Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure: A Guided Tour
Alex Winter takes us through the Circuits of Time
by Nick de Semlyen
Somehow, it's been 25 years since Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) mastered time travel in order to get pointers on their school history presentation. To celebrate this most triumphant fact, Winter joined us on the phone from Los Angeles to share his memories of the shoot. And to give it a novel spin, we're going historical figure by historical figure. Don't worry, it'll all make sense — we're professionals.
Plucked from: Austria, 1805
Aka: "A very famous French dude"
Played by: Terry Camilleri
"I love Terry. He's awesome. But we messed with him mercilessly, because he got so into the character. He was acting emperor-like, though he still did it in a fun-loving, crazy, Australian way — he's a wild Australian with a Napoleonic complex! I think they just ended up writing more and more for him, a bit like what happened with Billy Sadler as Death in Bogus Journey, because he was very larger than life.
"Reeves and I spent a lot of time with Terry because we had a lot of scenes with him. And to this day anybody who takes themselves seriously around Keanu Reeves is in for deep shit. We would hide from the ADs, steal the batteries from their walkie-talkies, lock people's trailer doors. And Terry was subject to endless ridicule and pranking. We would pull a silly face at him or say utter gibberish instead of our lines. We would resort to that, it's fair to say."
BILLY THE KID
Plucked from: New Mexico, 1879
Aka: "Mr. The Kid"
Played by: Dan Shor
"I'd always wanted to do a bar brawl in a Western. You know, who doesn't? I started making movies when I was really young and I remember buying breakaway bottles from a prop house when I was 11, so we could shoot our own bar brawl. It was a fantasy come true to end up in that sequence. And I was pretty psyched to be working with Dan Shor, because he'd been in a bunch of movies that I'd loved: Tron and other things. We hit it off and improvised everything. I remember Reeves and I laughing because it was one of the first historical sequences we did, and as we got out of the phone booth and walked down the Wild West street we felt like we were Bill and Ted. Two dopey young guys, way out of their element!
"If you look at the stunt where we slide down the bar, it's really badly cut. There's a stuntman with a really crappy blond wig subbing for me. It was us on the bar, but the guys whose heads go through the wall are not us. And it's a really, really bad edit, from a guy with a blond mop on his head back to me. In the end, I got a real movie breakaway bottle and I got to smash it. I don't think I even hurt anybody, which is miraculous."
Plucked from: Greece, 410 BC
Played by: Tony Steedman
"Tony was lovely. He and Dan Shor just grabbed hold of their roles and improvised and made their characters up as they went along. They had a really great time.
"He's since passed away, but he was a really lovely, gentle guy. Very much a theatre actor. I hired him for a Weetabix commercial that I shot in London 20 years ago. We had fun shooting out in the rain together in Ealing for a couple of days. It was the very beginning of the "Keeps You Going" campaign. The spot is a guy who's on a football ground: he's a crap football player who inadvertently scores a goal and just keeps celebrating and celebrating, even though he was crap to begin with. Tony is a guy walking his dog in the park at the end. He was happy to be out of the robes in that one.
"I remember the one thing Tony had trouble with on our movie was all that stuff we shot in the mall. Because obviously we had to shoot it when the mall was down, business-wise. We shot in The Mall Of America, which I think is the biggest in America. It's the size of five football fields. And Tony was not thrilled to do the chase across the ice, when the cops chase them down. If you watch that scene, there's a legitimately pained look on his face as he slides across the ice."
Plucked from: Vienna, 1901
Played by: Rod Loomis
"Rod was great. I didn't actually have as much to do with him, but he was really cool. The fun thing about working with him was that we got to be in Europe together. We shot most of the movie in Phoenix and then left and shot another chunk in Rome, with a different crew. On the weekends a lot of us went to the Vatican to go see stuff, so we and the historical figures who made it to Europe would traipse around as tourists together. I remember doing that with Rod.
"The movie was produced by Dino De Laurentiis, who basically owned Italy! So it was really cheap to use those locations. The Freud sequence was shot in Italy. And all the castle stuff with the princesses, that was a real castle outside of Rome. The funny thing is, I finished that job and two weeks later was shooting at the same castle on a movie called Haunted Summer with Laura Dern and Eric Stoltz. I went from doing the Star Wars knight in armour scene to playing Lord Byron's homosexual, opium-addicted lover in the same place a fortnight on. It kind of did my head in!
