It’s been 29 years since Alex Winter last strummed the air as Bill S. Preston, Esquire, lifemate and bandmate to Keanu Reeves’ Ted “Theodore” Logan, in the cult teen comedy, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991).
Since then, Winter, also known for his turn in 1987’s The Lost Boys, has mainly positioned himself behind the camera as a documentary filmmaker, directing such works as 2012’s Downloaded, about early filesharing protocol Napster, and this year’s Showbiz Kids, a look at the perils of being child actor. You could be forgiven for thinking that his acting days were behind him – Winter’s last onscreen role was in 2015.
However, you can’t keep a good cult comedy down. Together with Reeves and original Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, Winter has been working tirelessly to bring his most famous character back. And for longer than you might think.
“I think the idea first got talked about back in 2008, when I had dinner with Reeves and the writers and we talked about where these two guys would be in their lives by now.” Though the quartet revisited the notion again and again, it was only when original producer Scott Kroopf – “the adult in the room”, as Winter calls him – came on board that the wheels began to turn.
Still, they turned slowly. Director Dean Parisot, who gave us the cult sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, signed on in 2012, while Matheson and Solomon beavered away on the script with input from Reeves and Winter. Given that Winter’s directing career was by now in full swing, we have to wonder if the notion of him calling the shots on the third adventure was ever floated?
“Yeah,” he admits. “And I was pretty adamantly against it from the start. I wasn’t confident of my ability to act in character and also direct the movie. The exact tone of Bill and Ted, the style of comedy, is very hard to get precisely right.”
“It’s part of the inclusiveness and community of the Bill and Ted ethos.”
Picking up in the modern day, Bill & Ted Face the Music sees the eponymous duo, now middle-aged, still struggling to write the prophesied “song that will unite all humanity” that the first two films revolved around. When all time, space and reality starts to come apart at the seams, the pair resolve to travel forward in time to when they have already written the song, thus borrowing the completed tune from their future selves.
In practice, this meant that Reeves and Winter got to play multiple versions of their characters, using prosthetics and costumes to portray increasingly older and more jaded iterations of the normally freewheeling and happy-go-lucky San Dimas rockers. Many actors balk at performing under heavy prosthetic make up, but not Winter. “I’ve always enjoyed acting under make up!” he chortles, which should come as little surprise to anyone who has seen his feature directing debut, the wild Freaked (1993), which he co-directed with Tom Stern. Asked which of the alter-Bills was his favourite to play, he answers without hesitation. “Oh, it was the convicts, for sure.” It was a particularly dark juncture in the lives of Bill and Ted to be musclebound, tattooed and aggressive versions of their former selves.
Also in the mix this time out are the next generation of Preston and Logan in the form of Bill’s daughter, Thea (Samara Weaving), and Ted’s daughter, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), both note-perfect echoes of their on-screen progenitors. Winter credits “a great casting director” with finding the two actors for these crucial roles, before revealing that giving Bill and Ted daughters instead of sons was a decision that came later in the game.
Fans will recall that at the end of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey the two have sons – “Little Bill” and “Little Ted” – but “…in the writing, it didn’t really work with guys. The script read like they were impersonating me and Reeves. But when we flipped the genders, it worked a lot better.” With Billie and Thea off on their own complimentary time travel adventure in Face the Music, at times it feels like a passing of the torch, but Winter disagrees, saying: “It’s more that we’re inviting them in. It’s part of the inclusiveness and community of the Bill and Ted ethos.”
Next up for Winter is the release of his new documentary, Zappa, a fully authorised look at the life and work of the legendary man himself. “No one has made a film about [Frank] Zappa’s life before, so I’m very excited to be bringing that out.”
As for Bill and his best friend, for now, Face the Music looks set to be the final chapter. But who knows what could happen thirty years down the track? Is there a chance we could revisit the Wyld Stallyns in their dotage? “Playing Bill when I’m in my 80s?” he laughs. “I’ll sign on for that right now!”
Bill & Ted Face The Music is out now at cinemas.