In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Rob Reiner's seminal classic 'Stand by Me' was released on Blu-ray for the first time this week. The movie, set in the 1950s, tells a bittersweet tale of four adolescent friends who go off into the woods in search of a rumored dead body that may or not be a missing young boy they know. They must also find this body before the bullying Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland) and his gang, the Cobras, get to it. What follows is a poignant coming-of-age tale about childhood adventures in the summer and the pain of growing up.
'Stand by Me' was an immediate success, touching a nerve with audiences young and old. To celebrate the film's 25th anniversary, Moviefone spoke with director Rob Reiner and several of the film's stars: Wil Wheaton (narrator Gordie Lachance), Corey Feldman (oddball Teddy Duchamp) and Casey Siemaszko (the bullying Billy Tessio). They shared their memories on the once-in-a-lifetime Oregon shoot, the adventures they had off-camera and the global impact of 'Stand by Me.'
HOW 'STAND BY ME' CAME TO LIFE
Rob Reiner: The story that it comes from was a book called 'Different Seasons,' a novella called 'The Body' [by Stephen King] and in it these four boys go on this journey together to find a dead body and Gordie was kind of an observer. It was just four of them and Gordie as the observer and I thought, "Oh, maybe if I make Gordie the main guy, the story can really be about him and what he goes through and all these doubts about himself and how he feels his father doesn't love him. Through the help of his friends he starts to feel good about himself and all that, and then he goes on to be a successful writer." Once I hit on that, and I realized Gordie was going to be the focus of it, everything kind of came very clear to me. That's when I got really excited about it.
We didn't know if it was going to be successful or not. I do remember two days before we started shooting, all the financing went away and Norman Lear stepped in at the last second and said "I'll finance the picture." We didn't even have a distributor. We just started making it.
FINDING THE RIGHT CAST
Gordie Lachance (Played by Wil Wheaton)
Wil Wheaton:I was a young actor and there were wonderful people attached to the project already and my agent got me an audition for the movie and I was lucky enough to be cast in the film. But at 12 years old, what drew me to it was that it was there. I didn't have the maturity and sophistication to appreciate what it was back then -- To me as a kid, it felt like a really cool adventure story where from my point of view, our team "won."
Corey Feldman: Will was from L.A. and he was very conservative, a geek if you will. He still is and he'll admit to that. I didn't see him that way, I saw him as quiet and shy.
Reiner: Wil Wheaton was the perfect Gordie. I saw this very sensitive kid who had these doubts about himself and even though he was much more self-assured, he had this sweet, sensitive look to him.
Teddy Duchamp (Played Corey Feldman)
Feldman: For the sake of honesty and to be really brash, what drew me to it was that my parents were my managers and I did what they told me to do. It was, "Hey you have an audition with Rob Reiner." "You mean 'Meathead' from 'All in the Family'? OK cool, what does he want?" -- When I met with Rob, the first thing I thought was that he didn't look like Meathead anymore. He had matured and looked very much like a director. So immediately I walked in the room and took him very seriously. Number two, once I saw the material, I realized this was a bit more heavy than anything I had previously worked on. The subject matter was going to be a bit more difficult and a little more intensive than anything I had done in the past.
Reiner: To be honest, I don't think there was anybody else that could have played the part that Corey Feldman played. We couldn't find anybody else, he came to it with all this kind of anger and he had a very dark side to him and I said "Wow, I don't know what's going on in his life but he's the only kid at that age that could play that."
Wheaton: Of all of us, Corey had spent his whole life in the industry so in some ways he was the veteran kind of guy. He had been on more sets than all of us and had a real history with movies. We all went and saw 'Goonies' together. It came out while we were working on 'Stand by Me' and then 'Explorers,' that River was in, we all went and saw 'Explorers' too. Of the four of us, Corey was kind of the movie star. That was a really weird world for me to be adjacent to.
Vern Tessio (Played Jerry O'Connell)
Reiner: Jerry O'Connell was kind of a schlubby fat kid at the time. (Laughs) Now he's this stud, he's married to Rebecca Romijn, and he's handsome and everything, but he was this schlubby kid. He came in and had no experience at all, but he walked in and he was Vern. He was this kid, and I didn't know if he could do it because he had never acted before but I thought "Well, if he can be like he is in his room, he'll be the perfect Vern."
Wheaton: Jerry was hilarious. Jerry has such a wonderful sense of humor and it was the same when we were kids; he was constantly making us laugh. He was just so funny and so friendly and just so easy to get along with.
Chris Chambers (Played by River Phoenix)
Reiner: River Phoenix was like, you know, he was a young James Dean and I had never seen anybody like this.
Wheaton: I remember being extremely impressed and a little intimidated by River. He was so professional and so intense, he just seemed a lot older than he was. He seemed to have this wisdom around him that was really difficult to quantify at that age. It seemed there was more going on with him. He just seemed cool.
