One Great Rock Movie Can Change the World: An Oral History of 'School of Rock' (2024)

It was 20 years ago this month that Jack Black put on a bow tie, walked into a prep school, and told a bunch of fourth graders to get the Led out. His star turn as the lovable loser in Richard Linklater’s School of Rock helped the film gross nearly $20 million when it opened, breaking the record for music-themed comedies at the time. Over the years, it’s inspired a hit Broadway musical, a TV show, and a children’s book, and helped popularize actual School of Rock programs for kids who want to serve society by rocking. Two decades on, it remains a wildly funny movie with honest-to-God great tunes — and its kind, inclusive spirit has aged much better than most 2000s comedies.

Even before filming began, Black knew School of Rock was going to be different. “When we did the read-through, that’s when I felt it,” he says. “Table reads are always boring because movies are not meant to be read at a table, they’re meant to be seen on a big screen. But this was the first time where it just killed. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is like a diamond. Every scene is clicking and the laughs are strong in the room.’ I could feel, right out of the gate, something special is happening.”

He couldn’t have been more right. Here’s the full story of School of Rock, as told through 30 new interviews with the movie’s cast and crew, including Black, Linklater, Sarah Silverman, Miranda Cosgrove, Maryam Hassan, Rivkah Reyes, Joey Gaydos Jr., and more.

I. The Original School of Rock

In 1975, a 27-year-old Canadian musician got a job teaching at an elementary school in rural British Columbia.

Hans Fenger (The Langley Schools Music Project): The Seventies were an odd time for me. My friends were into punk and disco. I listened to Karen Carpenter. I became a teacher purely by accident. I had no clue what I was doing, and I certainly never wanted to be a teacher, but life got in the way. My girlfriend got pregnant. I needed a job. I happened to already have a degree from the Sixties, in medieval English poetry and music, which landed me a job nowhere. Maybe in Sherwood Forest in the Middle Ages. Langley had a teacher shortage, so they were hiring anybody, including me. I showed up there with hair all over the place, in a district that had more churches than schools.

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Teaching afternoon classes with very little supervision, Fenger showed his students how to play rock songs like David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” the Eagles’ “Desperado,” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” — and lots of Beach Boys.

Fenger: Kids’ music is so “I want to teach the world to sing in harmony! Peace in the world! My pets are really nice!” Meanwhile, kids didn’t feel that. They felt lonely. They felt sad. Many of them came from bad backgrounds. The purpose of music is to express an emotion, but there was no music for six-year-olds to do that.I realized that Brian Wilson was writing the perfect little kid songs, and when they could sing a song like “In My Room,” it really allowed them to express their feelings.

In 1976, Fenger spontaneously brought the kids into the gymnasium and recorded them with his friend’s Revox tape recorder. The album they made, Innocence & Despair, was quickly forgotten and ignored for decades — until a 2001 repressing on CD made it a cult classic, and grabbed the attention of a young screenwriter named Mike White.

II. The Screenplay

White used Fenger’s story as the inspiration for a screenplay about a down-on-his-luck rock singer who poses as a substitute teacher at a prep school — and forms a rock band with his students.

Jack Black (Dewey Finn): Mike White was my neighbor. He would come over and we would talk, and he just made me laugh so much. I was always fascinated by his strange magic.

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White wrote a part for Black in 2002’s Orange County, in which the actor played Colin Hanks’ stoner brother. Then White got the idea to write a movie with Black as the star.

Black: Part was written for me, didn’t have to audish. The truth is, once High Fidelity came out in theaters, I didn’t even need headshots anymore. That’s when I knew I made it. I was like, “Should I get more headshots?” And my agent just laughed. “You don’t need headshots, you idiot. You’re a star now.”

Producer Scott Rudin, who’d worked with White on Orange County, wanted Austin-based director Richard Linklater for their next project.

Richard Linklater (Director): This script shows up. I read it and passed. It was cheesy; there was a formulaic quality to it. Then I got a call from my agent. She’s like, “Rudin is not accepting your pass.”I’m like, “Well, then, let’s talk.” He was basically grilling me on what I responded to and what I didn’t respond to, and he was agreeing with a lot of what I was saying. I had to know for sure that I could wade into this studio situation and feel good. Creatively, I had to feel like it was going to be my movie.

One Great Rock Movie Can Change the World: An Oral History of 'School of Rock' (1)

Black: I loved Richard Linklater because I loved Slacker, and I thought Dazed and Confused was brilliant. Obviously, he knew rock. I was nervous, though, because it seemed like all of his movies were kind of low-budge indie experiments. This has potential to be a big summer hit. But Scott was like, “No, you’re wrong. I’m taking over and I’m forcing this to happen.”

