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!
Loretta Jean Crudup: Let me tell you, it was my very first motion picture. I worked in the industry for the State of California but I didn't get into the movies until I was 59 years old. A lady that's in the business called me and said, "Loretta, I don't know what this is all about but a friend of mine just called me looking for a black grandmother and your face flashed in my mind and I told her all about you."
Milton Quon: I had just turned 80 at that time, I think. I was sketching the day after the audition at Santa Monica airport and when I got home my wife was waiting at the curb, and she says, "You got the part!" I had to go down to SAG to pay $1,200 or something because you had to become a union member to participate.
Carmen Williams: Back then I was a single mother. My daughter was in elementary school and it was the perfect time for me to get that gig. I wasn’t trying to get into acting but I’ve always had this confident attitude; if there’s anything I want I’ve never been afraid to go after it. So a friend of mine was actually going to an audition and told me about it. I said, "Oh, see if you can get me in on it." I was really interested in it when I heard about it. And he said, "Oh, you’ve got to be on the list. You’ve got to be with an agent. Blah, blah, blah." I said, "OK, if you’re not gonna try to help me just give me the information. I’ll go up there myself." And then he was telling me that you just can’t show up. But I showed up and I got myself cast!
Simone Gad: At the audition, Jan de Bont told me he liked my cat-eye glasses. I've always worn vintage glasses. When I was hired they actually constructed a pair like mine and put rhinestones on them with my prescription. But I wasn't allowed to keep them.
Marylou Lim: I was doing some background and PA work the last couple of years in college. It was just like, "I need to pay some bills." So I went up for that and the audition was just screaming, basically. And I got the role. It seemed fun and different. Reading it you're just like, "What? A bomb on a bus? OK, that's gonna go." But I was really interested in fashion and costume design, and working on that movie, I got to see it in the production part of it and I met costumers. Bob Morgan was one of them. I talked to him about getting into costumes and he basically told me, "Just start working as a PA on productions."
Carlos Carrasco: It wasn't projected as a blockbuster or a tent pole movie or anything like that. I think the studio had agreed to put some money into this kind of interesting project, mid-level stuff. I mean, at the time, who was Keanu Reeves? He was Ted. And Sandy, I love her and I can't say enough about her contribution to getting that movie made, but it was still like, "Sandra who?"
Hawthorne James: When I read the script I said, "This is kind of corny. I don't know if I want to do this or not." And they didn't have a lot of money to shoot this movie because nobody believed in it. It had been turned down by every other studio, every actor. We didn't have a villain until we were a week or two into shooting. I think they had gone to, like, Christopher Walken and all kinds of people before Dennis Hopper said yes. So we were shooting a movie and there was no villain. Nobody believed in it.
Carlos Carrasco: Thinking back about "Speed," it's a complicated, bittersweet memory. When you're a character actor, you work in the trenches for years and years and you don't often get a shot at getting out. And then you throw in the whole business of being an ethnic actor. So when "Speed" first came into my life, I was beyond thrilled because it was a showcase role. It was a positive ethnic role model role. It was a hero role. I have a long history of playing bad guys and, you know, beating up the old lady and getting the drugs across the border and stuff like that. And I just thought, "Wow. This is great. This is gonna be fabulous. And also holds the potential of elevating several careers to the next level." That's the head that I went into that project with. And then about a week and a half or maybe not even that long before shooting, we all showed up and they said, "Hey, very exciting day today. We're gonna read our new rewrites. Here are the new scripts. Let's buckle down and read." And so we did and I remember pages turning and pages turning and looking around the table and just really feeling all of the air going out of the room. All of our disappeared. Essentially just became all these people in the back of the bus screaming and yelling.
David Kriegel: I just actually read the original script. About six months ago a friend of mine, we were cleaning out stuff and I pulled out the script and thought, "Wow, that is a whole different deal." It was more of an ensemble, where everyone gradually found out about their different talents or backgrounds and used them collectively to solve this problem. If I'm remembering correctly, my character was a film student and because I had my camera and video gear with me we were able to tap into the bad guy's video signal and see that he was watching.
Carlos Carrasco: They also brought Daniel on board, and good for Daniel, he got to be in a big hit movie. But they brought him on as the gang-banger from East LA, you know, "Hey, mang. I'm gonna shoot you, mang." It's like, you know, "Blame it on the Latinos." Stuff like that. And Natsuko lost everything that she had. Natsuko was actually an instructor at Shakespeare & Company. She specializes in a style of vocal training called Linklater Method. You get a woman like that and you put her on a bus and then you take away all her lines?
