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Thursday, March 29th, 2012

The Lost Roles of Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Lost Roles is a weekly column that takes a particular comedic performer, movie, or show, and dives deep into all of the casting possibilities that almost happened but didn't. This week, we turn our attention to the classic 80s high school comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Not just one of the best high school movies ever but one of the best movie comedies of all time ever, Fast Times at Ridgemont High turns 30 this year, but it’s aged better than a lot of other 80s movies. The film, the screenwriting debut of Cameron Crowe and directorial debut of Amy Heckerling, launched the movie careers of Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, and Forest Whitaker, as well as those of several other actors who had smaller parts (including Nicolas Cage!). Given that the movie’s cast was mostly made up of young unknown actresses and actors, it’s no surprise that some now-famous names tested for parts. Let’s take a look at some of the young performers who tried out for Fast Times and how the director of Eraserhead almost became involved.

Tom Hanks
The role: Brad Hamilton
Who got it: Judge Reinhold
According to IMDb, Tom Hanks, who was then just a sitcom star who had not broken into movies, was considered for the part of popular senior Brad Hamilton. Two years later, he scored his first major film role in Splash, which led to a career that never caused him to envy Judge Reinhold ever again.

Justine Bateman
The role: Linda Barrett
Who got it: Phoebe Cates
Justine Bateman was offered the part of Linda, who has that iconic bikini strip scene set to the Cars song that takes place in Judge Reinhold’s head, but she opted to take a role in the pilot to the NBC sitcom Family Ties instead. Although both Family Ties and Fast Times were major hits that would have helped Bateman’s career along, it was smart of her to go with the one that kept her employed for seven years and didn’t require her to do nudity.

Matthew Broderick
The role: Jeff Spicoli
Who got it: Sean Penn
Matthew Broderick turned down a number of big parts around this time, including what became Michael J. Fox’s role in Family Ties and Sean Penn’s in this movie, in order to take care of his terminally ill father, actor James Broderick. It’s hard to imagine Matthew Broderick capturing Spicoli as fully as Sean Penn did. Besides, it was his destiny to play that other iconic 80s high school slacker, Ferris Bueller.

Jodie Foster
The role: Stacy Hamilton
Who got it: Jennifer Jason Leigh
According to IMDb, Jodie Foster, who was then already more than a decade into her career as an adolescent actress, was considered for the female lead in the movie. Foster was not interested in taking the role, however, opting instead to focus on her studies at Yale. Foster passing on the project left the part of Stacy open for Jennifer Jason Leigh who jump-started her movie career here.

Sean Penn
The role: Brad Hamilton
Who got it: Judge Reinhold
When Sean Penn initially auditioned for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he tested for two roles: quintessential stoner Jeff Spicoli and well-liked burger flipper Brad Hamilton. Penn ended up being better suited to play Spicoli, a role that allowed him to steal the movie.

David Lynch
Director
Before Amy Heckerling was hired to turn Cameron Crowe’s script into a movie, David Lynch was offered the chance to direct, according to Flavorwire. Lynch turned the project down, along with another big movie that sounds like a bad fit for him, Return of the Jedi. Amy Heckerling did a fine job with Fast Times, and the movie would have definitely turned out more surreal and disturbing with Lynch in the director’s chair. He probably would have replaced Spicoli with a deformed baby or something.

Nicolas Cage
The role: Brad Hamilton
Who got it: Judge Reinhold
Nicolas Cage, who was using his birth name of Nicolas Coppola in the early 80s, told the press last year about the big part he tried out for in Fast Times. Says Cage, “I must have auditioned for the Judge Reinhold part 10 or 11 times.” Cage says that he was underage and couldn’t get the part because, as a minor, he legally couldn’t work the necessary hours. The role of Brad instead went to Reinhold, who was 24 at the time of filming. Although Judge Reinhold beat him out for the part, Cage ended up winning another role in the movie – albeit a miniscule one. He was cast as one of Reinhold’s character’s friends, and it was his first movie role. Nicolas Cage has later referred to the production of Fast Times as a “terrible experience,” saying “I was surrounded by actors, whose names I won't mention, who were not very open to the idea of a young guy named ‘Coppola’ being an actor. So that movie was instrumental in me changing my name because of the kind of unfortunate responses to my last name… They would congregate outside my trailer and say things, like quoting lines from Apocalypse Now, and it made it very hard for me to believe in myself."

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

  • pop11

    The wrong pictures are associated with Linda Barrett and Stacey Hamilton! They should be switched!

  • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

    @pop11 Fixed. Thanks!

  • Ray Anselmo@twitter

    In the past, I've compared Phoebe Cates to Pete Maravich — you look at the stat sheet/IMDb page and it's good but not extraordinary, and both their careers ended early. But talk to any guy who saw them in action in their prime … and they get this faraway look in their eye, and this wistful tone in their voice, and their descriptions are positively rhapsodic. (And Fast Times is Phoebe's answer to one of those 43 PPG seasons Pistol put up at LSU.) I can't imagine anyone else in the role of Linda, and wouldn't want to.

  • ProfKlickberg

    These articles are GREAT! What a good concept. David Lynch on Fast Times? America! If you've never had a chance to read the book, by the way, you should! It's hard to find, but quite the read…

  • Luke Donatelli@twitter

    If Nicolas Coppola was afforded his own trailer on the set of Fast Times, it was strictly because of his last name. Poor guy.

  • spiderduck1985

    good article. other facts worth mentioning is that Eric Stoltz auditioned for Spicoli. Also, Ralph Macchio auditioned for and had gotten the role of Mark "Rat" Ratner, but dropped out because he demanded a salary the director could not afford.