Thirty-five years after his breakout performance in Rob Reiner’s classic coming-of-age film “Stand By Me,” Wil Wheaton is opening up about how the abuse he faced as a child brought power to his onscreen work.
Wheaton, 48, spoke with Yahoo! Movies on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the release of “Stand By Me” and reflected on his experience as a child star.
“I didn’t want to be an actor when I was a kid,” Wheaton said. “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.”
Wheaton’s mother was an actress and his father was a medical specialist. He is currently estranged from them.
Speaking about how the mistreatment he received at the hands of his parents influenced his portrayal of Gordie, a young boy whose parents were dealing with the loss of their oldest son (John Cusack), Wheaton said, “[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,” he explained. “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.”
After “Stand By Me,” Wheaton went on to have major acting roles in the 1991 movie “Toy Soldiers,” and in the TV show “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” But today he’s primarily a writer which has a nice symmetry to it given that Gordie was an aspiring writer.
“I guess I want to be a writer so that makes me Gordie,” he said. “I never realized until I was in my 40s that I was Gordie because I was Gordie.”
Following Wheaton’s revelation, his “Stand By Me” co-star Jerry O’Connell offered his thoughts.
“I love Wil. He’s a great friend of mine. We’ve obviously been friends for 35 years now. That film was 35 years ago. I had no idea he was feeling this when we were doing this film and I think what should be said is, you have no idea, not even co-workers, just people close to you, you have no idea what is going on with someone. So, if you sense anything is amiss, anything weird, it costs you nothing to go up to them and say, ‘Hey is everything OK? Is anything going on? Do you want someone to talk to? I just think even saying that I think reaches a hand out to someone. I have great memories from doing this film,” O’Connell said while appearing on Wednesday’s edition of “The Talk” .
“When people get older they deal with the ramification of that,” he added. “But I wish I was older back then so I could have said, ‘Hey Wil, hey man, is anything ?’ But I do love Wil and he’s doing great. He does a lot for Paramount+, for Star Trek, he’s doing great.”