Natsuko Ohama: I think in the first go 'round there was probably more detail to almost all the roles. More backstory. That was true of Keanu as well. Some of the characters had more family things or it was just fleshed out more. But I think that would have slowed down the movie. I had no problem with it at all.
Simone Gad: Jan told me I was going to have a bigger role, but still, it's a significant role for what it is. Both he and the producer really liked what I was doing. They told me my role was helping to make the whole thing very real. So I focused on that and soaked that in.
Julia Vera: I had a scene with Carlos but it was in Spanish. I think that's the reason they took it out. And they left me one line. When he's talking about the big gap in the freeway and he's saying, "Everybody hunker down," and I say, "Que dice?!" Like, "What is he saying?!" Everybody gets a kick out of that. I'm supposed to be a cleaning lady or a housekeeper or something like that.
Beth Grant: Originally my character had just gotten engaged the night before. Annie, I believe, was a stand-up comic and we knew each other because we took the bus every day. And everybody was so excited that I had gotten engaged. When the bus driver died, he had a heart attack and I had kind of given him CPR. When I get this rewrite — now I'm whining. There's no history, no character. And I'm not the hero! Jan said, "There's too many heroes in this. We need a coward, and you're it."
Hawthorne James: The heart attack stuff, I asked them about that, because I didn't want to be Fred Sanford on a bus. One of the only black guys on the bus and he would have been the only non-hero. It cost me money, because otherwise I would have been on the bus with his heart attack for the rest of the movie, but I was glad it changed.
Alan Ruck: I think I was supposed to be a dick. I was supposed to be, you know, kind of an entitled and really inconsiderate asshole lawyer who gets put in his place pretty quickly by Carlos' character. I went in and I read with Jan and I think he just decided he was gonna have me be goofy and likable.
Loretta Jean Crudup: All of us were promised a speaking part. I was there when they said it. All of a sudden the producer and director were looking over all of us and he pointed and said, "Loretta Jean, I want you to say this: 'I want to see my babies!'" And I said that. And he pointed to another one and told her what to say. And there were only three of us, besides the ones up front, that got a chance to have a speaking part. The others got very mad at the producer. The man who played my husband, Jim Mapp, got so mad. They did not tell us they had changed the script, so there was some anger on the set. But I still get residuals. It was very lucrative for me!
Carlos Carrasco: There's that initial actor reaction of, "Oh, how many lines do I have?" But for me it was a little deeper than that because I think my part, after the rewrite, was down to about five lines, three of which I found offensive because this hero character had been sort of reverted to a stereotype, just another big, lumbering, Latino idiot. It was very distressing. I seriously contemplated leaving the project.
Beth Grant: It wasn't like this was a bad script that they were trying to make better. It was more about streamlining it. I think it was the right decision and I'm sure Graham Yost would agree, because they really made it work. And it deserved Joss Whedon's sense of character. I teased him once when I did an episode of "Angel." I said, "You took my whole part away… Thank goodness!" But Jan was able to preserve the characters without the dialogue. He said, "Stick with me, because I'm gonna shoot this like a European film and we're gonna use really subdued colors and I'm gonna get coverage of you and it's gonna be very dramatic." I knew how gifted he was and I knew, you know, he was a shooter, so I believed him that he was gonna shoot it that way.
Carlos Carrasco: I went in and I spoke to Jan and I said, "Look, I'm upset and I don't really know if I want to spend a couple of months on something that I've lost my belief in in terms of what it portrays and what it shows for my people." And he was very sympathetic. He said, "Look, all I can tell you is that we're gonna be shooting with many, many cameras and I give you my word that I will do everything that I can to fix it." So I stayed.
David Kriegel: There's a side of it where you're definitely like, "Wait, I thought I was going to do this or that," but whatever. I was thrilled to be a part of big Hollywood stuff. I was 24 and getting paid to sit on a bus. I'd have to be an idiot to complain about that shit.
Carlos Carrasco: I don't want to give the impression that I'm this angry, bitter troll. You know, "Curses! Curses to anything to do with 'Speed!'" That's not the case at all. The actual making of and the film and the getting to know the people involved, that was all very exciting. Sometimes it was terrifying because once the movie got going, we realized we had settled into a pace of, like, the daily stunt. Every day we were gonna do something crazy and literally insane.
Alan Ruck: It was unique because we had the whole 105 freeway as our playground before they opened it. We had it for, like, eight weeks. It was the best backlot you could ever hope to find.
Carlos Carrasco: It was kind of remarkable because they populated the freeway with something like 300 extra cars. I remember they created a radio station, because how do you cue all those cars? So they figured out a way to transmit on one of the very lowest bands on the radio.