Black, Linklater, and White all met up at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles to discuss the script.

Black: I don’t think that Mike White and Richard Linklater ever would’ve gotten together to collaborate had it not been for Scott Rudin, because they’re very different temperaments. They’re a little bit like oil and water. They didn’t always totally get along.

Linklater’s main concern was that the story White had written was unrealistic.

Black: Linklater went over with a fine-tooth comb to try to keep it grounded, keep it real, even though it comes off kind of crazy. He was addressing things like, “I don’t believe this. They’re doing a music class and nobody finds out? They have to soundproof the classroom. Let’s do this right.” Those little elements of keeping it on planet Earth really served it.

Sam Hoffman (First Assistant Director): There were a lot of elements that were pushing it in a very theatrical direction. Rick’s Texan take on it was to make it more real.

Linklater: It was, as Jack would say, ridonculous that you could get away with this. I want there to be a logic within the world that makes sense. Still, if you really break it down, that wouldn’t be enough sound insulation to keep the room next door from knowing you got a full rock & roll band going in here. But at least we’re letting everyone know, “We thought about that.”

“This script shows up. I passed. Then I got a call from my agent: ‘[Scott] Rudin is not accepting your pass.’ ”

Richard Linklater

III. Casting

In keeping with his usual style, Linklater steered away from casting professional Hollywood kids.

Black: It’s Linklater. He’s gifted, famously, at picking people to be in his movies, starting with Dazed and Confused. Look at that cast — every other person is a huge star now. It was all their first movies, and he saw their potential. And with this one, it was really important. None of them felt like child actors that are trying to make it with their stage moms.

Hoffman: One of the amazing things that Rick did was cast kids who could play and sing. That was one of the big things that was important to him, and he made that clear from the very beginning.

Ilene Starger (Casting Director): Most of the kids had never acted before, or were, first and foremost, musicians. We wanted as much reality as possible. No one would be dubbed or would be pretending to play an instrument.

Rogier Stoffers (Cinematographer): You do a Hollywood movie and the studio goes, “Oh, we have this cute kid in this Disney show.” And then Rick’s like, “Well, can she play the guitar?”

Joey Gaydos Jr., born in Dearborn, Michigan, attended a music camp in Ann Arbor. His parents got an email inviting him to audition for a film in Chicago.

Joey Gaydos Jr. (Zack): It was unavoidable for me where I grew up. My dad was a musician, and I was in the baby gate trying to listen in on rehearsal. I wanted to play as soon as I could. I had to let my hands grow before I could actually physically play guitar, but if I could have started earlier, I would have.

Others ended up winging it.

Cole Hawkins (Leonard): The only thing that they had taught us to play in a New York City public school was a recorder, so I faked it.

Angelo Massagli (Frankie): They asked me to sing. I was like, “Oh, you gotta be kidding me.” So I just started belting “Crazy Train” by Ozzy, which is the only song I knew the words to.

Rivkah Reyes (Katie on bass) and Robert Tsai (Lawrence on keyboards) were scouted after appearing on the radio show From the Top, which features classically trained children.

Rivkah Reyes (Katie): My mom got me all these hair accoutrements from Limited Too, and I had this electric Daisy Rock guitar that my uncle had bought me. I did indeed rock out, and then two days later, I got the job. The cool part was that they had not written my character yet.

Linklater molded the characters around the actors he was casting, adjusting their traits to who they were in real life.

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Maryam Hassan (Tomika): They allowed us to be the kids that auditioned for the movie. Of course, it may not have been our story fully, but the personality, that was us. That’s why it never felt like work.

Caitlin Hale (Marta): I don’t feel like I was acting. I was very sassy. A lot of what you saw was just me being me.

Gaydos Jr.: A hundred percent. Only when I had to act so bummed out in the movie a lot — that was the greatest extent of my acting. Inside, I was having the best time.

Jordan-Claire Green (Michelle): We had so much space to make it our own and to create our own little characters.

Brian Falduto (Billy): They were very much creating the script while casting. My character didn’t exist when I walked in. I was supposed to be this nerd who’s really into all the technical aspects, but then I ended up being a fashion designer.

Linklater: I remember Rudin liking the idea of having one of the kids be effeminate. I was like, “That’s pretty radical.” Even casting Brian and talking to his parents, I was like, “I don’t know if you guys know yet, but young Brian is gay.” They were cool with it.It just seemed very real.

Stoffers: [Linklater] was like, “I’m not going to make some kid play gay. You have to find it, otherwise we find somebody else.” I think that’s one of the biggest secrets of how it worked.

