We were absolutely thrilled to hear
from actor Terry Camilleri, who played Napoleon with such aplomb in Excellent
Adventure, while he was in Los Angeles recently. Despite his busy work
schedule, he graciously agreed to undertake one of our Q&A interviews and
exceeded all expectations with both detailed and insightful answers, affording
us a fascinating look into his life as an actor. So with great pride we
present our exclusive Q&A interview with the one, the only, Terry
Ted’s Excellent Online Adventure: How did you first become
interested in acting?
Camilleri: From around the age of eight my father would take
my older brother and my younger sister and I to the drive-in every
Friday night. It was the highlight of my week. Every
week a different movie. After a time I noticed that the
actors I'd seen in one film would pop up in others playing
completely different characters. I loved the idea of that
and I turned to my Dad and said "That's what I want to be
when I grow up." He laughed and said "What, in the
movies?" And I said yes, he asked why and I said that
up there you're allowed to be anyone you want. And here I
Were any other members of your family also in the profession?
No, my Dad was a brick layer, he built houses and my mother worked
in a paint factory. My brother and sister owned a pub.
I was the only crazy one. I took a while for my parents to
come around to it. They still ask me when am I going to get
a real job.
Did you study acting during or after school? If so, at which
Not during my school years. I did start piano lessons
though, but my Dad put a stop to that after I got caught wagging
school (playing hooky) for 5 days straight. At the start of
my teens I did teach myself to play guitar and kept it up until my
early twenties. By then I'd played with two rock bands.
I was 21 when I
first studied acting at the St. Martins School of Acting in
Melbourne and at the same time I was performing in musicals in
amateur theatre companies and because most of the parts I was
playing required dance I studied dance as well. I then
studied acting with Bryan Syron who was teaching the Stella Adler
Technique and later with Stella Adler herself. I've also
studied with other teachers in Los Angeles since then. But I
think the greatest teaching comes from doing it, from working.
Your first television and movie credits (on IMDb, at least) are
both from 1974. Had you been doing theater prior to acting
Yes. I started acting in 1969. Starting in amateur
theatre doing musicals such as Where's Charlie, Desert Song,
Half a Sixpence, Hello Dolly, West Side Story and
others. My first professional show was Peter Pan at
the Monash Theatre in Melbourne, then I went on tour with Disney
On Parade. We toured Australia and New Zealand for ten
months. After that I went to live in Sydney and that's when
my TV and Film career started.
You worked with noted Australian director Peter Weir on The
Cars That Ate Paris. How did that come about?
While I was living in Sydney I auditioned for a TV movie called Drugs
and the Law, at what was then The Australian Commonwealth Film
Unit for director Keith Gow. When I went in they were
writing a scene which he was going to shoot for my screen test.
Screen tests then were shot on 16mm film. Keith asked if I
want to learn the scene or improvise it. I decided to
improvise it. So we did it and I left. At that time
Peter Weir was working there as well and Keith asked him to take a
look at my test. Apparently he liked it because Peter called
me in for a meeting. He was preparing to cast a vampire film
that he had written about a pop singer being turned by a
vampire. The pop singer was going to be played by Johnny
Farnham, a hot new singer at the time and Olivia Newton-John
playing the vampire and he was interested in me playing Johnny's
manager. I liked the idea and said yes. We shot Drugs
and the Law and about three months later at the screening
Keith told me that he didn't think Peter's vampire film was
happening. I hadn't heard from Peter so I assumed it
wasn't. I was approached at that time to join the Disney On
Parade company that was touring Europe, England and Brazil, so I
took it. Of course that's when Peter contacted me again and
so when I went in he told me the Vampire film wasn't happening but
he was writing another film called The Cars That Ate Paris
and he wanted me to play the lead. I thought, of course,
this would happen to me now, I'm going to have to say no because I
was committed to the European tour for ten months. Peter
said that they were planning to start shooting in nine months but
he would wait for me to finish with Disney and shoot it when I
returned. Now, I was blown away. We shook on it and I
left for Europe.
You had a major role in that film. How do you feel about the
film today? Was it an enjoyable experience during filming?
Yes it was. It was my first film and it was an honor to work
along side one of Australia's best actors, John Mellion and the
rest of the cast were all noted theatre actors. The cast was
great and very kind, but the crew made it really enjoyable and
easier for me. Johnny McLean, the DP stuck a Mickey Mouse
doll on the Panavision camera on the first shot and it lightened
everything up. I'm grateful to have done my first film with
Peter Weir, he is the gentlest and most patient director I have
had the honor to work with. I've been lucky enough to have
worked with him three times now. On Cars, an episode
of a BBC / ABC mini series called Luke's Kingdom and The
Truman Show. I saw Cars again last year and I can
now stand back and look at it more objectively. I find it
hard to watch my own work but it's a good film and Peter is one of
the best directors of our time.
