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Three key castmembers of the iconic 1979 film classic Breaking Away are coming together for a rare reunion this Thursday, Sept 17. The event will take place as part of an awards ceremony at Interbike, the bike industry’s largest trade show in North America, held every September in Las Vegas. The star participants are Dennis Christopher, who played Dave, the working class, opera-loving cyclist at the center of the film; as well as Dennis Quaid and Jackie Earle Haley, who play his townie friends Mike and Moocher.
The idea for the reunion can be traced back to Jay Wolff, the longtime owner of the high-end bicycle-shop chain Helen’s Bikes, which has six locations around Los Angeles including a flagship store in Santa Monica and the I. Martin shop in Beverly Grove. Wolff, who has been involved with Helen’s since 1987, is a man who has helped lots of Hollywood heavyweights — including Quaid and Harrison Ford — get deep into cycling.
So when the organizers of Interbike asked Wolff if he had any ideas about how to bring “more juice” to their trade show, he brought the idea of the get-together to Quaid during a round of golf. “Dennis just said ‘Let’s make it happen,’ and then he just started making calls,” recalls Wolff.
Before long, Christopher and Haley were on board. Two other key castmembers — Daniel Stern and Paul Dooley — originally were hoping to join the reunion. But Stern, who played Dave’s friend Cyril, couldn’t pull it off because his daughter is home from medical school, while Dooley, who played Dave’s father, is busy this week with a gig in an indie film called River Bend.
Dennis Christopher on his bike.
Breaking Away debuted in 1979 and was a hit with audiences, critics and especially cyclists. The movie wound up winning one Academy Award (for best original screenplay), netting four other Oscar nominations (including best picture) and winning the Golden Globe for best picture. But even with box office success and critical plaudits, no one could have predicted how the film would become an icon to a generation of cycling enthusiasts.
“It just seemed to hit the world at just the right time,” recalls Christopher. “It was a terrific script, and bicycles were just about to happen in this country — there was just no stopping it. This movie was in the vanguard.”
“It was sort of the first ‘youth movie’ when it came out at the end of the ‘70s,” Quaid tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s written by an Yugoslavian immigrant [Steve Tesich, who went to Indiana University, where the film is set] and directed by an Englishman, and it’s about America. The movie has this charm to it that still resonates.”
Pat Hus, vice president of Interbike, agrees. “There are so many people in our industry that have matured along with that movie,” he says. “It was the first dedicated cycling movie that most of us ever saw.”
Hus shared with THR some details of how the event would transpire on Thursday evening. The cast members will be brought to the stage after the audience watches a short compilation of highlights from the film, and given cycling jerseys (made by the apparel company Champion Systems) that are replicas of the Cutters t-shirts that the stars wore during the film’s climactic race scene. Then, Christopher, Quaid and Haley will give out two awards — for the top international cyclist of the year, male and female — and pose for some pictures with a replica of the bike used in the film that is being loaned by Masi Bicycles, a southern California brand with Italian roots. “It’s really, really close,” notes Hus.
Curiously, one of the Masi bikes used in Breaking Away, is hanging in Christopher’s Los Angeles home. “There were three of them in the movie — one of them was a stunt bike that we pretty much wrecked up,” he says. “I don’t know what happened to the second one. But I’ve got the one that I actually rode in the movie. I used it as a street bike for a while, but that felt like sacrilege, so I had it restored to race condition. I have it hanging up on the wall in my hallway.”
While neither Christopher nor Quaid were big cyclists at the time Breaking Away was in theaters, both came to love riding bikes. Christopher especially likes to ride in New York City, where he spends much of his time these days. And Quaid, who now owns multiple race bikes made by Italy’s storied Pinarello brand, often rides 100 miles a week, mentioning that he has toured in Tuscany and brought a bike to a recent shoot in Canada. “I started riding with my wife because running just got to be too hard on my joints,” says Quaid. “I feel like I’m 12 years old every time I get on my bike.”
Both men say they’re excited to check out the newest bike gear at Interbike (where Hus says Barry Bonds, Pink and Lindsay Wagner have been spotted wandering the aisles in recent years). Hus also says he’s confidant the awards gala — which begins with a cocktail party at 6:30 pm at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center — will sell out. Christopher, who says that he expects the reunion to play out “like a less-than-rowdy rock and roll concert,” says he’s coming a day early to “walk the floor” and “bask in the cycle sunshine in Vegas.”
Now that he’s become a serious cyclist himself, Quaid also is excited to visit the show. “It was only after becoming a cyclist that I’ve come to realize just how much it’s affected people’s lives,” he says. “I mean, people actually started cycling because of that movie.”
But the impact of the film for Quaid himself was life-changing. “After that movie, I didn’t have to go on auditions anymore,” he laughs.
“I’ve never been involved in a another project that has brought so much good will into my life,” says Christopher. “People are not over Breaking Away; they’re passing it from generation to generation.”