“I don’t feel like I was acting. I was very sassy. A lot of what you saw was just me being me.”

Caitlin Hale (Marta)

Several actors auditioned for the role of Summer, originally written as an aspiring singer with blond hair.

Hale: I auditioned to be Summer. I remember there being a lot of us.

Green: Initially, in the first draft of the script, her character was completely different. She was a pop-star type, a young Britney Spears.

But an eight-year-old brunette won Linklater over.

Miranda Cosgrove (Summer): I had done the pilot for Drake & Josh, which is really the first thing I’d ever done. I wasn’t sure if it was picked up yet, and then I found out that I got School of Rock.

Linklater: She was a year younger than everybody else, almost too young. But I just loved her delivery and her mannerisms.

Starger: Summer was written as a blond girl, a teacher’s favorite, a gold-star-obsessed girl with utter determination, smarts, and leadership abilities. Miranda has dark hair, but she was perfect.

Cosgrove: It was a pretty easy character to play, because I was a lot like that. I was an overachiever type. I tried really hard in school, and I definitely cared about grades. They ended up making Summer the character I ended up playing, and then they split it into another role with Tomika, who’s a really good singer, and they made me the band manager.

Black: When I first met her, I was like, “Are you sure she should be the manager? She seems a little shy.” Linklater was like, “Nah. She’s got something that’s very special.” He called it.

Hassan: Shy is probably the word. When she got on camera though, she was in the zone.

Cosgrove: It was my first time on a movie set. But after three days with Jack, I was completely not nervous anymore.

Hassan, who had never acted before, was the last to get cast.

Starger: Tomika was written as having a great voice, yet she didn’t want to be in the spotlight. We had seen many, many young girls for this role, but no one seemed quite right for it. The film’s start date was approaching, but we were not going to settle. We had an open call on a Saturday in NYC, and I was worried. Then, near the end of that open call, Maryam came in with her mother. Her voice just floored us.

Linklater: We were having trouble finding someone who could really belt, and she just stepped up out of nowhere. I was like, “Oh, my God.”

Hassan’s only issue was the character’s original name.

Hassan: I read a few of the lines and I was like, “I don’t think it’s giving Laurie. It’s giving Tomika.” It’s not my name, but it feels like me. She’s got a little more flavor. She’s got a little attitude.

Joan Cusack was cast as the school’s principal, and White played Ned Schneebly, the actual substitute teacher impersonated by Black’s character. Sarah Silverman played Schneebly’s girlfriend.

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Sarah Silverman (Patty Di Marco): I always find Jewish and Italian very interchangeable. I was just so excited to be in a movie with Jack. He’s the menschiest person. I mean, what a tour de force. I don’t know if I’ve ever said that word before. Is that a word?

Black: Sarah Silverman was from that world of Mr. Show and alt-comedy of the Nineties. So her brand of humor is like, she’ll shock you with the things that she says. This role was way more of a straight character and a villainess.She was controlling the relationship with Mike White and she did not approve of me being part of his life anymore and wanted me out. She’s kind of a foil — the person you go, “Boo.” But she kicked ass.

Silverman: That was a time where women who were comics didn’t really get to be funny in movies. They just were the ones going, “When are you going to get a job?” She’s c*nty and angry. But wouldn’t you be if you lived with your boyfriend and his buddy took up the whole living room and never paid rent and was a dick to you and you couldn’t even bring it up without being made into an asshole?

IV. Filming

Shooting began in and around New York on Dec. 2, 2002. Exterior shots of Horace Green were filmed at Wagner College in Staten Island, while the classroom scenes were filmed at Buckley Country Day School in Nassau County. At first, Black was nervous about working with kids.

Black: In retrospect, it seems ridiculous, because I’m such an immature idiot that it was a perfect match to be with a bunch of kids. We had a blast — horsing around and making jokes and making fart noises in between takes.

Green: The only time I ever saw him get nervous was one night we were on set, and he said a cuss word. I think it was “sh*t.” He apologized to our parents. My mom was like, “You don’t think she’s ever heard me say ‘sh*t’?”

Massagli: Now I’m 30, thinking what it’s like to be with 20 kids all day.

Gaydos Jr.: We’d get into trivia. I remember a big one was like, “All right, Joey, first Zep album, all tracks in order.” And that would be a little pop quiz. That’s where you could see the genuine love. It wasn’t acting.

