Audiences first encountered Jerry O'Connell as one of the four boys in the emotional Stephen King-penned Stand By Me. Directed by Rob Reiner, O'Connell agreed with his movie castmates that they were all cast because they were basically the same exact boys as the ones they were playing onscreen, personality-wise.
For Stand By Me, O'Connell played Vern, an easily intimidated, overweight young boy. In 1986, he told The New York Times, "If it wasn't for Rob, the acting wouldn't have been half as good, Rob really wanted us to understand our characters. He interviewed our characters. Vern didn't think about the future. Vern was always getting picked on. I tried to stay like Vern and say the stupid things Vern would. I think I was Vern that summer."
That role came when O'Connell was just 12, so naturally he had a lot of learning to do to develop as an actor. His next biggest role would come 10 years after Stand By Me. In 1996, he was cast as Frank "Cush" Cushman in the Oscar-winning movie Jerry Maguire. As the football star expected to be the NFL's No. 1 pick in the draft, O'Connell shocked audiences by choosing an agent that wasn't Tom Cruise, putting his quarterback at the center of a lot of drama.
Still, even growing up acting in Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning films, O'Connell told The Hollywood Reporter it was his stint on the 2001 crime drama Crossing Jordan that truly advanced him as an actor. O'Connell said, "Being able to play Woody -- this nerdy guy from Wisconsin who slowly starts to become cool -- has taken my acting to a whole new level. I've been able to evolve from someone who mats his hair down and wears jackets three inches too short in the arms to Jordan's love interest."
In the same interview, Crossing Jordan star Jill Hennessy summed up why the show – which famously delved deeper into its characters' backstories than other procedurals – was so special to work on: "To have a job in TV on a show that has so much dignity to it, so much heart and warmth, well, it doesn't get any better than this for an actor. We should all be over the moon to be a part of this. I know I am."
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