‘Oh, we’re Bill and Ted’
“Because it’s very surreal. We played this in our early 20s and to be here, 30 years later, you know, it’s an experience I’ve never had. I’ve spoken about it being a kind of reunion experience, but it’s not that. When we worked with William Sadler again, who plays Death, it was like putting a band together, like ‘Oh yeah, we know how to play like this. It’s really fun and great.’ But I don’t have anything analogous to it, except the experience itself.”
That experience is starring in Bill and Ted Face the Music, the longed-for third instalment in the life of William S. Preston Esq and Ted Logan – one-time high school slackers, now a pair of grown-up dudes with teenage daughters – whose destiny across three films has always been to write a song that will “bring humanity into rhythm and harmony”.
The problem is, they still haven’t done it. And now they only have 75 minutes in which to write it, otherwise the “great unravelling” will begin. Cue a Dickensian trip into the future, as the past Bill and Ted confront future Bills and Teds in an effort to find the song in a bit of typically twisted logic. As Bill says, “It’s not stealing if we’re stealing from ourselves, dude.”
That we’re three films deep into a goofy franchise should come as no surprise to pop culture lovers. After all, when the first film, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, was released in 1989, it unleashed a joyously silly history lesson on an unsuspecting public as the film’s erstwhile heroes travelled back in time aboard said phone booth so they could pass a history assignment with the help of Genghis Khan, Socrates, Napoleon Bonaparte and Joan of Arc among others.
Guiding them on their adventure was Rufus, played by US stand-up legend George Carlin, who was sent from 700 years in the future, where “bowling averages are way up; mini-golf scores are way down”, to set them on their path to greatness.
It was smart, dumb fun and despite the film being sniffily dismissed by The New York Times as a “painfully inept comedy”, it made $US40 million at the box office from a $US6.5 million budget, turned its stars into teen icons, spawned a 1991 sequel, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, plus a breakfast cereal, comic books, a cartoon, video games, a short-lived musical and a show at Universal Studios in Florida. And if you heard anyone say “whoa, dude” between say, 1989 and 1992, it was because of Bill and Ted.
The success of the two films could also be put down to their ability to speak the language of teenagers; they understood the bond between best friends and knew why most teens would rather spend time thinking about an unrealistic future (Eddie Van Halen playing in your band) than the present (failing a history assignment and getting sent to military school in Alaska). And, yeah, it gave me my first movie-star crush on the floppy-haired Reeves.
Which is why, when the film studio offers me 10 minutes with Reeves and co-star Alex Winter, I take it and it’s why I wake up at midnight, 2am and 4am worried I am going to miss the interview. And it’s why I give myself a pep talk prior to the interview that I’m not going to mention that I had a giant cardboard cutout of them from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey in my bedroom between 1991 and 1994, which was bought for $2 from the local Video Ezy after much pestering.
But I do. They smile and nod politely and two minutes of our time is up. Much like Bill and Ted, my clock is ticking.
When did they know Bill and Ted had first become a thing?
“When the first film came out and people started to yell lines from moving vehicles, that’s when it kind of hit me,” says Reeves. “People would be leaning out of the car, yelling ‘Be excellent.’”
Adds Winter: “When we made the first film, it was very innocent, it was not big budget, it was a bunch of young people who had not done anything before. It sat on a shelf for a year, we were told it was never going to come out. So honestly, opening weekend was impactful.
“My agent sent me a copy of Variety and the whole centre of Variety was a cut-out of Keanu and I sitting on a giant mountain of cash. I have absolutely no idea who got that mountain of cash, but I can assure you it was not us.”
They might not have been sitting on a pile of cash, but Bill and Ted left a mark on both of their careers. Reeves turned from goofball into action hero (Point Break), indie darling (My Own Private Idaho), vampire killer (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and then superstar and beyond with the Matrix and John Wick films. Meanwhile Winter, who had been an accomplished child star on Broadway, turned to directing documentaries and short films.
With such vastly different careers, was it difficult to find Bill and Ted again?
“I don’t think it was until day one,” says Winter. “We happened to be shooting in the phone booth. We were sitting in the parking lot and there was the booth. After all this time, the booth is still so iconic, even to us, because it is a remnant of the past, we don’t have phone booths any more.
“So there was this phone booth, with the little umbrella thing on the top, and I remember being quite moved and jolted by seeing the Circuits of Time book hanging there. And with movies, everything moves like a freight train, there’s no ceremony. It was like, ‘OK, we’re ready for you guys.’ So, after 20-something years and all of this work, it was just get in the booth and say your lines.
“We were running behind, and the sun’s going down, it was, ‘Alex, you pick up the directory and find the thing.’ There was no pre-talk about any of this. And I got in there, and I was looking at Keanu, and the camera’s flying around us and I’ve got the Circuits of Time book and I’m like, ‘Oh shit, we’re Bill and Ted.’ ”
It goes without saying that music plays a big role in the film, with Bill and Ted’s daughters – Thea (played by Australian Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) – proving to be the real musical geniuses of the family, as they recruit everyone from Ling Lun, the founder of music in ancient China, to US rapper Kid Cudi, to help their dads find the music.
Is there any musician or band they would have added to the list?
“We kind of have the ultimate super band,” says Winter. “There’s so many great musicians, you could keep adding ad nauseam – the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, jazz, funk and hip-hop. We got a pretty good band.”
What about Reeves’ ’90s alt-rock band Dogstar? Surely they should have got a guernsey?
“No, Dogstar does not belong,” says Reeves, chuckling (finally!).
Are you sure?
And with that, our time is up.
Bill and Ted Face the Music opens on September 10.
Louise is Editor of S and TV Liftout at The Sun-Herald. She also hosts the SMH and Age podcast The Televisionaries.