Sandra Adair (Editor): I had never worked on a film that Jack Black was in, and I didn’t really know much about him. I thought, “Uh-oh, we’re going to have so many takes of things he’s doing at the spur of the moment.” That happens sometimes when an actor is doing ad-libs in their takes, and then the other actors aren’t doing that. They don’t cut together. You can’t use it. But that was absolutely not the case. He was so disciplined. He could deliver 21 takes over and over and over, and each one has a different twinkle in the eye or a different intonation. He nailed it every single time.

Reyes: He was just very, very fun. And really, he does have a young spirit. He was a big kid, but not in a man-child way, more just a kindred energy. And he did a really good job of balancing professionalism and personality — not being the diva star lead, first on the call sheet, show up and do the shots and then leave. He was there with us between takes.

Silverman: Especially in a time where stars could be real f*cking assholes with tempers and lose their sh*t on people — and it’s just accepted because they’re artists — he is one of a kind and a joy. You can be a lovely human being and a great artist. That’s possible.

“Especially in a time where stars could be real f*cking assholes with tempers and lose their sh*t on people — and it’s just accepted because they’re artists — he is one of a kind and a joy.”

Sarah Silverman on Jack Black

It would take the kids years to realize they had gotten to work with a legendary director, too.

Linklater: When they think of the experience, they think of Jack and the band. I’m not the center of it. Why would I be? They were all so young, they don’t really know what a director does. I was just the guy who was making them do stuff. I was more serious, Jack was fun. I was having fun with them, but I realized it was kind of a one-way.

Hale: Of course Jack was the funny one, but I remember Rick to be just so encouraging and so open to all of our ideas and really treating us as if we were collaborators in this. We were part of it.

Aleisha Allen (Alicia): It’s rare to have a director that trusts you as an 11-year-old to make decisions as a performer.

Gaydos Jr.: Dazed and Confused was in my lexicon just due to it being this movie that featured all these songs and bands that I was getting into at the time. So I had to figure that he was kind of a cool dude. He carried himself in a very cool way where he let his knowledge speak softly, but it spoke volumes.

One week in, Linklater had to replace one of the kids.

Linklater: I shouldn’t even be saying all this publicly.… It was in rehearsals. There was a kid who wasn’t with the program, so there were tough decisions to be made. I think he wanted a bigger part.

Hale: Rick is correct. I don’t want to sh*t on anybody, but he was unprofessional.

Veronica Afflerbach (Eleni): The kid was counting lines and creating a culture of competition.We never counted lines.

Reyes: He was giving know-it-all energy. It’s so cheesy that I’m about to quote it, but we were serving society by rocking, and there was no room for ego in that.

Z Infante (Gordon): Rivkah’s so diplomatic. I f*cking love that.

Linklater: I always tell people: “Hey, don’t f*ck with me, I fired a kid on School of Rock.”

James Hosey, a redhead from Larchmont, New York, replaced the fired actor.

Green: He just slid right in.

Reyes: He was one of the funniest people on set.

James Hosey (Marco): They chose the best possible replacement on Earth, I think.

Hosey played Marco, notable for guessing “Six billion?” in “Math Song” and mistakenly calling Christopher Columbus’ ship the Santa Marino instead of the Santa María.

Hosey: I think Marco was the first one to light a joint in his class. The aloof kid who’s just there for the ride.

V. The Music

Linklater wanted to make sure School of Rock was a legit rock & roll movie, so music supervisor Randall Poster brought in Sonic Youth’s Jim O’Rourke as a consultant. He started the kids off with simple songs, like Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane.”

Jim O’Rourke (Music Consultant): I would go on set any time they shot a music scene to see if they’ve made a mistake. We were working at the Sonic Youth studio.

Gaydos Jr.: Jim was of an experimental, eclectic New York cool scene that I had no idea about at the time. Those are the memories I think about: being in his apartment and looking at his records, or his roaches in the ashtray.

O’Rourke: [Laughs.] It wasn’t a roach. I was smoking rolling-tobacco cigarettes.

The character of Summer was not a great singer, but Cosgrove was. O’Rourke had to teach her how to mangle an off-key “Memory” from Cats.

Cosgrove: They had me take a bad-singing lesson. I think I did two or three of them to get it right. It’s so funny: I was probably trying really hard to sing terribly, which makes no sense.

O’Rourke: I was probably imitating goats. And Bob Dylan.

Cosgrove: I feel like most people have never taken a bad-singing lesson, but I highly recommend it.

Poster also brought in musician Craig Wedren of Shudder to Think to compose the score.

Craig Wedren (Music): Even knowing some of Mike and Jack’s work and loving both of them and what they do, I still couldn’t picture quite how classic it was going to be. It wasn’t until I visited set and saw them riffing and saw what Jack was bringing to it that I fully understood that it was, I’m going to say, Grease-level.