Alan Ruck: The grip and camera department came up with ingenious ways to shoot inside that bus. You know the handrail above? They reinforced it and it became a dolly track. They custom made a little dolly that fit with axles and rollers right on top of the handrail and they suspended a camera with bungees. So they could be up at the front of the bus looking at Sandy and Keanu, and then they could whip back and scream down to the back of the bus if they wanted to. It was really innovative.
Marylou Lim: The fact that all of this took place in the same day, we all had to wear the same costumes for about a month and a half. It's interesting because the movie I'm working on now takes place in one day, so I'm like, "Ugh, God, now I know how these actors are going to feel by the end of this movie, having to wear the same wardrobe the whole entire length of the movie." You get sick of the same costumes. We were joking about burning our costumes at the end of the "Speed" shoot!
Carlos Carrasco: Some of the reaction shots you see in the film — there's just no acting at all. There just happened to be a camera on us as we're watching some of these stunt people do things. Specifically I remember the day we put the guy under the bus. That was terrifying. We were all at the windshield watching, and I'm telling you, there's no 'acting' going on there. It's actors going, "Oh my God. We're about to kill somebody here on the set."
Julia Vera: Just thinking about it right now I'm getting chills. Because I'm like, "What if it just goes sideways? What if the bus has to make the turn?" It was real.
Daniel Villarreal: It was very physical. When the bus is turning and you have to move to this side or that side, and there's all those reactions to the things happening. It was more physical than anything.
Sonia Jackson: There's the sequence we filmed in Long Beach where the dump truck comes out and the bus has to swerve to the other side. I actually fell out of the seat and bounced down the aisle! Because my character was carrying a briefcase, it was on my lap and it unhooked my seat belt and sent me flying. I can remember I passed six or seven seats and everybody was looking at me like, "What are you doing on the floor sliding down the aisle?!"
Milton Quon: I remember we got extra pay when we transferred from the bus to the rescue vehicle. It was really going at pretty good speed. Someone would grab you on this side and someone would reach for you on the other side and it was really fast-moving. So we got a couple hundred dollars extra for that bit.
Julia Vera: Paula Montes was so knowledgeable about the movie business. She said, "We have to get extra money for this because this is stunt work." She goes after the First A.D. like a little hornet: "You have to give us a bump!" Then she comes back all triumphant: "We got us a bump!"
Sonia Jackson: It seemed like they never quite told us everything. Like the pyrotechnics when they blew up the bus, they just looked like little baby fireworks. We're watching and going, "Oh, that's not bad." But evidently they had some discussion that it wasn't quite enough so they enhanced it. And when they blew it off that second time and they filmed it, it actually blew us back. We were in the transfer bus but the force of it was so big it blew us back. It went, "Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Ba BOOM! Ba BOOM!" Believe me, every single reaction you saw on there was an honest reaction.
Julia Vera: That was for real, OK? That was for real. You should have heard us all screaming our heads off.
Carlos Carrasco: The day they jumped the bus I remember was a very exciting day. The whole thing was done in post but they needed to get the leap on camera.
Julia Vera: Jophery Brown was the driver. He had on a fire retardant outfit, a helmet, and his seat was put on bungee ropes. Because people, when they land like that, that's when you crush a vertebrae. So it was a perfect landing and we all applauded. Then they opened the door and we saw all this commotion. The ambulance comes flying and they took him away. Later on to find out that he forgot to put in his mouthpiece, so when the bus landed, he bit his tongue almost in half. He comes back a couple of days later and he's the guy who's driving the people-mover. With his tongue butchered, he's still working!
Carlos Carrasco: Some of the things the stunt people did on that film were just jaw-dropping. I walked up to one of them one time and said, "Does your wife know what you do when you leave the house in the morning?"
Julia Vera: I think that's the reason the movie is so amazing. People put so much into it.
Natsuko Ohama: I had worked with Jan before on "Flatliners." Maybe he remembered my face unconsciously somewhere in there. I completely loved him. He really had a wonderful eye. I think it's because not only is he technically able to shoot, he's a still photographer as well. The way he sees images, he's great.
Julia Vera: He's a very quiet, soft-spoken man. So thank God for the First A.D., because we couldn't hear him!
Marylou Lim: He ended up breaking a lot of cameras. The production actually framed one of the lenses and put it in a box that said "For Outstanding Achievement in Camera Smashing." Because we did all of these stunts and the camera was rigged on these wires and it just kept bouncing and hitting the top of the bus, so it kept breaking!