Feldman: River and I had known each other for quite a few years. He had moved out [to L.A.] when he was around 9 or 10 years old, something like that. That was when we met, so we hit it off really early and we became fast friends. Whenever we saw each other on auditions we would hang out or play outside while everyone else was sitting in the room waiting for their shot. When we got to the set, or even when we got to the plane, we were very excited that we were both doing this so we got to hang out together and play together. We were like BFFs immediately and that's how the rest of the shoot went. River and I formed a very close bond for the rest of filming.
THE DIRECTING STYLE OF ROB REINER
Feldman: He brought us up two weeks early before the filming got underway and he had us just sit together and live together. We were doing these rehearsal days that kind of became more like actors' workshops. I had never done any type of acting class. A lot of the procedure and technique he was using was new to me. It was very new ground. It was like transferring what you had in a serious actor, into a way that a child would interpret it.
Casey Szimeasko: It was kind of like a summer vacation really even though we were doing this film; it wasn't a big film in the sense that it didn't feel big budget. I don't think they spent much money on it. But it felt more like a summer vacation -- I can't recall ever working like that since then really. He's a great storyteller obviously, I would go to the set just to hang out and watch him work and listen to the stories.
Feldman: He became kind of the father of these four kids. He was like the summer camp counselor for the four of us and we were in out own private world. Everything else that coexisted in and around the set was kind of gravy.
Wheaton: One of my fondest memories of Rob Reiner was that he was always teaching. He could've just said "Do it this way," but he didn't. He explained it to me why I should do it that way. Why it was different, why it was better, why it was a stronger choice. Around that time I sort of became an actor as opposed to being someone who said lines and hit their mark.
KIEFER SUTHERLAND'S ACE MERRILL AND HIS GANG, THE COBRAS
Wheaton: He plays this character who wouldn't think twice about shanking a guy for no good reason. In fact, at the end of the movie, when he says to River "You're dead," you believe him. All of the other guys, over the last 25 years have related these stories about how afraid of him they were. I don't recall being afraid of him. I don't recall him being overtly menacing or frightening or cruel or anything like his character. I just remember thinking "He's a really good actor." He was one of those guys I just watched and tried to learn from being around.
But I know a lot of the other guys, especially Jerry, were terrified.
Szimeasko: When you're working, you're all playing your parts. There was an intensity when we were working but then they yell "cut," we were a bunch of kids, pretty much -- It was really beautiful in Eugene, Oregon, we had great weather, it was just a fun group of guys and we were driving around a lot. I remember driving down to Portland a couple of times, hitting the bars and clubs and stuff.
Reiner: I don't want to hear about those things! (Laughs) No, I'm kidding. John Cusack used to tell me he and Keifer used to get in trouble and do stuff. I said "John, don't tell me about that, I don't need to know."
THE PIE-EATING CONTEST
Reiner: That scene was amazing because I agonized so much over that. I knew the audience would probably like it, but I was trying to figure out what kind of writer Gordie Lachance becomes. Ultimately, in my mind, he became Stephen King. And Stephen King is a great story teller and most of the stories he tells are supernatural or there's horror involved, and I said "I don't know if this is the writer Gordie becomes" -- But then I thought, he's 12-years-old, this is the kind of story he'd tell when he was 12-years-old and so I went back and forth and finally I agreed to keep it.
Wheaton: I do remember going down to the set while they were filming that because I wanted to see how they were going to put the whole thing together. I thought it was hilarious.
Looking back on the film now, and I just watched the film with Rob and Corey, and Rob says "Look you can really see, it's so clear it's a tube behind the guy's head." And I just thought "Well yeah," but that's great because this is a 12-year-old kid telling the story, that's how it looks in his mind. Of course it's cartoonish and of course it's gross and way over the top. Because that's the way it exists in Gordie's mind.
Reiner: The audience went crazy when they first saw it. And I said we were smart to leave it in.
Reiner: It was the most glorious summer. It was the most beautiful summer vacation. The way I think of it, it was like movie camp. We were all up there in this idyllic setting, it was beautiful weather, and we were all making this film that we all love.
Sziemasko: I keep thinking about softball games we had on Sundays and we'd have these softball games where it would be old and young men and women, these kids, so it was kind of like a family summer kind of vibe.
Wheaton: My mom organized two white water rafting trips for the cast and crew and we all went, on our day off, white water rafting in the Mackenzie River --
Sziemasko: We ended up at this hippie hot spring where it was clothing optional. So there were all these naked bikers up there and then the crew and these kids. It was kind of interesting. I remember there was this thing called the Country Fair, it was a hippie fair, and I juggled with the Flying Karamazov Brothers.
