'Rudy' - the iconic film that almost didn't happen
The movie Rudy is the iconic story of a blue collar kid who was told he wasn't smart enough or strong enough to play football at Notre Dame. Rudy Ruettiger never gave up on his dream - and it was the type of story movies are made of.
The movie about former Notre Dame walk-on Rudy Ruettiger, just like his football career, almost didn't happen.
"There are three reasons why I'll never do this: A - I do not want to do another sports film, B - I do not want to shoot in Indiana again, it will put us in a niche, and 3- I grew up in Bloomington, I hate Notre Dame," writer Angelo Pizzo said.
Pizzo and director David Anspaugh were roommates and fraternity brothers at Indiana University. The two had collaborated on the iconic basketball film Hoosiers
Rudy was relentless in his pursuit of Pizzo and Anspaugh.
"Hey, I was a pain in the butt, I agree, but I beat life down until it gave in," Rudy said.
Finally Pizzo agreed to a meeting.
"I actually forgot. I didn't write it down, I didn't show up. Rudy being Rudy, knew vaguely where I was because I told him I lived in a 2-block perimeter And all of a sudden I hear this knock on the door and he said 'Hey, it's Rudy.' Oh my God, then it hit me. Then it was probably a year or two later when David had a meeting. That changed everything," Pizzo said.
He didn't want to do the movie but Anspaugh felt there was something to Rudy's story.
"I always felt this thing had the potential to be a huge movie. That is where I saw my first college game was at Notre Dame Stadium. I know exactly where I was sitting and I thought 'Oh my God.' If somebody would have tapped me on my 'Hey kid in about 30 years you're going to be down on that field shooting a movie.' Yeah right," Anspaugh said.
Executives at Columbia Tri-Star pictures agreed.
Pizzo moved to South Bend and immersed himself in everything Notre Dame and soon he understood.
"I don't even know how to describe it. There is an atmosphere, a peace, kind of a calming aspect, an energy to that campus that I had ever experienced before," Pizzo said.
"Just the ghosts of that stadium. You immediately think of Rockne and Horning and all the greats," Anspaugh said.
As the script came together they had to find the right actors to bring the movie to life from unknowns like Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau to familiar faces like Ned Beatty.
The most important role of course was the movie's name sake- Rudy Ruettiger.
Tri-Star was dead set on casting a star.
"The two guys they wanted Chris O'Donnell and Brendan Frazier," Pizzo said.
"I mean Brendan Frazier as Rudy? I don't care if he's won 5 Oscars. There's no way in my movie or his, that he's playing Rudy," Anspaugh said.
The real Rudy was 5-foot-nothing a hundred and nothing, not a man with movie star looks.
"That's the thing, when I was sitting in that restaurant and I saw Rudy walk in and, not Rudy I mean Sean but to me he looked like Rudy. Sean came walking in that door, looking confident with his white t-shirt and got the biceps going and just beaming with that big smile and all this enthusiasm. I'm going [expletive deleted] this is the guy. This is the one to beat," Anspaugh said.
"I remember David calling me and he said 'We've got our Rudy,'" Pizzo said.
"Sean is Rudy. Sean struggled, Sean got over it. He is so intelligent and so vulnerable and so naive in a good way," said Rudy said.
With the perfect cast in place, filming began on the campus of Notre Dame.
"Our movie was in the 'God loop.' Usually in a movie, everything goes wrong for you. This movie was the most fun I have ever had making anything, TV, movies, it was a joy," Anspaugh said.
On a strapped budget and without the use of special effects Anspaugh relied on a little divine intervention.
"You'll remember this scene, it's the shot where Rudy is trying to get into the game but he doesn't have enough money, trying to buy a ticket outside. We were told if you get up over the edge, you can't shoot the game because it's against NCAA rules. So I had to do was just catch the edge of the crowd and literally just as we cleared the lip, Notre Dame had just kicked an extra point, so everybody stood up and cheered," Anspaugh said.
While not everyone at Notre Dame was on board with the movie then head coach Lou Holtz was.
With the help of NFL Films, it was shot during the 1992 season and at two actual games Penn State and Boston College.
"It was etched indelibly in my memory bank because everything rested on it. We had 7 minutes to shoot the entire ending of the movie and if anything would have gone wrong we had no second chance," Pizzo said.
Once again everything played out to perfection, a storybook ending.
"I saw the potential because it was about every man and every woman, you're not pretty enough, you're not smart enough, or you're not athletic enough. The people who related to that movie, it didn't matter what they did but it inspired them," Anspaugh said.
Rudy says they have something special in the works next season for the 25th anniversary of the movie.