Daniel Villarreal: It was interesting working with two DPs, because Jan was a DP and we had [Andrzej] Bartkowiak, who was a really great DP. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a DP, so it was fun to watch them do their thing with all those cameras and hanging around with Jan talking about photography and angles, light, all that jazz. I remember when we were auditioning, he had a cast on his arm. I think he had fallen off a helicopter doing a shot. So it was like, "Alright, this guy is cool."
Alan Ruck: I think because he was basically a guy from one side of the line who had stepped up and become the boss, so to speak, all the people on the crew were busting their ass for him. It was like, "One of us made it to the top," right? So they were really, really working hard for him on that picture.
David Kriegel: I have nothing but great things to say about Jan. I know I should say something bad because it makes for a better story, but there's not a lot bad to say. He has a reputation for being a tough, tough, just brutal guy on his crews as a cinematographer, but he put up with me. I never got to go to film school so the way I learned is getting to work with cool directors and people. They would answer my questions and let me play with the camera between takes, moving it around, trying to figure out why he was doing what he was doing.
Carlos Carrasco: One thing that we all quickly learned, because there were so many cameras going all the time, is that there's never a time when you're thinking, "Oh, the camera isn't on me, so I can relax," you know? Everybody was always on, which provided him with a lot of coverage to mix and match. There was also a little bit of freedom of improvisation, so every now and then one of the original lines snuck back in. So in my case he was able to kind of rebuild some of what the character was originally.
Hawthorne James: He's not what you would call an actor's director because he didn't give those kinds of directions. He let you figure this stuff out for yourself. He guided it without being intrusive.
Simone Gad: There were scenes where I had to do a lot of crying, because he really liked my crying ability, so I had to do several takes and different angles. That was challenging, but it was fun to get into.
Natsuko Ohama: You can't really tell on the screen what that's like but you're under tremendous pressure as an actor. From the starting point, to break down or be in hysteria — and you have to do this over and over again. The focus is very intense.
David Kriegel: These guys that were hired essentially as day players, they were great. I mean, their faces are there. You remember them. It's a testament to casting. They found great people, great faces.
Beth Grant: It was hard because between shots, there we were. Not a tree, not a shrub, not a plant on a freeway in the baking hot sun. We shot in September, the hottest month of the year in California.
Marylou Lim: We had the AC snakes but they weren't working very well. That part wasn't fun.
Loyda Ramos: It was so freaking hot. One day all the girls took off their tops and sat. We're like, "We can't fucking stand this. We're dying. We're going to protest by sitting in our bras." So we have a picture of all of us, including Sandy, sitting there in our bra on the freeway. It's hilarious.
Milton Quon: We had to be on site at 6:30am and it was very different every morning. And we had to go to some very precarious locations.
Natsuko Ohama: Daniel actually saved my life. The doors opened accidentally in a shot where we were going around a curve and he was holding onto the back of my jacket so I didn't fall out. So I'll always be very fond of him for doing that!
Julia Vera: It was eight weeks, sunup to sundown. Around and around and around town. We had great adventures. At the airport, we were in the back where they repair airplanes, so all day long, that noise from the revving of the engines — we would leave the set filled with soot on our faces! But the food was out of this world. Oh my God. Steaks and lobster and champagne. We all gained weight! Even though we complained about our backs hurting from being on the hard seats, the food made up for it.
Simone Gad: Also, there were two dogs that were rescued.
David Kriegel: We were downtown somewhere on a side street and there was a dog mangled and chained up on a fence and I just took him. He ended up being this dog that was on every Hollywood set there was because a good friend of mine was a pretty big producer and line producer and he wanted one.
Marylou Lim: There was another one that roamed on the freeway and we were like, "Oh my God. Someone's got to save this dog." One of the actors said he was going to name it Freeway, but I don't remember if he actually did or not.
David Kriegel: No, Speed, actually. At first we called him Speed and then we changed his name. But that's where he started. Between takes we would sit out on the freeway before it got filled up with all the cars and there was a pack of stray dogs. I sat there with my lunch for, like, 45 minutes until one of them got the courage to walk over and I gave him some of my sandwich and sat with him for a little while. Unfortunately for him I decided to keep him, because Sandy said, "Hey, if you're not going to keep that dog, I'll take him." So he could have been Sandy's dog but he got stuck with me instead. So yeah, we were just rescuing dogs, hanging out, jumping buses.
Hawthorne James: You know, 16 hours a day we worked. Generally it was anywhere between 12 to 16 hours going up and down that freeway on the bus. If we had not liked each other, what a mess it would have been.
Sonia Jackson: You might think that you would not like one person or someone's giving other people a hard time, but everybody had fun. We just enjoyed being around each other.
