Prepare to get Jackson Browne stuck in your head for at least a few days. Also, prepare to feel old: Amy Heckerling’s classic teen romp, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, is 35 gnarly years old this year. Penned by future Oscar-winner Cameron Crowe, Fast Times launched the careers of many then-unknown actors, including Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The film was definitely a product of its time—it nailed ‘80s looks and slanguage, from its central shopping mall to its Pat Benatar knock-offs to the bitchin’ Spicoli-isms spewed by its young cast. It was also, like so many films made around this time, laden with controversial and heavy material audiences would likely handle very differently if the film were released today (see: 15 year-old Stacy’s deflowering at the hands of 26 year-old Ron Johnson and her subsequent abortion after her tryst with Damone for starters). Consensual statutory rape is still statutory rape, after all.
Yet, despite this heaviness and ickiness, Fast Times still holds up, and has retained its cult status, largely because it was a very real film taking an unflinching look into the private lives of bored, confused, horny teenagers. Here’s what the cast of Fast Times at Ridgemont High is up to today.
15 Judge Reinhold (Brad Hamilton)
Brad Hamilton may not have had much style or substance, but he was a pretty solid big brother, being there for Stacy when she needed him and all. And he was always a pretty hard worker—last we saw, his robber-foiling heroics made him the manager of the local MI-T-MART. Since Fast Times ended, Reinhold has continued to work steadily in the business, with memorable parts in both television and film, from Detective Billy Rosewood in the Beverly Hills Cop series to his guest appearances on Arrested Development to his role as Neil Miller in The Santa Clause movies.
Reinhold ran into a minor bit of legal trouble when he was arrested in December 2016 for a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge at a Dallas airport. It was reported that Reinhold passed the security screening, but when one of his bags required further inspection, he got a bit rankled and wound up getting arrested. Most recently, in the acting department, Reinhold played basketball coach Don Meyer in My Many Sons, and has guest starred on multiple episodes of Samantha Bee and Jason Jones’ comedy series The Detour.
14 Jennifer Jason Leigh (Stacy Hamilton)
While Stacy was young and confused and thus made bad decisions all over the place, her portrayer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, has exercised some pretty decent decision-making, at least where her role selection is concerned.
Jason Leigh has had one of the more successful careers of the cast acting-wise. She gave powerful, critically lauded performances in Rush, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, and Georgia, and she also popped up a few times on television in shows like Weeds and Revenge. Recently, she had a memorable turn in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, earning the first Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actress) of her career.
Fans of Jason Leigh will have plenty of opportunities to see more of her. She has a new television series that premieres in August, Atypical, in which she costars with Michael Rappaport, and she has filmed two movies on tap for release next year: Alex Garland’s highly anticipated Annihilation, and White Boy Rick, in which she stars alongside Matthew McConaughey.
13 Robert Romanus (Mike Damone)
Few played the sleazy insensitive jerkface better than Robert Romanus. His ticket scalping, smooth talking, pick-up line spewing Damone was totally cringeworthy—yet also totally memorable. He was as close as Fast Times came to having a villain, and after he ditched Stacy when she asked for his help (because 75 bucks and a car ride was waaay too much to ask), he definitely earned the nickname Linda spray painted on his crappy green car.
While he is still known largely for his work in Fast Times, Romanus has been acting ever since, mostly appearing in guest starring roles on television shows like Cougartown and Code Black. He also appeared in The Runaways as a guitar instructor, which, as it turns out, blended his two primary creative interests, as Romanus is also a musician. Since Fast Times, he has released eight albums with his two-man folk rock band, Poppa’s Kitchen. Wonder if he can get us a good deal on tickets to his shows?
12 Ray Walston (Mr. Hand)
Everyone’s favorite hardass, pizza-snatching teacher was one of the already well-established stars of the film, and his storied career continued well after he schooled Spicoli. Throughout his entire career, Ray Walston worked continuously, and with great success. After Fast Times, he starred in everything from movies like The Stand to Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager (he played Boothby on both). In the 1990s, he won two Emmys for his portrayal of Judge Henry Bone on Picket Fences.
But alas, Mr. Hand is no longer with us. Walston passed away due to complications from lupus on New Year’s Day 2001. One of the film’s most memorable performers was also one of its hardest working: other than a brief break in 1997, Walston had worked every year since Fast Times ended.
