Keanu Reeves And Alex Winter Talk All Things Bill & Ted - Interview

Over 30 years have passed since Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure introduced the world to Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. During that time, Reeves went on to become an A-list actor in Hollywood, starring in such blockbuster films and franchises as Speed, The Matrix, and John Wick, while Winter stepped behind the scenes as a writer and director.

But it's hard to forget their star-making turns as Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Reeves), two high school slackers who travel through time via a phone booth in order to round up historical figures so they can pass a class presentation and save the universe. The 1989 sleeper hit spawned the 1991 sequel Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey — and now, three decades later, Bill & Ted Face the Music, which follows the pair as they struggle with having not actually saved the world... yet.

During a roundtable interview attended by Looper, Reeves and Winter opened up about what it was like stepping back into their iconic roles, what the franchise means to them, and why Bill & Ted Face the Music might be just what the doctor ordered for the unprecedented year that 2020 has proven to be.

Bill and Ted have matured over the past 30 years... sort of

The term "be excellent to each other" is a line from the film that really needs to be a motto for 2020. Why do you think this advice to be kind to each other is so relevant right now?

Keanu: Well, I think it's relevant all the time, and I guess now it has a certain impact just because of the situation that we find ourselves in. And the idea of be excellent to each other, I think is a very good idea.

Alex: I think Keanu summed it up pretty well. I think that the Bill and Ted movies have an inherent sweetness and a theme of inclusivity of people being kind to each other and coming together. And that was certainly the story that [writers] Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon set out to write with this third installment, many years before there was COVID-19 or any situation we're in today. So it just so happens to be something that may bring folks some joy at this particular time because of that, but that was a movie that we all set out to make.

Alex, after all these years of not playing Bill, how easy was it to get back into the character's speech and mannerisms?

Alex: We had time. The film took time to get made. It went through a lot of iterations with the script that we all worked on together, and the writers put a lot of effort into. During that time, it gave me a chance to wrap my head around who this guy was at this age. And Keanu and I spent a lot of time talking about those things. So it wasn't like I just had to suddenly turn it on like a switch, I had time to prepare. And then there's also a familiarity to working with Keanu and the physicality of that, the instinctive nature of the way we riff on the dialogue. And that stuff did just kick in on its own — it did for me, anyway. But it was helped by the fact that we had a lot of time to rehearse and prep and discuss it.

Keanu, when you had conversations with Alex about what it would mean for these characters to be in this age, that you guys are playing, what were the conversations about and how are Bill and Ted advanced in this time?

Keanu: I mean, there's been many years since we've seen them last, and during those years they've lived life and they've got mature daughters and the relationships with their wives. And they'd been, with their friendship, together with this kind of pressure of being this destiny that they were given and responsibility of uniting the world through music, that they haven't been able to do. And just how do those pressures, how does that maturity, what does that look like? So to play these guys who are still familiar but not caricatures of themselves from the past, and feel the weight of these guys, as well as their joy and their lightness and their spirit.

After all these years of playing such positive characters, what is the after effect of doing Bill and Ted for a period of time? Do you walk away in a good mood, or do you have PTSD? What is it like?

Alex: Post Bill and Ted disorder? I would say, for me, the whole experience has a kind of warmth to it. That's always been the case with playing these guys because they are joyful, optimistic people, even if they're experiencing hardships and challenges and have fear and doubt and all the human traits that we have, as these characters. Added to that, this experience was particularly warm because there were so many of us were reuniting. Keanu and I already see a fair amount of each other, but we hadn't seen or worked with William Sadler, Hal Landon Jr. and Amy Stoch, and Scott Kroopf was producing. And there's this great gang together. And just the incredible commitment of this ensemble cast that we were so lucky to have and what they brought to the table. And the crew that we had that was really stellar. So it was a very warm experience. It wasn't easy, it was challenging. There were difficult days. But I felt very good about what we made and I felt great appreciation for having had the experience.

Keanu, because Bill and Ted are so tied to the '80s, were there reservations or questions that you guys had about bringing the duo into the modern day? Were there any conversations that you guys had to modernize it, just to make sure that it didn't feel like a relic, if you will?

Keanu: The writers did that. I think the way that they structured the film and the plot of the film, it was all about facing the music and being in the moment. So that work was done for us. You see it in one of the opening sequences of Bill & Ted Face the Music at the wedding ceremony. They're not playing Van Halen riffs. They've expanded their musical excellence and moved on. They've developed into using music as a mash-up kind of construction via their daughters, a very modern idea that brought it to present day.

