‘School of Rock’ Kids Got Smacked by Bullies, Were ‘Mentally Unwell’ and More After Film’s Release: ‘I Was Looked at Like a Complete Weirdo’

Rolling Stone magazine celebrated the 20th anniversary of “School of Rock” with a new oral history in which many of the child actors from the Richard Linklater hit film opened up on the tough years they faced after the film’s blockbuster release. The Jack Black-led comedy was a box office hit in 2003 with $131 million worldwide, and it’s widely considered a bonafide comedy classic. Imagine going from Hollywood sensation back to high-school or middle-school teen. That was the reality for many of the “School of Rock” cast.

“It was tough. I came back to school, and I was like a three-headed freak, basically,” said Joey Gaydos Jr., who played lead guitarist Zack “Zack-Attack” Mooneyham in the film. “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,’” he added. “People thought I had it all going on. I couldn’t believe it.”

Veronica Afflerbach, who played the small supporting role of “groupie” Eleni, had a similar experience. “When I came home from doing the movie, I was like, ‘I’m never doing this again.’ Because kids are brutal,” she said. “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.”

“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,” said Rivkah Reyes, who played bassist Katie (aka Posh Spice). “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.”

Brian Falduto starred in the film as the band’s fashion designer, Billy. The character, nicknamed Fancy Pants, was notable for his flamboyant personality.

“I remember [producer Scott Rudin] liking the idea of having one of the kids be effeminate,” Richard Linklater said. “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.”

Linklater was “not going to make some kid play gay” and instead made it a priority find a child actor who matched Billy’s personality so it would all be nature. Enter Falduto, who loved that the set allowed him to not hide who he was.

“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,” Falduto added. “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.”

It would take several years for many of the former child stars to realize just how impactful “School of Rock” was, bullies be damned.

“It just warms my heart that it’s aged so gracefully and that it still has this powerful message of radical self-acceptance.” Reyes said. “‘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.:

Z Infante, who played computer whiz Gordon, added, “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.”

Maryam Hassan, who played powerhouse lead vocalist Tomika, remembered how people were texting her nonstop over the pandemic as they watched “School of Rock” for the first time or simply just revisited it for comfort in dark times. Many of them referenced a scene in witch Jack Black’s teacher gives Tomika a pep talk about body positivity.

“I’d get DMs from people who were around 9 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,” Hassan said. “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.”

Head over to Rolling Stone’s website to read the “School of Rock” oral history in its entirety.

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