When we conceived this site, I tossed out the name “Cru Jones Society” and got approval from both Limon and Hart relatively quickly. It sort of encapsulated what we wanted to be about, our sensibilities in terms of pop culture, and was more than likely available from GoDaddy.com. While building the site, I toyed with the idea of emailing the guy who played Cru Jones just to give him a heads up about what we were doing. As we got busy with articles and building the site into what it is today, that fell by the wayside and days turned into weeks which turned into months, which turned into nearly a year. Well it’s time to rectify that.
Limon, Hart, and I wondered how we should celebrate our one-year anniversary and discussed numerous ideas at length. We considered re-posting some of our favorites but bagged that quickly when we realized that would be a screw because you’d get no new content that way. Besides, we have archives. You can re-live your favorite pieces any time you damn well please. We also pondered having a chat session where we discussed our writing process for certain articles, but dismissed that even more quickly because if you’re not a writer, there’s nothing more truly and hideously boring than reading about someone’s writing process. Hell, even if you are a writer, it’s pretty damned boring.
In the end, there was really only one thing to do. It was high time to make good on the promise to myself made one year ago. I was going to reach out to the site’s namesake and inspiration and interview him imparting all sorts of interesting Rad-related trivia upon you from the heavens.
And for the love of all that is good, Bill Allen, the face of RAD, the star of one of my favorite movies of all-time, and the man who played Cru Jones himself, was gracious enough to take time out of his schedule and answer questions for us. It’s a huge thrill for the Cru Jones Society, and in my estimation, the perfect way to cap off our first year.
I sent Bill my questions, and not only did he answer them, he actually recorded his answers in an audio file and sent them back. I’ve got it linked at the bottom if you’re interested, but since I know most of you are at work, I took the liberty of transcribing our Q&A session below. He’s a super-cool guy and even indulged some of my nerdier queries. He was a great sport about the whole process and I think you’ll find his answers extremely interesting. Children of the 80s rejoice – one of your heroes is here!
There’s big news about RAD on DVD in here. As well as… a sequel? That sound you hear in the distance is E Dagger squealing like a little girl. Not really. Or maybe it is. You decide.
So, without further ado, I present to you, the one, the only, the coolest guy I know for taking time out to answer nerderiffic questions on our dorky website – Mr. Bill Allen.
CRU JONES SOCIETY: Bill, thanks for joining us on the site that bears the name of your most revered character creation. We’re thrilled to have you here!
BILL ALLEN: Happy to participate.
CRU JONES SOCIETY: You mentioned to me on our initial email exchange that you “no longer shy away from the RAD fans like they had a skin disease.” It sounds like you’ve been recognized quite a bit from your role as Cru Jones. Are you surprised RAD is still as popular today as it is?
BILL ALLEN: I suppose after the initial release and it wasn’t a huge box office hit, I had forgotten about my hopes of it going on to do something really great. So, once it had a huge life on VHS and on cable television, I did, years later, realize what a large impact it eventually had on the BMX society and on the spreading of the sport in general. So I was very pleasantly surprised and continue to be at the fans of the movie, and how it’s still talked about – really pleasantly surprised.
CJS: In much the same way Slap Shot is beloved by hockey players all across North America almost 30 years later, in preparing for this interview, I learned BMX riders still hold RAD in a similar regard, perhaps even more so than children of the 80s (like myself). What about the film do you think has made such a lasting impression?
BA: I think in the pre-YouTube days and the pre-computer days, there wasn’t a lot of access to the culture. So, Rad was a lot of people’s first exposure to the sport and it actually inspired a lot of people not only to go out and ride bikes, but to continue BMX as a profession either as industry person on the retail end or as an actual rider.
CJS: RAD obviously helped pave the way for the Dave Mirras and Mat Hoffmans of the world in gaining popularity for BMX. How much pride does it give you to be part of a sports movement in its earliest stages?
BA: Well, after getting to know a lot of top riders in the sport today, and seeing how they further the sport, it’s very moving. It makes me want to be a part of BMX sports in general and to further the movement. So, I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet some of the great riders and to see their work up close. I’m constantly amazed at what they’re able to do and very happy that RAD had something to do with that.
CJS: On a related note, with the popularity of ESPN’s “X Games,” and shows like MTV’s “Nitro Circus,” do you think there’s any chance we’ll get a RAD sequel, re-release, or, so help us God, finally a DVD release?
BA: I’m told that an official DVD release is imminent. This being the early part of ’09, and after that expect a sequel to go into pre-production. Apparently they’re spending good money to make that happen, so, we’ll see if it actually does. But it looks pretty good at this point.
CJS: What is the biggest thing you’ve taken away from playing Cru Jones as well as the continued adoration (more than 20 years later) from RAD fans everywhere?