Marriage and fatherhood has changed Bill and Ted

How has fatherhood changed Bill and Ted?

Alex: Well, that's another aspect of the modernity of it. They have very distinct lives with their wives and their parents, and they love their kids and they love their wives and yet they're having challenges in their lives. And in typical Bill and Ted fashion, they're very simple guys who are always facing these gigantic challenges. And in this case, it's that they have not succeeded in writing a song that will save the world and ultimately turns inside-out reality as we know it.

So that's really what's impacting us, how do we relate to our wives and our daughters? We're having some trouble with our wives. We're in marriage counseling the first time you see us. Our daughters, they love us very much, but they know that we're having a hard time. So that's creating some friction within the family. And Keanu and I just leaned into the grounded stuff. So to [director] Dean Parisot, it was very important to find a grounded foundation from which to launch into this completely insane narrative.

What was it like to bring in Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine into the fold as your daughters and to work with their energy? What was that like for both of you to have daughters all of a sudden?

Keanu: It was a lot of fun. Brigette and Samara are just lovely people and very, very talented and brought a kind of enthusiasm and craft.

Alex: I feel the same. There was a little bit of anxiety, not about them as actors at all, but about even in the earliest iterations of how those characters would be conveyed. And we were really happy with the way Chris and Ed had written the daughters, but it was really a whole different ballgame when Brigette and Samara were cast and the amount of thought they put into playing the daughters. And it wasn't at all just watching our movies five times and then doing it, thankfully. They created their own characters that were very much unique to them and their worldviews and all of that. So it was very gratifying. And it was also fun to play Bill and Ted as dads. It changes you in terms of how you approach the role.

We never felt these movies were bro-ey, even the originals. They're more childlike than they are that. But once you're a parent, it's really not that. And Bill and Ted love being parents. They love being husbands. So that created more things to play.

Are there things that you guys did in this film, that if you looked back at the previous ones, you were not able to accomplish? Maybe technology-wise were there things that happened today that you could not do back in the day?

Keanu: No.

Alex: Yeah, I can't think of anything. I think that the writers were intent on finding new ways into Bill and Ted. And I think they gave us a lot of meat on the bone to work with, because we get to play so many different versions of ourselves. So we're really looking at many different facets of these characters, and that's new. That's something that we didn't do before. That's something that wasn't in either of the other two movies. We were evil robots, which was very specific. But this is really just Bill and Ted who are in very painful, very traumatic periods of different iterations of their lives. And there's a lot of comic potential there, as well as emotional potential. There were a lot of new things that the guys came up with that gave everyone room to play. But I can't think of anything that we could only do now, for some reason.

There are so many different versions of Bill and Ted that you guys have interacted with. Which were the most fun to play?

Keanu: I can't choose. We had some extraordinary makeup, so the prison yard Bill and Ted maybe, but I think it was more just emotionally the characters got dark. And it's nice to play this darkness against the lightness of it. They're almost exuberantly darker.

When the Bill & Ted Face the Music trailer came out, people really responded to the prison yard versions of you guys. What was that like to unveil it? Did your family members see that prior? Or did you want to surprise them all with that image?

Alex: My family happened to come to New Orleans and visit the set the day we shot that sequence. So there we were, sweating profusely in the 104,000-degree heat and the 9050% humidity. And I looked out, bleary eyed, and saw my kids looking quite amused, shall we say? But in general no, we really wanted to maintain surprises for the audience. We have managed to continue to do that. So, we've tried to keep it fresh for people... but the prisoners, it was fun to see that unleashed on the world.

George Carlin helped the Bill & Ted franchise become legendary

Do you have any lovely memories about working with George Carlin, and what did his presence bring to the Bill and Ted franchise?

Keanu: He brought class. He was just so down to earth and worked really hard on Rufus. And he brought a weight to it. Of course, because it's George Carlin coming from the future, you know? It was really extraordinary to have a chance to work with such an incredible person and artist.

Alex: I have an overall warm and fuzzy memory and gratitude about having been able to work with George so closely. Keanu and I, we were young. We had both been around famous people, even when we did the first movie. But George was a different kind of famous than the type of people you are used to meeting as an actor. This was the beginning of the rock star comedy identity, right? Prior to Carlin, except for Lenny Bruce, there'd never really been people like that before. So they were godlike in a way, and so much more than just a personality.

And I remember being very star struck by him and really grateful. He was very open, very accommodating. You didn't feel a wall with George at all. But I just have an overall feeling of gratitude that we got that experience and a huge gratitude that he's in the movie. He really elevated the first Bill and Ted just by his presence.

