Keanu & Alex’s Excellent Adventure
by Mia McNiece
When Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter were making the comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in 1989, they had no idea that it would become a massive hit, let alone a cultural touchstone for multiple generations. But they did have a pretty good hunch the experience would lead to a lifelong friendship. “Out of that moment came an affinity that lasted,” says Reeves. The duo remained close friends after stepping into the roles of high school slackers who stumbled onto a time-traveling phone booth and used it to ace their history report. Now in Bill & Ted Face the Music (on demand and in theaters on Aug.28), the two are middle-aged dads struggling with their marriages and careers. “It was really fun doing Bill and Ted in couples therapy,” says Reeves, 56, with a laugh.
After the original film’s success, he and Winter navigated sudden fame together. “I’ve been chased down the street by an entire frat house,” recalls Winter, 55. “But the Bill and Ted notoriety comes coupled with so much joy from people when they recognize you. They’re always happy.” Reeves went on to star in hits like Speed, John Wick and the Matrix films while Winter, now married and a father of three, who also starred in Lost Boys, became a documentary director who recently made HBO’s Showbiz Kids. Despite their busy careers, they’ve always kept in touch. “We’ve both been in different parts of the world for good chunks of our lives. So we’d come together when one of us was on the same side of the planet and share experiences,” says Winter. “It’s fun to know that we’re still on this adventure together.”
Do you remember your first impressions of each other?
REEVES: I thought he was a groovy cat. An East Coast cat, intellectual but into riding motorcycles. Our sense of humor hit it off. Then to see the transition from the guy I was talking to while waiting to go into the audition to the performance that I was working with was so different and inventive. It was just like, “Oh wow, this kid is super creative.”
WINTER: We had a lot of similar interests that we instantly bonded over. We had both moved to LA from the East Coast and had a theater background. We both rode motorcycles and played bass, but we also liked the same kind of theater and literature and cinema.
After the first movie came out how did you deal with the sudden fame?
REEVES: I just remember it being a lot of fun. I had been recognized for some things before, but now people were calling out to me, “Yo, dude. Be excellent! Party on!”
WINTER: There have been times when Keanu and I have been hanging out over the last 25 years, and people will flip out and chase us down the street playing air guitar. But in general the things that I find so nice now, all these years later, is the little kids that are into the movies. They’ve been turned on to the films by their parents or seen them on TV, and the joyful connection they have to the characters is pretty awesome.
Music and time travel are themes in Bill and Ted Face the Music. Is there a song that immediately transports you back to a certain time in your life?
REEVES: The first thing that comes to mind is listening to the blues. But it happens with all music. It’s the soundtrack of our lives.
WINTER: Keanu and I both liked the idea of music being fundamental to these characters, and the notion of finding yourself through music.
What was it like to return to the characters after so many years?
WINTER: We were really young when we made the first film, with so much less life experience. So something that was really fun about playing them again was bringing back their personality, love of life and their unflappable nature but then adding to that all of the life experience that’s happened to them – and to us personally – in the intervening years.
If you could get in a phone booth and travel back in time, where would you go?
REEVES: The first campfire. I’d go have the first meal around a campfire.
WINTER: There are so many places. Maybe another civilization when things were very, very different. Early China or some other part of culture that is completely not the way the world is today. It would be fun to witness something like that.
What do you admire most about each other?
REEVES: I think the way Alex can find the truth in a scene. The kind of craft of being in the moment. I think he does that beautifully.
WINTER: Well, thank you sir. When we first worked together, Keanu had already done River’s Edge, which I loved. His use of language and tying it all to some kind of emotional truth, it’s just great to watch.
What was the best part of working together again?
WINTER: We laughed our butts off making the first two movies. It was very gratifying to have that again on this third film. It’s been fun for us to have this continuation of a journey together and to check in on each other as our lives roll along.
Loves of their lives (with photos)
Keanu and Alexandra – the very private Reeves took his relationship with artist girlfriend Alexandra Grant, 47 public last November
Alex and Family – Winter with wife Ramsey Naito and son Leroy, now 22 (from his first marriage to Sonya Dawson), in 2015. The actor and Naito also have two younger kids.