Alan Ruck: There was no bullshit, you know? Generally, in a situation like that, somebody's gonna be a whiner or somebody's gonna feel like they're not getting what they deserve. We didn't have any of that shit. We were really lucky. I think when you get a bunch of people that are grateful to be doing what they love to do, then the whole process is exciting.
Simone Gad: We all got along very well. We were like a little family.
Loyda Ramos: It was like a little conglomerate of one of everything, one of every ethnicity.
Milton Quon: A lot of races and nationalities were represented. You might say I was representing the Asian race! I remember I would make sketches and come back and make xeroxes and give them to some of the actors the next day. Somewhere I have a sketchbook that I made along the way.
Julia Vera: Milton did a wonderful watercolor of me. It's great!
Daniel Villarreal: We had so much fun together being goofy and dancing, just taking pictures of each other and that kind of stuff. Being on the bus was kind of, like, you need to find things to do.
Alan Ruck: We did silly things. I remember — Simone Gad speaks French. Daniel was supposed to pull a pistol and say, "Stop the bus! Stop the bus!" And so I said, "Okay, here's the trailer in French." And we had him just mouth his lines, and then we had Simone in all the French, you know? Just silly stuff like that.
Loyda Ramos: We were isolated a lot so we just had to amuse ourselves. I knew a lot of the people on the bus because, like, as Latinos, everybody knows each other. I know Carlos. I know Daniel. I know Julia. And Sandy is interesting because I say she has a Latina heart, because she loves dancing salsa and she had a lot of rhythm for a white girl and a lot of flavor!
Carmen Williams: We’d be waiting in between scenes and Sandy would be out there with us dancing and showing us some salsa moves. Marylou and Sherri and myself grew very close. We always got together and we'd just talk about our lives and situations as young people in our twenties. We made a calendar. I wish I could find my calendar. We all had a month based on our birthday, every lady that was on the bus, including Sandy.
Marylou Lim: Carlos was one of those actors, like, he was a theater actor, and he was always 'emoting' and he was like, "I'm a theater actor!" And we were like, "Oh, yeah. Shut up, Carlos." So one day we put a sign on his back that said, "Sorry. I'm busy emoting," and everyone took pictures of it on his back.
Hawthorne James: I never actually drove the bus but we'd be playing tricks on people. One time at the bus stop when we were shooting out in Santa Monica when Sandra first got on the bus, I was sitting in the driver's seat and a cop was standing on the sidewalk. All of a sudden, the bus was still moving, and I just got up, turned around and stopped paying attention. The cop didn't know I wasn't driving the bus and he panicked. "What's going on?!" We would do stuff like that.
Carmen Williams: This one guy who wasn't on the bus, Joe Morton — back then I was in my early twenties and I would look at him every day when we were working on that movie and say to myself, "Oh, this is the sexiest man!" He's basically 22 years older than me but it was just such a pleasure to see his face every day.
Marylou Lim: The funny thing is through the years I've actually worked with a few of the actors from "Speed." I worked with Beth Grant once and Carlos had a bit part in a movie I did. I worked with one of the prop masters on "Blades of Glory." She was like, "Oh my God! I remember you!" David MacMillan, he was a sound engineer. I worked with him on "Bewitched." It's a small industry and you bump into people.
Carlos Carrasco: I did a film about three years ago with Melissa Leo called "The Space Between," and she's got this kid and she's got to get him cross-country, so it turns into trains and planes and buses. At a certain point, she's on a Greyhound bus or something, and guess who's the bus driver? Me. And David was an extra there and it's like, "Hey, Carlos, remember me? Look, we're on a bus again!"
Loretta Jean Crudup: I see all these actors on TV but to partake, to actually be there touching, hugging, kissing them, "Hi Loretta Jean! Hi Keanu! Hi Sandra!" It was outstanding. I really couldn't even tell you now, the inward feeling. It was dynamic to know, "Hey, I'm part of the industry now! They know my name. They know all of us."
Loyda Ramos: The greatest takeaway I saw in making that film was the emerging stardom of Sandra Bullock. We kind of felt it.
Beth Grant: Early on, we didn't know who the lead was gonna be. We had the reading at Fox and we're sitting there waiting to see who it was. She and I actually went to the same college and they were very proud of her and they had given her an outstanding alumni award, and when the alumni magazine came out, she was on the cover. And I was jealous of her! I had never met her, mind you. But I was like, "They're giving her all this attention! What about me? I've been around! I was in 'Rain Man!'" You know. And she walked in and I said, "Oh my God. It's that girl that I'm jealous of!" Then she turned her head and she looked at me and this big smile broke out and I fell in love.