"The stuff with us getting Socrates — that's in the Piazza Venicia, right in the heart of Rome. It's like shooting in Time Square. It was so loud, we had to loop and replace all that dialogue. I don't think anybody had been in that building since they frog-marched Mussolini out of it. It's a very, very important building in Italy. We were only able to shoot it because of Dino's connections. All of the other actors in the Socrates scene were Italian, so Tony was dealing with a load of extras who didn't speak English. And two leads who barely spoke English!"
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Plucked from: Vienna, 1901
Aka: "Dave Beethoven"
Played by: Clifford David
"Clifford is mostly known as an acting teacher. He's a very highly regarded one in LA. He came in, did his Beethoven stuff and split. He was super-quiet and I didn't really think much about him one way or another. And then after I made the movie everyone was like, "Oh my God, you worked with Clifford David! What was that like?" And I came to realise he was this highly revered acting guru. I moved to LA from NYU film school just as I made Bill And Ted, so I didn't really know anyone in the industry. Keanu had made more movies than me - I'd just done Lost Boys and then jumped into Bill & Ted. I think Reeves knew Cliff better than I did.
"I don't know if Cliff was musical. I can tell you that he was super-Method. Because he was supposed to be deaf, he would act deaf. He was sort of pulling a Daniel Day-Lewis. Out of all the historical characters, Cliff was the one in character the whole time he was there. He was Beethoven every day! I would just monkey with him, because I found that really hilarious. I couldn't help but bust on him for taking such a goofy role so seriously. I would only call him 'Beet-oven'. Plus I just loved saying 'Beet-oven'. Who doesn't?"
JOAN OF ARC
Plucked from: Orleans, 1429
Aka: "Maxine of Arc"
Played by: Jane Wiedlin
"I was a huge fan of Jane's music — I'd seen The Go-Gos a bunch of times before I met her. Honestly, out of everybody that we worked with on that movie, she was the only one I was starstruck by. I had such a giant crush on her at high school that I think I just stared at her. I didn't have the courage to talk to her much during the shoot. I keep up with her now, though. We talk from time to time.
"She was in acting mode, so she didn't play at the wrap parties. Reeves and I played. We were both really bad musicians and we had that wonderful combination of over-confidence and under-ability that makes for very entertaining performances. We both played bass, which is quadrupally pathetic. Yeah, we played with the Wyld Stallions drumkit, with the princesses on them. We went totally bananas, but none of us could play worth a damn."
Plucked from: Mongolia, 1269
Aka: "Bob Genghis Khan"
Played by: Al Leong
"Al is someone that I became friendly with. I actually saw him last year. He's a legend. Like most martial-arts masters, he was extremely friendly, disciplined and accessible. It was kind of like working with Carlin. A super-pro, you know? He would show us martial-arts tricks off-camera and Keanu and I saw him as a sage to get wisdom from. He told us not to take stuff for granted. For me and Reeves, it was a really low-budget movie; we didn't really know where it was going to go. We loved it and had fun doing it, but we didn't have high expectations for it. Al encouraged us to enjoy the moment."
Plucked from: The White House, 1863
Played by: Robert V. Barron
"The guy who played Lincoln, Robert, he died but was a really lovely guy. I will say this about Robert: he's the only one of the historical figures that in any way resembled in personality and temperament the person they were playing. Obviously Robert looked like Lincoln once you slapped a beard and a top hat on him. But he was very, very Lincoln-like. He was a dignified, erudite, gentlemanly man off-camera. I would not say that about anyone else!
"I remember vividly us all being stuffed in that phone booth. It was cramped. And it was stinky, because all the historical figures had really heavy clothed wardrobe. For the bits where we're going through the Circuits of Time, it was really rinky-dink special effects. The phone booth was stuck sideways on a hydraulic rig, shot in front of a greenscreen. We all thought we were going to die! It was not sophisticated, but it all adds to the charm. There's a place for perfect effects and a place for stuff which has a rough-around-the-edges quality to it."
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: 25th Anniversary Steelbook Edition is out now on Blu-ray. To find out about, and buy, Alex Winter's Napster documentary, Downloaded, visit watch.downloadedthemovie.com.