringing the pressure-filled world of Texas high school football to the big screen. And unlike the latter, Varsity Blues had then-teen heartthrob James Van Der Beek starring as Jon "Mox" Moxon, the second-string quarterback for the West Canaan High Coyotes who gets a bump in the depth chart after Paul Walker's character, Lance Harbor, seriously injures his knee.
Mox, caring more about getting into Brown University and his girlfriend Julie (Amy Smart), rubs both his father and the win-at-all-costs head coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight) the wrong way. Here are some facts about the movie to read before you decide you don't want this life.
1. CHRIS KLEIN WAS UP FOR MOX.
Eight actors screen tested for the lead, including American Pie star Chris Klein. Director Brian Robbins asked Ron Lester, who played Billy Bob, who he thought should get the part. "I told him Van Der Beek," Lester said. "I remember that [Klein] was so much taller than me. It sucked. I’m like six foot and this guy’s towering me. I’m going, ’That’s not fair. No, no.'"
"I had to audition three times and screen test with six other people," Van Der Beek recalled of the film's casting process. "Despite Dawson's popularity, they didn't want me to play Mox, because they saw the work I did in television, and were convinced that there was no way I could play him."
2. JAMES VAN DER BEEK ONLY BEGAN ACTING AFTER GETTING HURT PLAYING FOOTBALL.
Van Der Beek suffered a concussion trying to catch a pass in eighth grade. While taking a year off from football per doctor's orders, he caught the acting bug and never looked back. Van Der Beek used his older brother's pigskin experiences as a guidepost for the part. "My brother played high school football for a team that won the state championship five years in a row," he explained to E!, "so I watched him go through all that insanity and I watched him deal with coaches like Kilmer. So it was one of the ways this film spoke to me."
3. RON LESTER WAS CAST BECAUSE OF HIS WORK ON GOOD BURGER.
Ron Lester landed the role of Spatch in Good Burger (1997) off of his first-ever Hollywood audition. Director Brian Robbins liked what he saw from Lester, and had him in mind when Varsity Blues came along. As Robbins told Grantland in 2014, “There was no second choice.”
4. MOX WORE THE NUMBER FOUR BECAUSE OF BRETT FAVRE.
In 2010, Van Der Beek explained that the former Packers/Vikings/Jets QB was the reason he wore the number four in the movie. "What more can you ask of a hero than to never give up and go out like a true warrior?," the actor/Packers fan tweeted.
5. WENDELL BROWN WAS GOOD ENOUGH TO BE SIGNED BY THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS.
Eliel Swinton, who played Wendell Brown in the film, was a top high school football prospect before playing college ball at Stanford. He was a team captain his senior year and the starting strong safety. He signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent, but his career was short-lived. He ended up staying in California and working as a production assistant before getting cast as the running back in Varsity Blues.
6. THAT BIKINI WAS MADE OF SHAVING CREAM, NOT WHIPPED CREAM.
“We wanted to be on the set so bad," Lester admitted of the famous Darcy Sears (Ali Larter) whipped cream bikini scene. "Later on, we found out it was shaving cream being that whipped cream melts." It was Larter's feature film debut.
7. SCOTT CAAN AND PAUL WALKER WERE ROOMMATES DURING PRODUCTION.
“I had never really been on location for a long amount of time," Scott Caan said of the experience. "When you’re in your 20s and leaving all your friends and family, you have no idea what it’s going to be like. I was complaining to my friends like, ‘I’m not going to like any of these guys.’ A bunch of actors, you know?” Paul Walker was one of the first people Caan (who played Charlie Tweeter) met on set, and they immediately clicked; shortly thereafter, they decided to room together during the film's production. The two-bedroom apartment they shared outside of Austin was "like a frat house," according to Caan. The two remained friends until Walker's death in 2013.
8. IT WAS SHOT ENTIRELY IN TEXAS.
Varsity Blues was shot over eight weeks. The first two weeks were filmed in Coupland before they moved on to the neighboring Elgin, Texas, which doubled as the fictional West Canaan. The games were shot in 8500-seat high school stadiums in Elgin and Georgetown.
9. VAN DER BEEK DIDN'T THINK "I DON'T WANT YOUR LIFE" WOULD BE SO HUGE.
"No. No clue at all," the actor insisted when asked in 2011 if he thought the line from the trailer and the movie would still be in all of our heads today. "We just kind of did it with escalating levels of frustration. I think there’s probably a quiet version that was Take One. An understated version, and then I remember being told, 'Let him have it. This is it.' At one point, in order to get Thomas Duffy’s (Sam Moxon) reaction shot, I think I said, 'I don’t want your fu*king life'—trying to create some sort of element of surprise."
10. LESTER HURT HIMSELF DURING FILMING.
He tore a patellar tendon, making the hook-and-ladder play tough to shoot. “Getting him into that three-point stance was the hardest thing to do," football coordinator Mark Ellis remembered. "He could make the catch on the hook and ladder. He had good hands, was a good athlete; he just had all that weight.”
11. PARAMOUNT GOT CALLS THAT LESTER WAS STEALING THE MOVIE.
According to Lester, the studio got calls from Van Der Beek's representation that he was "stealing" the movie from their client.
12. BILLY BOB'S BIG CLIMATIC SCENE WAS AIDED BY FRANK SINATRA.
Frank Sinatra died the day they shot the scene where Billy Bob messes around with his 12-gauge pump shotgun on the back of his truck, using his trophies for target practice. “I remember that night shooting that scene, and you don’t do that once, you do it over and over again from different angles," Robbins recalled. "And he was just able to deliver that performance over and over again, and those were real tears and real emotion coming out of him.”
Lester said Ol' Blue Eyes helped. “I’m a huge Frank Sinatra fan. Here I am, I’m already built up emotionally getting ready for this scene. Then I find out Frank Sinatra died just as I was about to go film. A lot of what you see in that shot, I give credit to the fact that we lost the Chairman.” Lester passed away in 2016 of liver and kidney failure.
13. PARAMOUNT WAS SUED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO OVER THE TITLE.
The University of Toronto had held the trademark on the phrase "Varsity Blues" for their collegiate teams since the 1980s, including for their football squad. As part of the settlement, Paramount agreed to put a disclaimer on the video and the book saying it wasn't based on the University of Toronto.
14. JOE PICHLER HAS BEEN MISSING SINCE 2006.
Joe Pichler portrayed Kyle Moxon, Mox's religion-obsessed younger brother. He left a note on his car in January 2006 which appeared to be a suicide note and hasn't been seen since.
15. THERE IS A TV SERIES IN THE WORKS.
On August 16, 2016, CMT announced that they were developing a television adaptation of the film. The pilot script will be written by the movie's screenwriter, W. Peter Iliff (Point Break, Patriot Games).