The Movie Waffler Waffling With...BILL ALLEN, star of '80s cult hit <i>RAD</i> | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With...BILL ALLEN, star of '80s cult hit RAD

We chatted to actor Bill Allen about his role in the cult '80s BMX movie RAD, his career in movies and TV, and his upcoming return to the world of BMX.

Interview by Eric Hillis

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got your break in acting?

I grew up in Dallas and after a couple of school plays, I got the lead in a movie about a jockey when I was 19 with Jose Ferrer,  and Tab Hunter

Your second movie, And They're Off, featured a young unknown actor named George Clooney. He's done okay for himself. Did you spend much time with him and did you have any idea he would go on to be such a big star?

We spent all of our time together and even called our little clique "The Danger Boys".
No one could predict one day he could afford to buy the moon. But according to him, I am the reason he moved to LA.

Early in your career you got to work under legendary director Robert Altman in 1983's Streamers. Actors who have worked with Altman always claim it's a special experience, that he creates a unique family environment, with quite a bit of partying too! Was this your experience?

I was petrified and so exited to get that job. He was overly kind to me and actually took an interest in me. The dailies were a party and he knew how to live a somewhat European lifestyle. He was calm, kind, and brilliant. We will not see the likes of him again.

In 1986 you won the role that you're now most known for - BMX rider Cru Jones in the cult favourite Rad. The BMX craze was huge by this point in the '80s; had you ever ridden one before the movie?

Only occasionally. I was unable to really prepare for the role after I got it, so the stuntmen got to do all the heavy lifting. However I am riding now and am loving it.

The film was directed by Hal Needham, who was more associated with four-wheeled movies like Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run. As a former stuntman, Needham always placed a lot of focus on the stunt aspect of his movies. How much of the BMX riding was yourself and at what point would a stunt rider step in?

The only riding I actually did was the stuff where you know it's me. The hockey helmet was used to great extent. Since I was surrounded by the sport's best, I didn't need to do much.

As kids, my friends and I all had BMX bikes and we wore out copies of Rad and the Aussie movie BMX Bandits. In our eyes, Rad was one of the touchstone movies of an '80s childhood, but the movie was a huge flop on its theatrical release. However, on VHS and the burgeoning Laserdisc format, it became a surprise hit, staying in the rental charts for a couple of years after its release. Why do you think it failed in theaters but proved such a mammoth hit on home rental?                 
No one knows why the theatrical release did not take off, a marketing issue perhaps. But in the innocent days of VHS, there was not such a huge variety of entertainment, and Rad was almost an instructional video on how to do these tricks and what a bmx lifestyle entails. It was basically a video on how to be cool!

Rad is infamous for its Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 0% from critics but 91% from audiences, the largest discrepancy on the entire site. Why do you think critics failed to appreciate it in the same way as general audiences?

It was not made for critics. That was not Hal's style. But he made more money than all the critics put together. It was a populist film that fulfilled some childhood fantasy, that most didn't even know they had.

Are you aware of the Cru Jones clothing line?

Only the ones in my closet.

A cinema close to me is currently running a season called 'Movies You'd Love Your Kids To See', which is a season of '80s movies. The '80s is now looked back on as a golden age of movies aimed at kids and teens. Would you agree, and what are some of your own favourite movies from that era?

For me it was not a great era for movies. In retrospect most are weighed down with style or outmoded production. But of course some great movies were made by the masters, and if you were growing up in the '80s, those films inform who you are.

You've worked in TV since the '80s. Have you noticed many changes in the industry over the decades?

Decrease in pay due to the splintering of audiences, but TV is now producing the best entertainment imaginable with the advent of modern cable TV.

You appeared in 1989's Born on the Fourth of July. Did you have much interaction with Oliver Stone?

I met Oliver when I auditioned for the lead in The Platoon. He ended up hiring me for Born on the Fourth of July. He was the kid that Sheen portrayed in that movie. so the boy's got some demons, But since I still get checks from that gig, I give him eternal props.

You're returning to the BMX world in your upcoming film, Heroes of Dirt. What can you tell us about the movie?

I play the dad in this one. It centers around Phin Cooper, played by Joel Moody. Phin is an up and coming BMX hero, and it tells his tale of mentorship to a troubled teen.

Any truth to the rumours that you're working on a new movie inspired by Rad, and that you may even mount a BMX on screen once more?

I am currently developing a script that RAD fans will love. Now that I am physically training hard for this one, I feel the fans will get a huge kick out of what we have planned.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions Bill. It's been RAD!!!