Actor shifts gears to reprise role in ?Bogus Journey?

By Marshall Fine
Staff Writer

Smile when you say "dude" to Alex Winter, dude.

As the Bill half of the popular "Bill & Ted" comedies, he?s a quick critic of the way writers deconstruct "Bill&TedSpeak" in print.

"It?s always pretty funny to see the weird ways it gets interpreted," Winter says, sipping a Saratoga sparkling water in his New York hotel room.  "Sometimes they get it.  Other times, they?re 100 miles away."

To help out writers, the producers of "Bill & Ted?s Bogus Journey," which opened last week, have even included a lexicon in press materials, so they?ll know that "heinous" means bad, "non-heinous" means good and "non-non-heinous" means really bad.  "Excellent" means good, "most excellent" means very good and "Triumphant" means, well, excellent.

Surprised at the success of 1989's "Bill & Ted?s Excellent Adventure," Winter wasn?t sure he wanted to dumb down to get back in character as Bill S. Preston Esq., the rebel without a clue, who, with partner Ted "Theodore" Logan, would change the world as a rock star of the future.

"I had a lot of hesitation," says Winter, 25.  "If we made another one, I wanted to make sure we made it better.  Sequels are often just a blueprint of the first film.  We all wanted to take everything farther."

Well, you can?t go much farther than heaven and hell, just two of the places Bill and Ted visit after being "like, totally killed" by robot versions of themselves, sent back in time from the future.  And what sort of impression do Bill and Ted have of the Supreme Being and his evil angel?

"I think Bill and Ted come away thinking that Satan is kind of a drag and that God is all right - and I?ll bet that?s it," Winter says, "Oh, they probably have volumes of theological theories, but they keep them to themselves."

Surprise hit

Winter, a small, solidly built young man with curly blond hair, had moved on to other projects after completing "Bill & Ted?s Excellent Adventure" in 1988.  Once completed by the De Laurentis Group, the film got put on the shelf when the company suffered financial woes and went under.

"I hadn?t forgotten about it, but I?d kind of given up on it," Winter says.  "The film sat on the shelf for a year."

When it was released in the late summer of 1989 (ed. note: it was actually released in February of 1989), however, it turned into one of the summer?s sleeper hits.  The tale of two high school students who use a time machine to snatch Napoleon, Socrates and Freud (among others) from the past to help on their senior history project, "B&T 1" has spawned a Saturday morning cartoon show ("I never thought I?d be competition for Bugs Bunny - that?s pretty surreal," Winter says) as well as Bill & Ted?s Excellent Cereal.

Winter, who had previously appeared as a teen vampire in "The Lost Boys," found himself the surprised object of affection for the new legion of Bill and Ted fans: "The fans are cool, though," he says.  "It?s a sweet movie, so the people who like it are nice.  I did get chased down the street by a convertible full of them yelling lines from the movie, though."

The film found a surprising audience among pre-school and elementary school moviegoers.  Winter went to a theater in Los Angeles to see the first film and wound up sharing the experience with an audience full of 4- and 5-year-olds: "They responded to the friendship themes," he says.  "And they liked the physical comedy.  I don?t think they got too many laughs when we referred to Socrates as So Crates, though."

Career enhancement

The unexpected hit has given Winter the chance to do all of the things he originally moved to L.A. to do five years ago.  Winter is a hopping hyphenate, an actor-director-writer who, with partner Tom Stern, has a development deal at Twentieth Century-Fox.  They are working on a comedy script, with the hope of directing it themselves in the fall.

"It?s about a Brat Pack actor who goes to South America and gets turned into a freak," Winter says.  "It?s about redemption by way of being mutated."

Winter was born in England and reared in St. Louis, New York and New Jersey.  His father, Ross Winter, still has his own modern-dance company in St. Louis (Ed's note: sadly Ross Winter was killed in a car accident in 1994 but his dance company, Madco, still exists); his mother is a fitness instructor in New York.

Winter discovered his interest in film as a kid, making 8mm films beginning when he was 12: "I used to make up stories and shoot them, always physical comedy stuff," he says.  "It usually involved throwing dummies off the roof and scaring the neighbors."

At the same time, he was finding work as a child actor on Broadway in revivals of "The King and I" and "Peter Pan" in the early 1980s.  He worked on Broadway through his junior year in high school: "Then I dropped out of the national tour of ?Peter Pan? so I could get down to business and pretend I was academically serious for a couple of years, to get into NYU," he says.

He met Stern at NYU and the two discovered that they shared a sense of humor and similar taste in films.  They also found that, if they teamed up and pooled the materials the film school gave them, they had twice as much film stock to work with in making their own movies.

Winter dropped out of NYU in his junior year.  He auditioned for "The Lost Boys" and moved to L.A. when he got the part.  He and Stern continued writing scripts together, as Winter began winning movie parts.

One of their scripts from that period, "The Idiot Box," recently was produced for MTV.  The script they are developing for Fox was written initially in 1987: "We?ve been working a long time," he says.  "We?re just starting to have some luck.

"The success with ?Bill & Ted? has afforded me the ability to write for a year or two at a time.  That exposure is what got ?Idiot Box? on the air.  It?s a chance to show people what I can do."

On the other hand, if "Bill and Ted 2" is a hit, there probably will be pressure for "B&T3."  But Winter doesn?t know what they could to top dying and coming back to life.

"It would have to be something outrageous," he says.  "Our destiny already has been met.  Bill and Ted?s odyssey has been successful.  So it would have to be something really goofy."