Grown-Up Child Actors Reveal What It Was Really Like to Graduate From ‘School of Rock’
Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of opening night for the iconic Jack Black comedy School of Rock, and the now-grown actors who starred as the precocious private school rockers are opening up about the fact that, yes, making the defining movie of middle-school musicians was exactly as cool as it looked.
Last week, Rolling Stone published their retrospective on the Richard Linklater-directed cult classic titled, “One Great Rock Movie Can Change the World: An Oral History of ‘School of Rock,’” which featured excerpts and interviews from the entire surviving cast as well as numerous behind-the-scenes professionals who helped to make School of Rock such an enduring and endearing hit. Black, of course, spoke effusively about the entry from his impressive filmography that he calls the “nearest and dearest to my heart,” and the accounts from Black’s then-prepubescent co-stars explored how strange, exciting and entirely unique the experience of turning from a normal kid with a knack for music into a bona-fide rock star truly was, on-screen and off.
As for the entirely singular experience of working with Black as an 11- or 12-year-old with little to no professional acting experience, Horace Green alumni were universal in their praise of their imposter substitute teacher. “He was just very, very fun,” said Rivkah Reyes, who played the band’s bass player Katie. “And really, he does have a young spirit. He was a big kid, but not in a man-child way, more just a kindred energy.”
Already a cult icon, Linklater insisted on doing things his own way when he reluctantly accepted the directing gig on School of Rock. Chief among Linklater’s demands was that the casting process would prioritize children who were musicians rather than established child stars. “You do a Hollywood movie and the studio goes, ‘Oh, we have this cute kid in this Disney show,’” the film’s cinematographer Rogier Stoffers recalled, “And then Rick’s like, ‘Well, can she play the guitar?’” As a result, most of the children chosen to appear in the film were ordinary music-loving middle schoolers from cities and towns other than New York or Los Angeles who were excited to have their first (and, in some cases, only) experience in showbusiness.
“My dad was a musician, and I was in the baby gate trying to listen in on rehearsal. I wanted to play as soon as I could. I had to let my hands grow before I could actually physically play guitar, but if I could have started earlier, I would have,” explained Joey Gaydos Jr., who played the band’s angsty and prominently featured guitarist Zack. The emotional arc of Gaydos Jr.’s character was one of the foundational storylines of the film, and the amateur musician from Dearborn, Michigan’s complete lack of acting experience was his biggest hurdle. “When I had to act so bummed out in the movie a lot — that was the greatest extent of my acting,” Gaydos Jr. explained. “Inside, I was having the best time.”
Maintaining a positive atmosphere for the underaged actors was a priority for the adults in the cast and crew, none more so than Black himself. Jordan-Claire Green, who played one of the so-called “groupies” Michelle, recalled the only mortifying moment when Black was inappropriately PG-13 (besides the time he called underaged girls “groupies”), saying “The only time I ever saw Black get nervous was one night we were on set, and he said a cuss word. I think it was ‘shit.’ He apologized to our parents. My mom was like, ‘You don’t think she’s ever heard me say ‘shit’?’”
Angelo Massagli, who played Frankie from the band’s security detail, admired Black’s ability to manage the responsibilities of both substitute teacher and the lead in a movie with a horde of child-actors to entertain, saying, “Now I’m 30, thinking what it’s like to be with 20 kids all day.”
The many stories told in the Rolling Stone piece paint the picture of an entirely unique grand adventure that a pack of pre-teen musicians got to enjoy for a few short months in the early aughts that still maintained a childlike sense of fun. Each cast member emphasized a different sleepover seance, five-star meal or fireworks show that sounds straight out of an escapist Disney original movie — but the biggest takeaway was how much the remaining cast members still value the relationships they formed on set. The cast continues to connect in a group chat titled “Schnayblay,” and they regularly perform songs from School of Rock at reunion shows — though they are absent one key member.
Kevin Clark, who played the anarchic drummer Freddy, passed away in May 2021 when he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. Reyes recalled Clark’s lasting legacy and a key contribution he made that changed the course of rock movie history, saying, “Fun fact that not many people know, but Kevin (came up) with the ending. He was like, ‘What if we got an encore after No Vacancy won? The man won, but we’re going to win by getting an encore.’” She marveled at how much confidence it must take for a child actor to give his writer and director notes, saying, “What chutzpah that takes, to come up to Mike White and Rick Linklater and be like, ‘I think the ending is a little weird and we need to change it.’”
Linklater said simply, “The perfect ending came from our late, beautiful drummer, Kevin.”