Loyda Ramos: Everybody liked her. And I wanted to not like her, because, just being a bitchy female at the time, I remember she had a role in this film that I wanted, "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway," where she got cast as a Latina. And I was pissed because I was like, "She's not Latina!" I wanted to not like her because of that, and despite that, I couldn't help myself. I just thought she was adorable.
Natsuko Ohama: On the bus, she was probably the center of it, keeping everybody in good spirits and joking.
Hawthorne James: That movie with Stallone and Wesley Snipes, "Demolition Man," came out the weekend we were working and I told Sandra, "Your life is now going to change. You can't do a movie with Stallone and not have your life change." Little did I know it wasn't that movie, it was the one we were shooting that would forever change her life.
Beth Grant: Hawthorne and I, we were, you know, old, seasoned character actors. I remember once we were somewhere in South Central and Sandra was out on the street giving candy to the local kids. They had some music on and she's dancing with them. We're looking at her and Hawthorne said, "She has no idea what's getting ready to happen." She just had the light. You come across it every once in a while. Brad Pitt, I was in one of his first movies, called "The Image," with Albert Finney. There are just certain people that you come across that just have the light. It's a job, and it's a hard job. It's not what people think it is. It's not, like, "Oh, you get discovered" and la dee da. It is a huge job. You've got to run a corporation. You've got to build a company. You've got to have all these people working for you. You've got to choose material. There just are not a lot of people who can do it and sustain it. But we just knew she had the chops for it.
Loretta Jean Crudup: She just made us all welcome. She don't care who you are. She don't care what you look like, how big you are, how short you are. She's crazy! She's so much fun. She'd make you laugh and everybody loved her and respected her. She made us all feel that we were even with her. She's Sandy.
Alan Ruck: I came back from lunch one day and I open the door to my trailer — the trailers were honey wagon trailers, which is just a toilet in a closet and a couch to lay on, which is all you need — and I see that there's a pile of dog shit on my floor. I was like, "Who let a fucking dog in my trailer?" Then I see it's actually not dog shit but it's two bananas, one that's been left whole and one that's been cut into three pieces and has been sprayed with some sort of paint and has little things stuck in it, like little twigs and stuff to give it texture. I turn around and Sandy is wetting her pants with laughter. So I was like, "All right." The next day I came in with a hot glue gun and while she was at work, I went into her trailer and I glued down everything. I glued her boots to the floor. I glued her toothbrush to the counter. I glued her brassiere to the doorknob where she left it.
Marylou Lim: When we wrapped, she was very sweet and gave everyone memorable gifts that involved something within the movie. Like for mine she gave me a sterling necklace with a bus charm on it. She gave Loretta Jean, who had a prop during the whole movie — the teddy bear? She got that same teddy bear and gave that to her. So she put a lot of thought into our wrap gifts. It was very unexpected and sweet.
Hawthorne James: I don't care about a lot of people, their careers and all that stuff. But her, because she is such a beautiful person, I'm so glad that she is where she is now. I haven't seen her since back then, but every interview I see, every time I look at her, every time I see her on television or whatever it may be, she hasn't changed. She's still that nice, beautiful person, inside and out.
Beth Grant: We supporting actors work with all the stars and it makes all the difference in the world who your lead is and what kind of person they are, and if they are, in the true sense, a leader, and if they bring that light and joy that she always brings to everything that she does.
Carlos Carrasco: I've said it before and I'll say it again. Both of them, great people. I love them both. But they're completely different. Keanu is very private, very withdrawn. I decided he's just very shy. And Sandy is Sandy Bullock, you know? She's Miss Bubbly, Miss Cheerleader, Miss Funny, Miss Let's-Play-Games, let's throw spitballs at each other. And that went a long, long, long way keeping things loose and happy on the bus.
Carmen Williams: Keanu was serious. He was an intense actor. We would just see him in between breaks going over his lines, looking intense. But very nice. I mean he didn’t say much. He didn't, like, blend in, you know what I mean? I didn’t see him socializing much, but he was a nice guy.
Sonia Jackson: He was reserved. It wasn't like he was trying to be away from us or anything like that, but he was very shy and very quiet. After a while he loosened up and he would talk and hang out.
Carlos Carrasco: We did this thing where we got him arm wrestling, you know, where you stand with the foot and you arm wrestle each other off balance. And he was game and he would do it.
Beth Grant: This was a big deal for him. He hadn't done anything like this before. And he was all buffed up and eating brown rice, really taking care of himself. I remember the day that we had costume fittings, I came out of the room and he was sitting there and I said, "I think it's so great that you're doing this." And I remember he was like, "We'll see." But he really prepared for this role. What he does, he does so well. And he's so good at silences.
