Varsity Blues 15 Years Later: James Van Der Beek “Couldn’t Throw” + Other Things You Didn’t Know

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It’s hard to believe that 15 years ago today, Varsity Blues, a teen high school drama starring James Van Der Beek debuted in theaters. The first of a string of a 1999 MTV Films releases, the movie told the story of a small football town in Texas where losing wasn’t an option. Van Der Beek portrayed Jonathan Moxon, the intelligent yet rebellious second-string quarterback who had to step up when Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) was injured. His team included Billy Bob (Ron Lester), the sensitive offensive guard, Charlie Tweeder (Scott Caan), the rightfully-cocky wide receiver and Wendell Brown (Eliel Swinton), the talented running back. As we look back on the life we always wanted, Lester shares things you may have not known about the film, such as who was up for the Van Der Beek’s role.

1) Chris Klein was up for the main role, Jonathan “Mox” Moxon:

“We had a screen test with eight different Moxons — Chris Klein, James Van Der Beek, a bunch of other people. The funny thing was, I was the only Billy Bob … Going through the process [of eight different screen tests] and having [director Brian Robbins] come up to me and going, ’so who do you think is the best one that’s going to be Mox?’ I told him Van Der Beek …  I remember that [Klein] was so much taller than me. It sucked. I’m like six foot and this guy’s towering me. I’m going, ’That’s not fair. No, no.’ ”

2) Varsity Blues was originally intended to be Friday Night Lights:

Varsity Blues is pretty much Friday Night Lights. The only thing is MTV couldn’t get the rights to it.”

3) Van Der Beek couldn’t throw a football, or could he?:

“Every time you see a straight ball thrown from Van Der Beek, it was the UT quarterback. I promise you. Van Der Beek couldn’t throw a ball … He played a role. He worked his heart off. He did a great job. But at the end of the day Paul was a more athletic-type person than Van Der Beek was.”

Editor’s Note: If you don’t want to take  Lester’s word for it, you can judge Van Der Beek’s throwing ability based on this movie clip, and this one, and this appearance at the Madden Pigskin Pro Am last year.

4) Eliel Swinton was the only real athlete among the main cast members:

“He took Stanford to the Pac-10 [championship]. He was the only one who really played football.”

5) There was a fraternity mentality behind the scenes: 

“I have yet to experience the high that I had working on this movie … It was a lot of fun. There were a lot of pranks.

“My fat ass is in the front [of the van] and I just blow ass. Paul and Scott would be in the back of the van and the windows wouldn’t open. They would be miserable.

“Even the girls were in on it.”

6) Caan walked in on Lester having sex:

“I was almost 500 pounds [at the time]. I never had a girlfriend. Remember the Little Bo Beep stripper from that scene? Well, I get her home. Right when things started getting good, Scott walks into my room and says, ‘I need to borrow your camera for an audition.’ Dude! I was so close! Are you kidding me?”

7) Ali Larter, who played Darcy Sears – the school’s head cheerleader and serial quarterback dater, was not wearing whipped cream: 

“We wanted to be on the set so bad. Later on, we found out it was shaving cream being that whipped cream melts.

“When I spoofed myself in Not Another Teen Movie and Chris [Evans] ends up doing that same whipped cream bikini, it totally just ruined it for me. Seeing Chris naked with cherries on his nipples and a banana in his butt, it killed it.”

8) Frank Sinatra died on May 14, 1998, the day Lester had to film his most dramatic scene:

“I’m a huge Frank Sinatra fan. Here I am, I’m already built up emotionally getting ready for this scene. Then I find out Frank Sinatra dies just as I was about to go film. A lot of what you see in that shot, I give credit to the fact that we lost the Chairman.”

9) Not everyone was a fan of Van Der Beek’s most famous line:

“It’s just the worst line ever said in a movie: ’I don’t want your life.’ It’s the worst thing ever.”

10) Even MTV didn’t have faith in the film: 

“We were a sleeper hit. We were told we weren’t going to make much money. It was low budget. No one expected Varsity Blues to be a number one movie in America. Then the next thing you know, bam!”

Can’t get enough of Varsity Blues? Check out the entire cast then and now.

[Photos: Paramount]