BILL, TED, KEANU AND ALEX: 4 DUDES IN SEARCH OF EACH OTHER
By Richard Schultz
Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter square off in the center of a cathedral-like photographer's studio on the outskirts of downtown LA. As streams of afternoon sun force their way in from the skylight and the insistent tones of Dinosaur Junior reverberate throughout, the two young actors heatedly engage in the play of an obscure word game. Though the rules of this competition seem at first unclear, it is obvious that Alex' exclamation of "Gene Rayburn!" has burned the hell out of Keanu's precedent "Art Linkletter," and a brief victory dance by Alex signifies some sort of conclusion. As suddenly as it began, the unknown game is over. You uncap the first in a long series of mineral waters and wonder only two things: "Who the hell are these guys?" and "What about Wink Martindale?" It isn't until much later that you realize the complexity of your own questions.
Though the exploits of its protagonists were undoubtedly most triumphant, the fate of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure seemed rather bleak. William S. Preston, Esq. and Theodore "Ted" Logan, the adolescent ne'er do wells of San Dimas, had been languishing in air guitar limbo within the vault of a bankrupt film distribution company for well over a year. The anonymous shelves of corner video stores across the country beckoned menacingly, threatening to rob the film of a theatrical release (No box-office gross? Most heinous!).
True to the victorious form of the dudes themselves, however, the film was rescued at the last minute by another now-ailing indie company, and Bill and Ted finally managed to sneak through the back door of America's movie houses and into its carefree hearts. The two dreamy-eyed flunkies who travelled back in time to research a last ditch history report quickly became icons of surfer-dudedom and, in a greater sense, malcontent society at large. Bill and Ted-ese began peppering the lingo of college students and stockbrokers alike. "Most Triumphant" and "Most Excellent" could be heard from boardrooms to prison cells to high school corridors across the country. The film, which cost its fledgling producers a mere pittance to produce, grossed almost 40 million dollars (totally in the black, dude!).
Thousands of lunch boxes, t-shirts, soundtrack albums and a Saturday morning cartoon later, a sequel to the sleeper hit was in production. At last, the questions that had burned so deeply within the film's following would be answered. The new installment would further unleash the tale that demanded to be told. It would be an austere romp through the resplendent nether world -- it would make some righteous bucks for Orion Pictures! Finally, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey had begun.
Keanu bounces frenetically from high-topped foot to foot as the photographer's assistant pulls focus. Alex, almost a head shorter, stands calmly beside him, brows screwed up in thought over the up or down status of his shirt's collar. A hardworking stylist rushes quickly into the action and makes the decision for him: the collar will be up. Alex appears to relax slightly with this moment of indecision out of the way and settles into a photogenic stance.
Suddenly, at the very moment the camera's iris begins to open, Keanu shakes his head and allows locks of fine, dark brown hair to cover his face, leaving only a mischievous grin to meet the watchful lens. "You gotta give me at least one eye, man," the photographer pleads. Keanu doesn't seem to like this idea, and shakes his head again, further obliterating his mug. Alex, brows returning to their former knittedness, would clearly like to say something but holds his tongue. "Come on man, just one eye," the photographer whines again, looking up from his viewfinder with concern. "What's the big deal?" Keanu, not one for artifice, protests sullenly. "It's just a fuckin' picture, man." Alex, one foot firmly planted in the world of propriety, grimaces faintly. The first of your two questions ("Who tthe hell are these guys?") is slowly being answered.
While one might have occasion to confuse the mighty Bill with the imperious Ted, the differences between Alex and Keanu remain distinct. Alex is the curly blonde-haired sprite, the pyrotechnic inventor of words and tall tales, a man who will improvise a new life story each time he is asked. He is the one who causes you to squint in disbelief while staring at MTV late one Sunday night (is that *really* Alex Winter parading about on Idiot Box in a padded sweat suit as an obese rapper MC?). Alex the actor wends his way through films that are just left of center, memorable but not classic; he sucks blood in Lost Boys, comes home to mama in Rosalie Goes Shopping and weekends with Mary Shelley in Haunted Summer. Alex is also an *auteur naif*, the NYU film school grad who, along with partner Tom Stern, busily shops the town with his self-penned, hoped for directorial project, Freekz, tucked under one arm. It's a lovely modern day mutant fable, a cross between The Island of Dr. Moreau and Bugs Bunny. Alex is the man who will make them understand his slanted vision.
