We’ve all had nightmare holidays but odds are none have been quite as chaotic as Clark Griswold’s cross-country escape to Walley World in National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Released in 1983, director Harold Ramis’ now-classic road-trip comedy starred Chevy Chase as a hapless dad determined to take his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and kids Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) on the best holiday of their lives only to hit every conceivable speed-bump, roadblock and unexpected problem possible along the way.
From accidentally killing Aunt Edna’s (Imogen Coca) beloved dog and embarrassing himself in front of small-town locals to awkward father-son bonding moments and eventually losing it at a temporarily-closed Walley World, Clark manages to pack his family getaway full of memories — just not the ones he intended.
Off-screen, however, the film’s 1982 shoot proved to be just as unforgettable, thankfully in a much more positive way.
“I was just a wee lad,” Anthony Michael Hall tells Yahoo UK about bringing cinema’s first iteration of Rusty Griswold to life before handing the role to others for the film’s many sequels. Starting his career at the tender age of eight, Hall found early success in commercials and after-school specials but it was bagging the role of Clark’s pimple-faced son that put him on the path to Hollywood success.
“Vacation was my first big job and really transformative,” he tells us, remembering his first audition with future Ghostbusters star Ramis and producer Matty Simmons.
“I was always a fan of film and comedy and even at a young age, I knew who these guys were. Matty had published the National Lampoon and Harold had this wonderful affability to him. He was very similar to John Hughes who I ended up working with afterwards,” says Hall, comparing Ramis to Vacation’s screenwriter and the iconic '80s director who would later cast him in three of his teen classics, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science. “I was really excited just to be in the room with these guys.”
Despite being nervous, 14-year-old Hall quickly found that he was quite well suited to playing an awkward teenager. “Whatever was in me just came out. I was a funny kid, I guess,” he reasons. Hall’s real-life braces, which have since become synonymous with his portrayal of Rusty, also helped.
“That was just me in real life,” he laughs. “I used to joke with my mother growing up that they wound up paying for themselves. I wore them in Vacation and later in Sixteen Candles.”
Once on board, this young comedy fan suddenly had the enviable opportunity of working alongside his idols and some of the biggest comedians of the decade.
National Lampoon’s Vacation is known for its funny faces with people like Chase, Coca, Brian Doyle Murray, Eugene Levy and John Candy all stealing scenes — and Hall was able to share moments with many of them. In hindsight, he’s quick to admit that the whole experience was “eye-opening.”
Not only did the father-son relationship he shared with Chase come easy (although, “that beer can was empty,” he assures us, referencing a key bonding scene), Hall was pleased to discover that he was encouraged to flex his own burgeoning comedy chops.
“I trusted my own instincts in terms of my comedic timing. I felt embraced and welcomed and at the same time I was doing something fun.”
That’s not to say there weren’t difficult days. To capture the movie’s road-trip feel, Ramis planned his production schedule to mirror Clark’s own journey. This meant the entire crew got to experience their own summer vacation across the States while Hall and his fellow cast members were forced to spend hours in Clark’s Wagon Queen Family Truckster, the ugly, fictional family car that’s since become an infamous cinematic eyesore.
“We really made that trip, it would probably never happen today,” laughs Hall. “I remember we shot the scene where Clark picks up the car with Eugene Levy at the car dealership somewhere in Burbank and the next thing we knew, the whole crew were across country in Colorado and we drove West from that point.”
While perfect for capturing scenic cutaways, road trippin’ in the peak of summer had its drawbacks. “When we shot in Monument Valley and it was literally about 122 degrees,” recalls Hall. “We were about to start shooting a scene and I literally saw a crew member pass out in the distance. It was really swelteringly hot.”
As the family make their way to Walley World, audiences are treated to a series of episodic moments hitting home the doomed nature of their trip. Eventually, the family reach the park only to discover that it’s closed for renovations, forcing Clark to reach breaking point and take matters into his own hands, much to the dismay of Candy’s mild-mannered security guard. However, this wasn’t always the plan.
“The original ending saw Clark take Roy Walley [owner of Walley World] hostage at his mansion while interrupting a lunch with his business associates,” says Hall, detailing a climactic scene that was ultimately saved for 1989 threequel National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
“They tested the picture and audiences were pissed. They said ‘We want to see them get to the park’ so we went back and did a reshoot.”
Unfortunately, during the time that had elapsed since the film’s original wrap puberty had taken its toll on a now mid-teenage Hall.
“When we got back to Magic Mountain [the park that doubled for Walley World] it was 6-8 months later and puberty had kicked in full-on. I literally look like a different kid,” he laughs.
“I’m a toe-headed 14-year-old for 98% of the movie and then when you see that end scene inside the park, I’ve clearly had a growth spurt. My hair got darker, I grew 9-10 inches and I just had this awkward look. When I got back to set, of course, the first person to bring it up was Chevy. He was like ‘Nice pimples!’”
That said, Hall still shares a close bond with his fellow Griswolds, one that’s reignited any time they cross paths at signings, screenings or conventions. “Whenever me and Dana see Beverly and Chevy we somehow still feel like we’re still in the backseat of the car, even though it’s 40 years later.”
Elsewhere, National Lampoon’s Vacation has endured in the eyes of fans, something Hall pins to its relatability. “Everything goes wrong on our trip and that’s why people love this film. They can relate, project themselves onto the screen and think ‘This reminds me of every summer with my family,’” he reasons. “There’s something wonderful about that.”
Now 55, Hall has recently become a new father himself. Is he worried there’s a little Clark Griswold inside him waiting to escape? “I’m sure at some point in the near future I’ll end up being a Clark to my son in some regards,” he chuckles, “but so far it’s too early to tell.”
National Lampoon's Vacation is available to rent or buy on digital.