You know, they say never meet your heroes, but sometimes you get lucky.
Thanks to Fantastic Fest, I got a few moments to chat with the leader of Team RAD! himself – Bill Allen in anticipation for the Alamo’s 35th anniversary screening of RAD!. The film originally hit theaters in 1986 and was simply meant to capitalize on the BMX fad at the time. But thanks to the film’s solid script and a cast who took the film’s story of the BMX prodigy who hopes to beat the odds and win a professional competition in his hometown, the film surprisingly stuck around. It was essentially the every kid’s dream in the 80s committed to celluloid. Unavailable for decades, thankfully today you can not only pick up RAD! on Blu-ray or UHD, but you can stream and even check it out in theaters when it returns for its anniversary on October 14th.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, Bill Allen started acting in 1977 and since then has not only worked with the late great Hal Needham for RAD!, but Robert Altman and Oliver Stone during his career. With the film’s recent well-deserved resurgence Bill has not only recently penned a book on his experience playing Cru Jones, My Rad Career (You can order here), he also retuned to the track for Heroes of Dirt and just wrapped a doc, which he mentions below. I chatted with Bill, and he was as upbeat and positive as you’d expect as he reflected not only about working with Needham and the legacy of RAD!, but what he thinks Cru and company are up to now.
Dan T: So, how was your quarantine?
Bill Allen: Quarantine man. I’ve never had a better, more fulfilling time in my life. I decided to take this time and become more of who I am, because this time was a gift to me. You know, I’m an introvert anyway. It’s like what? I don’t have to go out and see people. Let me learn how to play the guitar. So, I’ve learned guitar over the past year and a half, and I’ve gotten a lot of writing done, and finished a documentary that I’m very excited about.
Dan T: Well, one of the things that I got through this quarantine was cinema, and it’s funny, because I revisited RAD! during that time and shared it with my wife. What do you think it is about RAD! that keeps it relevant and keeps people going back to it, even today?
Bill Allen: Well, obviously the bikes make it unique and interesting. The eighties thing is part of the nostalgic craze that’s popular right now. I think they had a really strong cast of actors who really kind of didn’t make a joke out of it, you know, they played it right and it came across that way. Sam (Bernard) who wrote this script, he said at the time he was reading a lot of Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces and that kind of, following your heart and finding a path with heart and passion, he kind of threw in there, man, he just did a better job than he could have known. I think it’s just like there’s some universal themes that resonate and he does it in a particular locale and, and a specific time and place and it just makes a lot of guys think of their childhood.
You know, they either grew up watching it or had a similar childhood, a latchkey existence where’s dad? I don’t know. Where’s mom? She’s working. I don’t know and they had to make up their own fun. So everybody had a bike, they rode or had rusting in the garage.
So when they saw this movie, it’s like, I got this. Not only did it show them the tricks and the mechanics of the tricks, but it showed them in the community and with family and with friends and how to be cool within that community and still be a part of that community. It was like a primer for a lot of kids on how to get through this stage in life and it really worked, I just think better than Sam could have anticipated.
Dan T: RAD! sorta hit it the perfect time for me. I was 10 years old ,and I was obsessed with BMX bikes and I have this nostalgic bond with the film. What is it like for you as an actor to sort of have this relationship with this touchstone to all these folks like myself, that grew up with this film you did back in the 80s?
Bill Allen: I didn’t have it for a long time, for 15 years or more. I didn’t think about it once a year. You know, it just was not in my consciousness and now we’ve had all this eighties nostalgia, the rerelease, and now it’s part of my daily life, and frankly I couldn’t be happier about it. It’s not a slasher film. It’s not just a meaningless fluff piece. It really does have a heart and Cru Jones is an avatar, if you will, that I can get behind. I liked that guy, you know, and he has qualities that I aspire to, to this day and that, that movie is an aspirational movie.
So I think about this a lot. It’s kind of the place I’ve come to in my life and I didn’t ask to be here. I just went on audition really and this is what came of me following my passion and now I’ve got this voice. So I want to be that thing for those people. I want to be aspirational. I want to be somebody that they can look up to and go, well, he’s doing it, so can I, whatever that is. You know, for me, it’s acting and music.