Then there's Keanu; the lopey, far away-eyed young spirit that has captured so many hearts and inhabited the bodies of confused teenagers, homicidal drug addicts, surfer narcs and 18th century noblemen. First entering the ranks of cultdom in the murky nihilist drama River's Edge, the Beirut-born, Canada-bred Reeves has gone on to bestow his quirky, edge ridden naivete upon a series of film curiosities including Dangerous Liaisons, I Love You To Death, The Prince of Pennsylvania and Parenthood. In the upcoming surf thriller Point Break, Keanu as FBI agent actually dons a suit and tie only to trade it for a wetsuit and boogie board, and later this year, in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho, he brings a regal sweetness to his role as a male hustler roaming the tenderloins of the Southwest in search of love ("I call it 'Where's Dad?"' he laughs). It's no coincidence that Paula Abdul asked Keanu to appear as the deepsoul adonis in her Rebel Without A Cause-inspired "Rush Rush" video.
Keanu is the man-boy on the precipice, the one that rides his '74 Norton Commando through the darkened Hollywood streets in search of nothing but night air. It's also Keanu whose body is strategically laced with the scars of his midnight ride mishaps ("I've fucked up a couple of times"). He is the self-educated innocent, the one who ravenously devours Thomas Mann and Dostoyevsky and who looks up in wonderment at the mention of an author, musician, or philosopher with whom he is not yet familiar ("Foucault? did he write Madness and Civilization?"). Keanu is the one who will look at you with disappointment if you are unable to confirm the reference. He is the one you regret having to deny.
Keanu sits patiently at the kitchen table while Petra, Alex' girlfriend, letters 'T-e-d' on his knuckles with an eyebrow pencil. At the same time, Alex' own hand is being labelled 'B-i-l-l.' It is the basis for a concept shot seized upon in the 11th hour by Alex, who remembers the impact of seeing "Love" and "Hate" tattooed on the knuckles of Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter. Though Keanu hasn't seen the film, he quickly forms opinions about the lettering process. "The letters are too big, man, they'll never match 'Bill,"' he protests, smearing the black letters away, demanding a do-over. The rest of the studio glances skyward and lets out a collective groan.
Bill and Ted live in San Dimas. Alex and Keanu live in LA. Bill and Ted listen to Slayer and Poison while Alex would be more at home with The Butthole Surfers and Keanu is likely to crank up Big Black on a beat-up ghetto blaster. Bill and Ted are working doldrum day jobs while at this moment, Alex and Keanu are working on beers. The differences are endless. Yet at this rare tranquil juncture in the afternoon, seated around a messy kitchen table littered with water bottles, make-up sponges and ashtrays, the lines of separation begin to blur. The two energetic artists now become a team, similar to that of their onscreen counterparts. They lapse collectively into the starry-eyed daytrips of Bill and Ted in LA. As a confused yet fascinated observer, you watch and listen and try like hell to get a straight answer out of either of them. Will luck be with you?
WHAT'S THE STORY OF BILL AND TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY?
KEANU REEVES: Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey/Bill and Ted Go To Hell/Bill and Ted's Second Excellent Adventure/Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure Part Two is about --
ALEX WINTER: Testicular atrophy.
AND WHAT HAPPENS?
AW: Keanu gets testicular atrophy and we take him to a surgeon and he dies under the knife.
IS THAT ATROPHY FROM LACK OF USE?
AW: No, it's from wearing bikini underwear, which strangles your testicles until they atrophy. Then I have to go to Hell to save him by convincing him to wear boxer shorts so that his testicles will grow normally and he'll have a healthy life. But he still can't have children.
DID YOU GUYS CREATE THAT SCENARIO FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE?
AW: No, it was all created by the writers, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon.
DO THEY WEAR BIKINI UNDERWEAR?
AW: No, I don't think they wear any underwear at all. They wear silk pants to their fancy executive meetings without any underwear.
BUT SERIOUSLY, IN THE FINAL VERSION OF THE FILM, WHICH WILL ACTUALLY REACH THE THEATERS, WHAT HAPPENS TO BILL AND TED?
KR: Well, we're trying to get our band going but we really suck and two evil robot versions of us come from the future and take us out to Death Valley and throw us off a cliff.
AW: Yeah, but they're doing rewrites dude, so we shouldn't say anything about that.
AW: Yeah, this whole thing is subject to reshoots. Anyway, so then we have to get back from the afterlife to save the world from the evil robot versions of ourselves, and learn how to play our guitars better so we can kick out the jams.
DO YOU GUYS REALLY BELIEVE IN HELL?
KR: You mean, like Hades?
AW: I am a deeply religious man.
REALLY. WHAT IS YOUR FAITH?
AW: I'm an orthodox jew. I'm just not wearing the payus now because I'm in character.
HOW ABOUT KEANU?
AW: Keanu is a tantric buddhist, which means he has to copulate a thousand times before he can ejaculate.
A LITTLE EXHAUSTING, HUH?
KR: Well, the chicks don't mind.
AW: Yeah, especially considering he has testicular atrophy on top of that. It's all very painful.
SO WHAT'S THE STORY WITH BILL AND TED, SEXUALLY? ARE THEY STILL VIRGINS?
