‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’: How Sean Penn Bullied His Way Into the Role of Jeff Spicoli

Celebrities performed a live reading of the script to Fast Times at Ridgemont High to raise money for CORE’s efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Shia Labeouf, Henry Golding, Jimmy Kimmel, Ray Liotta and Dane Cook read characters. Morgan Freeman read stage directions and CORE co-founder Sean Penn played the pizza delivery man Spicoli (his original character) orders in the middle of class.

Sean Penn
Sean Penn | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

After the reading, Fast Times at Ridgemont High writer Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling told stories about Penn. You can watch the table read on CORE’s YouTube channel below. 

Sean Penn refused to audition for ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’

Today, Penn is an Oscar-winning, proven actor. He could probably still pull this move, but Fast Times at Ridgemont High was only his second movie. He was already confident he didn’t need to audition.

Sean Penn | John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

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“I’m sitting in the office, the guy walks in, sits down and says, ‘I grew up with characters like this. I know how to play this guy,’” Crowe said. “We’re like, ‘Great, great. Show us.’ [Penn said,] ‘No, you hire me and I’ll show you what it’s like but I’m not going to audition.’ We’re like, ‘Well, we don’t know you so maybe you should tell us if there’s something we could see.’ He said, ‘Well, I was in this movie called Bad Boys but you can’t see it. It’s not ready for you. Hire me and I’ll show you.’”

‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ took Sean Penn’s word

Jeff Spicoli would become the epitome of stoner surfer dudes for all movies to follow Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Heckerling and Crowe trusted in Penn’s young bravado.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Cameron Crowe and Amy Hecklering
Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling | Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

“Amy, I still don’t know how we did this,” Crowe said. “We hired him without hearing a word. We didn’t even hear him say, ‘You dick.’ He was like, ‘I’ll show it to you on the day.’ Sure enough, he got that job on the sheer force of his Sean-ness.”

Sean Penn continued to go method as Jeff Spicoli

Penn remains well-known for his intense work. That was true even for a lighthearted character like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

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At the time, Sean was deeply into staying in character. He said to everybody on the crew that he wanted to only be called Jeff or Spicoli. He asked the prop people to put Jeff on his chair. They come to me and say, ‘What is this Jeff on his chair? We put the name of the actor.’ [I said,] ‘Just do it.’ Then the production people, they have the paper work, what time people come and go. They said, ‘He wants us to write Jeff Spicoli on the call sheets.’ It’s like so? Do what works for him. Let him have his way with this.”

Amy Heckerling, Fast Times at Ridgemont High live read for CORE, 9/17/2020

Finally, the crew of ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ met the real Sean Penn

Heckerling said Penn only broke character once all his scenes as Jeff Spicoli were finished.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High reunion
Sean Penn gives Amy Heckerling the Guy Movie Hall of Fame award | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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“He was Jeff Spicoli, deeply Jeff Spicoli for the entire movie,” Heckerling said. “When we were done with the movie, he introduced himself to everybody as Sean Penn and thanked them for the work that they did and was very gracious.”a