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Donald Faison Looks Back at ‘Remember the Titans’: Cast Had to Go Through Intense Boot Camp! (Exclusive)

But did Coach Boone let them have a water break? Donald Faison and his former costars went the extra mile to get into character for Remember the Titans, which hit theaters 17 years ago this month.

The Clueless actor played Petey Jones (“Sunshine!”) in the drama, which centered on an African-American football coach (Denzel Washington) who tries to unite black and white high school students in a racially contentious community. The characters bonded during an intense boot camp, much like the actors in real life.

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“The one thing that we didn’t know before starting the movie was that they threw all of the actors into a football camp. We had to go through it — each and every one of us,” Faison exclusively tells Us Weekly. “Some of us got injured really bad. We couldn’t understand why we were working so hard. We learned how to play football even though we had stunt doubles to do all this stuff. We got into fights, it was crazy! But we got out of it and we were a tight group. We hung out together. It made us very much like a team. We didn’t know each other before we started the camp. To go through all that brought us together and helped us out.”

Like the film, the stars woke up as early as 6 a.m. and ran until noon. “Dead serious, we worked out for a really long time. We hit pads, we pushed a sled. When you push a sled with a football team it’s like 30 guys pushing a sled for maybe 10 yards. It was sometimes nine of us pushing a sled for 100 yards. They worked us ridiculous. It was weeks of that so first week we did that, the second week they brought in the stunt doubles and worked out with them and last week we kind of had off and the stunt doubles learned all the plays and stuff like that,” Faison says.

But Faison didn’t want all of that hard work to go to waste. “When it got down to it, I went through all of that in camp I was like, ‘There is no way anybody is going to double me in this movie,’” he recalls, laughing. “There was this one scene that this guy had to do that I couldn’t do. For some reason I couldn’t get the timing down. And the guy who played the quarterback could have helped me out by throwing a crappy pass but he was throwing darts. This was when my character had just switched to defense and I had to knock them all down. Anyway, all my hits I did all that stuff. I had a great time in that movie.”

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Remember the Titans also starred a young Hayden Panettiere, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst, Will Patton, Kate Bosworth and Ryan Gosling. Three years later, the La La Land actor would snag the lead role in The Notebook.

“You knew he was going to be a star,” Faison says of Gosling, 36. “There was something special about him. He was 17 years old and 25-year-old men are hanging out with the kid. There was something really special.”

After walking off the field, Faison would go on to play Dr. Christopher Turk in the comedy Scrubs for nine seasons. He recently reprised his role alongside other actors who’ve played TV doctors (Patrick Dempsey, Kate Walsh and Neil Patrick Harris) to encourage Americans to get an annual check-up. The TV Doctors of America ad campaign partnered with Cigna to get the word out.

“The problem with Americans is that we go to the doctor when something is wrong. We are saying, ‘Let’s go before something happens,’” Faison says. “It was fun. I love going to work and putting on pajamas and being able to do that again was awesome.”

Faison met his best friend Zach Braff during the NBC show. “We still have a great relationship. We text each other every day, it’s hard to see each other every day. We’ve definitely stayed in touch,” he says. As for a revival? “I don’t know. First of all everybody would have to be in.”

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For more, read the rest of his Remember the Titans Q&A in our Now and Then series:

US: What was it like working on the film?

DF: You want to do movies that teach youth, society and people about how other people feel and the right way to treat each other. You want to do projects that have topics like that. It’s really challenging to hear people call you negative things regardless if they are acting or not — that’s very challenging to do. But you want to be a part of something like that that means something to people. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was challenging. It was a joy to be a part of something like that.

US: What was a powerful scene that stood out for you?

DF: When Julius sees Bertier laying up on the hospital bed and the nurse says, ‘You can’t be in here.’ And he said, ‘Don’t you recognize him? It’s my brother.’ And the nurse gives them sort of a funny look and walks out of the room. I think that was a very powerful thing.

US: Do you look back on the film whenever you hear Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”?

DF: It was a great song before the movie. I love that song! I love ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.’ It had some of the biggest hits in there.

US: Have you stayed in touch with Ryan or any of the cast?

DF: It’s friends for the three months that you work on the project unless something really special happens — like how Zach and I are. Best friends while you’re working and then it kind of settles down.

US: What memorabilia did you take home from set?

DF: I have my jersey — No. 40. And now whenever I’m doing anything where I have to wear a football jersey I like to do No. 40.

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