‘Stand by Me’ returns to theaters: Wil Wheaton remembers the coming-of-age classic

The classic film Stand by Me is returning to theaters nationwide for special screenings on May 23 and May 26.

Wil Wheaton was one of the movie's young stars and played the troubled kid Gordie. Wheaton recently spoke with Yahoo Entertainment about some of the many memorable scenes.

At one point, Gordie has to run away from a train. Wheaton recalls that he wasn’t acting with quite enough fear, according to director Rob Reiner.

"It is the only time he ever raised his voice to any of us," Wheaton said. "He says to Jerry [O’Connell] and me, ‘It is hot. We are tired. The grips are tired. I am tired. If you are not worried about the train hitting you, then you worry about me coming and kicking your ass,’ or something like that.”

Watch more in the interview above and for tickets and more information on the Stand By Me 35th Anniversary showings, visit Fathom Events.

Video Transcript

- He's not going to care, because it's going to be us guys that find him. Not Billy and Charlie Hogan in the boosted car. He'd probably pin a medal on you, Vern.

KEVIN POLOWY: "Stand By Me" is returning to theaters this month via the great folks at Fathom Events, where it's the 30th anniversary this summer. I know this is hardly the first thing you worked on, but what is the first thing you remember about this project coming into your life? I mean, how old were you, and did it feel special from the get go for you?

WIL WHEATON: Important context, I think, is that I didn't want to be an actor when I was a kid. My parents forced me to do it. My mother made me do it.

My mother coached me to go into her agency and tell the children's agent, I want to do what mommy does. And then through a combination of incredible emotional abuse from my father and a lot of manipulation, using me from my mother, like, really put me in that place, which, as it turns out, put me in exactly the right place to play Gordy. Because Gordy's experience very much reflected my experience.

We're both invisible in our homes. We both have a brother, who is the golden child. We're both the scapegoat in the family.

So when I watch "Stand By Me," now, I cannot ignore the unbelievable sadness in my eyes, and I cannot ignore the reality that it was that sadness, that isolation that, I think, gave me what Gordy needed to come to life. And I think Rob Reiner saw that, and one of the reasons, I believe, "Stand By Me" is so enduring is that Rob cast four young boys who were our characters. And Corey was just such a pain in the ass.

And I said to Rob, why did you cast him? And Rob said, there was no other actor who was as angry as Corey was, and Teddy is filled with anger and rage. And I went, oh, my God, that totally makes sense. River is smarter than all of us and wiser beyond his years than any of us are, and that's exactly who Chris is. And Jerry is unbelievably funny, and really easy to get along with, and is guileless.

Oh, my God, that's Vern. I guess I want to be a writer, so that makes me Gordy. I never realized, until I was in, like, my 40s that I was Gordy. Because I was Gordy.

KEVIN POLOWY: River's death was such a tragic, sad loss for movie fans. I can't imagine how tough that was for friends and family. I mean, you always hear such good things about him, but can you share some of your favorite memories with him?

WIL WHEATON: The day that I knew River had been through some [BLEEP] that I could never understand was when we do the scene around the campfire, where he's telling me the story of the milk money.

- I'd like to go someplace, where nobody knows me.


WIL WHEATON: He knew how to just turn the character on and off all the time, and I remember Rob coming over. He and I-- River and I were sitting there on the set. And Rob came over to him, and he said, how can I help you? And River said, I don't know what to do.

And Rob said, think about a time you really needed an adult to be there for you, and they weren't. And I watched this thing happen to a River, where that had happened to him. That had happened to him a lot, and I watched the emotion of that fill him and begin to spill over. And Rob rolled the camera, and the next take is in the movie.

Rob did a similar thing, less intense, when we were running away from the train on the train trestle. Jerry and I just, like, weren't terrified enough, because we knew we were safe. And it is the only time he ever raised his voice to any of us.

He says to Jerry, and he yells to Jerry and me. It is hot. We are tired. The grips are tired. I am tired. If you are not worried about the train hitting you, then you worry about me coming and kicking your ass or something like that. Like he was like, if that train doesn't get you, I'm going to get you. And we were like, [CRYING]. And the next take is in the movie.

- Run! Go!

- Run! Run!

KEVIN POLOWY: There are two movies that scared me out of the water when I was a kid, "Jaws" in oceans and "Stand By Me" in ponds, lakes, creeks, basically, any other body of water. I just, basically, was a child who refused to go in any water, maybe a swimming pool. The leech scene, obviously, is so iconic. What do you remember about filming that?

WIL WHEATON: They dug an actual hole in the forest, and lined it with plastic, and then filled it up with water, and then left it alone for a month, or two months, or something like that. So by the time we got there, it was pretty gross. It was pretty gross, and it was pretty cold. It was pretty uncomfortable. There's even a shot in the film, where Gordy goes through the foreground out of focus, and you can see that my hair is completely dry. So I was like, please, don't make me get under the water again.

KEVIN POLOWY: What were you guys using for leeches?

WIL WHEATON: For the long shot, it's skateboard grip tape that is cut into patterns to look like leeches. In the close ups, they are little, latex pieces that Monty Westmore and Mike Westmore made. So what they ended up doing was mixing some blood makeup with, like, some rubber cement, and they put that on us to hold it on.

KEVIN POLOWY: The film opens August 1986. Was a pretty immediate from your perspective sort of the deep love for this movie, or was it more like a slow build?

WIL WHEATON: Oh, I felt like we were telling a story that was important. I didn't feel like I was making disposable entertainment, which was a weird kind of sophisticated way for a 13-year-old to think. But I just had this kind of like-- I just had this kind of, like, fundamental acceptance that, if I did a movie, it was going to be released.

Most movies don't get released, and if they do get released, they are forgotten. The popularity and critical and popular acclaim for "Stand By Me" came very quickly, like almost all at once. And I recall thinking, oh, this is so cool. I'm so excited about this. I can't wait to see what happens next.

- I'll see ya.

- Not if I see you first.