BA: I guess that’s the biggest thing I’ve taken. I don’t have kids of my own, but to see that I’ve somehow been a part of something that’s so inspirational to so many kids and young people who are still with the sport. They’re often showing their kids Rad for the first time.
CJS: How do you view your RAD legacy?
BA: I am the face of Rad in a lot of ways – I didn’t write it, I didn’t direct it, I didn’t do any of the stunts – but, since I’m an actor and played the lead role, I will forever be connected to that film in many people’s minds as that character. And I’m pretty happy with that.
CJS: The following questions deal with the making of RAD, but we’ll keep this section short since there’s tons of great trivia on your website as well as a fantastic podcast with you on Natsukashi. When discussing this movie, you’ve mentioned Hal Needham‘s “roll 6 cameras at once and let the racers go for it” style of film-making. How did you like this style and how does it compare to other directors you’ve worked with?
BA: Hal is a populist director. He knows what people go to the movies for – at least his movies – so he creates an atmosphere, albeit a dangerous one in some situations, for the stunt people and these riders to do what they do. He also sets up a spontaneous situation which is kind of controlled chaos wherein he’ll have the cameras rolling and just let the riders do what they do. Eventually somebody’s going to down and so, it makes for incredibly exciting filmmaking – incredibly dangerous filmmaking – but if you were afraid of the danger, you wouldn’t be there in the first place. I had never worked with another director who filmed that way and have not since. It’s usually a much more controlled atmosphere, but frankly, I think part of the reason people are so attracted to those action sequences that are throughout the movie almost every 5 or 10 minutes is they have that feeling of spontaneity and reality, which is what he captured.
CJS: Did you perform any of the stunts yourself?
BA: I have to say, no I didn’t. I did a lot of the riding myself, and particularly in the “bicycle boogie” scene there were rigs that we were using, but frankly, we had some of the best riders in the world, so we utilized them as much as we could.
CJS: As a follow-up to the Hal Needham question, how serious were the injuries sustained during the racing sequences? Some of the spills look pretty gnarly – I’m thinking about the guy face-planting out of the cereal bowl specifically – and did you sustain any serious injuries yourself?
BA: The worst injury I recall was somebody got a broken ankle. But there were bumps and bruises and I think the guy who fell out of the cereal bowl survived just fine [Laughs]. I actually sustained a bump on the head after using my front brake instead of my rear brake just fooling around between shots. I was actually very lucky and was probably using a helmet after that.
CJS: We know that you were not a professional BMX racer when you were hired to star in RAD, but you’re proficient in flying planes, have gone through military-style training, and grew up hunting, so you’re extremely active in a lot of things. Did you continue riding BMX bikes once filming was completed?
BA: I do continue to ride BMX bikes. I got a really nice cruiser last year. I’m excited about getting a little more serious with it this year.
CJS: Do you have any interest in it today?
BA: I do. I was just at the ABA Nationals in DeSoto, TX. I was at the NORA Cup Awards last year and the Interbike Convention. So it seems I’m doing a lot more service and getting more involved with the BMX community. I couldn’t be happier about it.
CJS: Your co-star (and Olympic gymnast) Bart Conner made his big screen debut in RAD as your chief rival, Bart Taylor. You mentioned in the podcast that he was in rough shape from years of gymnastics. How did he take to the bike?
BA: As you say, he was pretty racked up from his gymnast injuries, so I can hardly recall him ever being on a bike. In the scenes where they had him walking they had to shoot him from the waist up because he was not even walking too well at that point. So, a lot of stunt people were utilized for the both of us.
CJS: How did he take to acting? Did you two hang out off-camera?
BA: Y’know, he did fine. I would hate to see how I would do if I had to be a proficient gymnast within a few weeks. We got along fine. He is what you see – just a real wholesome, super-nice guy. He’s actually giving a lot back to his community teaching gymnastics in Oklahoma City with his wife. He’s still doing the good work.
CJS: Can you give the RAD fans a story we may not know from the set?
BA: I certainly could, but I probably won’t. [Laughs] If there’s anything I can come up with that’s a little more PG-rated, I will. There’s nothing scandalous going on. Even the stunt riders seemed to get along great. Little Jason Schwartzman who’s quite a successful actor now, was just a little kid, 6 or 8 years-old, we rode bikes around together on the weekends. John Schwartzman, his brother, was the guy who shot “The Making of Rad” which probably never saw the light of day. Now he’s a very successful cinematographer, so they continue to rule the business in their own way.
CJS: Cru Jones was a rock star to me growing up. Coincidentally, you and fellow movie star Lou Diamond Phillips were actual rock stars together. Tell us about your music, your band, and a brief glimpse into life on the road post-RAD.