11 Forest Whitaker (Charles Jefferson)
Forest Whitaker’s role in Fast Times was small but significant. As Charles Jefferson, Ridgemont’s star football player, his towering presence intimidated just about everyone around him—and don’t even considering messing with his car!
Since the early ‘80s, Whitaker has starred in droves of quality films, from his Oscar winning turn as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland to his role as Saw Gerrera in Rogue One last year. He has also branched out from acting, becoming a successful producer and director (he has directed Waiting to Exhale and Hope Floats, among other films, and has more recently served as the producer of critically acclaimed films like Fruitvale Station and Dope). Clearly, Whitaker has attained a level of success Charles Jefferson would approve of. But there’s one thing we’re left wondering: is he still looking for those Earth, Wind, and Fire tickets?
10 Nicolas Cage (Brad’s friend)
Re-watching Fast Times can be fun for many reasons, one of which is spotting all the then little known actors who went on to have huge careers. The biggest little known actor in Fast Times was easily Nicolas Cage, whose character basically stood around and high-fived Judge Reinhold throughout the entire flick. Cage, who was then billed as Nicolas Coppola, his birth name, decided to change his last name to Cage after the film—a move that was at least partly influenced by the comic character Luke Cage—and get serious about acting.
While Cage’s career has definitely taken a huge turn towards the ridiculous, he has also given us some stellar performances since he high-fived his way through Fast Times. He won a Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, and was nominated for another for his work in Adaptation, and his work in hit flicks like Kick Ass and The Croods can’t be overlooked. Some posit Cage’s turn to direct-to-video flicks has much to do with a bit of trouble he got into with the IRS due to some unpaid taxes, but whatever fiscal issues he has had, he still gave us Face Off and Con Air, so we'll love him forever.
9 Eric Stoltz (Spicoli’s stoner bud)
Another Fast Times actor who mostly sat in the background and later went on to do much bigger things is Eric Stoltz. Stoltz played one of Spicoli’s spaced out stoner buds with a penchant for removing his shirt upon entering most premises (seriously—he was literally billed as Stoner Bud in the film). After Fast Times, Stoltz made a name for himself with memorable turns in Mask, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Pulp Fiction.
Later in his career, Stoltz branched out, expanding his portfolio to include producing and directing. In fact, Stoltz has been working primarily as a producer-director these days, finding steady work directing TV shows like Glee, How to Get Away with Murder, and Madam Secretary, the latter of which he also currently serves as executive producer on.
8 Anthony Edwards (Spicoli’s other stoner bud)
Yep. Goose was in Fast Times too, and like Eric Stoltz and Nic Cage, his role was also very blink-and-you’d-miss-it. Before he became a household name as Tom Cruise’s doomed radar intercept officer, Anthony Edwards was Spicoli’s other Stoner Bud, a lowly, floppy haired surfer with a mere cigarette to his name.
Edwards has gone on to have a long and fruitful career in show business, most notably starring in the smash hit ER in the mid-late ‘90s, of which he also directed four episodes. Edwards has also worked as a successful producer, producing HBO’s award winning Temple Grandin and the historical documentary Searching for Home, Coming Back from War. He is still first and foremost an actor, though, and he will appear next in this fall’s Law & Order: True Crime miniseries, starring Edie Falco.
7 Amanda Wyss (Lisa)
Brad’s beautiful blonde girlfriend went on to make a few more ‘80s teen classics before settling into a solid career as a working actress. She starred as Tina in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street and as the object of John Cusack’s obsession in Better Off Dead, giving her a triad of cult classic ‘80s flicks to brag about for eternity.
While Wyss hasn’t been involved with any huge Hollywood blockbusters or Oscar winning flicks, she has managed to have a pretty prolific career by industry standards. She has worked steadily since Fast Times ended, and most recently, she has appeared in guest starring spots on shows like Major Crimes and Murder in the First. She also has several independent films slated for release over the next year, including Drifting and The Capture.
6 D.W. Brown (Ron Johnson)
D.W. Brown played the 26 year-old audio consultant Ron Johnson, who, after asking Stacy how old she was (and believing her when she said she was 19?!) gave us Fast Times’ most legendary pick-up line when he placed his food order, asking Stacy for “a meatball sandwich, a medium Coke, and your phone number?” Smooth, Ron, smooth. And gross.