Natsuko Ohama: He's an unusual person. He's not a traditionally social person, like, "Hello, how are you? I'm fine." He's not that kind of person. He's happy and he's charming and he's unique, but it's not like, "Oh, I saw you five years ago and how is this?" He doesn't do it like that; he's just kind of there.
Loyda Ramos: I know there was a lot of concern about the fact that they didn't feel there was any chemistry with Keanu and Sandy at the beginning. I remember them trying to push Sandy to get Keanu to loosen up. They had a little tiff and I know it got remedied and he sent her a big bouquet of flowers. I think she was trying to do what she was asked, which was flirt with him and just get him to chill, and he was taking it as a come-on. So he was just saying, in the nicest way possible, "I'm not really interested." And then she was like, "Well, fuck you!" And he was like, "No, wait, wait," it was that kind of thing. And then he sent her flowers and all was forgiven. But I felt bad for her because she was in a bad spot; she wanted this film to work and she was getting nothing from him. So yeah, to me, she saves the film. He looks good but she saves it.
Carlos Carrasco: Keanu was an apprentice at Shakespeare & Company and he had a lot of aspirations of doing the classics and everything. In fact, I remember the whole time we were doing "Speed" he had a rumpled copy of "Hamlet" in his back pocket because he was working on it and studying it. Indeed, a few months after we wrapped he went up to Toronto to do his "Hamlet." So he had a special connection with Natsuko and it was kind of funny that, here we are on this bus and he's the star of this movie and one of his Shakespeare instructors is on the bus in a supporting role.
Natsuko Ohama: I don't think people know this too much about him, but Keanu is a big fan of Shakespeare and he knows a great deal of text, which is unusual. He's fantastic at comedy and he became an action guy, but not really known for his language skills, which he had to kind of work on. He came to study at Shakespeare & Company and do some exploration and things like that, but he went off to become a big movie star, so he didn't get to put in a lot of time on that. But he had a great, beautiful presence. He was very in-the-moment and spontaneous. The instrument of his voice is what I would have worked on longer if we had the time to get more flexibility and range in there, because it's not the kind of thing that he's asked to use a lot, or he wasn't at that time. That takes 20 years of work, really, to get a voice that's going to pick up all those thoughts and nuances.
Hawthorne James: You know, people that talk negative about Keanu — he's just a really nice guy. He's not touchy-feely. He's not the guy that's going to be the leader of all the conversations. When we would be having conversations about things, he would stand and listen. He didn't contribute a lot because he was just listening. He's not going to be the guy that's going, "Let's do this, gang!" That's not him. He's a very smart, intelligent, willing-to-learn guy.
Carlos Carrasco: It became clear early on as the dailies started to arrive and so forth and so on: suddenly there were suits on the set all the time. Every now and then you're on a project where, even during production, there's a certain kind of buzz that starts to happen and you start to feel like, "Wait a minute. We got something here."
Alan Ruck: Before I even saw it, Jan's assistant, Glenn Salloum, called up and said, "Alan, you won't believe this thing. It is testing through the roof." I remember I was a little dubious about the posters because they had this "Rush Hour" thing and a big picture of Keanu and an exploding bus in the background. But I'm not the best judge of these things.
Loyda Ramos: I have to be honest: I totally thought this film was going to tank. I did it like a throwaway job. Like, "It's cool. It's a paycheck. But this premise is ridiculous." I did not think it was going to fly at all. When it was the breakaway summer hit, I nearly shit. I was like, "You are kidding me."
Hawthorne James: At the premiere, I just sat back and watched that movie and said, "That's what we were doing? What a great movie I was a part of!"
Simone Gad: I really loved it. I thought it was really creative. And Jan did bring a European sensibility to it. It set a precedent.
Natsuko Ohama: It's a surprisingly great movie. When I first got the script I thought, "This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of." When I saw it I was really amazed. I mean, Jan is a terrific director. He put that together just brilliantly.
Carmen Williams: I've watched that movie over and over again with family members, with friends. I didn’t just watch it because I was in it. Everything about "Speed" — the action, the cast, everything — was just on point. It’s just one of those movies where it captures your interest from the first 10 minutes.
Sonia Jackson: I had the same reaction everybody in the audience did. One of my friends said, "You know, I only went to see it because you were in it. But I got so caught up. I was just so on that ride with everybody. Before I got in my car, I had to walk around the block to walk off the energy." It's one of those things that, every time I see it, it's just the same amount of fun.
