Real girls in their own place.
Not too crazy and just a pinch of naughty...
My Winter Wonderland
Remember when people use to line up for an album? Or if your town’s local Cineplex wasn’t included in the theatre release (or as is the case in my shitey youth, you couldn’t afford it), made the anticipation for the video rental unbearably delicious? When I was 12 I was curating taped trailers, interviews and magazine pages (turned posters), for every movie du jour. Intricately cataloguing them to heighten my excitement, like Beavis in the grips of a coffee addled Cornholio rant.
One of these unnatural obsessions was comedy cult classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The dreamy and “intellectually challenged” duo, fell into my misshapen view (guided solely by American 80s movies) of the U.S. teen experience. Right up there with those pretty Weird Science nerds. I was convinced in ‘89 if these were what misfits looked like across the pond, I couldn’t wait to get there! Believe it or not, I also found the lives of Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan, somewhat glamorous back then. All that quotable So Cal vernacular, cartoon colored clothing and lovable misadventures. It was always sunny there, kids hung out in places called “malls” as opposed to grimy underpasses, instead of chain smoking they ate uncooked Japanese fish; and on weekends would go to a “water park.” To me California was the promised land! More than that though I simply adored the two leads, truthfully I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much if it hadn’t been the very young Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves. Alex with his pre-Raphaelite curls and blood red, bee-stung lips, Keanu in all his ethnically ambiguous glory. Both with such enviable hair. I had never seen such exotic male creatures, wondering the cobble stoned pathways of Tamworth. Which for the record, means hog mouth.
So when I think of Alex Winter, I feel personally nostalgic. The Bill & Ted series, Freaked, LOST BOYS, the various music videos (that I also taped) for “The Butthole Surfers,” “Red Hot Chili Peppers,” “Bootsy Collins” and “Ice Cube.” I followed them religiously through high-school with the emergence of the internet, after college, right up to my U.S. migration in ‘96. Like “old friends” (in my head only), that I would check in from time to time. “Oh look our Alex is mekin’ commercials and winning awards back ‘ome (*said in strong Midlands drawl), and everyone is trying to figure out if Keanu is the second cummin’. Awe, haven’t they grown up nice!” All this pride and love based on a gig that two actors in their early 20s probably took on a whim, inexplicably they became a very fond part of my past. For whatever reason those two “dudes” in particular, found a nook in the collective hearts of their audience that resonates to this day. Then more time passed and there were no more tapes, or lines at the movies and albums lost their cache. Napster founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker got in a spot of legal bother(#downplay), as YouTube clips and Paris’s crotch became international news. Then a very clever young man by the name of Zuckerberg started planning world domination, through the cunning use of “likes.”
Which makes this interview so very serendipitous (*again, only inmyhead). Alex Winter continued to make music videos, commercials and movies, he continued to win awards, but along the way he curated his own back catalogue. Ten years later what initial started as a straight narrative movie has evolved into the much “buzzed about” (that’s 2013’s version of anticipated), indie documentary Downloaded (@downloaded_doc) premiering @SXSW Festival, March 10th. An “insightful look” into how two unsophisticated young men with a devastating love of rock music, discovered a technology that changed the course of history (including theirs) impacting the world as we know it. Mmm now that sounds like a story that he might be able to relate to rather well.
Behold, the most giddy, gushing, star struck interview known to man! I give you Alex R. Winter!
(oh yes and some inside info on Bill & Ted 3!)
So you started acting as a kid, were you considered a child actor?
I was literally a child actor. There was nothing euphemistic about that one (laughing). I was a child and I was an actor.
Were your parents rather artsy?
My parents were both modern dancers, my dad was also an architect. We could be considered an artsy family, she also taught modern dance at Washington University. I would be backstage at a lot of those shows and whenever the drama department needed a kid, I would sort of get thrown up on stage. So I discovered really young that I enjoyed doing that.
So you can dance?
I was terrible at modern and ballet, but I could tap dance pretty well. Dance was never my real interest though, I was always more interested in film. When we moved to NY I ended up on Broadway, acting professionally around the age of 12 and I continued to do that through my teens.
