How did Rob Reiner Cast Four Child Actors in “Stand By Me” Who Captured The Roles and Story So Well?


Finding four child actors to work together and give compelling performances was essential to the success of Stand By Me (1986). Reiner and his team managed to cast four relatively unknown kids who, more or less, got to play themselves.

River Phoenix, the oldest of the boys, was not only looked up to by the other kids in the film, but also by the child actors themselves. Everyone considered him to be incredibly kind. Eerily, the film’s ending says the character of Chris went on to die an early death, just as Phoenix himself would from a drug overdose in 1993. In an interview on the film’s 25th anniversary, Rob Reiner noted “The first time I saw the movie after River had died it was bizarre. It was really surreal,” he says. “I was like ‘I can’t believe I’m watching this’. He was such a sweet kid and he was like his character in the film, a wisened peacemaker; he was a good soul, ya know.”

As a child, Wil Wheaton was every bit as thoughtful, intelligent, and dorky as Gordie. He loved comic books and had an appreciation for things beyond his years. It was this same discovery of that boy behind the character that would land him his most defining role one year later, as the overly intelligent Wesley Crusher on Star Trek’s spinoff The Next Generation (1987).

Corey Feldman’s character of Teddy drew on a lot of the anger and confusion within the real Feldman. “I was playing a character that was similar in some ways; I was bullied; I was suicidal, but unlike Teddy I was filled with fear and was embarrassed about those kinds of things,” Feldman said. He had a painful and angry childhood, and easily translated those feelings into his character.

The film captured these boys at a time when they were undergoing a coming of age in their real lives, just as their characters were in the film. Feldman had his first beer that same summer. He and Phoenix shared a joint. Phoenix lost his virginity.

In an interview with NPR’s David Greene, Wheaton said ““Rob Reiner found four young boys who basically were the characters we played.”

Child actors usually lack the discipline formed by life experience and years of work. But any actor should be able to convey their own self. Finding four kids who embodied the characters in their personal lives was a massive success in Stand By Me. Not only was the film a box office delight back in 1986, it’s remained a classic in cinematic history. Its timeless message will transcend generations and always remain true to the sweetness of childhood and the sentimental remembrance of those times during adulthood.