After popping up in TV movies and one-off episodes, and making his big-screen debut in Taps, Sean Penn landed his second film role with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The actor, who played the weed-loving surfer Jeff Spicoli, became a huge star soon after, racking up Oscar nominations for his roles in Dead Man Walking (1995), Sweet and Lowdown (1999), and I Am Sam (2001), and taking home gold for his turns in Mystic River (2003) and Milk (2008).
Jennifer Jason Leigh
With various TV cameos to her name, Jennifer Jason Leigh nabbed a role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High as Stacy Hamilton, a student who gets involved with an older man. She spent the next decade adding film roles to her résumé, including Easy Money, Flesh+Blood, The Hitcher, The Big Picture, Miami Blues, Backdraft, Rush, and Single White Female. She went on to appear in Short Cuts (1993), Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), The Machinist (2004), and The Spectacular Now (2013), and earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for The Hateful Eight (2015).
Early in his career, Judge Reinhold joined Fast Times at Ridgemont High as Brad Hamilton, a popular all-American student at the school. He followed up the gig with an appearance in 1984’s Gremlins and a turn as Det. Billy Rosewood in Beverly Hills Cop — a role he reprised in 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II and 1994’s Beverly Hills Cop III. Reinhold expanded his résumé with big-screen roles in Ruthless People (1986), The Santa Clause (1994), Whacked! (2002), and Swing Vote (2008) and made the transition to television, popping up in episodes of Seinfeld, Ellen, Monk, and Arrested Development.
Following 1980’s Foxes, Robert Romanus’ second ever film role was in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He played Mike Damone, a gambler and hopeful ladies’ man. Romanus then spent much of the ‘80s on the small screen, appearing in episodes of Days of Our Lives, MacGyver, Fame, The Facts of Life, and 21 Jump Street. In recent years, Romanus returned to Mike Damone for a 2013 episode of Family Guy, and earned credits for Cougar Town and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Brian Backer made his movie debut in 1981, appearing in The Burning. He followed up that role with a turn as Mark “Rat” Ratner in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a student attempting to woo the beautiful Stacy. The actor went on to appear in Moving Violations (1985), The Money Pit (1986), Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (1987), Loser (2000), and Vamps (2012), and popped up in episodes of Charles in Charge, Growing Pains, and Santa Barbara.
Phoebe Cates first hit the big screen in 1982, playing Sarah in Paradise and the daring popular student Linda Barrett in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. She filled her résumé over the next decade with projects like Private School (1983), Gremlins (1984), Date with an Angel (1987), Bright Lights, Big City (1988), Shag (1989), and Drop Dead Fred (1991). She largely retired from acting after 1994’s Princess Caraboo, returning just once for the 2001 movie The Anniversary Party, which was co-written and co-directed by her Fast Times costar Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Amanda Wyss found her spot in Fast Times at Ridgemont High as Lisa, Brad’s high school girlfriend. Wyss returned to the big screen two years later, starring in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. She went on to earn credits for Silverado (1985) and Better Off Dead… (1985), as well as episodes of Cheers, Cagney & Lacey, Highlander, Murder, She Wrote, JAG, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Murder in the First.
Decades into his career, Ray Walston joined Fast Times at Ridgemont High as Mr. Hand, the school’s history teacher who has little tolerance for the students’ antics. The My Favorite Martian alum returned to the role for the 1986 series Fast Times, and went on to appear in Of Mice and Men (1992), Picket Fences, and House Arrest (1996). He made his final on-screen appearances in the early 2000s in episodes of Touched by an Angel and 7th Heaven before he passed away in 2001 at the age of 86.
Then a relatively unknown actor, Forest Whitaker nabbed his second movie gig with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The actor played Charles Jefferson, the school’s football star. Whitaker built up his résumé in the ‘80s, earning credits for Vision Quest, Platoon, The Color of Money, Stakeout, Good Morning, Vietnam, Bloodsport, and Bird, and episodes of Cagney & Lacey, Hill Street Blues, North and South. Whitaker went on to earn critical acclaim for his starring turn in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and landed his first Oscar for 2006’s The Last King of Scotland.
Scott Thomson had a minor turn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High as Arnold, Brad’s coworker who takes one infamous bathroom break. The actor’s post-Arnold roles include turns in Johnny Dangerously (1984), The Couch Trip (1988), Mr. Jones (1993), Twister (1996), Blast from the Past (1999), Vamps (2012), and the Police Academy movies, in which he played Chad Copeland.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest alum Vincent Schiavelli signed on to play biology teacher Mr. Vargas in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He returned to the role a few years later for Fast Times, and earned additional credits for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), Valmont (1989), Ghost (1990), Batman Returns (1992), Two Much (1996), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and Death to Smoochy (2002). Schiavelli died in 2005 at the age of 57.
Nicolas Cage landed his first big-screen role with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The future star played an unnamed friend of Brad’s. Cage went on to see box office success with Moonstruck (1987), The Rock (1996), Face/Off (1997), Con Air (1997), Gone in 60 Seconds (2000), Ghost Rider (2007), and the National Treasure film series. The actor also achieved critical acclaim, landing Golden Globe and Oscar wins for 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas and nominations for 2002’s Adaptation.