KR: Yeah, neither one of them has gotten any yet.
COULD THEY BE GAY?
KR: Hey, man, what are you trying to say?
I'M JUST WONDERING WHY THEY MIGHT STILL BE VIRGINS.
AW: It's only because the opportunity hasn't presented itself yet. When they get the chance, they'll definitely go for it.
WELL IF BILL AND TED AREN'T SEXUALLY ACTIVE, THEN HOW DO THEY END UP IN HELL?
KR: Missy sends us there by accident.
MISSY IS BILL'S MOM?
AW: She was. Now she has divorced my Dad and married Ted's Dad.
KR: No, it's cool because she's got a pretty regular morning schedule so you can always catch her coming out of the shower.
DID THE SAME ACTRESS PLAY HER?
WHAT WAS HER NAME?
KR & AW: Uhh...
OKAY, TELL ME LATER. AS ACTORS, HOW DID YOU PREPARE TO PLAY BILL AND TED?
AW: It took weeks of hard, challenging acting training with some Russian theater actors (laughs). Actually, the characters are pretty much ingrained in us by now. We just show up on the set and start talking.
KR: No man, speak for yourself.
HOW DID YOU PREPARE, KEANU? DID YOU DO RESEARCH?
KR: Definitely. When I first did Ted, I took stuff from cartoons. This time, I tried to figure out how he would work years later, out of high school, trying to hold down a regular job, trying to some extent to live in the adult world and still be funny. It got tricky. The levels of evil Bill and Ted and then regular Bill and Ted. I mean, I just had to figure it out. Sometimes it felt right, and sometimes you just didn't know. It was Ted-world, you know?
YEAH, SURE. YOU GUYS HAVE A GOOD TIME TOGETHER, BUT YOUR STYLES ARE DIFFERENT.
AW: No, I think our sense of style for comedy is pretty similar.
KR: But you're darker than I am.
AW: Yeah, that's true.
SO WHY DO YOU THINK THE FIRST FILM WAS SO SUCCESSFUL?
KR: It was a fun film, right? Kind of a goofy, silly, good-hearted, well intentioned piece of fun. Also, you hadn't really seen it before, though a lot of people made comparisons to Sean Penn's work [in Fast Times At Ridgemont High]. Now that was a very heavy performance by Sean, to say the least.
THOUGH HE WAS A MUCH HEAVIER PARTIER THAN EITHER BILL OR TED.
KR: Oh, definitely, yeah. We were innocent and straight. We just wanted to play rock and roll and didn't know what was going on in the world.
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK OF WAYNE'S WORLD, WHICH IS SO HEAVILY INFLUENCED BY BILL AND TED?
KR: Oh, that's their own gig, man. And there's a real difference there. Hey, check it out, do you know, there's even a Bill and Ted cereal now!?
AW: A cereal? There's a Bill and Ted cereal now?!
KR: Yeah, a woman came up to me and said, "Oh, I saw your cereal at Hughes." I asked her what the little pieces of cereal looked like. She didn't know.
IF THERE WAS A KEANU REEVES CEREAL, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
AW: It would be a bunch of aspirin!
KR: Awww, man, you're dogging my taste. I have good taste in cereal.
AW: Remember King Vitamin? I dug that one alot. It was cool because they had the word vitamin on the box but it was a hundred and ten percent sugar. It's like calling something King Healthy and just selling strychnine pills.
SO WILL THERE BE A THIRD BILL AND TED MOVIE?
KR & AW: No.
AW: Although, the second one hasn't even come out yet. So, we better not say.
KR: Yeah, man, we better not say.
IF YOU COULD REALLY GO BACK IN TIME, WHERE AND WHEN WOULD YOU GO?
AW: I'd go back to about five minutes before the Holyfield/Tyson fight and place a major bet. Actually, I think I'd like to go back to the thirties or forties, during World War II.
YOU'D LIKE TO BE RIGHT ON THE BATTLEFIELD, IN THE FRONT LINES?
AW: Well actually, if I really was around then, I'd probably be dead.
HOW ABOUT YOU, KEANU?
KR: I don't know, man. I think I'd give the opportunity to a friend.
SO WHERE DO YOU THINK BILL AND TED WILL BE IN 10 OR 15 YEARS?
KR: They'll be rock and roll gods, of course!
A short while later, you switch off your tape recorder and prepare to go back out into the world. Keanu and Alex are now seriously entertaining the possibility of ordering a pizza. They make a brief count of their collective cash and decide to go for it. After Keanu gives you a hearty soul shake, and Alex politely bids you adieu, the studio door closes on the crazy-quilt carnival of Bill, Ted, Keanu and Alex. As you descend the staircase to the street, the joyous shouts of another incomprehensible word game begin to waft from somewhere within.
One thing is sure -- Wink Martindale never had a chance.