Riding The Waves
by Stephen Schaefer
"Don’t get downwind of Keanu."
That was the buzz as Keanu Reeves prepared to do an afternoon of interviews with the nation’s entertainment press for Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the sequel to the sleeper hit, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
And as Bill or Ted might say, it wasn’t bogus or egregious information.
Two weeks earlier, the busy Reeves had been in this same Santa Monica hotel to publicize Point Break, his surfer saga, which opened Friday. Then he was unshaven and disheveled - but clean.
In the interim, apparently he hadn’t found the time to shave, bathe or shampoo his hair.
In fact, the normally sweet-dispositioned Reeves had thrown a Ted doll at a TV interviewer earlier when she held it up and asked what he thought of all the Bill and Ted merchandising.
(Apparently, he doesn’t like it much.)
As he sits down, wearing several layers of clothing in the tropical California heat, Reeves, 26, is focused, conversational - and smelly.
Bill and Ted have changed, he notes, and playing them changed him.
The ignorant-but-not-stupid history students of the original are "not 21. They’ve moved out of their parents’ house and are responsible for eating and shelter - pretzels and cheese mostly - and they’re broke."
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was filmed in 1986 but not released for three years, when it became a sleeper smash.
The sequel didn’t take quite as long - but it wasn’t easy.
"It took months trying to work out what the story was going to be," says Reeves. Both he and Alex Winter, who plays Bill, were free agents because the original studio went bankrupt.
"I love Ted, I love playing Ted," says Reeves. "When I played Ted, it changed my life," he says, totally, awesomely bodacious. "It’s his openness and his thinking, what he does. They’re really free and alive, with a lot of mirth, innocence and practical jokes."
Both actors became protective of the characters. When they did the voices of Bill and Ted for a Saturday morning cartoon series, the performers had input.
"The first year, they allowed us to change things because," Reeves points out, "it’s not that they say ‘excellent’ - it’s how they say it."
Reeves and Winter also agreed only to commit to a sequel if they were happy: "We didn’t want to just regurgitate the first one."
Bogus Journey takes Bill and Ted not through history, but, courtesy of a future evil tyrant, into the land of the Dead, in the company of a very amusing Grim Reaper (William Sadler, the psycho soldier/terrorist in Die Hard 2).
"It’s more than just time travel, it’s an odyssey," says Reeves.
The first one was the experience of having a best friend, says Reeves.
"We were together for three months, every day for 15 hours. You change and start to sound like Bill and Ted. I wanted to live like that."
"For me, it’s weird because I know these are silly lines, but I have to take it seriously, it’s like Shakespeare. Otherwise, they didn’t communicate."
In Point Break, Reeves plays Johnny Utah, a college football star-turned-FBI agent.
"As a quarterback, you have to motivate people - Johnny was the focal point of the team," he says. "The theory in football is to do everything to win. Unfortunately, (because of a knee injury), he can’t play football, so he lies to a fellow human."
Reeves went to the Los Angeles Police Department’s shooting range, learned basic police techniques and the use of firearms. ("I like a .45 personally," he says.)
Born in Beirut (where his mother was traveling) but raised by his single mother in Toronto, Reeves has worked steadily in the past five years.
Acclaimed as a troubled teen in River's Edge and Permanent Record, he learned fencing to play the 17th-century tragedy of Dangerous Liaisons.
He was funny and touching in Parenthood, funny and goofy in I Love You To Death and funny and romantic in Tune In Tomorrow.
"I don’t want to be pigeon-holed," he explains of his acting choices. "For me, that’s death."
Maybe the reason the summer’s busiest actor hasn’t shaved or washed in weeks is that he’s still in character for his latest movies, My Own Private Idaho, which opens in September.
Directed and written by Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy) with a title from a B-52’s lyric, Idaho teams Reeves with River Phoenix as a pair of Seattle street hustlers, male prostitutes.
"I play a character based on Prince Hal from Henry IV, the mayor’s son. He’s the prince of street hustlers."
And undoubtedly an excellent (if unwashed) fellow.