So apparently Jerry O'Connell was on the Howard Stern Show this morning, and claimed that I bullied him when we made Stand By Me.
I haven't heard the interview, so I don't have context beyond, "Hey, Jerry says you bullied him when you made that movie," and normally, I'd just laugh this sort of thing off because it's entirely untrue, but I'm a little sensitive to being misrepresented, especially on a show like Stern where there are eleventy million listeners.
This isn't true, and you'll shortly see why it's so important to me to set the record straight.
Keep in mind that Jerry was 10 or 11 when we shot Stand By Me, and I was 12, so neither one of us is the most reliable narrator in the world about events that are nearly 25 years in the past, but my memory on this particular issue is crystal clear: River and Corey really picked on Jerry and me, because I was the nerd and he was the fat kid. It wasn't constant -- River and I were pretty good friends for most of the production and remained that way for years after -- and I'm sure there were moments when all of us formed temporary alliances because that's what pre-teen boys do when they're in any social situation like we were, but I never bullied Jerry or anyone else.
I know this to be an unimpeachable fact because I've only been a serious bully once in my entire life. I was 10, and my brother was 6. We were spending the weekend at my Aunt Val's house with our older cousins. My brother and I were pretty sweet little kids, because that's how our parents raised us. Our cousins, however, were not. They were really cruel teenagers who delighted in tormenting us whenever they could, so on this particular weekend, in the interest of self-preservation, I made a cowardly decision to gang up on my brother with them, so they'd leave me alone.
Jeremy had a little parakeet at Aunt Val's, called Mister Feathers. Jeremy adored this little guy, and I thought he was pretty neat, too, but when our cousins thought it was real funny to run their fingers across his cage and scare the shit out of him so Jeremy would cry, I went along with it. Eventually, Aunt Val heard all the commotion and came to Jeremy's rescue. I only saw Aunt Val angry one time in my life, and that was it.
I felt terrible that I made Jeremy cry, because I knew that big brothers were supposed to protect their little brothers, but our cousins were relentless and ruthless in their bullying of us, and on this particular day I wasn't strong enough to stand up for us both. I don't recall why, and I've spent a lot of time over the years unsuccessfully searching for a satisfactory answer, but the best I can do is "I was a kid, I was scared, and I didn't know any better."
The thing is, I learned from that experience. I felt so sick about it, and so guilty (still do) that by the time I was 12 and we shot Stand By Me, it is absolutely impossible that I would have bullied anyone, especially Jerry, who I really liked.
12:12pm: In comments, casbar says:
It wasn't that bad. When asked if any of the other kids were assholes to him, O'Connell said he got along with Phoenix but Feldman and Wil Wheaton would bully him a bit cause it was his first job and he was the youngest. He clarified that it was because you guys were all Hollywood kids so it was some kind of "professionalism" bullying.. if that makes any sense.
Man, that's actually worse than what I thought he said. Corey was an absolute nightmare the entire shoot: totally unprofessional, always looking to be the center of attention, and excessively cruel to me (when we shot the "dog pile" thing right before we discover the leeches, he delighted in jamming his knee into the back of my knee, and that wasn't even the worst thing he pulled during production) so to be lumped in with him in Jerry's memory makes me really, really sad.
NB: I understand that Corey's finally gotten his shit together. If so, good for him, and I don't hold a grudge. It's just that when we made the movie, he was pretty terrible to be around.