Sean Penn is a respected actor, director, and activist, but for a generation of moviegoers, he will always be Jeff Spicoli, the stoner extraordinaire from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In real life, of course, Penn is the exact opposite of the blissed-out surfer dude he played in Amy Heckerling’s 1982 high school classic. But there is a real “Jeff Spicoli,” and Anthony Edwards — who co-starred in Fast Times alongside Penn as a fellow stoner — has seen him up close and personal. “Sean took me to a party in Malibu, and he pointed to this guy and he goes, ‘That’s who Spicoli is,’” the actor tells Yahoo Movies in our new Role Recall above. “I saw this guy, and he was nothing like [Spicoli]! For Sean, whatever it was about that guy inspired this thing. And I realized that’s what this is about: Inspiration can come from a lot of different places.”
While Edwards had only a small role in Fast Times, one could argue that he’s the real star of another ’80s classic, Top Gun. After all, the tragic death of his Navy flyboy Nick “Goose” Bradshaw serves as the emotional crux of that 1986 favorite, sending his buddy Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) into a personal tailspin that he barely pulls out of in time for the climactic aerial battle.
Thirty years after the immortal Summer of ’86, Edwards is still pleased to have been what he laughingly describes as “an emotional speed bump” on Maverick’s path back to top gun status. “Goose’s journey is wonderfully tragic because you like him so much. You’re like, ‘Why does he have to die?’ But in that form of storytelling, you have to make your hero suffer and overcome.”
Fast Times and Top Gun aren’t the only ’80s hits on Edwards’s filmography; he also made memorable appearances in The Sure Thing and Revenge of the Nerds prior to joining what became one of the defining TV shows of the ’90s, ER. In addition to multiple Emmy nominations, that series awarded him the opportunity to flex his directing muscles, which he puts to good use helming the new indie comedy My Dead Boyfriend, which opened in theaters and on VOD earlier this month. The film stars Heather Graham as a woman who discovers her slacker boyfriend’s deep inner life … after he dies. “In the indie world and the TV world, it’s all about time,” Edwards says. “There are always serious limitations and your job is to make the most out of them.”
Watch the trailer for My Dead Boyfriend: