Fame: who needs it?

Bill and Ted launched Keanu Reeves on a fast track to superstardom, leaving his co-star Alex Winter in the starting gate. Not that he's bothered

Alex Winter has had only one major film role, but it was a most bodacious one. True, the reviews were universally sniffy when Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure was released in 1989 ("Should open to a tame response and peter out from there" - Hollywood Reporter). But the daft Valley-dude comedy went on to gross over $45m - not bad on a budget of less than $10m. It spawned a sequel, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. And above all it turned those two slackers into national icons, the godfathers of the current American vogue for lovable stupidity. Back in 1987, when Bill and Ted met for the first time at their audition, the young actors were both unknowns. Eight years later, Ted - Keanu Reeves - is a major star, able to pull down, in the wake of Speed, $7m for his next big studio picture. But what about Bill?

Winter is still baby-faced after all these years: give him a back-to- front baseball cap and an air guitar and he could, at a pinch, star in B&T 3 tomorrow. Only recently, out on the streets of London, he was greeted with a "how's it hangin' dude?" And when Bill and Ted appear in public together... well, when Keanu Reeves was in town last year, Winter took him to the National Gallery to see the new Caravaggio, and wouldn't care to repeat the experience.

But, focused and articulate, Winter doesn't sound much like the spaced- out Bill. And he hasn't become joined at the hip with his fictional doppelganger in the same way as Reeves, who was thereafter generally assumed to be a card-carrying airhead. Years later he was to remark ruefully that, for all the other roles he'd played, when he died he'd be remembered for playing Ted (when he essayed Hamlet at the beginning of this year, everyone called it "Keanu's excellent Shakespearian adventure"). "That's because he's an actor, I guess," Winter says. "And Keanu is just so... Keanu, know what I mean? Not for me. I've moved on and done different things."

Winter is hardly on the skids today: he has a commercials and pop video company based in London and New York. Recent assignments include an ad for Littlewoods pools and, rather cheekily, another for National Lottery scratch cards with Ronnie Corbett as the Grim Reaper (an hommage, perhaps, to the Death Dude in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey? And he has directed a first feature, Freaked. But he hasn't parlayed Bill's brief blaze of fame into a celebrity career.

He professes to like it that way, without feeling remotely envious of his former co-star. "Keanu can't sit back now. Keanu does way more interviews than I have to do. Keanu has a certain appearance. He has a life that he has to lead, and this is true of any actor in his situation. They have managers, publicists, the whole nine yards, 365 days a year. And it's all so that when your name hits a desk the producer can go, `Oh yeah, this guy. This guy's got heat.'

"It's a high-maintenance job, and as soon as you sit back, someone else is gonna come along, another Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp who looks just as good and is hustling twice as hard as you. And they're gonna go, `Oooo, this guy's got an even hotter buzz.' Look at Mickey Rourke. You could say, whatever became of him? But Mickey Rourke had a good long run before he had the collagen implants and seemingly went insane. He did some great work in Diner and in a couple of other movies.

"Acting has never been a priority for me. I'd look at scripts and I'd look at the films that came out and I'd think, `I don't want to be in any of this stuff.' There's a lot of competition and it's not even about trying to fight for a role, it's about trying to fight for an identity. There was a time when you had people like Laurence Olivier or Robert Mitchum: actors who were really extraordinary. Then your longevity might be based on your skill compared to your peers.

"But now when you're competing with Arnie [Schwarzenegger] it's a different issue, because you're not competing with the greatest actor of the day, you're competing with an attitude. And that relegates you to becoming a different kind of actor: a celebrity. For myself, it's a race I wouldn't wanna run. I'd look at the movies being made and think: I'm gonna try that hard so that I can be in The Three Musketeers?"

Instead, when Bill and Ted turned into a box-office winner, Winter used its success to talk MTV into signing him to write, direct and act in a comedy series called The Idiot Box (it didn't air in Britain). He did the Bill and Ted sequel in 1991, and soon afterwards set to writing what was to become Freaked, a broad, special-effects- heavy comedy about a travelling showman who uses a toxic fertiliser to mutate unwary visitors into exhibits in his freak show. Typically, Winter was, he says, intrigued by the "parallels between Hollywood and the 18th-century travelling show, between being in the entertainment industry and being a freak."

Apart from Randy Quaid as the mad showman, Freaked's cast includes Mr T and Brooke Shields. And, slightly to his surprise, Winter found that his name still possessed enough marquee-value for the studio (Twentieth Century Fox) to insist he return temporarily to acting to play the lead, an arrogant young movie star who becomes Quaid's most grotesque specimen. "It was a matter of commercial necessity, I guess. I'd rather have not done it, because directing is so time-consuming. Acting under four and a half hours of make-up every day on top of it was extremely gruelling and painful. I'd much rather have played a sideline character in it and had some fun."

The oddest casting of all is Winter's old friend, Keanu Reeves, unrecognisable under a thick coat of hair, as a character called Ortiz the Dogboy (he is uncredited on the print of Freaked itself, although the UK video sleeve features him). "Keanu had to go through an extraordinary ordeal make-up- wise, hours and hours, five hours. The make-up team didn't want to make a mask for him, they wanted to lay the hair on individually so that it would really form-fit his face. He was such a trooper: he would just come in and sit patiently. And he did an amazing job. Maybe people don't know who he is, but I wouldn't have wanted anyone else to play it, because it's the kind of character, a hyper-theatrical rogue, that he can do really well."

If Winter has any residual doubts about abandoning acting, he just needs to remember the precise level of desperation of the hopefuls auditioning for his movie. "One guy came in to read for the Worm character who scared the heck out of us. He was a really mousy-looking guy, normal guy, and he said, `Mind if I do this the way I want to do it?' He laid this garbage bag out on the floor and took off his overcoat. Underneath he was wearing nothing except bikini briefs and he was smeared in brown dirt: I guess he was trying to look like a worm. Then he got down on the ground and proceeded to writhe around doing his dialogue. We couldn't decide whether he could act because we were so mortified by what he was doing." In bailing out of the celebrity balloon, Winter might have made a smart move: better by far to be a quietly anonymous director than another worm on the Hollywood dung-heap.

n `Freaked' is released on video by Fox/Guild

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'