How School Ties Became A Breeding Ground For Hollywood Superstars

1992's "School Ties" didn't do very well at the box office, but it managed to launch the careers of a whole bunch of major Hollywood stars, including Brendan Fraser, Chris O'Donnell, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Anthony Rapp, and more. I'll never forget watching TV after school one day in the late afternoon and catching "School Ties" on cable, shocked that I had never heard of this movie before. Not only is it a heartbreaking and potent film about anti-Semitism that's unfortunately still all-too-relevant, but it's also a who's-who of then-unknowns who went on to become major players.

In a 2017 retrospective for Entertainment Weekly, the cast and crew of "School Ties" looked back on how the movie came to be and how it impacted many of the actors' careers. Producer Stanley Jaffe had the idea for the film and had a hand in casting the class of unknowns, making him at least partially responsible for the careers of these talented performers taking off when they did. (Because let's face it, some of them were going to be successful no matter what, it just might have taken longer.) Some of them are even Oscar winners now, including Fraser, who just won in 2023 for his performance in Darren Aronofsky's "The Whale."

Let's take a look at this odd little gem of the early 1990s and just how it managed to kickstart the careers of some of Hollywood's biggest stars. Prepare to see some seriously baby-faced celebs!

Oh my goodness, that cast

Despite not being a huge hit upon its release, "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf (who co-wrote the script) believed "School Ties" is a timeless movie that's sadly more relevant than ever. Anthony Rapp told EW he was honestly shocked it wasn't a bigger success in its time:

"Because of Ben [Affleck] and Matt [Damon] and Chris [O'Donnell] and Brendan [Fraser], who went on to have such fame and fortune, that's probably what has retroactively brought attention to it. But I always thought it had real power to it."

Co-star Randall Batinkoff mirrored Rapp's sentiments, explaining that the cast lacked star power at the time, but today "School Ties" would be a "monster hit." The film's stars have gone on to become major players, but back then they were just up-and-coming performers looking to make their names in Hollywood. 

Brendan Fraser stars as David, a working-class Jewish kid who gets a football scholarship to a prestigious prep school in Massachusetts. Fraser is heartbreaking as Davis, who decides to hide his faith from his classmates after he discovers their bigoted beliefs. Chris O'Donnell plays his roommate Chris, who's also on the football team, while Matt Damon portrayed David's rival, the spoiled rich boy Charlie. Ben Affleck and Rapp play a pair of roommates and friends, with Affleck's football-playing jock serving as a bodyguard for Rapp's class nerd. That's one seriously stacked cast by today's standards, but these guys were still relatively unknown back in 1992. That led to a lot of solidarity between them, and helped Fraser land his role.

Damon and Fraser's fateful audition

Brendan Fraser is absolutely perfect as David, but he credited his audition partner, Matt Damon, for his getting the role. He told EW:

"I was wearing an awful shirt by today's standards. I read with Matt Damon. I got the job because of Matt. I believed everything that came out of his mouth. I remember having this moment of thinking, 'Just match [his] pitch. Don't put curlicues on this. Don't swing for the fences.' I felt great after that. I had so much admiration for him."

While the folks in charge of casting thought that Fraser's physicality was great for the character, his audition with Damon was what sold them completely on his ability to lead the movie. It's kind of ironic that the guy who ended up playing his mortal enemy in "School Ties" was the one that helped him get the role, but hey, that's showbiz! Damon is also incredible as the bigoted, selfish Charlie, though he's a whole lot less likable. It's kind of wild to watch them going back and forth playing high school students when you know that they're going to go on to be absolutely massive stars. 

If you want to see all of these stars in their early years, "School Ties" is currently streaming on Paramount+.