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 Camilleri!


Bill & Ted’s Excellent Online Adventure: How did you first become interested in acting?

Terry 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 am.

B&TEOA: Were any other members of your family also in the profession?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: Did you study acting during or after school?  If so, at which institutions?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: Your first television and movie credits (on IMDb, at least) are both from 1974.  Had you been doing theater prior to acting on screen?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: You worked with noted Australian director Peter Weir on The Cars That Ate Paris.  How did that come about?

Terry: 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.

 

B&TEOA: You had a major role in that film.  How do you feel about the film today?  Was it an enjoyable experience during filming?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: 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?

Terry: 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 of 74, Number 96 and Lucky Colour Blue and TV shows like The Immigrants, Over There and others that kicked it along.

B&TEOA: Was there a specific point in time when you began doing more American films and television?  And how did that come about?

Terry: In 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.

B&TEOA: How were you cast in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure?

Terry: My 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 part.

B&TEOA: Did you have to learn French to play the role or did you get the role because you already knew how to speak French?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: Did you study Napoleonic history in preparation for the role?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: Are there any interesting or funny anecdotes you can share from the filming of the movie?

Terry: Now this is lame of me I know, but there are none that I can remember.

B&TEOA: What was it like working with Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: Did you remain friends with any of the cast members?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: Okay, be honest . . was shooting the water slides scene enjoyable or grueling?  And have you been on a water slide since?

Terry: It 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.

B&TEOA: What was your favorite scene of the movie to film?

Terry: I know, you're thinking the ice-cream scene but I'd have to say the Bowling ally scene.  I actually swore in French.

B&TEOA: Were you surprised when the movie become such a success?

Terry: We 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.

B&TEOA: Do you prefer to perform comedy or drama (or is there really any difference between the two when it comes to acting?)

Terry: I don't have a preference.  If the writing is good and I can immerse myself in the material there's no difference.

B&TEOA: 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 why?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: 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?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: Your role in The Truman Show was touching and memorable!  Were all your scenes in the tub shot in just one day?

Terry: Yes they were.  And the water was heated.

 

B&TEOA: 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?

Terry: 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."  I also like to see what the younger generation is doing and how they are approaching new work.

It's also 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.

B&TEOA: 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 be told.

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: How many characters do you play?

Terry: I 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.

B&TEOA: It's coming back I hear?

Terry: 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.

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later - Red Stitch Actors Theatre
 

B&TEOA: Looking back from now, which of your many roles (stage, television or film) are you most proud of?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: 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?

Terry: 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.

B&TEOA: 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 Napoleon?

Terry: MOST DEFINITELY.  Without a second thought.

B&TEOA: Is there anything you would like to do which you haven’t had the chance to do yet?

Terry: I'd like to play Picasso.

B&TEOA: Tell us something about Terry Camilleri which might surprise us.

Terry: I'd like to direct.

B&TEOA: Do you have any upcoming projects we should know about?

Terry: I 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 year.

 


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 Channel!  Not bad!!!

Thanks again, Terry, for taking the time to answer our many questions!!  Party On!