Thursday, August 20, 2015

Star of '80s Cult Classic BMX Movie RAD Bill Allen Talks with TV Store Online


Bill Allen Cru Jones Rad

Actor Bill Allen (Amazing Stories, Streamers, Born On The 4th of July) talks with TV Store Online about the 80's BMX movie Rad, his book My Rad Career, and his new film Heroes Of Dirt.

Bill Allen Rad My Rad Career
TV STORE ONLINE:    I just ordered a autographed copy of your book, My Rad Career, from your website this morning.   I'm really excited to read it!   I know that we're almost at the 30th anniversary of the release of Rad (1986)--writing the book, were you surprised at how much you remembered all these years later about the shooting of the film when you actually sat down and started writing?

ALLEN:  You know, it wasn't too surprising to me.   I was up there poking around in the attic if you will.  When you do that--things start falling out even though you had put them away.  My wife, who is an author as well, pushed me into the writing of the book.  She said, "you need to write something for your fans..."  I knew that all the stories that I had about the making of Rad wouldn't fill up an entire book so I combined those with others that encompass my career as an actor.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I have a rule when it comes to doing interviews...1.)  Always ask my interview subject about Robert Altman if they have ever worked with him.   2.)  Always ask my interview subject about working on Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories (1985-87) if they've had that experience as well....

ALLEN:    I was cast in Streamers [1983] in Dallas, Texas  It was a magical experience.  Altman was too kind to me.  He put me in his director's chair and allowed me to watch him work as a director.  That recent documentary about Altman, that aired on the Epix Network--that was exactly who he was...
Streamers Robert Altman

TV STORE ONLINE:  Where did you shoot Streamers at?

ALLEN:  We shot it in Dallas at Las Colinas...

TV STORE ONLINE:  You look extremely young in that film...

ALLEN:  That's cause I was!  I was only like twenty at the time... Matthew Modine was in Streamers, and about five years ago I worked with him again, and when we saw each other he told me about how Altman had directed Streamers so that he could pay off a gambling debt...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Makes sense.   Altman's widow talks in that recent Epix channel documentary about how Bob raised the money for one of his early films by betting all of their savings at the race track without telling her....(laughing)

ALLEN:  Right, yeah.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  I love that amazing nervous tension that you're working in during the shooting of your scene in Streamers...

Robert Altman Streamers
The cast of Streamers with Robert Altman
ALLEN:   I was channeling that with the idea in my head that I was a young actor working with Altman and all of these bad ass actors. I'm standing there using the N Word in front of a bunch of black guys!   There was no point to pretend that I wasn't nervous in shooting that scene, so I just used it for the character.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Being a young actor, that was quite wet behind the ears, had you known going in to work with Altman about his working methods....

ALLEN:  I wasn't familiar with his working methods going in.   He created a very relaxed set.  His key to directing was just casting the right people.   I was so nervous when we did that scene.   We did the first take, and afterward I walked up to him and said: "How was that?"  He shot me a look and said, "It was fine. If it wasn't, I would've said something. "    

TV STORE ONLINE:  How about Amazing Stories?  How did that come to you?

Amazing Stories Main Attaction
Bill Allen (Right):  Amazing Stories "Main Attraction"
ALLEN:  I went in and auditioned for Matthew Robbins, the guy who directed Batteries Not Included [1987].   He directed that episode of Amazing Stories that I was in...  It was a great experience.   It was very high-budget.  It was very high-concept.  I was just a cog in the wheel.   I remember, John Candy was on the set for some reason.  I got to meet him.

TV STORE ONLINE:  This wasn't Amazing Stories Episode #20...It was Amazing Stories Episode #2.  Was there a buzz circulating around in the air about the series as you were shooting that episode?    I mean, the first episode probably wouldn't have even aired yet...

ALLEN: Absolutely..But there always is when you're working on something that had the budget that that show had.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I read in an interview that you gave a few years ago about how in the aftermath of Rad you didn't want to be associated with the film... You didn't want to be known as the character.  You didn't want to be pigeon-holed as an actor because of your work in the film...  You said, and I'm paraphrasing a bit: "I wanted to stay away from Rad and its fans like they were lepers with their skin falling off..."

Cru Jones Bill Allen Rad (1986)
ALLEN:  Oh God!  I so regret saying that.  I don't think that I thought that directly at the time.  It wasn't a calculated idea in my head.  I wasn't intentionally avoiding the film or its fans back then.    Rad was not a hit at the box office.  The critics hated it.  I just figured that that was the end of it all.   I just moved on.  I had other acting jobs that I went on to do.  I just kept moving forward.  I started playing in a band with Lou Diamond Phillips too and we starting touring the country.   I had heard that the film was doing well out on home video, but I didn't know the impact that the film was making on the next generation at that time.   I didn't see how it was spreading the BMX sport around the country at the time either.   It took me many years after the film had been released before I started to see just how popular it was.     I had left California and moved to New Mexico for a number of years.   But, when I moved back to California I started to see how much of an impact the film has had on extreme sports.   Really, it's only been in the last 4-5 years that the film has started to be screened again.  We celebrated the film with a special screening for the 25th Anniversary.   There have been many screenings since that time and through those I've really started to connect with the fans of Rad.  And through social media too.    

TV STORE ONLINE:   I've heard that you might be working on a sort of sequel to Rad now....