Dan T: RAD! was directed by the late great Hal Needham, and that meant there were a ton of stuntmen on set and for you being in your early twenties, that had to have been a fun set to be on. What was that like?
Well, the difference was these stuntmen were actually BMX riders. They were not stuntmen by trade. Hal founded Stunts Unlimited and he knew horses, he knew guns, he knew cars, he didn’t know bicycles. So he had to depend on these teenagers, basically to tell him what was possible in his movie and that was not how he rolled. So these young kids were calling shots and designing Hell Track and letting him know what was feasible or not and they were all congregated on that set, the best of the best. They really got probably half of the best riders in the world there. So it was kind of a heady place to be, because there were some real dangerous stunts going on and people got hurt.
Every time Jose Yanez did that back flip, it was like everybody froze in their tracks. It was not like today, where you see all the kids doing this at the skatepark. I mean, we stopped everything, all motion on set and Jose did a prayer to mother Mary and we got through this thing together. Sometimes he made it, sometimes he didn’t, but film sets don’t usually have that kind of drama behind the scenes. It’s usually so well rehearsed and planned out and choreographed. Some stuff was choreographed but other stuff was just like, I hope you make it.
The stunt doubling was done very well. That’s what Hal was really brilliant at, was doubling actors.
Dan T: Yeah. It’s one of the things we notice. Have you ever seen BMX Bandits? Where you see Nicole Kidman riding one minute and the next she’s turned into this ripped dude with a wig. You guys definitely got the better shake and the stunts work really felt seamless and believable because of that.
Bill Allen: Well, pay attention to the wigs cause there was a big wig budget on RAD! (Laughs)
Dan T: So what’s the craziest thing you remember on set? I remember reading somewhere you had food poisoning before the big BMX dance number.
Bill Allen: Well, yeah, during that whole boogie sequence, I was just laid out from food poisoning, really sick. But I made it through somehow. You know, I didn’t do a lot of stunts on my own, but I guess the most traumatizing thing was doing that ass slide into the freezing cold water. I mean, that was just melted snow.
So they had us in a wetsuits, but that doesn’t do anything when you hit that water at that temperature and Martin Aparijo my good friend and one of my stunt doubles, they had him go down the shoot first just to test it and see how it went and they took him aside and said, ‘oh, and Martin, when you come out of the water, look all happy, don’t scare the actors, make it look like it’s a joyful thing.’
So he did and we bought into it. But yeah, I’m not a cold water guy. Anyway, I just got out of the pool and it was like 80 degrees and I’m like, ah, this is too cold for me. So that frozen snow was something else and in the script it was supposed to be some sort of a waterfall, but how do you find that in Canada? So they actually just built that slew into the Creek. The question, I guess you have to ask yourself is why did he take Christian (Lori Loughlin) to an open sewer on their first date? I mean, this is a weird move, you know, but he had his good points to, I suppose.
Dan T: My wife pointed that out about Rad! That it’s surprisingly progressive because Lori Loughlin is an actual BMX rider. She’s not like just a romantic foil or anything. She’s actually riding with the guys, which I thought was rather impressive for the time.
Bill Allen: It’s true and had it been made today, maybe she would have competed in Hell Track, But yeah, you’re right. She was considered within the confines of the movie, a well-respected athlete who could “Airwalk” as they say.(Laughs)
Dan T: So you’ve been back on the track with Heroes of Dirt and also given the success of Cobra Kai, would you do a web series that sort of revisits these characters now?
Bill Allen: I mean, this has been talked about a lot. It would be great to do something like that. I’m still acting, I still have my hand in it, I think the fans are ready for something like that. I think Cobra Kai kind of shows the entertainment industry, how it’s done. Here’s how you can pick up a story decades later and still make it interesting and relevant. So, yeah. We’ll see what happens.
Dan T: What do you think Cru would be up to now?
Bill Allen: Man, it’s such, it’s such a weird realm when you get into that thing. I tend to think Cru had what it took, true grit to do what he wanted to do, whatever that was. If you stuck with BMX or a lot of these guys morph into motocross or Supercross, you know, which was taking off at that time. So that I think would be a logical step for him, and to be a team owner because he seemed to have the professional attitude, the skill and the support of his family and friends.It really takes all those things.
Dan T: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure, and stay rad!
Bill Allen: Thanks a lot.