How Sean Penn Won His Fast Times at Ridgemont High Role Despite an Awful Audition


Sean Penn says his Fast Times at Ridgemont High audition was “terrible.” The 59-year old actor still gets asked about the 1982 high school comedy, which his character saved at the box office. Writer Cameron Crowe remembered that the studio had no idea what to do with the movie, so they only had it playing in 200 theaters. “The word got out that there was this movie with this character who wore checkerboard Vans, called the teacher a d*ck, and ordered pizza into the room,” Crowe said. “They started showing up.” Penn’s take on Spicoli saved the movie, though he almost blew it during the audition process.

In a new interview with Jimmy Fallon, Sean Penn recalled his audition for Fast Times and Ridgemont High. Fallon asked if a story about him walking in and refusing to audition was true. Penn stated that most of the story was indeed true, but he felt it went another way. He had this to say about his mindset before going in for the audition.

“The way I remember it was that I – long before I had a penny in my pocket – had a kind of feeling of entitlement as an actor, not because I thought I was so good, but because I thought that the rest were not so good. And that gave me an awful lot of confidence.”

Sean Penn admits that he’s not a big fan of auditions, noting that he “resented auditions” and therefore “was terrible at it and self-conscious.” He felt that he knew Jeff Spicoli and felt that the studio should just trust him to bring the character to life. “But I auditioned – terribly,” he continued. “So they dismissed me and I left.” For reasons that Penn is still unsure of, casting director Don Phillips saw something in the young actor. Penn explains.

“Don Phillips came running into the parking lot where my broken down Mazda I borrowed was sitting and I was just about to leave. And he said, ‘Get back in here and audition your ass off,’ something like that. He says, ‘You’re not going anywhere.'”

From there, the audition went much better. “And off of that they took a gamble and then we had a great time making the movie,” Sean Penn says. Before Jeff Spicoli, the stoner was always tied to the hippy movement and tie-dye. Spicoli ushered in a new kind of chill stoner who was always able to chill, even as things got heavy around him.

In other Fast Times at Ridgemont High news, Sean Penn will be taking part in a virtual celebrity table read of the movie to benefit his nonprofit C.O.R.E. foundation. The event was put together by comedian Dane Cook and the details are being kept under wraps for the time being. Penn did reveal that he will not be playing Spicoli this time around, which leads one to believe that he might be taking on the role of Mr. Hand, while someone else plays the iconic stoner. You can watch the interview with Sean Penn above, thanks to the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon YouTube channel.

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