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1999 football flick

Varsity Blues: Paul Walker’s breakout role came in Texas football saga

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Paul Walker in Varsity Blues
Paul Walker portrayed quarterback Lance Harbor in Varsity Blues. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Before actor Paul Walker — who died Saturday in a fiery car crash — hit it really big in the Fast & Furious franchise, the Hollywood heartthrob spent time in the Austin area filming a movie that would help catapult him to fame.

In the 1999 coming-of-age football flick Varsity Blues, Walker portrayed hotshot quarterback Lance Harbor of fictional West Canaan, Texas. In the wake of a serious knee injury, Walker’s character takes a back seat to second-string quaterback Jonathan “Mox” Moxon (played by James Van Der Beek of Dawson’s Creek fame) and learns a lesson in humility.

 Paul Walker and the rest of the Varsity Blues cast called the Austin area home for several months in 1998. 

In a tweet mourning Walker’s death, Van Der Beek wrote: “I just remember him as being so effortlessly golden. He had that way about him, that ‘thing’.”

Van Der Beek, Walker and the rest of the Varsity Blues cast called the Austin area home for several months in 1998. The movie was shot in Austin, Coupland, Elgin, Georgetown and Taylor. Filming locations included The Landing Strip, a strip club near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport; Top Notch, an iconic hamburger joint; Georgetown High School; and Elgin’s Main Street.

“The football drama pulled in $54 million at the box office, making the actor (Walker) one of the new golden boys of teen cinema,” according to Entertainmentwise.com.

In a 1999 interview with The Daily Cougar, the University of Houston’s student newspaper, Walker fondly recalled filming Varsity Blues.

“It was like going back to high school — 40 football players, a gang load of cheerleaders — all for three months, while we’re hanging out and having a good time,” Walker said.

Bustle.com noted that Walker’s appearance in Varsity Blues represented his Hollywood breakout role.

“The film might not have aged well, with many ’90s nostalgics quoting the film’s cheesy dialogue,” Bustle.com said, “but Walker impressed fans and critics alike.”

Indeed, Bustle.com referenced this positive review from Entertainment Weekly:

“Paul Walker, as the sidelined quarterback (a victim of the coach’s shoot-’em-up-with-painkillers exploitation methods), gets at the essence of every teenage jock who suddenly realizes he’s been living a fantasy.”

In a 2012 review on the Austin Film Society’s Slackerwood.com, blogger Elizabeth Stoddard gave somewhat grudging respect to Varsity Blues. Stoddard wrote that the movie “won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Just as long as folks look to it more as a ’90s pop culture touchstone — even that may be giving it too much credit — and not as a landmark movie about Texas football.”

To watch a clip from Varsity Blues, visit http://youtu.be/XFOoJ3gwplQ.

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