Daniel Villarreal: And it's not just one adventure. It's, like, three adventures. You've got the elevator, you've got the ride and you've got the subway.
Beth Grant: Before we even got on the bus I was like, "Oh my God." I thought that elevator sequence was beyond brilliant. I said, "How are we gonna top this?" And then, to be honest, as I watched it, I was so glad I died. Get that whiner off that bus! It always tickles me because I get recognized a lot for it, of course, and people always say, "Poor Helen." And I think, "Poor Helen?" All I could think was, "Get her off of that bus!"
Carlos Carrasco: What the rewrite did, which was probably revolutionary, is there was no exposition. I mean, in traditional writing or dramatic arc in a classical sense, you have your beginning, you have your incident, you have your exposition, you introduce your characters, you have your rising action, etc., etc. And "Speed," structurally, they cut out the first act. The movie starts in the middle of the second act. All of the "rules" kind of just got violated. It makes for a jolt of adrenaline and a very exciting experience cinematically, just on a visceral level. But then when you walk away and you think, like, who changed? Apart from living and dying, you know, what was the lesson learned There's none of that.
Daniel Villarreal: Little old ladies would recognize me. That's never happened to me before. I usually play the bad guy in, like, tough movies or whatever. They're not "little old lady" kind of movies, but because of "Speed," they'd say, "Oh, we saw it. It was great!" It was just a big surprise, not so much that I didn't think it was going to be any good, but that it was that good. It was great to see how popular it became. And it kept climbing. I've never been in a movie that made, like, a hundred million dollars, where people watch it five or 10 times.
David Kriegel: My kids have watched it now because they don't believe I ever did that stuff. For some reason, it touched a nerve. They did something with that movie. It's a bit iconic. And listen, when I stand up on that bus and go, "If you got a family and I don't," that's just stupid. But for some reason it works and people remember it. I think they found a way to cut to the shortest, almost sound bites of these stereotypes of humanity so that everyone can sort of be like, "Oh, I get that." And they moved on and you ate another handful of popcorn and a bus jumped across an opening in a freeway and a bad guy tried to blow us up and Keanu went on a skateboard at 80 miles an hour. What's not fun about that?
Beth Grant: There are certain films that are just, you know, "What should we watch tonight? Oh, let's watch 'Speed' again." It's one of those. People know every frame, and much better than I do, actually!
Carlos Carrasco: "Speed" clearly has become a film that's going to be around for a long time. I think one of the things that actors always think about, whether they admit to it or not, is there's a kind of immortality in film. And especially if you make it into a classic film that folks will be looking at years and years and years from now and go, "Oh, look, here's that guy. I don't know who he is but I've seen him in a couple of things." So there's a reward and satisfaction in that.
Loyda Ramos: It illuminated to me how in this industry, you really cannot tell. I've been in films we thought were going to be blockbusters. When we did "Three Amigos," I thought that was going to be the runaway hit that year and it really didn't do well at all in the theaters. It became a cult classic in video but not on the first showing. It was a lesson learned, definitely. I still am not sure what the formula was. Sometimes it's just a happy accident.
Alan Ruck: Decades ago, old Darryl Zanuck from 20th Century Fox said, "The movie business is not a slide rule business." It's nothing you can compute. For all the statistics and the demographics and all the things that the studios and the networks and everybody relies on, the truth is you never know. Because you can have the right script and the right director and the right star and people will just stay away in droves. There's no way to figure it out. Nobody expected that much of this thing and it just caught on fire.
Loretta Jean Crudup: It comes on all the time after 20 years. I couldn't even tell you — I'm almost in tears now — to know that was my first movie. It was hundreds of thousands of people all over that was going to see me, not knowing who I was. For 20 years, going to see me, an unknown, at 59 years of age. Little old me! I'm "Mother Crudup" in church and my kids say, "Mother Crudup, I saw you on TV last night!" This is what it's all about. It doesn't make me big, but I'm still being seen doing the job I love. And I'm still Loretta Jean. I'm still Mother Crudup.
David Kriegel: If you had asked me about "Speed" 20 years ago, I don't know that I would've had the same answers. But a little hindsight and a little age on me and I see it for what it is, which is just a fortunate experience. Actors spend their entire lives waiting to have opportunities like that. So I'm pretty grateful that I got to do it and pretty proud that I was a part of something like that. Now I'm proud that I'm raising four good kids and married 20-plus years and having a pretty great life.
*Thank you to Marylou Lim and Milton Quon for the use of their behind-the-scenes photographs and to Milton Quon for the use of his sketches made on the set of "Speed."