Exclusive: Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter Open Up About Their Excellent Adventures in Bill & Ted Face the Music
by Amy Spencer
Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter have had a most triumphant time playing slacker buddies Bill and Ted, who traveled through space and time in a phone booth in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and its 1991 sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, befriending historical figures, rocking out and seeing the possibility of a “most excellent” future.
Since then, Reeves, 55, has risen to leading-man fame in hit movies including Speed, The Matrix and the action-packed John Wick franchise; Winter, also 55, went the filmmaking route and has been directing documentaries, including Showbiz Kids and Zappa.
Now, more than 30 years after their first collaboration, they’ve teamed up again for Bill & Ted Face the Music, the story’s third installment (on demand and in theaters August 28).
Filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic, the new movie picks up as Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Winter), and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Reeves), both now married with children, are tasked by a visitor from the future to pick up their old guitars and create a new song—one that will save the planet. “Whatever gas they had at the end of [Bogus Journey] has run out,” explains Winter. “They have not succeeded in saving the world, and now it’s in jeopardy.”
Can Bill and Ted find their old musical mojo—and make the world excellent again?
The actors sat down in their homes to Zoom with Parade and talk about their movie reunion, their childhoods, how they’ve been spending their downtime during the pandemic with their partners—Winter is married to producer Ramsey Ann Naito and has three children; Reeves is dating artist Alexandra Grant—and the one activity they’d definitely do if they could spend a day with Bill and Ted.
Why do you think the first Bill & Ted became an almost instant cult classic?
Reeves: I think there’s an originality to it—the script, the words and the voices of these characters that had a friendship, a sincerity and an indomitable will. They’re clever, there’s a lot of heart to them, they’re funny and unique.
Winter: Even when we first got the script when we were young, it was that dichotomy of the language being very ornate while the characters are kind of childlike. The writers and producers found it funny that we were taking the language so seriously. But then it’s packed with a lot of stuff, a lot of characters. The movie moves like a freight train.
How have Bill and Ted evolved—and not evolved—since the last film?
Reeves: We didn’t try to play these older guys like they were, you know, still teens. Now they’re men, they’re married, they have children. The film is about family, but it’s not a family drama; how they are with each other and with their families has kind of evolved in a really smart way and, I think, a truthful, authentic way.
What would you two do if you could hang out with Bill and Ted?
Reeves: Let’s have a barbecue with our family and our friends and, like, let’s have a jam.
Winter: Exactly, we’d have to jam!
Bill and Ted’s entire journey has been about the music. How does music play into each of your lives?
Winter: Reeves plays—he won’t admit it, but he does!
Reeves: I still play electric bass. I played in a band called Dogstar. We broke up in the early 2000s. Just in the past year we’ve started playing together again and, yeah, thinking about going out into the world with it again, which has been really fun.
Winter: I actually started taking singing lessons again, pretty serious vocal work. I grew up doing musicals, so I was a song-and-dance kid. I’m sort of reentering music that way. I really have no idea what I’m doing with it, other than I just want to be good at it again.
So let’s go back a bit. Keanu, you grew up in Toronto and your mother was a costume designer. What were you like as a kid?
Reeves: I was an affable little lad. I had a lot of energy. I liked to run around, liked to laugh, I was pretty sweet. I got into sports, but then also enjoyed the performing arts and, even when I was in grade school, auditioned and did plays. I kind of declared I wanted to be an actor when I was 15. I went to a bunch of different high schools, playing hockey and acting. I remember when I was in 12th grade, being a goaltender on the school hockey team but then doing The Crucible and playing John Proctor, and having the hockey team in the first couple of rows—thanks, fellas, for that! I got an agent through playing Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet and I was basically paying for my life by the time I was 18.
Bill & Ted is considered your breakthrough role, which you followed up with a wide range of parts, from My Own Private Idaho and Point Break to Speed, The Matrix and John Wick. What do you enjoy about playing such a variety of characters?
Reeves: As a kid in my formative years, I grew up watching ’70s movies, from Chinatown to Harold and Maude. And French cinema. Just the variety of art was really a profound influence, so that’s where I cut my teeth. And I think the roles that you mentioned, they’re all just kind of fighting against the system—whether they’re heroes or antiheroes trying to right wrongs.
