Portions are excepted below, but do read the entire article here, there are many more fascinating details.
The making of a film that still, 20 years later, makes grown men cry.
David Anspaugh, director: We met a lot of people for the role of Rudy. Angelo called me up one day and said he had just seen a trailer for Encino Man. I hadn’t seen Sean Astin since The Goonies, maybe. We made an appointment to meet at this restaurant for lunch, and I got there first. It was a large dining room, and I saw Sean walk in the door. He had a white T-shirt and Levis on, and I knew as he walked across the room—I just knew—this is the guy to beat.
Angelo Pizzo, screenwriter: We felt Sean captured so much of who the real Rudy was. It was amazing how much alike the two of them were. But the studio wasn’t crazy about us using him, because Sean wasn’t a name, and they wanted somebody who was hunky—even though the real Rudy wasn’t. They suggested Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon or Chris O’Donnell. They’re just thinking about who the girls are gonna love.
Sharon Bialy, casting director: It was very important to Angelo and David that we didn’t just have the soul of Rudy Ruettiger but also a physical similarity. Matt Damon gave a great audition, he had a lot of the right qualities, but Rudy is like a little hungry dog. When Sean came in, he resembled Rudy physically and in spirit—that kind of hard-driving, small guy who just doesn’t give up. Sean wasn’t considered a leading man at the time. And it was important that it wasn’t a leading man, because by virtue of a leading man’s good looks and resonance, things come easier to him.
Rick Pagano, casting director: When they were training for the movie Memphis Belle, Sean would call out to the trainer, “Permission to do more push-ups, sir?!” He was this guy who had this irrepressible energy and he just always wanted to do more and more and more. That really seemed to define Rudy.
Anspaugh: There was a lot of blood in the hallways of TriStar, but ultimately they allowed us to go with Sean.
Anspaugh: One of my favourite scenes in the movie, if not my very favourite, was the scene at the bus stop with Ned Beatty and Sean, when Sean is getting ready to go to Notre Dame—that speech Ned gives to Sean. Just watch Sean listen and react, in his eyes and his body language. I remember when I was shooting it, I just had goosebumps.
Robert Fried, producer: The day we filmed the scene where Rudy is accepted, we were all standing right behind the camera and Sean was sitting on the bench maybe 10 feet away. There’s no dialogue, it’s just him opening a letter. But when David said, “Cut,” I looked around and we were all crying.
Anspaugh: For that sequence outside the stadium when Sean is trying to buy a ticket to get into the game, I’d envisioned this crane shot—the final shot to go up and then come up over the lip of the stadium to see the game inside, with Sean the lonely figure walking away, denied entrance. Well, we couldn’t afford a crane, so we rented a forklift. Sean is trying to get a ticket, and he’s walking away dejected. And just as the camera cleared the lip of the stadium, Notre Dame scored a touchdown, so you see the whole stadium jump up and scream. And Sean stopped and looked in toward the stadium to hear that roar, and you see all these hands go up. I mean, you couldn’t plan that.
Anspaugh: The thing that really impressed me—and worried me at the same time—was that [Astin] took about 90 percent of the real hits. Especially in that one scene where he gets hit once and then he starts to get up and gets hit again, gets up and gets hit again. That was all Sean.