Having A Devil of A Time
by John Sakamoto
HOLLYWOOD - In Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, our lovably dim-witted heroes: duke it out with Evil Bill and Ted, stumble into Hell, encounter the Grim Reaper (and challenge him to a game of Twister), have a meeting with the Almighty (at which they tell Him, "We enjoy your planet on a daily basis"), and live most excellently ever after.
So, what else is new?
"In a way I think they're really more pathetic now than they were in the last one," says Alex Winter, looking conspicuously Bill-like in a Butthole Surfers T-shirt, but sounding most un-Bill-like in the thoughtful way he handles an endless stream of questions.
"I mean, in the first one, at least they had the excuse of living at home, being at high school, and fitting into some kind of social structure. But now when we find them, they're holding down part-time jobs at Pretzels And Cheese, selling blood, trying to get this band together that's completely hopeless, and trying to hold down an apartment. They have more adult responsibilities, which I think makes them more pathetic. I also think it makes them funnier."
Winter- who is writing, producing, directing, and starring in a series on MTV, and is about to debut as a feature-film director on Freekz, from a screenplay he co-wrote - is obviously nothing like Bill, yet he understands him completely.
"There's something irresistible about a character that is faced with such overwhelming odds, and still comes back up," says Winter. "It's like the whole Buggs Bunny appeal, really.
"Everyone can relate to people who are reaching really hard for a dream that is, like hundreds of miles out of their .reach."
Despite the surprise success of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, both Winter and Keanu ('Ted') Reeves were reluctant to make a sequel.
"It definitely had to be a story worth telling," says Reeves, looking, shall we say, aggressively rumpled. "But I enjoy playing the part and I really like working with Alex - I think he's a brilliant guy - so we just had to come up with a story."
And get into an appropriately goofy frame of mind.
"Well, It's like when you haven't seen your friend for a long time and you do things to get to know each other again," says Reeves. "We didn't have a lot of official rehearsal time, so we'd get together, - generally after we ate and had a couple of drinks - and go outside and start rapping about Bill and Ted. I remember twice, for like three hours, we were in parking lots just rapping, rapping, rapping.
What kinds of things did they rap about?
"Bill and Ted get a lot of grief from their parents - you know 'You're not going to succeed' - so they bounce against that. They just say, 'No; no, no, I'm not going to sell my instruments. I'll sell my blood first.'
"So you can take that as a cool kind of thing, not just questioning authority, but if you've got something you feel is valid then go for it, I guess.
"Bill and Ted are very non-judgemental, which I think is really cool. That's why I did 'Be excellent to each other.' That's beautiful."
While the writers and producers all cite the old cliché about not repeating themselves, Bogus Journey's biggest wrinkle is the introduction of what amounts to a "third Stooge": the Grim Reaper, played with scene-stealing relish by movie villain William Sadler.
"The Reaper started out having one scene, but I would get into makeup and the scene would be rolling along and things would keep coming out of my mouth," says Sadler, best known to movie-goers as the bad guy in Die Hard 2.
Take what Sadler calls "the scythe thing."
"Yeah, the scythe thing. That's where the Grim Reaper goes into a Builder's Emporium with his scythe and is thinking about buying a weed whacker instead.
"Before we started shooting, I knew we were going to end up in a Builder's Emporium, so I went to one near where I live, and walked up and down the aisles picking things up, and just turned on my funnybone. What if somebody had never seen, say, a Dustbuster? Couldn't they get their tongue caught in it?
"I just have a twisted sense of humor."
No doubt that explains why Death, as played by Sadler, speaks with a Czech accent.
"Well, he had to be from somewhere," says Sadler, smiling mischievously. "And I didn't want to make him from Jersey."
Sadler is from Buffalo, and has always a bad a taste for comedy. In fact he worked the stand-up circuit while still in his teens.
"Yeah, I played the banjo and told jokes. I was 'Banjo Bill Sadler from Buffalo.'
"I gave it up, though, One night I was playing to a packed house at the Park Lane Hotel in Buffalo, and it was going great. I got to the part of my act that was all doctor jokes. You know, derogatory -remarks about how they bury their mistakes, that sort of thing. And nothing. One joke after another was dying, and I mean big-time death, I can hear forks moving," He pauses to exercise a highly polished sense of timing. "Turns out I was addressing a doctors' convention.
"After that, whenever I felt sick, I made it a point to go to Philly."
All kidding aside - which, in Sadler's case, is virtually impossible - he's thrilled with the chance to break out of his villainous typecasting.
"I am shying away from the mass-murderer type." What, by playing the Grim Reaper?
"Hey, it seemed like a good choice to me," he says cracking up. "I mean, look it this way. The first movie I did was Project X. I killed a few chimps, right? Big deal. In Hard To Kill (with Steven Seagal), what, maybe five, six people bought it in that one? Then Die Hard 2 - 200? 300? Now we're cookin'. So, how do you top that? The Grim Reaper! He's killed everyone who ever died. I rest my case."
Meanwhile, everyone involved in Bogus Journey lapses, into the usual hemming, and hawing when talk turns to the possibility of a third excellent adventure.
Now that Bill and Ted have met God, the Devil, and the Grim Reaper (not to mention. the guitarist from Faith No More), what's left for Bill And Ted 3?
"Well." says Winter, "middle-aged Bill and Ted would be really funny. In fact there's a scene in Bogus Journey that got cut out. It's set in Hell. We're middle-aged, pot-bellied men, we walk into a Holiday Inn bar - and we play Memories on the piano really badly.
"I think that's a funny take on the characters. If we do a third one, it would have to be completely preposterous."