The Totally Real Bill and Ted
There's no way Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix aren't the most non-heinous screen double act since Butch and Sundance. As London, England eagerly awaits their most station performances in My Own Private Idaho, Stevan Keane checks out a duo of dudes who are nothing if not excellent to each other
Interview conducted by our 'Hollywood Reporter' Winfield Scott
Prior to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure in 1989, valley-speak as equated solely with air-head mall rats. Their ultimate remonstration was 'grody to the max' -- Frank Zappa even wrote a song about them. Residual vestiges of their lexical aberrations can be found in Laurie Pike's 'gagging' and in the speech patterns of Ruby Wax and The Word's Katy Puckrick.
But since the release of Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey earlier this month, you can't move for retards and teenage boys howling 'sign of the devil' at each other and performing an act considered the nadir of bad taste for some 20 years: playing air guitar. Better still, for these juvenile longhairs in pursuit of role models, Bill and Ted really exist. In River Phoenix (who did not appear in the Bill and Ted films) and Keanu 'Ted' himself Reeves (who did), fiction and reality have smudged into an agreeable blur as they out-dude one another in interview after interview.
The last time River and Keanu shared a screen together was in Lawrence Kasdan's deservedly ill-received I Love You To Death. Based on a true story, it starred Tracy Ullman as a neglected wife who decides to put an end to her husband's philandering for good. River was the lovesick pizza delivery boy unrealistically hankering after the attentions of la belle Ullman, while Keanu was hippy hit man William Hurt's inept aide-de-camp. If their double act didn't get the auspicious debut it might have, it still managed to fill London cinemas with young girls eager to indulge their My Guy perspective on life. Without a word of a lie, I shared that particular cinematic experience with a row of teenage females who squealed with delight every time either of them showed their faces.
Such influence over the minds of a generation of babes is totally awesome responsibility but, as countless interviews and profiles have shown, it's one the dudes are prepared to transcend.
The staunchly vegetarian child of children of US cultists The Children of God, and lately a rainforest campaigner, River Phoenix has had the dubious honour of being dubbed by one woman's magazine: 'the intelligent woman's hope for what the new generation of men will be like in the 21st century.' Then again, asked if he would date a woman who eats sausages, he declared: 'I wouldn't want to lick her juices if they were made up of her metabolism's version of all that shit that goes in sausage.' There's a real new man for you.
Keanu usually gets the 'he's not as dumb as he makes out' treatment which he qualifies admirably with beautifully phrased admissions like: 'I'm a meathead. You've got smart people and you've got dumb people. You just happen to be spending some time with a dumb person'. The product of a childhood as fragmented as River's, Keanu has trouble talking about his absent dad, admits hallucinogens have played a part in his life, and doesn't much like questions.
In Gus Van Sant's forthcoming My Own Private Idaho, a road movie/love story about two rent boys blowing a living across the U.S. and Italy, the duo shine. River's personification of Mike is terrifyingly touching. A narcoleptic whose market-value is seriously undermined by an illness which causes him to enter a coma and dream of a time before he was abandoned, he's the ultimate babe (dude?) in the woods. As the slumming rich-boy Scott, Keanu brilliantly conjures a new breed of unrequited love for his young pal. They are both, well, excellent.
And if the plot is a little mawkish with the director thoroughly indulging himself as some Fagin/Kindly Old Gentleman dude to Keanu's and River's Oliver Twist dudes, their attitude to the subject matter is exemplary. Unsurprisingly, the movie has provoked all kinds of responses in the US press (from rumour analysis to straight outrage) but Keanu and River tease out their screen personas with aplomb.
As excellent to one another as they are to their audience, we asked River and Keanu to give their angles on the bogus mythology...
SWEET TALKING GUYS
RIVER AND KEANU...
QUESTION: Do you get 'involved' with the women you work with?
RIVER: I have a steady girlfriend that I love, so relationships with other people are off limits right now. It's easier to work with women you are not involved with.