Wedren also wrote a song for Dewey’s former band No Vacancy. With the 2000s slow-burner “Heal Me, I’m Heartsick,” they go on to beat School of Rock at the Battle of the Bands contest.

Wedren: I think the prompt was, “We need something cloying, annoying, and Creed-like.” They were the evil band that had kicked Jack out. At the time in particular I was writing a lot of songs for movies that were jokes, but you couldn’t necessarily tell that they were jokes unless you really listened to it, like “Higher and Higher” from Wet Hot American Summer, and “Heal Me, I’m Heartsick.” It was a fun time developing that little niche of that short-lived mini-career that I had, of joke/not-joke songs.

No Vacancy is fronted in the film by Broadway star Adam Pascal, who played Roger in the original cast of Rent.

Adam Pascal (Theo): I do Cameo videos for people, and and 90 percent of them are Rent songs. But every once in a while, somebody will request me to sing “Heal Me I’m Heartsick,” and I happily oblige. My only gripe — and this has nothing to do with anybody other than the film company that produced the movie — was that they didn’t credit me with performing the song. If you watch the credits, the song was performed by No Vacancy. But that’s not true, because the other guys in that phony band didn’t play on that. I’m actually singing this song.

Meanwhile, Sammy James Jr. of the Mooney Suzuki was tasked with finishing the song “School of Rock” (commonly known as “Teacher’s Pet”).

Sammy James Jr.: The film was well into production, and they had reached the point of Hail Mary passes with the song. “See if these guys will take a stab at it.” The script came with a lyric sheet, but no instructions. I wanted the gig and I’m thinking, “Well, if Mike wrote these lyrics, obviously the writer is going to have a vote on the song. I want to use as many of the lyrics as possible.”

James Jr. already had an arrangement he was trying to find a place for.

James Jr.: I’d been just very idly doodling on guitar, trying to come up with an arrangement of the keyboard introduction to the Who’s’ “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” As I’m plucking it out, I’m like, “Oh, that’s funny. It sounds like the breakdown to [AC/DC’s] ‘Shoot to Thrill.'” It was so cool, but it didn’t really fit our band. It’d be too much like an AC/DC ripoff. That happened about a week before they sent me the script, and I was looking for something to do with it.

The film’s soundtrack helped introduce a new generation to classic rock, exposing the kids of the early 2000s to songs like the Ramones’ “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” and the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner.”

Wedren: That movie turned a whole other generation of kids onto AC/DC, Ramones, and music that might have withered and died on the vine. “A Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” is such a deep AC/DC cut. [The movie] was clearly made by Gen X nerds.

Gaydos Jr.: The amount of vast musical knowledge and input into the film was wide-ranging. [Producer] George Drakoulias came up to me and gave me the first Queens of the Stone Age album. At the time, Songs for the Deaf was pretty popular and crossed into the mainstream. But he gave me their first [self-titled] record and was like, “This is the real sh*t.”

The chalkboard illustrating the History of Rock was a group effort.

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O’Rourke: All sorts of people contributed to that, but I remember they asked me to throw a bunch of stuff on there. I put Sparks on.

Afflerbach: You see that image posted everywhere when it comes to music. There’s Reddit threads about that one picture.

In the early Nineties, Linklater had unsuccessfully attempted to get the rights to use a Led Zeppelin song in Dazed and Confused. Ten years later, when they shot the Battle of the Bands scene for School of Rock, he tried again.

Linklater: I was like, “OK, there’s got to be something we can do.” I pulled Jack aside and said, “We’ve got to get their attention. I think it’ll be harder for them to say no to you.”

Black: At the end of a shooting day, he said, “I want to do a thing where you beg Led Zeppelin to let us use ‘Immigrant Song,’ and just use the crowd and get them to chant along with you.” So I said, “Led Zeppelin, lords of rock,” and had the audience repeat after me.

Linklater: In very short order, our pitch was, “There’s a new generation of kids being churned out every decade-plus, and some of them haven’t heard of Led Zeppelin. Maybe it’s cool for this rock & roll movie to feature you so prominently.”

Black: He sent that over to them, and by God, it worked.

Linklater: Cut to the Kennedy Honors [in 2012], and Jack’s introducing them. There’s a direct connection.

VI. On Set

In between scenes, the kids would have fun by playing Dance Dance Revolution, singing songs from Chicago, and watching American Idol. They also killed time by playing a hand game, then known as Chopsticks.

Infante: Has anyone told you about the Chopsticks game that we used to play? I don’t know if that’s politically correct anymore to call it that.