ALLEN:  Well, let me say this:  We are taking me and a bicycle into the next generation.   It's going to take place thirty years after Rad.  We're working on a story now--

Bill Allen actor Rad (1986)
TV STORE ONLINE:  As an actor, back then, with the film not a success you just wanted to move on to continue working...  You didn't want to be pigeon-holed into that type of role, but isn't there a attractive facet to that as well regarding a potential immortality?   You'll always be "Cru Jones" from Rad as Harrison Ford will always be "Indiana Jones" or "Han Solo"--

ALLEN:  Sure, I guess. But that is all ego.  That's a really cool notion if that's what you're going for, but that wasn't why I started acting.  I became an actor because it was the only thing that I was good at.    As I came up, being around serious actors--they always had a body of work under their belt and that always seemed like that was something that I wanted to achieve in my own career too.     You can't bet on what films will last, or what people will latch onto. But there's something to Rad.    Even Hal Needham, who directed Rad, said before he passed away: "None of my other films that I made in my career even touch Rad."

TV STORE ONLINE:  As a kid growing up in the Midwest, films like Rad, Thrashin' [1986], or even North Shore [1987] for that matter--they gave me romantic notions about those sports and about the California idealism.   Films don't seem to do that any longer in today's culture...  Do you think, as a culture, we could ever see a film come out again that could have the same impact as a Rad or Thrashin' has had on a generation?

Lori Louglin Rad (1986)
ALLEN: I'd hope so.   I mean, we're trying to work on something like that.   I think that the creators of Heroes of Dirt [2014] understood the impact of Rad.  We'd like to do that with the next project.   Any impact a film has is really an accident.  It's really up to the audience to decide what has an impact on culture.  It's up to them to decide what they want to watch again and again.   

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you ever see BMX Bandits (1983)?   And what did you think about it?

ALLEN: (laughing)  You know I never saw it actually.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   To Hal Needham's credit---that "bicycle boogie" sequence is incredible...he's a brilliant director.  Where he chooses to put the camera...I love that shot of  Cru's bicycle jumping over the camera in the sequence as it's low on the floor....  A lot of people, who today still love Rad, think that the bicycle boogie sequence in the film is quintessentially 80's cheese.... This next generation, these kids of today, who love 80's music, bands that emulate the 80's "sound", and 80's fashion...yet when it comes to visual arts--it is suggested that it's "cheesy."     Why do you think that is?  

Rad (1986) Hal Needham
ALLEN: Well, let's face it:  the aesthetic of the film is very 80's.   It was very kitschy with the big hair and the outfits.    The story is timeless though.   And with the BMX bikes and the stunts and the tricks--that is what sets the film apart from other films of the era.   Even non-BMX riders, who have watched the film have taken a lot from the film.    It's humbling to me, when people come up to me at these screenings of the film, and they try to give me credit for the film as if I'm responsible for it in some way.  I'm not responsible for Rad in any way.    So it's all I can do today--to pay allegiance to the fans of Rad.  I'm the Colonel Sanders of Rad.   I want to converse with as many Rad fans as I can all of these years later now.    The fans of the film are what has kept it alive these, almost thirty years later.

TV STORE ONLINE:  In re-visiting Rad yesterday, seeing it for the first time in well over ten years, I was completely taken with not just that bicycle boogie sequence, and how dreamy it is, but how the film overall is that way too.   I mean, it opens with those riders doing tricks and they're in that thick fog.  We, as the audience, are never shown exactly where we are in relationship to the events of the story geographically.  As it has a sort of dreamy aesthetic to it--why hasn't anyone addressed, with you, all these years later, the idea of your character's name "Cru?"   Did [Rad Screenwriter] Sam Bernard ever talk with you about the origins of the name?

ALLEN:   No, I don't think so.    Cru's real name was "Christopher" in the movie, and I believe, I'm not sure--so you'll have to look it up, but I think he got the name from a character in the Burt Reynold's movie, The Longest Yard [1974]...

Bill Allen Cru Jones Rad (1986)
TV STORE ONLINE:  Well, that makes sense, but as a physical name, as a sort of aesthetic dream-symbol--it's a biblical abbreviation of the word "crusade."  When you think about what the character does in the story of the film--this little guy going up against the big business--it's pretty interesting...

ALLEN:   Oh wow, you know, I've never heard that before...   That's great.

TV STORE ONLINE:  As a young actor...How did you envision that character?  Did you have a back-story, at least in your head, about where he came from?  How did he get there?  What was motivating him to do what he did?

ALLEN:  A little bit.  I think it was all about the idea that he was raised without a father.  I think he took on the role of the man of his household.   I think that resonates with a lot of people that have seen the film.  I think the idea that you need to listen to your gut instincts also plays a role in it all as well.    He had to rise to the occasion in life.    He had to mature early on and it wasn't about what society is telling you, it is what your gut is telling you.  If you're good at following your gut and your own initution--then there is no stopping you.

Bill Allen Rad (986)  Helltrack Rad Bart Conner
TV STORE ONLINE:   And on that note....Bart Conner's character, Bart Taylor, would have won Helltrack by many seconds if he hadn't taken the time to stop and wait for Cru on that final lap of the race in the movie...

ALLEN:   That's pretty obvious, isn't it?  I'm pretty sure that's clear.   The fact that Cru had to cheat in the qualifying race should've told you something.  Cru was a paperboy, but that doesn't diminish his abilities.  He was riding at a higher-level then he should've been.  There was no way that he could have rode at the level that the other guys were who had been on the race circuit for a long time. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Cru is an BMX anti-hero...

ALLEN:  Oh yeah.  And Bart saw that in him.  He was thinking that Cru had some grit and he wanted to test him on it.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I've also heard that you're putting together a sort of traveling roadshow on soon with BMX stunt riders and a 80's rock band... You're going to tour with it?

ALLEN:  Yeah, it's in the works.   We should have everything finalized next month.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung