'Fast Times' at 40: The Making of Spicoli

Sean Penn and cast members of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"

It's 40 years since Fast Times at Ridgemont High was released in theaters on Aug. 13, 1982. Based on Cameron Crowe's book, directed by Amy Heckerling and starring the 22-year-old Sean Penn in his second movie role ever (Bad Boys was his first), Fast Times is hailed as one of the greatest stoner movies. Set in California in the early '80s, the film also features Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, Ray Walston and Forest Whitaker. 

But it's Penn's surfer dude Spicioli who drew the most attention. Here are some of his famous quotes:

• "I'm so wasted!"

• "Surfing is not a sport. It's a way of life - no hobby. It's a way of looking at that wave and saying, 'Hey bud, let's party!'"

"Oh, gnarly!"

"Me and Mick are going to wing on over to London and jam with the Stones!"

"All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I'm fine."

Jeff Spicoli on the ground after falling out of the smoked-out van in "Fast Times."

Spicoli famously spills out out out of a hot-boxed VW van as an introduction to his character, which was based on a surfer Penn know growing up in Malibu.

"So much of it came from this one character who grew up in Malibu that I had known throughout my teens," Penn said in a 2021 interview. "It was a combination of what Cameron Crowe had written and this one particular guy that I knew. That merger was where I went."

Penn revealed he'd recently run into the unnamed surfer dude from his youth "for the first time" since then. "We were passing on a trail to and from the beach. This man with his wife and children were walking down the path. He spoke in a very articulate way. He greeted me. He had the advantage of watching me age, so he knew that it was me. But then he had to introduce himself and I couldn't believe it was him. But I had never told anybody who it was, so I don't think he knows."

RELATED: Shia LeBeouf Plays Spicoli in "Fast Times" Table Read

Penn stayed in character on the set. “I didn’t get to know Sean - nobody got to know Sean because he was Spicoli the entire time,” Scott Thomson (who played Arnold) told THR. “I just kept thinking, ‘Where did they find him?'”

Heckerling added: "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.' He was Jeff Spicoli for the entire movie. 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.”

Jeff Spicoli: "All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I'm fine."

Penn almost didn't get the job after a poor audition. But the casting director told him to stick around and give it another try. "Don Phillips came running into the parking lot where my broken-down Mazda I borrowed was sitting and I was just about to leave. And he said, 'Get back in here and audition your ass off,' something like that. 'You're not going anywhere.' And off of that they took a gamble and then we had a great time making the movie."

Penn went into more detail in 2021: "I was in my parents' garage. My agent tracked me down at their house and said there was this movie and I should get a hold of the book. So I went out and got the book and I read it and I immediately recognized this guy. I'd grown up with a kid who was real similar to that and I thought, yeah I could find the music to this. And then I went in to audition. It was a disaster. I was never good at auditoning. But Don Phillips convinced them to see me again. He pushed and pushed and the next thing I knew I got the part and had a blast."

As for Crowe, "In the fall of 1979, the author returned to a high school he had attended briefly some years back. He registered as a student under an assumed name with the cooperation of  the principal, who was the only one to know the secret. Because of his youthful appearance, he was never under suspicion and was able to mingle freely in the classrooms, the schoolyard, the students’ homes and the fast-food parlors that were the focus of the lives of the kids in a typical town in California. The author has changed the name of the school, its location and the names of the students and teachers with whom he lived. The events and the dialog, however, are real."

Here's a brief excerpt from Crowe's book, which camne out in 1981:

"Spicoli had taken just a little bit of one mushroom, just to check the potency. He could feel it coming on now as he sat in his room surrounded by his harem of naked women and surf posters. It was just a slight buzz, like a few hits off the bong. Spicoli knew they were good mushrooms. But if he didn’t leave soon, he might be too high to drive before he reached the party. One had to craft his buzz, Spicoli was fond of saying."

Here's the pizza scene with Penn and Walston (Mr. Hand) and classmates looking on from the screenplay:

Hand swings the door open, out of curiosity. In
walks a young man in a Mr. Pizza delivery shirt.

Okay, who had the double cheese
sausage and bologna?

That's me.

The Delivery Man takes the pizza, sets it on the
desk, as Spicoli whips out some crumpled dollars.
Then he produces yet another crumpled dollar, and
presses it into the Delivery Man's hand.

For you, my man.

The Delivery Man thanks him warmly, just as Mr.
Hand rages into the picture.

Am I hallucinating here? Just what
in the hell do you think you're doing?

Learning about Cuba. Having some food.

Mr. Spicoli, you're on dangerous
ground here. You're causing a major
disturbance in my class and on my time.

(cool and urbane)
I've been thinking about this, Mr.
Hand. If I'm here... and you're
here... doesn't that make it our time?

Mr. Hand is so furious he's almost shaking.

So I thought I'd order us a pizza.


Earning $27 million at the box office, Fast Times was among the Top 30 movies of 1982. Crowe followed with Almost Famous, Heckerling went on to direct Clueless and Penn became an Academy Award winner for his roles in Dead Man Walking (1995) and Milk (2008). He was not nominated for Fast Tmes at Ridgemont High.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.