Massagli: I was hoping you’d bring this up. A lot of sticks.

Green: The best game ever. Can’t wait to teach my own kids, honestly.

Cosgrove: Sticks? I actually don’t remember that. I remember all the boys would play Grand Theft Auto.

Hassan: If you haven’t heard about sticks, then we are not having the right conversations.

Shelly Keiser (Second Assistant Director): We were all obsessed, and it wasn’t just the kids. And then, one day, somebody had to go home because they had a stomach bug. And then somebody else got sick, and we were like, “Oh, my God, stop! No more touching hands!” It was dawning on us that we could have this little epidemic on our own set.

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Silverman had her own jokes about getting sick.

Silverman: Speaking only for my own ego, I felt like the class clown. I had everyone laughing every day. It felt so good.

Black: I remember one time we were on set and we were in between takes. She said, “Guys, can we get this shot really quick? Jack has diarrhea.” Something horrible like that. It was just so f*cking funny and it loosened up the set. She has a way of just destroying all inhibitions just because she’s so bold. It was awesome to have her there.

Hoffman: It was Mike. Always Mike. When you think about it, Mike having diarrhea is funnier than Jack having diarrhea. It went through that whole comedy thing where it got not funny for a while, and then it got really funny again. That’s how far she pushed it.

Silverman: That tracks. Diarrhea is a theme in my life. Sometimes I call it my totem.

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The kids also spent time exploring New York, spending their evenings at the InterContinental hotel.

Hale: The movie was filmed in the dead of winter in the city, and when we were together off-screen, we would go to Benihana’s for dinner and Dylan’s Candy [Bar]. We would have snowball fights and do kid-like things to entertain ourselves.

Gaydos Jr.: [Some of us] went onto the roof of the InterContinental for New Year’s Eve. I remember the ball drop, a few stray pieces of confetti floating. Some 11-year-old kids on the roof of a building. Sneaking out, of course. Those type of moments are what made it for me.

Reyes: Eating Beef Wellington in a five-star hotel when you’re 10 is so surreal.

Cosgrove: We pretty much just hung out in each other’s rooms all the time and ordered room service. We had a bunch of slumber parties. I felt like I lived in the Eloise books.

Reyes: All the girls would come and stay in my suite, and the boys would go stay in one of the boys’ suites. We bought a Ouija board and that sometimes would come to set with us. We had a séance.

Hale: The lights were off and we were just trying to channel spirits. People were screaming.

Green: We thought that we had contacted some little girl ghost and we were all very convinced that this was real.

Hassan: It was some kind of ghost student. That’s when I made my departure. All I know is that a Ouija board moves on its own, and that was enough for me to say, “I’m going to move on my own.” Love you guys, but nuh-uh.

The parents also had their own kind of fun.

Kathryn Shertzer (Second Second Assistant Director): I was the sacrificial staff member to deal with the kids and the parents. For having that many, it was probably as low-drama as it gets.

Falduto: The moms deserve their own piece in some publication, because they really had their own sitcom behind the scenes. They spent a lot more time than us just sitting around.

Stoffers: If I talk about School of Rock, the biggest missed opportunity was the reality show movie about the moms.

Massagli: Joseph was the wardrobe guy. He actually did Sopranos with me, too. There was one night where he took the moms out to Lips. They had this great, crazy night.

Falduto: To this day, I still hear stories about that night.

Joseph La Corte (Costumer): I will tell you the whole story. The moms, for the most part, were very quiet and religious and what have you. You could tell they were dying to do something they had never done before. So I took them to Lips. That’s when frozen cosmos first started hitting, and I can’t tell you how many they had right away. There were moments that some of the moms were on all fours on their chairs and drag queens were spanking them. None of them had ever seen drag queens or been around them. Two of the mothers were on top of the hood of a car smoking a joint. One of the mothers was dry-humping a tree, wasted off her brain. These moms just wanted to have a let-your-hair-down, screaming, crazy night. It was night of debauchery, that’s all I can say. The next morning, we had a rehearsal for the Battle of the Bands in Staten Island. Everyone had sunglasses.

VII. The Premiere(and Afterward)

School of Rock was released on Oct. 3, 2003. Most of the cast didn’t realize how big the film was until it hit theaters.

Massagli: There was a premiere in L.A. We’re at the afterparty at this club. I don’t know how we all got in there. Me and Joey walked up to the bar, like, “Can we get a co*ke?” And then I remember hearing someone go, “Put some Jack in that co*ke.” And me and Joey look to our right, and there was Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. Then you turn around and it’s the Osbournes and the Jackass guys in all their glory. It was just surreal.