You appeared in several Australian television series starting from
the late 1970's. What was your first television appearance and how
did it change / further your career?
Actually my first appearance in a TV series was in 1970, in an
episode of "Homicide" the first Police drama series on
Australian TV and I played a dead body in a river. The casting
director had noticed me in a film clip that was shot as part of a
musical revue called Push Off Noddy. I don't think it furthered my
career but it didn't hurt it. The Cars That Ate Paris was the film
that got my career really started and other films like Phillip
Noyce's Backroads and Bruce Beresford's Money Movers and around
that time there were a number of TV series that I did. Class
74, Number 96 and Lucky Colour Blue and TV shows like The
Immigrants, Over There and others that kicked it along.
Was there a specific point in time when you began doing more
American films and television? And how did that come about?
1981 I was living in London and I landed a role in Superman III
which took me to Calgary in Canada. After that finished I came
down to Los Angeles and stayed with an actor friend I had met in
London. He and two friends, a writer and a director were starting
a theatre company in downtown LA at the time, which became the
Wall & Boyd Theatre, and I became a part of it. I was noticed
by Phil Alden-Robinson in one of the plays we did and he asked if
I would come in and read for an episode of a TV show he was
directing called The George Burns Comedy Week. I did and that's
where it started. I did have the pleasure of working with Phil
again in his film In The Mood.
How were you cast in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure?
agent at the time submitted me for the part and I went in to the
casting office. It's funny looking back at it now. I was sitting
in the waiting room with about ten / fifteen Napoleon hopefuls and
there were some that looked like dead ringers. I really didn't
think I had much of a chance. Then it was my turn and I don't like
auditions. I go in and I'm introduced to the director
Stephen Herek. We sat and had a relaxed talk about some of the work I had done
and a bit about the role and the story of the film and then I
left. The following week my agent called me and told me I had the
Did you have to learn French to play the role or did you get the
role because you already knew how to speak French?
No. I didn't know how to speak French. I did take lessons back in
1975 when I played Jean-Claude, a French hitchhiker in Backroads
with Phillip Noyce. There was no real need to because the
historical figures in the film had little or no dialogue at all in
the script. The French dialogue I spoke came out of improvisations
from ideas I had which Stephen liked. So between scenes I was on
the phone with friends in Paris and friends in Montreal asking
them how to say the lines I was coming up with in French. Crazy,
but it was fun.
Did you study Napoleonic history in preparation for the role?
You know, In 1980 I was in New York for a month and I was lucky
enough to be given tickets to the opening night screening of Able
Gance's Napoleon with Carmen Cappola conducting a hundred piece
orchestra. It spanned his life and it was amazing. It felt a heavy
responsibility when I got the part so I did read quite a bit but
then when we were on the set I realized the he was a fish out of
water. He was innocent again, he wasn't being judged by anyone and
could now fully enjoy life possibly for the first time. It was a
relief not to have to torture myself with hours or research to be
true to his history.
Are there any interesting or funny anecdotes you can share from
the filming of the movie?
Now this is lame of me I know, but there are none that I can
What was it like working with Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves?
Great. It was very easy and we had a lot of laughs. There were
times when we would go into Keanu's trailer, take out the guitars and
jam. George Carlin and I would pretend to argue in different
characters between shots. It was fun as well as work.
Did you remain friends with any of the cast members?
It's not an easy thing to do you become this tight knit family and
then when it's over you're all off onto new projects, starting new
families. I kept in touch with George Carlin for a while but then
I was back and forth to Australia.
Okay, be honest . . was shooting the water slides scene enjoyable
or grueling? And have you been on a water slide since?
was very enjoyable, I could have kept going down those slides all
day. But alas no, I have not. Wait I lie, I have, I actually went
with a friend about five or six years later in Los Angeles and
again I had a blast.
What was your favorite scene of the movie to film?
know, you're thinking the ice-cream scene but I'd have to say the
Bowling ally scene. I actually swore in French.
Were you surprised when the movie become such a success?
thought we were making this little crazy film but there was a good
feeling right through the shoot, but no, we didn't expect the
success it had and is still having.
Do you prefer to perform comedy or drama (or is there really any
difference between the two when it comes to acting?)
don't have a preference. If the writing is good and I can immerse
myself in the material there's no difference.