Because so many years have gone by between films, there's a whole generation of people who've never seen the previous films and will actually discover Bill and Ted for the first time through Face the Music. What is that like, to work on a project that you know will hit so many different generations?

Keanu: That hasn't hit yet. That's more of a concept than a reality. But, I mean, we've experienced something akin to that in the sense of meeting people who've said, "Wow, it's you guys." And we're like, "Hi." And then they're telling us how they've shown the film to their kids — and we've met those kids. So we've had something akin to it, but I haven't had that experience of, "I've never seen them, but then I saw the third one." Hopefully they'll enjoy.

Alex: We tried to make a film that would be enjoyable, whether you'd seen the first two or not.

How has your journey been, to be alongside Bill and Ted? What have they given you over the years?

Keanu: Well, so many moments with fans. And, for me, it's such an honor to work with Alex and the way that we can share our sense of humor and laugh in the work is something that I don't get anywhere else. It's pretty extraordinary. And I'm very grateful for it. Thanks, Alex.

Alex: Hey man, it's obviously mutual. It's a strange and very lovely thing to have in your life. It's very sweet when you're in your day, you're in your head, you're in your world, which has got nothing to do with public life, and some five-year-old comes running up to you to tell you how much you mean to them is pretty amazing. And then there's the internal performance part of it, of just having had these experiences. Obviously Keanu and I have been friends all these years, but it's very different, my memories of the performance aspect with him and getting into this groove that we get into when we're acting. It is a lot like being in a band, especially the way comedy works, it's so much about timing that we literally play together.

And so to have had the opportunity to come back and do that again. I didn't think about it that way going in, because there was so much work to do. But on the first week I found myself just playing again with Keanu and it was really fun and instinctive and just a very rare thing. It's its own thing.

What did the first day on set feel like for you guys, did things immediately kick in? Did you have a moment where you stood back and said, "Dude, this is pretty cool."

Keanu: Our first day was shooting in the phone booth. So yeah, we started to get into the phone booth and I think that's where it landed for us. Like, okay, here we go. But I thought it was cool that we got to start in the phone booth. Somehow that was like a touchstone.

Alex: It was inadvertent — we had no say in that. Or much of anything, which was a good thing. But looking back, starting in the phone booth was a smart move on whoever's part that was. I don't think it was intentional, but it was helpful to start that way. I think for me it was a few days into production. I think after we shot the marriage-counseling scene and there was just a moment where I just felt like Keanu and I were in a real groove. Suddenly something was there that I didn't expect, that I hadn't quite remembered. It was just back. And that was nice.

Don't expect it to take another 30 years for another Bill & Ted movie

What if it takes another 30 years to make another Bill and Ted?

Alex: Tough gig. That's not good. I don't mean that, I mean 30 years from now... yeah, it might be tough. But, hey, I guess anything's possible.

Because of technology advancing over these past 30 years, was it different to make Bill & Ted Face the Music? Easier? Basically, how has technology helped Bill and Ted in this case?

Keanu: It didn't have a lot of impact on it, although we shot the first two films on film. And this we shot with digital cameras and so the filmmaking. But our director Dean Parisot grew up with film, so the digital process looked very much like the film process. So that was cool. I don't think technologically it was much different, maybe the advancement in terms of speed of rendering visual effects is a little different...

Alex: I honestly would say that from a practical standpoint, this film was harder in many ways than the first two, and more challenging. And I think that happens with technology — not to over-hype here, but Keanu made a whole movie about this, which I highly recommend. But oftentimes, in the digital world because of the ease you get from the technology, you end up just going for more of everything. So if you're editing, you have less downtime because you're on a nonlinear system that just goes all the time and you can get burned out very easily. In the old days you had to change reels and you're using real film and things went at a slightly more measured pace.

Thankfully we had Dean at the helm, and to Keanu's point, I remember that I forgot we were even shooting digital until week two. Which I know is crazy, because I direct and I look at cameras all the time. I don't think I said this to anyone, as I think I would've felt foolish, but I remember going to set one morning going, "Oh, we're not even shooting film. We're actually shooting digitally." I hadn't even thought about it. To his credit, Dean and Shelly Johnson were really pacing us like a movie. They weren't just gunning, we weren't just hosing scenes down, just because we could. And I'm really grateful that they all designed it that way.

What advice do you think Bill and Ted would give to everybody that need positive words in 2020?

Keanu: Alex, do the line, man, and I'll do the other line.

Alex: Be excellent to each other...

Keanu: And party on, dudes!