“Ru-dy! Ru-dy!” It’s been more than 25 years since Sean Astin’s Rudy Ruettiger was carried off the field at Notre Dame Stadium, but the actor still gets emotional while rewatching the film.
“My wife [Christine Harrell] was on the sideline,” Astin, 49, recalls exclusively to Us Weekly. “I looked at her before the big final snap. That and the sound of the crowd are my enduring memory. That and the extraordinary accomplishment of this small crew. And I was happy for Rudy. When I watch the movie, it’s Jon Favreau’s cry that chokes me up.”
Favreau played D-Bob in the 1993 drama, Rudy’s best friend. In the final scene, D-Bob (“He’s so little!”) tears up in the stands while Rudy joins the Fighting Irish.
The biographical movie, directed by David Anspaugh, is an account of Daniel Ruettiger’s early life playing college football at the University of Notre Dame. Although he didn’t make first string, underdog Ruettiger became an inspiration for his perseverance and dedication to the sport. And on November 8, 1975 — with 27 seconds left on the clock — coach Dan Davine put walk-on Ruettiger in for the last play of the game. He tackled Georgia Tech quarterback Rudy Allen and then lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates to celebrate the victory.
Astin called his audition for the part “nerve-racking.”
“I knew I had the part. The question was, would I blow it in the room? It was close,” he adds. “They put me through a short but intense training experience, first in L.A. then at the Notre Dame facility. For the first half of filming, I was strong. By the end, as winter set in … not so much. My football skills are awesome for the street in front of my house in Westwood. On the actual field … not so much.”
While Astin got to work on-camera, Ruettiger visited the set while filming. “Rudy was the living heartbeat of the film. He was always on hand when needed,” Astin tells Us. “It was amazing to be looking at someone who your performance will be their indelible memory for so many. He was gracious and excited the whole time.”
Rudy is packed with several emotional scenes — notably when the players request to give up their spots in order for No. 45 to play. “I’m a father of three daughters. I cry at everything,” the Goonies star says while recalling the moment. “That scene … so many scenes with Rudy’s dad and the players … it’s Jerry Goldsmith’s score. That music makes me cry throughout.”
Another tearful moment for viewers is when Rudy is finally admitted to Notre Dame after two years at Holy Cross and three rejections. “Getting the acceptance letter was a strain, that ended in victory,” Astin says, noting that it was one of the more difficult scenes to do. But as for his favorite? “I also liked the D-Bob scenes. We had fun doing those.”
Astin and Favreau starred alongside Vince Vaughn, Charles S. Dutton, Ned Beatty and Lili Taylor. Favreau has since directed and produced multiple box office hits, including films in the Marvel franchise and The Lion King remake, while Vaughn has had success with films such as Wedding Crashers, Anchorman and The Break-Up, which Favreau also appeared in.
“I’ve seen those two a few times over the years,” Astin says. “They were both focused and driven at the time, but in a cool way. It is no surprise that they have dominated the Hollywood landscape. Impressive as hell.”
The same can be said for Rudy, which continues to be a sport classic after more than two decades. And it seems Astin has carried Rudy’s selflessness off the field too.
“I had the jacket,” he says of what he kept from set. “But gave it to a pre-school fundraiser in the late 90s.”
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