'Stand By Me': A Love Letter To Childhood Innocence Rob Reiner's quintessential coming-of-age film marks its 25th anniversary this year. Actor Wil Wheaton, who played the lead character Gordie Lachance, talks about childhood and friendships — both on-screen and off.
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'Stand By Me': A Love Letter To Childhood Innocence

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'Stand By Me': A Love Letter To Childhood Innocence

'Stand By Me': A Love Letter To Childhood Innocence

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MATT WILLIAMS: (as Bob Cormier) Hey, it's the Bossman, Bob Cormier, here. It's a beautiful Friday morning in Portland. It's 90 K-L-A-M degrees and getting hotter.

GREENE: We're going to take you back in time now to a hot summer in Oregon.


WILLIAMS: (as Bob Cormier) It's Boss.


BOBBY DAY: (Singing) Tweet, tweet. She rocks in the treetop all day long...

GREENE: The film, "Stand by Me," told the story of four young boys.


WIL WHEATON: (as Gordie Lachance) (Singing) Have gun, Will Travel reads the card of a man. A knight without armor in a savage land.

RIVER PHOENIX: (as Chris Chambers) (Singing) Have gun, Will Travel reads the card of a man. A knight without armor in a savage land.

COREY FELDMAN: (as Teddy Duchamp) (Singing) Have gun, Will Travel reads the card of a man. A knight without armor in a savage land.

JERRY O: (as Vern Tessio) (Singing) Have gun, Will Travel reads the card of a man. A knight without armor in a savage land.

GREENE: They were 12 years old, their entire lives in front of them. Richard Dreyfuss narrated the movie as the voice of one of the boys all grown up and remembering how important their childhood adventure was.


RICHARD DREYFUSS: (as The Writer) Everything was there and around us. We knew exactly who we were and exactly where we were going.

GREENE: The four youngsters hiked into the wilderness searching for the dead body of another kid. What they saw, what they talked about, what they discovered about themselves, all became the quintessential coming-of-age story, and it still is even today, 25 years later. The child actor at the center of that movie, the kid version of Richard Dreyfuss' character, was Wil Wheaton, and he's with us in the studio of NPR West. Wil, welcome to the program.

WHEATON: Hi. Thank you.

GREENE: You know, it's kind of amazing. "Stand by Me" the film debuted 25 years ago Monday, and you were 12 years old.

WHEATON: Yeah. I actually turned 13 during production.

GREENE: Wow. You made a few other films before that, but this is the first time you were really in a lead, right? Was it scary?

WHEATON: No. I was too young to know that I should be afraid. I felt from the very first time we all got together up in Oregon that we were making something really special. And I don't know how much of that is just the naiveté of being 12 and being an actor and being excited to be on location working on a feature and how much of that was actually what we really felt when we were all together working on the film.

GREENE: You starred alongside River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman. And to me, what makes the movie so great and memorable is really the chemistry that the four of you really shared on screen. And where did that come from? I mean, was that a product of the relationships you had on the set?

WHEATON: I think that the casting in "Stand by Me" is one of the reasons the movie is such an incredible success. Rob Reiner found four young boys who basically were the characters we played. I was awkward and nerdy and shy and uncomfortable in my own skin and really, really sensitive. And River was cool and really smart and passionate and kind of, even at that age, kind of like a father figure to some of us. Jerry was one of the funniest people I had ever seen in my life before or since.

GREENE: He's Vern, the bigger kid.

WHEATON: Right. And Corey was unbelievably angry and in an incredible amount of pain and had an absolutely terrible relationship with his parents.

GREENE: But, you know, the role of a father - and you said you have two kids of your own - really came into focus in the movie. Gordie, your character, had lost his brother who was a football star. And Gordie was dealing with this fear that his dad wished it had been him who died.

WHEATON: Yeah. It's really clear Gordie's parents loved Denny, his older brother, and just didn't bother to really make a connection with Gordie and didn't...

GREENE: Let's listen to a little of you talking about this from the movie.


WHEATON: (as Gordie Lachance) Why did he have to die, Chris? Why did Denny have to die? Why?

PHOENIX: (as Chris Chambers) I don't know.

WHEATON: (as Gordie Lachance) It should have been me.

PHOENIX: (as Chris Chambers) Don't say that.

WHEATON: (as Gordie Lachance) My dad said it. I'm no good.

PHOENIX: (as Chris Chambers) He doesn't know you.

WHEATON: (as Gordie Lachance) He hates me.

PHOENIX: (as Chris Chambers) No. He just doesn't know you.

WHEATON: (as Gordie Lachance) He hates me. My dad hates me.

GREENE: Do you ever think about that as a dad now dealing with your own kids?

WHEATON: I'm crazy about my kids. My older son is home from college this summer. And we've spent the summer doing things together, and we're making our own beer together, and we went to Comic Con together. And I have this incredible closeness to him. And my younger son, you know, he's turning 20, and he's sort of, like, off - kind of figuring himself out. And I don't have the same closeness with him that I have with his brother just because he's kind of at a different place in his life. And I would never want to make my kids feel like I thought they were no good or that I, you know, loved one more than another or anything like that. But there's - yeah, there's so much pain in that scene. And as a parent, I work to maintain relationships with my kids and respect kind of where they are in their lives and just be a good dad.

And Rob told me that he wrote that scene, and it had a lot to do with his relationship with his own father and that Gordie and Chris were sort of having this proxy discussion that Rob kind of needed to have. And he describes sitting down in the hotel room in Oregon to write that scene and just sitting at this typewriter and sobbing as he wrote it.

GREENE: I'm speaking with writer and actor Wil Wheaton. He starred in the film "Stand by Me," which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. I just want to play one more scene from the film. This is when you and Chris Chambers are talking about your plans for school. And you're smart kids. You're going to be going to - into the college courses and...

WHEATON: Right. And he's going into wood shop.

GREENE: He's going into wood shop and you're trying to tell him that he should come with you.


WHEATON: (as Gordie Lachance) Maybe you should go into the college courses with me. Come with me.

PHOENIX: (as Chris Chambers) I'm just one of those low-life Chambers kids.

GREENE: And we should say that's - it's actor River Phoenix who played your best friend in the movie, Chris...

WHEATON: Who played Chris. Right.

GREENE: ...Chris Chambers. He died in 1993 of an overdose, you know, such a promising young actor at the time, and "Stand by Me" really launched his career. Talk about your relationship with him.

WHEATON: We were extremely close during production. I loved him. He was smart, and he was musically talented, and he was kind. He was one of the kindest people I'd ever been around. And as we - we stayed friends after we worked on the film, and I went and visited his family. And I guess around the time that I was turning maybe 15, we just drifted apart. And I always felt really sad about that.

WILLIAMS: I went to see him over and over and over - 'cause Corey had gotten sober. And he said: I went to see him over and over and over right before he died and nobody could reach him. And then in the film, River Phoenix's character Chris dies. And there's this scene at the end of the movie where he fades away as Gordie's waving goodbye to him. And we sit there, you know, the three of us: Rob Reiner, Corey Feldman and I are sitting there watching it and...

GREENE: This is just recently you were watching that scene.

WHEATON: Just recently. Yeah. And it was like all the air went out of the room. And we just - we couldn't talk. And it's still something that fills me with a lot of conflicting emotions.

GREENE: What should we take from all that? If we're trying to learn lessons from this movie and sort of its coming-of-age quality - and it does seem like there's this very eerie parallel between Chris Chambers the character and River Phoenix the actor. I mean, how do you sort of deal with all this?

WHEATON: "Stand by Me," it sort of talks about this time in your life that's - feels incredibly complicated but as you get older you realize is actually incredibly simple. And we had the tremendous gift of not knowing that it's never going to be like that again for the rest of our lives. So it's just - it's pure and it's uncomplicated. And it's a time that stays with us, even as we become adults. And I remember when my kids were the age that I was in "Stand by Me." And I just thought, enjoy it, you guys.

GREENE: You know, Will, it's interesting. When we started talking about doing something around this anniversary, I thought we'd be talking about kind of an old movie that was in your past, but it really does seem to inspire, you know, emotion for you and a lot of people still today.

WHEATON: I'm really lucky. A lot of actors will spend their entire careers trying to find a film like "Stand by Me." And I got to have it when I was a kid. And I get to stand on top of that for the rest of my life.

GREENE: That's actor and writer Wil Wheaton, an alum of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and of course, also of the film "Stand by Me," which hit theaters 25 years ago on Monday. Wil, thanks so much for being here with us.

WHEATON: It's my pleasure.


BEN E: (Singing) When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we'll see. No, I won't be afraid, oh, I won't be afraid...

GREENE: And thanks to all the great people who are standing by us today.


KING: (Singing) I won't cry, no, I won't shed a tear just as long as you stand, stand by me.

GREENE: For Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm David Greene. Remember, you can hear the best of this program on our new podcast, WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Subscribe or listen at npr.org/weekendatc. We post a new episode Sunday nights. We'll be back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening, and have a great night.

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