KEANU: If you have relationships with the women you work with, then you become part of the Hollywood gossip-mongers and I try to stay out of all that. If you don't have relationships with the women you work with, then people say you're gay. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. I agree with River though. It's easier to work with women when your relationship is professional and not romantic. I know actors that have become involved with actresses, women, on the set and it makes it harder, much harder. It's ok to be friends though. What's wrong with just being friends?
QUESTION: What do you think of all that West Coast New Age nonsense?
RIVER: The Lord works in mysterious ways! You are part of a much larger plan created in heaven and your salvation will depend on the love and open-mindedness you display here on earth...
KEANU: Don't knock reality, man. It's not nonsense, it represents the truth to many people. I mean, it's a big part of their lives. I don't like these questions.
QUESTION: Define 'Best Friend'.
RIVER: Someone you can tell all your secrets to. For me it's a guy you enjoy being with, a guy you love and a guy you care about. Keanu is my buddy, dude.
KEANU: I've always loved you, River. River is my best friend and I don't have many of them.
RIVER: That's really sweet, Keany.
QUESTION: Which is Paul Newman and which is Robert Redford?
KEANU: I don't know, do you?
RIVER: I think Paul Redford is related to Robert Newman, or is it the other way around? The cosmic reality is that we are all one.
QUESTION: Is there anything you wouldn't do in a film?
RIVER: Didn't we answer that already?
KEANU: Where have we heard that before? I'm not against gays or anything, but I won't have sex with guys. I would never do that on film. We did a little of that in Idaho and it was really hard. Never again.
RIVER: I thought you liked that. Was it something I did?
KEANU: Shut up, dude!
QUESTION: How long do you think your careers will last?
RIVER: My career will last forever. What do you think?
KEANU: My career will last as long as I get parts in films.
QUESTION: And then what?
KEANU: And then you die.
RIVER: Then it's time for the old folks home. I don't know what I'm going to do when I get older, do you, Keany?
KEANU: I'd like to maybe get a boat some day and sail around. Maybe I'll settle down and raise a family. I've always wanted kids.
RIVER: I didn't know that.
KEANU: You never asked, dude.
RIVER: I really want kids too, but it takes money these days to raise them right and give them a good home.
KEANU: You can say that again.
QUESTION: What are your feelings about Dan Quayle?
RIVER: I really love Quayle. I love to eat Quayle. I honestly love him.
KEANU: I've never had any feelings for Dan Quayle. But I do love him. You know, he could be President some day, dude.
RIVER: That's right, dude, so you had better watch what you say!
QUESTION: Why don't you work much?
I think I work too much. The only person who works more than me is Keany.
QUESTION: How long do you think the rainforests have got?
About two years. Seriously? Probably about five, maybe ten. It's being cut down much faster than people realise, it's a human tragedy of immense proportions. Right now many native Indians in that region are losing their homes daily. And it's going to affect both you and me because that's where most of the world's oxygen comes from. The Amazon rainforests are the world's lungs and without them we will not be able to breathe. It's a very scary thought and it's not too far off.
QUESTION: How close to your actual life was your role in The Mosquito Coast?
QUESTION: Why do you work so much?
Because I'm getting the parts. I guess I've got a good agent. If I didn't get so many parts, then I wouldn't be working as much as I am. I'm very, very lucky. Most actors are lucky to get one good film every two years. I'm getting three and four films each year and they're good parts! I try hard to and I think that word has gotten around that I study for my parts. I could never be one of those actors that shows up on the set not knowing his lines. I always try to be the pro people expect.
QUESTION: Is there any Bill and Ted-speak we backwards English haven't yet heard?
No dude, I think you know it all.
QUESTION: Is it (a) Kee Noo or (b) Kee Yah Noo?
My Own Private Idaho opens in March, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey is showing at a cinema near you, dude....
Cover shot: Standard MOPI photos of Keanu and River, with the caption "The REAL Bill and Ted... Keanu and River." Inside, there's another MOPI standard publicity shot of Keanu and River on the motorcycle.