ICYMI: Filmmakers talk creation of ‘Rudy’
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. – These are fond memories now but the movie about former Notre Dame walk-on Rudy Ruettiger -- just like his football career -- almost didn't happen.
"There are three reasons why I'll never do this: A. I do not want to do another sports film, B. I do not want to shoot in Indiana again, it will put us in a niche, and 3. I grew up in Bloomington, I hate Notre Dame," said Angelo Pizzo, writer & producer for the film.
Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh were roommates and fraternity brothers at Indiana University, and the two had collaborated on the iconic basketball film “Hoosiers”.
Rudy was relentless in his pursuit of Angelo and David.
"Hey, I was a pain in the butt, I agree.... but I beat life down until it gave in," said Ruettiger.
Finally, Angelo agreed to a meeting.
"I actually forgot,” said Pizzo. “I didn't write it down, I didn't show up. Rudy being Rudy, knew vaguely where I was because I told him I lived in a 2-block perimeter. And all of a sudden, I hear this knock on the door, and he said, 'Hey, it's Rudy.' (laughs) Oh my God, then it hit me. Then it was probably a year or two later when David had a meeting. That changed everything."
He didn't want to do the movie but David felt there was something to Rudy's story.
"I always felt this thing had the potential to be a huge movie. That is where I saw my first college game, was at Notre Dame Stadium. I know exactly where I was sitting and I thought 'oh my God.' If somebody would have tapped me on the shoulder, 'hey kid in about 30 years you're gonna be down on that field shooting a movie.' Yeah right," Anspaugh said.
And executives at Columbia Tri-Star Pictures agreed.
"He leaned over and said 'I can't wait to see this movie.' (laughs) And then 6 weeks later I was on a plane to South Bend and Rudy met me at the gate," said Pizzo.
Angelo moved here and immersed himself in everything Notre Dame and soon, he understood.
"I don't even know how to describe it,” Pizzo. “There is an atmosphere, a peace, kind of a calming aspect, an energy to that campus that I had ever experienced before."
"Just the ghosts of that stadium,” said Anspaugh. “You immediately think of Rockne and Hornung and all the greats."
As the script came together, they had to find the right actors to bring the movie to life. From then-unknowns, like Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, to familiar faces like Ned Beatty.
But the most important role of course was the movie's name sake -- Rudy Ruettiger.
Tri-Star was dead set on casting a star.
"The two guys they wanted...Chris O'Donnell and Brendan Frazier," said Pizzo.
"I mean, Brendan Frazier as Rudy? I don't care if he's won five Oscars. There's no way in my movie or his, that he's playing Rudy, " said Anspaugh.
The real Rudy was 5-foot-nothing, a hundred and nothing, not a man with movie star looks.
"That's the thing, when I was sitting in that restaurant and I saw Rudy walk in and, not Rudy I mean Sean, but to me he looked like Rudy,” said Anspaugh. “Sean came walking in that door, looking confident with his white t-shirt and got the biceps going and just beaming with that big smile and all this enthusiasm. This is the guy. This is the one to beat."
"I remember David calling me and he said 'We've got our Rudy,'" said Pizzo.
"Sean is Rudy. Sean struggled, Sean got over it. He is so intelligent and so vulnerable and so naive in a good way," said Ruettiger.
With the perfect cast in place, filming began on the campus of Notre Dame.
"As a director, is there a scene where you look back that stands out to you as a favorite scene that met your expectations or exceeded your expectations?" asked Allison.
"I think I can honestly say, I don't think I have ever been asked this question before, " Anspaugh said.
"Our movie was in the 'God loop,'” he said. “Usually in a movie, everything goes wrong for you. This movie was the most fun I have ever had making anything, tv, movies, it was a joy."
On a strapped budget and without the use of special effects, David relied on a little divine intervention.
"You'll remember this scene, it's the shot where Rudy is trying to get into the game but he doesn't have enough money, trying to buy a ticket outside. We were told if you get up over the edge, you can't shoot the game because it's against NCAA rules. So I had to do was just catch the edge of the crowd and literally just as we cleared the lip, Notre Dame had just kicked an extra point, so everybody stood up and cheered, " said Anspaugh.
While not everyone at Notre Dame was on board with the movie, then-head coach Lou Holtz was.
With the help of NFL films, it was shot during the 1992 season and at two actual games -- Penn State and Boston College.
"It was etched indelibly in my memory bank because everything rested on it,” said Pizzo. “We had 7 minutes to shoot the entire ending of the movie and if anything would have gone wrong we had no second chance."
Once again, everything played out to perfection -- a story book ending.
"Man, he was the guy to write this. And David was the guy to put it on film. That's the thoughts I have," Ruettiger said.
"I saw the potential because it was about every man and every woman, you're not pretty enough, you're not smart enough, or you’re not athletic enough,” said Anspaugh. “The people who related to that movie, it didn't matter what they did but it inspired them."