Alex, you were born in London, before moving to Missouri at age 5 and working as a child actor. What were you like as a kid?
Winter: I was very performative from a young age. Both of my parents were modern dancers. My mom was a professor of dance at Washington University in St. Louis, and I was sort of the kid they used in every drama production when they needed a kid, until I started doing it professionally by 8 or 9. And I was a movie fanatic, going back to Chaplin and Keaton—I was really into old movies even when I was young. I have a lot of fond memories of performing, even if it was just with my friends, putting on shows or plays. I just made this documentary about children in show business [Showbiz Kids, which debuted on HBO in July]. I wanted to examine what my experiences were like coming up in the business as a kid.
Do you remember the moment you decided you’d rather be directing than acting?
Winter: Even when we were doing [the original] Bill & Ted, I was directing a lot, making commercials and music videos, and had a show on MTV. And frankly, in my mid-to-late 20s, I’d been acting nonstop since I was really little, and I just needed a break from being in front of the camera. It’s a healthy thing for people who started acting as young as I did, because as great as the process is, you miss out on a lot of core development—and you gotta do that work at some point. You don’t get to not do that!
What do you guys do for fun? What are your favorite ways to kick back with your partners?
Winter: I don’t think you can ignore that the current circumstances we’re in are quite challenging, so that has taken over a lot of our life, as it has for everybody. Because of COVID I’m homeschooling, and there’s a chunk of the day that’s just checking in on my mom, making sure everyone’s OK. I have a small production company, so I’m busy on a day-to-day basis with my team, and then my wife is in the business as well. [She received an Academy Award nomination for producing the animated children’s film The Boss Baby.] We both like parenting, so we tend to not work on weekends and at night, and hang out with the kids.
Keanu, what do you and Alexandra do for fun?
Reeves: It’s been really wonderful to be with Alexandra. We enjoy each other’s company, you know, whatever that may be. Once the beaches opened up, we went for a motorcycle ride, and we have a couple of projects. We have a book company together, X Artists’ Books, and she’s doing her art. I’ve got some creative things going on: working on a comic book, trying to do a documentary, working on a television series and then working on a script for [the next] John Wick, another Matrix film that’s in a holding pattern. I don’t have kids or anything like that, so I get to be less responsible! The day is kind of like, “What, creatively, can I do?”
How do you both stay healthy?
Winter: I like eating well and I train. My mom is 81 and still teaches yoga. I’ve grown up with a family that put a lot of emphasis on taking care of your body, so it’s kind of ingrained in me.
Reeves: I don’t do anything! If I’m not working, I exercise…kinda? Once in a while. I’ll go to the gym.
Winter: But he’s still standing, so obviously he’s in pretty good shape.
Reeves: That’s because I’m working on John Wick!
So when you’re not preparing for a role…
Reeves: Disaster. It’s a disaster.
If you could hop in a magical phone booth and time-travel like Bill and Ted, where would you like to go?
Winter: You know, I’d love to have been at the Globe Theatre when it was cookin’ with gas back in Shakespeare’s age. It would be pretty amazing to watch King Lear or Hamlet happening in front of you.
Reeves: Nuncle! Nuncle! [Reeves laughs, recalling a line used repeatedly in King Lear.] “Who are we gonna visit? Who are we gonna say hi to today?” I probably would want to go see some [famous] mysteries, see if they were true or not, you know?
Bill & Ted Face the Music was made pre-COVID and pre–George Floyd. What do you hope this movie brings in times like this?
Winter: Lord knows, we did not anticipate the state of the world when it was going to be released. In a very dark and challenging time, I just hope that people like the movie. I hope it brings people some joy.
Reeves: The themes of the film are true every day, and hopefully it has some nourishment, and some entertainment and some laughter, and good feelings that you can take with you.
It’s a comedy, of course, but is there a larger message?
Reeves: This film is really very much about being linked together as a human race with the intention of compassion and love.
Winter: And it starts with the nucleus of the family. Bill and Ted have challenges in their lives, but they love their family and they love their lives, so it just kind of grows exponentially from there.
Reeves: We are humans on a rock floating through space with a finite amount of time. So take that into account—how we treat ourselves, how we treat others and we are all in this together. Be excellent to each other!