It Actually Was Pretty Rad To Talk To Talia Shire About ‘Rad’

A couple weeks before New York City shut down, I was at what would be my last bar trivia night for the foreseeable future. Anyway, the question was, “What woman has starred in the most sequels to movies that won Best Picture?” When you combine both The Godfather movies and the Rocky movies, it’s not really even close. (Shire seemed delighted by this, and also enjoys that her name is often used in crossword puzzles.

Which is kind of interesting that the topic of the day was the 1986 BMX racing movie, the cult favorite, Rad (which is getting a brand new 4k release). As Shire says, this movie was a family affair, spearheaded by her and her husband, Jack Schwartzman as a way to make movies for young people. (Shire also costars as our BMX hero’s understandably worried and protective mother.) And she explains it broke their hearts when the movie didn’t find an audience in theaters, but still can’t believe it became a cult favorite. And now, after all these years, it’s her son Robert who is leading the charge to remaster the film for this new release and Shire seems legitimately thrilled to be talking about it again.

I hadn’t seen Rad since I was maybe 10. It was fun to have an excuse to watch it again.

I know. [Laughs] You know, for me too, because I was only 10 when it came out as well.

Yes, I remember that being the case.

Sure, I played the mother, but I’m a character actor so it’s easy.

You were great.

But when I saw it again I felt it had this, it really has life. It is a life force.

Had it been a while since you saw it?

No, because my son, Robert Schwartzman, is the one that put the whole thing together and has given it really an extraordinary restoration. And a really better live sound for its score. I loved the score back then. I even love it more now.

Is it a brand new score?

No, it’s not a brand new score, but it’s been given the best digital remastering. And it was exciting back then but boy do I love it now.

When Cru wins his first race, against your wishes, the, “you’re in trouble now,” look you give him is perfect.

Oh, yes. Don’t think my children didn’t hear that from me. I have to say, it brings back a lot of memories of Calgary. We were doing two movies in Calgary back then. What was it? 85. And Jack [Schwartzman] and I love Calgary. So it brings back the nostalgia of all these really gifted young bike riders. You know, these were BMX riders who have gone on and they basically made the Olympics competition happen. BMX is now an Olympic sport. So it brings back those memories and the impact of that movie on BMX riding today and I have to say it brings a certain, oh God, sadness because Jack and I had such hopes. And then the movie tanked at the theaters. It broke our hearts.

Are you surprised how much people like it today? When the new 4k disc was announced people seemed pretty excited.

Have you ever heard of the town that refused to die? This is a movie. It just refused. I mean, I find that fascinating. Why? The concept of a cult movie, what is it that makes the movie say, “Okay. Nobody came to see it, but we’re not going to die.” And now it’s all these years later and yet there is an incredible enthusiasm and I think that’s because there’s something pure at the core of this movie.

You’re in a lot of movies that don’t die.

Yeah! To me that’s fascinating, but this movie didn’t have a chance to live as Jack and I had hoped it would. You know, because that was our dream, to make movies for young people. That spoke to their value system. That spoke to empowerment. And we thought Rad was one of those movies that spoke to empowerment and discipline that you could go up against corruption in a town and you could win. And then we were really heartbroken when it didn’t work, but here it is again. And here it is very much alive.

There really is an innocence to this movie. There are a lot of scenes of just kids hanging out and laughing.

It does! And, yes, I’ll use that word pure and innocence and the power of that. This is a kid who’s lost his father. He delivers newspapers in the morning. Right? It is that kind of joy that youth should have. Because that’s a power.

What was working with Hal Needham like, because that guy seemed kind of crazy?

What do you mean? What do you mean?

Well, he’s the director of Smokey and the Bandit, director of The Cannonball Run, there are all the stories of him living in Burt Reynolds backyard house and stuff like that?

No, no, you’re right. He was a really interesting guy. I tell you, the first day of shooting, he gathered us, all of us in a circle, the actors, people in the crew. And his mother was there and she led a prayer. So he was a good guy at core. A really good man. And I was very intimidated. I mean, he was Hal Needham! He had a sense of legend around him, but he was a really a nice man.

Obviously you’ve worked with a lot of great directors, and obviously some are closer to you than others, but that’s interesting that you found Hal Needham intimidating.

Well, you know, I think as an actor, when I’m acting I always come from respect. I hate to tell you this, but a movie set is not a democracy. I mean, time is money. So you really want to respect your director. And he was such a lovely, good man. And remember when we had Hell Track. Do you know that Hell Track section?

At the end, yes. With a three-story drop.

Oh my God. And I thought, oh, I was terrified. First of all, I don’t like heights and I had such respect for Hal. That he would be protective and make sure everybody would be okay. Because, I’ll tell you, when you really look at that drop. I mean, really. It was scary! It was like being on top of a building. Gee whiz.

At what point over the years did you get the sense that people were starting to watch this movie again?

Certainly in the ’90s, late ’90s. And my children who were always saying, “Hey ma, you know Rad?” And so there were many complexities regarding trying to get Rad to have a new life. Those are legal issues. So, I knew that everyone loved that movie … look I have a BMX bike.


Was Jason hanging out on set?

Josh was. The oldest son, he was a young 19-year-old USC film student and he was the cameraman of all those beautiful shots in the opening of Rad. All those beautiful, beautiful shots of the bicycle? That’s John Schwartzman. Who is a major DP today.

Right, he shot Jurassic World.

Yes, and he’s back in England doing that. So if you’re saying, was it a family thing? Sure. Yes, Jason was there. He was five. Robert who has put this together and allowed it to have this magnificent other life. He was three years old. But he was there.

See, that seems like a cool set to hang out on. If I’m a little kid I don’t know if I want to hang out on the set of Godfather III, but on the set of Rad, that sounds amazing.

But yeah my kids were part of it, and by the way Robert was on the set of Godfather III. So they’ve been on the set.

I’m in New York City. So I’ve been inside a lot. I’ve been rewatching a lot of movies.

Hey, I’m in California. I’m inside for three months!

I rewatched Godfather III. I really liked it a lot more than I thought I would. I know people don’t like it as much as the other two, but more people should see it. It was kind of surprising.

Well, I appreciate hearing that. Actually, Francis has done a reworking of Godfather III and he’s refined it.

Oh really?

And he’s very proud of it. And hopefully you will see that, too. You know, that movie was about money laundering which is very pertinent these days.

Oh, before we go…

Mike, are you doing okay in New York?

Well, it’s much better than it was. April was pretty scary.

Yeah. I know, but we must still operate with caution and hand sanitizer and masks.

I remember the last time I got to play trivia, you were an answer.


The question was what woman has starred in the most sequels to movies that won Best picture? I don’t even think there’s anyone close.

Ha! Oh, not just Rocky, but also The Godfather.


Oh, well that’s … hey, that’s me? Listen, it’s interesting to be a trivia question. I’m also a crossword puzzle. A lot of times because of the way the letters are in my name. My two names Talia and Shire are very useful for vertical and horizontal.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.