Brown’s acting career has changed direction a bit since Fast Times ended. After appearing in bit parts in television and film, Brown began to write and direct plays, and eventually, he started teaching at an acting studio in Los Angeles, the Baron Brown Studio, which he co-owns with his wife. He has also written three books about the craft of acting, and continues to teach the performing arts at his LA studio.
5 Vincent Schiavelli (Mr. Vargas)
Finally, a teacher who makes dissection days fun! Well, not really, but his Sanka sipping biology teacher made Jeff Spicoli attend a class he wasn’t even in—that has to count for something! Played perfectly by character actor Vincent Schiavelli, Mr. Vargas was equal parts ridiculous and deadpan, and he was hilarious whether he was holding a human heart freshly pulled from a cadaver, or when students discovered that he was married to a woman who looked like a supermodel.
Schiavelli, who first gained fame after his role as Frederickson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, ended up being an extremely recognizable face to the cinematically obsessed. Post Fast Times, he starred in everything from Tomorrow Never Dies to Death to Smoochy, and he also appeared in numerous TV shows, including a brief stint as Uncle Enyos on Buffy. Sadly, Schiavelli passed away in 2005 after battling lung cancer.
4 James Russo (robber guy at the end)
His part was over in an instant—Russo’s robber didn’t appear in Fast Times until the very end. While Spicoli was using the restroom, Russo’s random robber guy entered the gas station, and threatened the increasingly unhinged new employee, Brad Hamilton, with a gun. Hamilton threw a pot of coffee in his face after he was distracted by Spicoli’s re-emergence from the bathroom. All right, Hamilton!
Russo has worked steadily after Fast Times, appearing in over a whopping 160 television and film roles since. Russo was often cast in gruff, tough guy roles, and has one of those faces just about everyone recognizes. His most recent roles include parts in Django Unchained and Chicago Fire, and he wrote and starred in his first feature film, Not a Stranger, in 2016.
3 Brian Backer (Mark “Rat” Ratner)
Backer was perfect as the smart, meek, nerdy Mark “Rat” Ratner, who pined for—and eventually ended up involved with—Stacy. Rat got the girl despite the multiple awful moves of his entirely unpleasant best friend Damone (seriously—why are these guys friends? We could watch Rat challenge Damone to a fist fight every day). Backer had won a Tony Award prior to Fast Times, and after his role as Rat, his work continued to be fairly diverse.
He appeared in everything from 2000’s Loser to the soap opera Santa Barbara to the contemporary classic Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. Backer has been the least active of the Fast Times cast, and not nearly as prolific. His last film credit was a small role in Amy Heckerling’s 2012 horror/comedy flick, Vamps.
2 Phoebe Cates (Linda)
Phoebe Cates is an actress ‘80s movie buffs know quite well. After her breakout role as Stacy’s BFF, the feisty graffiti artist Linda, Cates co-starred in Gremlins, its 1990 sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and Bright Lights, Big City. Cates starred in a few movies in the ‘90s and one in the early aughts (The Anniversary Party, which was also the directorial debut of Jennifer Jason Leigh) after retiring from acting for good to spend more time with her family.
Cates married Oscar-winning actor Kevin Kline, and she still attends numerous events with him despite retiring from acting (she was with him at the Tony Awards this year when he won Best Actor in a Play). In 2005, Cates opened a quirky boutique in New York City’s Upper East Side called Blue Tree, which she currently spends her time running. We're not holding our breath here, but we're kinda hoping that Cates comes out of retirement for the rumored hopefully-soon-to-be-filming Gremlins 3.
1 Sean Penn (Spicoli)
It’s no surprise that Penn, one of the finest actors of our time, created Jeff Spicoli, one of the greatest surfer/stoner characters in cinematic history. Other than that one time he used a gay slur during his interview/dream, Spicoli was the gnarliest character in a film full of them.
He stores bagels in his waistband, and orders pizza straight to his classroom. He calls Mr. Hand a dick to his face but ends up being cool with him. Penn has won Best Actor Oscars for Mystic River and Milk, and he has often made the news for issues in his personal life or his politics, so its saying something that a great many of us will always remember him most, and best, as the dude who assured the world that “All I need are some tasty waves, cool buzz, and I’m fine.” Totally.
Penn continues to act, and has also become a formidable producer-writer-director. He will next appear in The Professor and the Madman with Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer, and as Andrew Jackson in the upcoming TV miniseries American Lion.
Did we miss any of your favorite Fast Times actors? Let us know in the comments!