BA: Back in the 90s, my brother, Lou, myself and some others from Texas formed a band called “The Pipefitters” that started out as a bar band in Los Angeles. We eventually started touring and played with some people like Melissa Etheridge. We opened for Billy Ray Cyrus when he was big – way before Miley came along – and did a lot of touring through the US and Canada. Had way too much fun and eventually all the guys got married and started having kids. So it became just a bunch of fond memories. But we made a lot of good ones.
CJS: Are you and Lou still close?
BA: I still see Lou. I went into his studio last week to play harmonica on a blues song he had written for a movie he’s got coming out. So we do keep in contact and I do keep my hand in music a little bit.
CJS: After a career in music, you returned to acting in both television and film. You’ve appeared in a variety of projects from Born on the 4th of July, to popular TV shows “Wildfire,” and “Breaking Bad.” Post-RAD, tell us about some of your favorite roles.
BA: I guess outside of Rad, there was a movie I did with Lou Diamond Phillips back in the 90s called Sioux City where I played a bad cop. That was a lot of fun and a pretty juicy role. I was also in a movie last year called Felon with Val Kilmer and Stephen Dorff. That’s a pretty powerful movie and I was pretty proud of that.
CJS: We know you’ve got a lot of things in the hopper now project-wise. Tell us about where we can find Bill Allen in the near future.
BA: I’ve got some small but notable scenes in a movie called Brothers with Jake Gyllenhall, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman. I had a scene in an upcoming movie with Renee Zellweger called My One and Only, so be looking for those.
CJS: Any other projects or items of interest you’d like to tell us about?
BA: I’ve also been working some horror trilogies called “Monsterpiece Theater.” I’m not sure if that’s going to be on cable, but keep an eye out for that.
CJS: And now for some silliness… Everyone loves the ending where Cru and his nemesis Bart Taylor seem to put aside their rivalry and form a new BMX racing brand together. How do you think said business venture panned out? And on a more personal note, do you think the budding bromance between the two guys worked out, or did Bart Taylor revert back to his arrogant ways?
BA: Wow [Dag], I haven’t given any thought to that. I hope these questions will all be addressed in the sequel. But I guess there comes a point where you gotta ask yourself, are you TOO involved in Rad? I’m happy you guys are into it, but… maybe we should re-examine our priorities here [Laughs]. But I like it.
CJS: Do you think Cru took his SATs in six months like he promised his mom or was the new Corvette and newfound fame from his Helltrack victory too much to turn down?
BA: Yeah… [pauses] wow. I gotta put that question in the category “You guys may be overthinking this stuff a little too much.” But if I were to venture a guess – the Corvette is quite enough reason to never, ever go back to school again.
CJS: Ever gone ass sliding again?
BA: Yes, but not in the way portrayed in the movie. That’s all I can really say about that.
CJS: Do you think Cru’s relationship with Christian Hollings worked out?
BA: All I can tell you is that it has in my mind a thousand times.
CJS: Talia Shire is Hollywood royalty coming from the Coppola family. She’s probably best known as Connie Corleone from The Godfather series and as Adrian from the Rocky series. In The Godfather, her character is a bit of a brat. In Rocky, as ESPN’s Bill Simmons likes to say, Adrian is a miserable wet blanket who discourages Rocky at every turn. And in RAD, as Cru’s mom she stifles Cru’s pursuit of his dreams. Talia Shire cannot possibly be this unpleasant in real life. Can you set the record straight?
BA: Talia Shire was nothing but extremely pleasant to me outside of not wanting Cru to race at Helltrack. I figured in real life she’d want to push me over Helltrack herself, but no, she was great.
CJS: You worked on Born on the Fourth of July with Tom Cruise and Oliver Stone. Of the two, who is a bigger weirdo?
BA: At the time I must say I thought Oliver was a bigger weirdo. Tom couldn’t have been nicer to me. But with some of Tom’s antics since then, he wins the weirdo award easily.
CJS: And finally…In the cinematic bike race to end all bike races. Who wins in a fictional bike race: Cru Jones, Bart Taylor, the Reynolds twins, Luke & Becky or Elliott and other the kids from E.T. who outrun NASA and the local authorities?
BA: Well… since E.T. has the power of tele-transportation and the guy that played Luke has climbed Mt. Everest twice since the movie finished, I’ve gotta say… Cru Jones. What else do you need to know?
CJS: Nothing at all. That’s what I thought. Thanks again, Bill. This was fantastic.
BA: Thank you, Dagger.
(Ed Note: I tried to upload the audio file, but the file size is too big for our site. I’ll figure out a way to post this later. Sorry everyone.
Happy 1st Anniversary, Cru Jones Society Readers! Thanks for making it such a great year! Here’s to another!
01 Apr 2009 E Dagger