Green: All these celebrities were excited to meet us at these red-carpet events. I remember going to the MTV Awards, and Brittany Murphy was getting out of her car at the same time. She came over to us and was like, “Oh, my God! I’m so excited to meet you guys!” And I was like, “What is happening?”

But for a lot of the cast, the years following the film were difficult.

Falduto: To have this experience where we were all made to feel special because of our differences was really cool. But then it also made it all the more difficult when we went back to school. People tried to box me into the title of the gay kid after the movie, and I didn’t even know what being gay was at the time. I was just being myself and having a great time.

Gaydos Jr.: It was tough. I came back to school, and I was like a three-headed freak, basically. I came back with all this culture in my brain to a pretty one-horse town outside of Detroit. And I was looked at like a complete weirdo, and that was hard. I remember going to a football game in high school, and some older girl coming up and smacking me in the face because, “Look at that weird guy from the movie.” People thought I had it all going on. I couldn’t believe it.

Afflerbach: When I came home from doing the movie, I was like, “I’m never doing this again.” Because kids are brutal. My parents wanted to make an investment, so they bought me a house. And kids said really horrible things. “What else did you do to make that much money? Because it’s not from just a couple lines in a movie. You’re an extra.” But I wish that I had given myself a chance to see where else [acting] could have taken me.

Reyes: There was, I would say, about a decade of me being really, really sick and really, really mentally unwell and using anything I could to feel nothing, basically. But the last five years, I’ve been sober and re-navigating the film industry and comedy and writing and all of it. It’s just so much easier when there’s not all that extra stuff in the way of me, my actual self.

Infante: I went through the whole, like, “I’m gay, so I’m being bullied” thing, which is unfortunate and happened to so many of us. But I have grown to understand myself in a deeper and more profound way because of my childhood, and my work as a child actor on School of Rock.

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VIII. The Legacy

Twenty years later, School of Rock is revered as a classic music comedy, with themes of diversity and inclusivity that were way ahead of its time.

Infante: That’s what I think is so smart about Mike’s writing. The way that he chose to make Horace Green a private school and not a public school, and how multicultural the classroom was in 2003. It’s glitter rock, it’s glam, and it’s fabulous.

Reyes: It just warms my heart that it’s aged so gracefully and that it still has this powerful message of radical self-acceptance. School of Rock allowed us to really let our freak flags fly. When you have a whole room full of underdogs, it’s so powerful.

Infante: I felt this connection with other queer members of the cast — Brian, Riv, and I were like magnets. I didn’t know I was queer at the time, but there’s something queer about School of Rock. There’s something about challenging the status quo, about sticking it to the man, that creates this incredible environment for people of all backgrounds, sexual orientation, gender identities, races, religions. Whoever you are, you’re welcome at the School of Rock.

Falduto: When I did finally come out and I started sharing my story, I got all these messages from guys who are my age who saw me onscreen when I was younger, and they were like, “You were exactly what I needed to see. Thank you so much.”

“I didn’t know I was queer at the time, but there’s something queer about School of Rock. Whoever you are, you’re welcome at the School of Rock.”

Z Infante (Gordon)

Hassan also gets messages from fans about the scene in the movie where Mr. S gives a pep talk to Tomika about body positivity.

Hassan: Over the pandemic, my phone was nonstop. I’d get DMs from people who were around nine or 10 when they saw it, like, “That helped me so much,” or they’ll show it to their kids who are in the same situation. Now more than ever, with body positivity being a huge conversation, I’m so honored that I was a part of that scene. Because I was a plus-size kid, and I’m a plus-size woman now, and I’m confident.

For a comedy of its era, the film is remarkably free of cringe.

Linklater: Some movies, there’s some things you’re like, “Ooh! That’s not aging well.” I think as long as you dig into the characters and ground it in some real human experience, then you’re probably pretty safe. It was very real.

Black: “I touched your kids” ended up being one of the biggest laughs in the movie. Sometimes comedy takes courage, and sometimes you walk a very fine line.

Afflerbach: I think of myself as a younger version of Penny Lane from Almost Famous. But I didn’t know what a groupie was at the time. I actually didn’t find out until I watched the movie. There’s that scene where Summer’s like, “Groupies sleep with the band.” And I look at my mom and I’m like, “What?”

Green: Honestly, if that is the worst thing that we did in the movie, we really killed it.

In 2021, Rudin announced that he was “stepping back” from upcoming projects after facing allegations of workplace bullying and intimidation. He did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The cast of School of Rock never stopped being friends. They have a long-standing group text titled Schnayblay, and they’re planning on celebrating the film’s 20th anniversary this fall.

