Stand By Me's Wil Wheaton Reveals How His Performance Was Informed By Alleged Childhood Emotional Abuse

Wil Wheaton as Gordie in Stand By Me

Rob Reiner's Stand By Me is an incredible and timeless piece of cinema, the story emerging from the memories and imagination of Stephen King, and brought to life with a collection of perfect performances. The movie features an amazing ensemble of young actors, with the lead of the pack being Wil Wheaton as the innocent and grief-stricken Gordie Lachance – and the work he does is remarkable from such a young star. It's an impressive turn to look back on, and Wheaton has now revealed that he feels at least part of its power comes from the fact that it was informed by what he has recalled as emotional abuse from his own childhood.

Stand By Me is back in theaters for a limited engagement to celebrate the movie's 35th anniversary, and it was during an interview with Yahoo! that Wil Wheaton opened up about his experience working on the film and how it was impacted by his relationship with his parents. He says that he didn't have a passion for acting when he was a child, but that it was something that his mother and father forced him into. He explained,

I didn’t want to be an actor when I was a kid. My parents forced me to do it, my mother made me do it. My mother coached me to go into her agency and tell the children’s agent, ‘I want to do what mommy does.’ And through a combination of an incredible emotional abuse from my father and a lot of manipulation, using me, from my mother, it really put me in that place.

Wil Wheaton made his professional acting debut when he was just eight years old, playing a small part in a 1981 TV movie title A Long Way Home. His credits leading up to Stand By Me included The Defiant Ones, The Last Starfighter, and the animated The Secret of NIMH, but it was Rob Reiner's 1986 film that proved to be his breakout performance – eventually leading to a high-profile role on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Reflecting on his time playing Gordie Lachance – a burgeoning writer invisible to his family even before the death of his older brother (John Cusack) – Wil Wheaton noted that he feels that Rob Reiner cast him in the role because the filmmaker recognized what was happening inside his mind and behind his eyes. He had multiple touchstones to connect with the character, and it gave him the capacity to deliver an emotional and realistic performance. Said Wheaton,

[It] put me in exactly the right place to play Gordie because Gordie’s experience very much reflected my experience. We’re both invisible in our homes. We both have a brother who is the golden child. We’re both the scapegoat in the family. So when I watch Stand By Me now, I cannot ignore the unbelievable sadness in my eyes. And I cannot ignore the reality that it was that sadness, that isolation that I think gave me what Gordie needed to come to life and I think Rob Reiner saw that.

Going further, Wil Wheaton added that he feels that the kind of in-depth casting that led to him playing Gordie in Stand By Me wasn't an exclusive thing. Instead, it was something that was the case for the entire ensemble. According to the actor, Rob Reiner saw a particular anger in Corey Feldman that made him the right Teddy Duchamp; he saw wisdom in River Phoenix that would make him the perfect Chris Chambers; and it was because Jerry O'Connell was so personable and funny that he had to be cast as Vern Tessio.

As for himself, Wheaton added,

I guess I want to be a writer so that makes me Gordie. I never realized until I was in my 40s that I was Gordie because I was Gordie.

Stand By Me is currently streaming on Starz (it will be on Netflix starting in June), and available on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital – but if you act quickly you can have the incredible opportunity of watching the magical movie on the big screen. The first Fathom Events-hosted screenings were held yesterday, but there are more scheduled nationwide this Wednesday, May 26. You can find more details here.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.