You’re an extremely versatile actor who seems to be very
open-minded about exploring many different kinds of roles. But is
there any kind of role you simply wouldn’t do? If so, what and
Thank you. Mmm, that's a difficult question. It would depend on
what the film was saying and the quality of the script and of
course the people making it.
You had a recurring role for several episodes in the series Renegade.
What was it like working with an established cast as a
guest character in that capacity?
It's like starting up a new relationship with someone or a group
of people once you get to know each other (as characters as well
as people) it becomes easier, like being part of a family. We had
a fun time on Renegade.
Your role in The Truman Show was touching and memorable!
your scenes in the tub shot in just one day?
Yes they were. And the water was heated.
You’ve recently been making appearances in several short films.
How do you become involved in those projects and how do they
differ from working on a feature film?
I'm approached by the film maker through my agent and asked to
read the script if I like it and I can see the film maker knows
what he's doing I'll do it. As with the short film
"Fishy," the director was a professional and worked in
the commercial industry for a long time.
I have also given my time
to student film makers that have unusual ideas and an interesting
script as I did in a student film called "Sacrifice."
also like to see what the younger generation is doing and how they
are approaching new work.
important I think, to give something back and to give these young
directors the opportunity to work with experienced actors. And as
for how do they differ? Well, with a student you have to be
patient and be aware that they are learning. In some ways it's
harder and more frustrating because sometimes you see what can be
done and they may not. On a feature it's easier because you are
working with professionals, you go in, do the work and then go
home, hopefully satisfied with the work you've done.
Tell us something about your work on stage in The Laramie Project:
10 Years Later with the Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre. It sounds
like it was a very important revisiting of a story which needed to
Yes it was. It's what actually happened to a teenage boy that was
beaten to death by two other teenagers because he was gay and the
issues it brought up concerning the hate crime laws. It scared me
at the start because I hadn't done a play in six years and it's a
cast of nine playing multiple roles.
How many characters do you play?
play five and all the dialogue was the actual dialogue taken from
the people of Laramie by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater
Project. I felt quite a responsibility. But you know, fear can be
a good motivator. The cast and director worked very well together
and we came up with a production that was different and
successful. Red Stitch took a chance in letting the director stage
it differently from how it is usually staged, and it payed off.
It's coming back I hear?
Yes, It's going to a bigger mainstream theatre at The Arts Centre
in Melbourne in May. The Red Stitch Actors' Theatre is a well
respected theatre but a smaller theatre and a lot of people didn't
get to see it. Now they will.
Looking back from now, which of your many roles (stage, television
or film) are you most proud of?
Oh, it's hard to single one out really. Different roles stand out
for different reasons. I'm proud of my work in The Laramie
Project, in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and The Cars That
Ate Paris, and an 800 hundred year old character named History I
did for the World Cup Soccer in 2005. You know, I'm pretty much
proud of a lot of my work, accept for a few of course.
What do you feel is the state of the Australian film industry
today? Is it being given the recognition it deserves by the rest
of the world?
The 1970's and 80's was a great time in Australia for the film
industry. It brought to the world stage film makers like Peter
Weir, Bruce Beresford, Fred Schepisi, Phillip Noyce, Gillian
Armstrong and George Miller amongst others. And actors like Judy
Davis and Mel Gibson. It went into a downward spin for a while but
I think it's coming out of it now. In the past couple of years
we've turned out some good quality films. And I must say that
Jeffery Rush and Cate Blanchett have been a great influence in
making the industry legitimate in the eyes of Australians. Yes, it
is given the recognition it deserves, according to the quality of
films that come out of Australia.
If there was a call for Napoleon to make an appearance in the
proposed Bill & Ted 3 movie that Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson
have written, would you be willing to reprise your role as
MOST DEFINITELY. Without a second thought.
Is there anything you would like to do which you haven’t had the
chance to do yet?
I'd like to play Picasso.
Tell us something about Terry Camilleri which might surprise us.
I'd like to direct.
Do you have any upcoming projects we should know about?
go back to Australia mid April to start rehearsals for The Laramie
Project 10 Years Later which goes through May at the Fairfax
Theatre at the Arts Centre in Melbourne, and there's a film called
Redeemer which is planned to go up around October in New York and
Europe and there are two scripts I have to read for projects next
Babes and Dudes,
now you can totally follow Terry Camilleri's
career by joining his Official
Facebook Fan Page!
And you can also watch clips from many of his films and shows
by subscribing to his YouTube
Terry, for taking the time to answer our many questions!! Party On!