‘Tasty Waves’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’
Based on Cameron Crowe’s 1981 book Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story, which he wrote after going undercover as a high school student, the 1982 coming-of-age comedy ushered in the modern teen movie era. Featuring an ensemble cast that would become the stars of the future — it was both Nicolas Cage and Forest Whitaker’s first feature films — Universal Pictures didn’t have much hope for a movie about sexed-up teenagers. Which is why they were quite surprised when audiences far and wide wouldn’t stop raving about and quoting the film to no end.
It was a word-of-mouth success story and proof that studio bigheads don’t always know what they’re talking about. Read on about the making of the film that gave us the surfer stoner trope and nearly had as much male nudity as it had boobs...
The Movie Led to Nicolas Cage Changing His Surname
Cage was only 17 when he had a brief appearance in his first feature film as “Brad’s Bud.” The actor coveted the role of Brad but claimed that both his age and being a Coppola made him lose out on the role. “I must have auditioned for the Judge Reinhold part 10 or 11 times,” Cage, who was credited as Nicolas Coppola in the movie, told Huffington Post. “I was underage, so I couldn’t get it because I couldn’t work as many hours. And 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.”
He went on to say that it was an experience he’d sooner forget, adding that some folks who worked on the movie “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.”
Reinhold Had a Hard Time (Sorry) Filming That Scene
Reinhold said that filming Brad’s infamous masturbation scene was nerve-racking. “We started out with me standing. And there was something kind of creepy about it. It was too something, too seedy,” he told L.A. Magazine. “I don’t think a male director would have figured this out. Amy (Heckerling, the director) said, ‘Get on your knees,’ and that made me more vulnerable. So I did that, and it was funny. It felt less creepy. I did a couple takes, and then I jumped up and ran out. Because I was so embarrassed. And Amy came after me. I wasn’t going to split; I just had to take a breath. We’re walking around the block, and she goes, ‘Judge, it’s a love scene. Only it’s with yourself.’ And we laughed so much. She was my bud, and that was like the best thing that she could have done.”
It Ushered in the ‘Teen Movie Featuring a Mall’ Trend
After reading Crowe’s book, Heckerling wanted to make the mall an even bigger character in the movie. “Movies I had seen on TV that had teenagers back then would go to what was like the soda shop,” Heckerling explained to Variety. “There was always a place where people went, and they sat. … People from school could be together in a non-school atmosphere.”
The Film Originally Had an X Rating
Heckerling added a shot that briefly showed Mike’s dong in the scene where he strips down to get frisky with Jennifer Jason Leigh. The director argued that she didn’t want the women in the movie to be the only ones showing skin: “It just seemed unfair. You could see a naked lady, but you couldn’t see a naked man?” However, the inclusion of some balls led to the MPAA slapping an X rating onto the movie that, if not changed, would’ve made it extremely hard for teens to see the film. Heckerling ended up blurring the shot.
Forest Whitaker Gained Weight to Play His Part
The Oscar award-winning actor told the L.A. Times that he “had been playing football in college, and they were casting the part of a football player. At that time, for a minute in my life, I was really skinny. I had to gain, like, 50 pounds to play the part. They wanted him to be on the bigger side.”
Jeff Spicoli’s Interview During the Dream Scene Was Supposed to Be on ‘The Tonight Show’
In Crowe’s book, Spicoli’s dream sequence takes place on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The scene was written and pitched to Carson, but he turned it down. So did Merv Griffin, Tom Snyder and David Letterman. The scene was then changed to have Stu Nahan interview Spicoli at a surfing competition instead.
It Was Heckerling’s Feature Film Debut
Heckerling Shot a Scene Purely to Shock the Studio
In an interview on The Dan Patrick Show, Crowe revealed that Heckerling extended the scene where Linda walks in on Brad getting his jollies off purely to shock the studio. In the shot, the camera pans down on Brad, “and let’s just say he was carrying a very large accessory that didn’t make it into the movie but made people laugh in shock,” Crowe said.
