When director Jan de Bont set about casting the various faces and secondary characters that populated bus #2525 in his 1994 actioner “Speed,” it was very important to him that they reflect the multicultural identity of Los Angeles. Not only that, but he wanted there to be a heavy dose of realism in his choices, actors who seemed to be people you could look over on a morning commute and see reading the paper, sipping coffee, gazing out the window and starting their day.
On the occasion of the film's 20th anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to track down as many of those actors as possible and tell the story of “Speed” from their perspective. It was a gargantuan task. While a number of them have remained in the industry in some way, many have moved on to other careers. But their individual stories are nevertheless as fascinating as the exciting production of the film itself.
Some you certainly recognize, like well-known character actors Alan Ruck and Beth Grant, who have starred in everything from de Bont's “Twister” and TV's “Spin City” to films like “A Time to Kill” and “No Country for Old Men.” Others have toiled behind the scenes and remain in comparatively thankless positions in the industry, like Marylou Lim, a set costumer who frequently collaborates with actor Will Ferrell, or 100-year-old Milton Quon, a legendary Disney animator who worked on “Fantasia” and “Dumbo” and whose memory is as sharp as ever.
Two of them – Jim Mapp and Paula Montes – are no longer with us. And one other – Sherri Villanueva – I was simply unable to trace (though if she ends up reading this, I hope she reaches out and allows me to plug her perspective into this unique portrait). I ended up getting 15 of the 18 actors on the record, far more than I could have hoped for in even my wildest dreams.
It was truly an honor to seek out each of these individuals, who deserve as much credit for the success of the film as superstars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. When it became an exhausting scavenger hunt, tracing clues to find, say, David Kriegel, who now owns a unique children's dance studio with his wife in Studio City, or Loretta Jean Crudup, who somehow finds the time to act in Christian plays and write a novel while helping to feed the poor and work for young women down on their luck – the reward was all the more satisfying.
Ultimately, “Speed” seems to have been one of those productions where everyone truly delighted in each other's company, driving back and forth on the 105 freeway just ahead of its public opening and around in circles on a tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport in the late summer swelter of 1993. It was fun to spark their memory and take a drive down memory lane with each and every one of them, and I can't thank them enough for their time.
Below is the story of “Speed,” in their words.
David Kriegel: Oh my god. It's been 20 years? Wow. That makes me really freaking old.
Beth Grant: My daughter was nine months old when we did that movie and it was a big deal for me to do a movie that she couldn't come to the set; the location was a live speedway!