Reiner: I remember one time driving back from the location with my friend [producer] Andy Scheinman, we were driving and the top was down on his car. He had the radio on and it was The Beatles' 'Strawberry Fields Forever'; we were playing it really loud and we were just having a great time. Just as it said "strawberry fields forever" we drove by a huge strawberry field and it was just that kind of synchronicity. Those types of things would happen and I'd just be like "Wow! This is the coolest thing."
Feldman: [River and I] used to go to these 18-and-under night clubs in Oregon and it was really a coming of age experience for both of us because we were the two oldest and we had a history together, so we really started experimenting on everything at that point. It was this first time I ever drank alcohol, the first time I ever kissed a girl off-screen and it was the first time I smoked marijuana. I did all of these things as part of my coming-of-age experience of 'Stand by Me' and so did River.
I was 12 and turned 13 actually on set. It was an interesting time capsule because we were literally going through these changes on celluloid, in real life.
Wheaton: I was sad when it was over because we were all going back to our regular lives. Things were different on location. It wasn't "real life" on location.
MEMORIES OF THE FILM'S RELEASE
Reiner: I was over in London at the time and when we were working on the campaign, I was filming 'Princess Bride,' and the picture came out in America. I was so nervous about it because it was the film that was most reflective of my sensibility of the films I've done. If it did well I would say "OK this validates me and people are interested in the kinds of film I want to make," and I thought "If it doesn't do well, I don't know what I'm going to do because this is the kind of thing I want to do."
Sziemasko: I was in Los Angeles opening weekend, they only opened in a few theaters on the coast, and I was in Westwood and I was like, "Jeez, man, what is this line around the corner," and I said "Oh my God, it's 'Stand by Me.'"
Wheaton: Back in those days it was really common to release a movie in about five markets and generate word of mouth, some excitement for the movie. So when it went into wider release, more people knew about it -- I remember when we were working on the movie, there was this kind of ambient feeling that we were working on something special, that we were working on something the really mattered, something we could be proud of. I, just being young and naive, took for granted that it was successful. I didn't know how lucky.
Reiner: When it became a success, in those days you didn't have to do $20, $25 million the first weekend, I don't think we ever made more than $3.5 million any weekend but it just stayed in theaters forever -- We just never dropped and people loved it.
LOOKING BACK 25 YEARS LATER
Reiner: The thing that always strikes me is that people love this movie and they say "It reminds me of my childhood, exactly what I went through as a kid." And I say "Were you from a rural area?" And they'd say "No, no I lived in the city" It doesn't matter if you're from a small town or a city or the country, those feelings are universal and the same.
Feldman: As a kid, I don't think I really got it. I got what I was doing, I got what my character was about, I related to the character -- I remember when it was released in the theaters, it would always be people in their 30s and 40s. It would be like "Oh my God, this is the most amazing movie ever!" And me as a kid I would be like "It's OK, I mean you know, 'The Goonies' is cooler." I didn't watch the film for probably about ten years. But I went back and showed it to my kid, probably right after summer, only like 4 or 5 months ago. Going back I showed it to him for the first time, he is six now. Outside of the bad language there is really not too much context in there that is not suitable for children –- I really got so much out of it, more than I did as a kid. I finally understood everything.
Wheaton: A few years ago, my wife and I took our kids up to Oregon and we went to Brownsville where we filmed it because I wanted to see what it looked like. We walked into the visitors center and in the visitors center they have a map that they give away of all our locations. They had this map in five languages. It was in Dutch, in Japanese, English, I think German, all these different languages. I was talking to a woman in one of the restaurants there and she said people come from around the world to go to Brownsville. To see where 'Stand By Me' was made. It is a fairly major tourist destination and that just blew my mind.
Reiner: To me, it was my most important film at the time because it validated my thoughts about what kind of entertainment people would like and it was the kind of stuff I liked. I always look back at it as the most important film for me because it was really a reflection of my sensibility.
Feldman: At that time for those four kids, it seemed so important and seemed so heavy. But it was all really just another weekend. It was really just another play-adventure, you know? When you look at it as an adult, you look back on it saying "those were the most special times." I think a lot of people are going to rediscover this film with this new release and I think they are going to go back and watch it as adults and go "Oh my god, I'm getting something completely different from it, then I did then."
Wheaton: I went to Japan in 1990 to promote 'Toy Soldiers.' Sean Astin and I went over for a big press tour. We did get out a little bit and I did get to see Tokyo a little bit and we went to a theater where 'Stand by Me' was being produced as a play. They weren't producing Stephen King's 'The Body,' which 'Stand by Me' originated from, they were producing 'Stand by Me' the play. And I actually got to go and meet the actors. I got to meet the kid who was playing me and take pictures with them. I thought it was so cool that this film, at the time I had done it five years before, was translated into another language, into another culture and then produced as a play. That was pretty awesome.