Universal Didn’t Want to Market the Movie Because They Thought It Was Porn
When the movie was ready for release, Universal Pictures decided to ditch a marketing push because the film lacked big Hollywood stars and was apparently too sexy for them. “We were really heartsick because somebody high up said, ‘This is pornography, and there’s no way that Universal’s going to release this movie,’” Reinhold remembers. “We didn’t see it as this horny high school movie at all. We saw it as having the opportunity to do something authentic that was based on the actual experiences of the kids that Cameron chronicled for that whole year.”
“They were going to put it on the shelf because they didn’t see how it would make any money,” Heckerling added during the cast and crew’s 40th anniversary. “They decided they would just open it in a few theaters on the West Coast, and they did that, and people kept coming back and knew all the dialogue. So then they quickly put it out in the rest of the country. There was no advertising beforehand — I was bummed out.”
In 2005, the film was added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
The Movie Had a TV Show Spin-Off
Called Fast Times and enjoying a full seven episodes in 1986, the short-lived series was helmed by Crowe and Heckerling and starred Vincent Schiavelli and Patrick Dempsey.
The Inspiration Behind Mark ‘The Rat’ Ratner Went on to Write Microsoft’s ‘For Dummies’ Books
Andy Rathbone was a high school student at Clairemont High in San Diego, the same school where Crowe went undercover to learn more about teens in the 1980s. Crowe befriended Rathbone and based Ratner on him, and in 1992 Rathbone published the New York Times bestseller Windows For Dummies.
Other Big Names Were Considered
Everyone from Tom Hanks to Jodie Foster to Matthew Broderick to Michelle Pfeiffer were considered for various roles. Hanks was up for the part of Brad, and Broderick was considered for the role of Jeff Spicoli. Foster, Diane Lane and Brooke Shields were thrown into the mix when casting Stacy, and both Melanie Griffith and Tatum O’Neal missed out on playing Linda.
The Studio Initially Didn’t Provide the Crew Access to the Lot
Again, at one point, Universal Pictures thought that the movie about life as a horny teenager would sink the studio. As a result, the filmmakers weren’t given much consideration, and when production began, couldn’t even get into the lot. “The hierarchy of the studio never took the movie seriously,” Crowe remembers. “In fact, they kind of turned a blind eye to it. We barely could get on the lot. I remember there was a guy at the front gate named Scotty. He would remember that we were making a movie there. The other guys were like, ‘What are you doing trying to get on the lot?’ We’re like, ‘We’re making this movie called Fast Times at Ridgemont High.’ And they said, ‘No, the studio’s not making a movie called Fast Times at Ridgemont High. We really kind of snuck through.”
The Actor Who Played Mr. Vargas’ Wife Was Murdered Years Later
Lana Clarkson, who played Mrs. Vargas and was briefly seen at the high school dance, was shot and killed by record producer Phil Spector at his mansion in 2003. Spector was convicted in 2009.
The Film Was Dictated By the Soundtrack the Studio Wanted
At the time of the movie’s production, music executive Irving Azoff was heading Universal’s movie soundtracks. Heckerling once told Billboard that she was notified by producer Art Linson that the songs weren’t her problem and that Azoff’s choices (and artists working for him) would inform the beats and acts of the script. Both Heckerling and Crowe did, however, manage to get a few of their favorites in. Some, not so much.
“They originally wanted me to use a song that I really didn’t like,” Heckerling said, referring to the song “Raised On the Radio” by The Ravyns used in Brad’s car-washing scene. “I had used The Go-Go’s in all the temp tracks, but we couldn’t possibly have that because it was becoming a giant hit, and everybody’s saying ‘no.’ So I was thinking about what was possible to have, and I had this record by Kim Wilde that was ‘Kids in America.’ And I thought, ‘Well, this is kind of a cool song for seeing all the kids in the mall and all these different types of personalities.’ But I would put it in Clueless a decade-and-a-half later.”