Varsity Blues: About The Story

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In his 35th year as head coach, Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight) is trying to lead his West Canaan Coyotes to their 23rd division title. Uncompromising and omnipotent, Kilmer is deified in the small Texas town, as long as the team is winning.

But when star quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) suffers a season-ending injury, the Coyotes are forced to regroup under the questionable leadership of second-string quarterback Jonathan Moxon (James Van Der Beek). His irreverent attitude and approach to football come into direct conflict with the coach's inflexible game plan.

"Varsity Blues" explores our obsession with sports and how teenage athletes respond to the extraordinary pressures placed on them. It's a comedy with lots of heart, a movie that is as much about teen angst and adults' loss of perspective as it is about high school football.

"I've always been a fan of movies about high school, like John Hughes' films from the 1980s. I've also always been a huge sports fan. So, I was immediately attracted to Varsity Blues because it's not only a fast-paced and exciting football movie, but also a story with depth and humor about young people," explains director and producer Brian Robbins.

The intensity and importance of high school football in Texas is legendary. For avid sports enthusiasts like Robbins and his producing partner, Mike Tollin, capturing the competitiveness and quality of this brand of football on screen was irresistible. As part of their research, Robbins and Tollin made a trip to Austin and Houston to visit local high schools and watch state play-off games. "We were amazed at the crowds that turned out for these games. Forty thousand people at the Astrodome for a high school football game is phenomenal. It's unbelievable how swept up the state of Texas is in high school football."

That kind of fervor can induce kids to play the sport despite their ability or interest. When Friday night games are the focus of an entire community, a tremendous amount of pressure from parents, teachers and peers is placed on the players. As a high school quarterback in small town Texas, particularly one who's leading a team with a winning season, the stakes are high and the potential for fame is enormous. "You're bigger than any movie star - you own the town," adds Robbins.

With five games to go in his senior year, second-string quarterback Jonathan Moxon is suddenly thrust into the limelight and forced to take the team reins due to a debilitating injury that has left the first-string quarterback on the sidelines. "The character of Mox is propelled into the role of star player, something he's never wanted to be. He struggles to do the right thing without compromising his integrity or betraying his identity in the face of insurmountable pressure from his parents and maniacal coach," says Robbins. "Mox is the reluctant hero of the film."

James Van Der Beek came to "Varsity Blues" eager to stretch his boundaries as an actor and play a very different role from Dawson, the character for which he's come to be known in the hit television series "Dawson's Creek." Donning football pads and a uniform and battling it out on the field was a dream for Van Der Beek, who gained an extra 15 pounds of muscle for the role.

In describing his character, Van Der Beek says, "Mox is a little cynical and very happily removed as back-up quarterback from the insanity that is Texas high school football. He plays the game because it's easier to play than not to in West Texas."

While reading Kurt Vonnegut on the sidelines, Mox dreams of going to college and getting away from football and the small town in which he lives. When he suddenly finds himself the team's starting quarterback and is forced to deal with the pressures and temptations that come along with being a football star, his world is turned upside down. In this role, confrontation is inevitable with Coach Kilmer (Jon Voight), a man with whom he's always had an adversarial relationship.

With a flawless track record, winning championship after championship, coach Bud Kilmer is a local hero with power in West Canaan that extends far beyond the football field. Authoritarian and intimidating, he expects nothing short of victory and runs his team ragged as a result. It's his way or the highway, even if his way is wrong.

"It's hard for Mox to stand up to Kilmer because in doing so he encounters so much resistance from the other players, his parents and townspeople. It's so much fun to play this role and stand up to somebody like that because you feel like you're speaking for everyone who had that kind of coach in high school," says Van Der Beek.

Voight explains, "Kilmer is a man with a lot of bitterness, and he takes it out on the kids. In advocating 'winning at all costs,' he does a great disservice to these boys." No stranger to the world of sports and the strengths required to be a good coach, he adds, "My father was a golf professional and a great teacher. To be a good coach you have to be a great teacher in life. My character has a talent for coaching and motivating his players, but he misuses his influence because of his anger."

"Working with Jon Voight was a dream come true for me as a director. We had him in mind for the part from the very beginning. He's such a wonderful actor that it was a joy to sit back and watch him work. He brought a level of performance and a kind of professionalism that was inspiring for the young cast," Robbins declares.

Members of the crew of "Varsity Blues" were quick to note that each young actor fit the personality of their character completely. In speaking about the cast, director Brian Robbins enthuses, "I was very lucky to work with such an amazing cast that features an Academy Award™ winner and a terrific ensemble of young actors."

Playing the role of Lance Harbor, a talented quarterback with movie-star good looks and charm, fell on the very capable shoulders of Paul Walker. A former high school football player himself, Walker took to the athletic role with ease and grace. "Lance is the best quarterback to roll through West Canaan in a long time. He's a celebrity in his town. All the girls like him, and all the guys resent him for it." In contrast to his best friend, Mox, Lance has a good rapport with Coach Kilmer and loves being showered with attention. Football frenzy surrounds him at home as well, with his father and young stepmother, a former high school player and cheerleader respectively, exulting in his every victory. When Lance suffers an injury that prevents him from playing the sport, his world is shattered along with that of his parents. For his character, Walker concludes, "You're either playing football, or you're a nobody."

Scott Caan plays Tweeder, the wild man of the group of five childhood friends and teammates. Caan performed all of his own stunts in the film, taking hit after hit. "It was the most fun I've had making a movie yet. I was like a little kid on the field. When you're young you imagine playing football in front of a bunch of fans screaming, and we got to do that. It was like a dream."

Ron Lester tenderly portrays Billy Bob, the team's fun-loving and bumbling offensive guard, who loves nothing more than being with his buddies and driving them around in his monster truck accompanied by his pet pig, Bacon. "I'm a home-grown country boy in this film." In Lester's character we see both the enjoyment and the agony that these high school students go through to play ball.

Former fashion models who have graced the covers of many magazines, Amy Smart and Ali Larter were delighted to be cast as the two strong, feisty young women in "Varsity Blues." Although playing rivals on screen, the two actresses have been best friends for years and could not have been happier to have the other on location in Texas for two months. With perfect pompom pizzazz, Larter plays head cheerleader Darcy, the girlfriend of none other than town golden boy, Lance Harbor. Together they are the beautiful couple of the town. An athlete but never a cheerleader, Larter practiced daily for a month with cheerleaders from the University of Texas to perfect the moves.

Smart is Jules Harbor, an intelligent and introspective senior whose personality perfectly suits boyfriend Jonathan Moxon. Like Mox, she wants nothing more than to hit the big city and leave this football nightmare behind.

Newcomer Eliel Swinton completes the principal cast as Wendell Brown. Swinton had never acted before he was spotted by Brian Robbins working as a production assistant in the director's office. He did, however, have an impressive football career as a running back in high school and at Stanford University before playing briefly for the Kansas City Chiefs. While the other cast members taught him a thing or two about acting, Swinton was able to impart some of his knowledge as the person with the most real football experience on the field.

In summary, director Robbins says, "This movie is not just for football fans. In addition to the spectacular scenes on the field, there is a little something for everybody - equal parts coming-of-age drama and comedy. It's satirical at times and yet ultimately inspirational."

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