Hale: I would love to pull out a Ouija at the 20-year reunion.

Hawkins: I don’t know the rules of sticks, but I promise, if somebody put their fingers up, I’d probably still be able to do it.

Most importantly, they want to honor castmate Kevin Clark (Freddy the drummer), who died in a 2021 bike accident.

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Black: I don’t know if we’ll be able to play with someone else playing drums, because it wouldn’t feel right. My God, what a heartbreaker that was. We need to celebrate our time together and our time on this planet as long as we’re here.

Hassan: Honoring him, without a doubt, is number one. And just letting people know how much he’s missed. He’s loved.

Infante: Kevin is a central piece. We are still mourning. Something’s missing.

Reyes: It was heartbreaking. Kevin was my brother. He was my best friend on set from day one. We both bonded over being Jewish and Chicagoan and liking Green Day. In his last few years, he had been teaching at a School of Rock in a suburb outside of Chicago. And he just loved his kids so much. The band that he was coaching, Ordinary Hero, they played at his wake. It was f*cking tragic. I was bawling watching them play “My Hero” by Foo Fighters.

Falduto: I’m getting emotional. There’s only 14 other people who’ve had that experience with me for 20 years now. And to lose someone like that just felt like I lost a part of my family.

Infante: We had a reunion on Zoom during the pandemic, and he was there. He was talking about working at Starbucks, and he was saying, “I greet people with a smile every day, and if I can make another person happy, I’ve done my job.” That’s what I remember, him talking about giving coffee with a smile. So that’s the last memory I have of Kevin. Him being happy.

Hassan: I get chills thinking about it. He was finding joy in the simple things, talking about being an uncle to his niece.

Massagli: I felt like I was talking to someone who reached self-actualization. He knew who he was at that moment, and it’d been a while since we had caught up. He seemed so fulfilled.

Reyes: Joey and I play together in a band. He and I always get to the rehearsal space a little early just so [we] can be in the room with the drum set. And the snare drums would just rattle every once in a while, and we’d be like, “He’s here.”

Gaydos Jr.: I feel him at all times. I wish he could be here. You just feel like he wasn’t done yet, and that’s the hardest part. Too young.

Reyes: Fun fact that not many people know, but Kevin [came up] with the ending. He was like, “What if we got an encore after No Vacancy won? The man won, but we’re going to win by getting an encore.” What chutzpah that takes, to come up to Mike White and Rick Linklater and be like, “I think the ending is a little weird and we need to change it.”

Linklater: The perfect ending came from our late, beautiful drummer, Kevin.

IX. Encore

Most of the cast holds School of Rock very close to their hearts.

Falduto: I still act, but pursuing music is more enjoyable for me. I fell in love with country music. And I just did a music video [where] I got to play with fashion and embody all these looks like Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill and Shania Twain. I was like, “This is Billy 2.0. This is Billy really getting to live out his diva dream.”

Reyes: Sometimes I’ll get sent videos on Twitter from parents of kids who attend an actual School of Rock. I see a little bit of myself in all of them. Maybe it’s selfish, but every time I see a girl pick up a bass, I’m like, “Maybe they were inspired by one Rivkah Reyes.”

Infante: If School of Rock were the biggest thing that I ever was a part of, I would die happy.

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Afflerbach: I have a Led Zeppelin tattoo down my spine, and it’s a direct reflection of having done the movie.

Silverman: It really spoiled me for other movies. Some kid wrote a college thesis about how my character was right.

Green: Someone sent me an article in a law journal that was using School of Rock as an example of alternative teaching styles. That completely blew my mind.

O’Rourke: Even in Japan, the movie’s very famous. There’s a deepfake of the movie with my face instead of Jack Black’s. I’m not kidding. It’s on YouTube.

Especially for Black, it’s a career highlight.

Black: That’s the one that’s nearest and dearest to my heart, because it was so much a part of me — that character with the love of rock and not really fitting in the world of rock. It does mirror my experience with the entertainment industry. It felt like the planets aligned and I got to do the movie that I was born to do. It didn’t really matter if I did anything else after that. There’s my tombstone. I can just chill and relax now, because I did it.

But not so much for the guy who inspired it all.

Fenger (The Langley Schools Music Project): When School of Rock came out, I got tons of mail and phone calls from people who said, “Hey, you should see this movie. It’s about you. Did you get paid?” It was a beautiful movie, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t what I did. I would’ve loved to have been in a position where I could teach kids AC/DC riffs, but that wasn’t me. And I’m still poor.

One Great Rock Movie Can Change the World: An Oral History of 'School of Rock' (2024)
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