Can you still tap dance?
No, no, I haven’t done that in years. My kids can, which is very cute, but they do it mostly to annoy me.
Weren’t you really young when you made Bill & Ted and The Lost Boys?
I was only 19 when I did The Lost Boys and 20 when I did the first Bill & Ted.
Both have huge cult followings, but what did you think of them at the time?
Honestly, I LOVED them! With Lost Boys I was fresh out of film school and suddenly on this huge Joel Schumacher set, with the likes of Dianne Wiest, Bernard Hughes and Kiefer Sutherland. With an extraordinary crew, I mean the DP was Michael Chapman, he filmed Raging Bull. So that was all incredible to me.
God I was SO impressed by that movie, not the vampires part, but the whole California cool thing (laughing).
Hey the fact is, it was kind of wacky for me to find myself wearing hair extensions and playing a glam rock dressing vampire too (laughing).
But it was REALLY fun and I had a fantastic time. Although not exactly what I expected to be doing.
(Ah yes the dreadlocked mullet, I remember it well).
Tell me about your new documentary Downloaded?
It’s about the rise and fall of Napster, and the birth of the digital revolution. Given that all the sides in this debate are more divided and contentious now than ever, it’s a chance for all sides to say their peace.
With Freaked how did you convince that cast to be in something so bizarre?
Yeah, we couldn’t believe it either. The script was very popular, so it attracted those people because we had notoriety from The Idiot Box. Which is crazy to think about any of them doing that now. It was a dream cast.
In retrospect how do you feel about baring your mid drift in a half shirt as Bill?
That was actually my idea! It seemed like a goofy, quasi-white trash, thing to do back then.
What? I thought they were suburbanites or wealthy Americans?!!!
(I’m starting to realize quickly, I may have been poor!)
WASPy Americans can still be slightly white trash. We weren’t trailer trash, but we were supposed to be from the no man’s land of the valley. So I wanted them to feel ‘not urbane’ in any way.
(there’s a pause as we both reminisce over those lovable boys in their half shirts, before cackling aloud).
Yet in reality, you both were very multi-cultural.
Neither of us could have been less like Bill & Ted, which makes it funnier. I grew up in London, all over Europe and NY, he grew up in Hawaii and Toronto, which are all very cosmopolitan places. We were the furthest thing from Cali boys.
Where did you attend film school?
After spending my high school years on Broadway, I went to NYU for writing and directing. Of course then I left with no job and massive student debt, so as I still had an agent in LA, I moved out here and started auditioning immediately. I thought I’ll give this a shot first, then unexpectedly booked a few movies in a row. Which paid the bills.
So you really began acting in movies to make money?
I did, luckily it became my day job. I would be shooting films with Tom Stern my creative partner at night. We were making music videos and commercials, then out of the blue the acting really took off. Which was completely surreal, I was suddenly on cereal boxes and with a Saturday morning cartoon. Don’t get me wrong I love acting, I still study it so I don’t want to sound cavalier, but my primary interest was always writing and directing.
You directed music videos for “Helmut “and “The Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
I was incredibly lucky ,as it started pretty quickly after I left film school. Back then it was kind of a goofy medium, but it was also something fantastic. I’m really happy that I was a part of that music video era.
Do you miss the old MTV and music videos? Or do you prefer the new mediums and YouTube?
Those are some big questions rolled into one. I just finished Downloaded. So I’ve been immersed in these questions for a while now, how do you put this. I was really involved and a big part of MTV then, not just the music video aspect but we did one of their first live action shows The Idiot Box. So I felt very supported by them, but then it changed. I think music videos outlived their purpose and started to become cheesier and tackier. I don’t miss where it went, then there was this period when everything just died. Now, with the new technology it seems to be coming back around. Kids can just pick up a camera and shoot whatever they want, which has created a resurgence in the music video form. The fact you can self distribute on YouTube is phenomenal. Yes there’s more clutter to bust through, but the potential to create amazing things is endless.
Are you directing The Gate 3d remake?
That is in the works.
There’s a rumor Bill & Ted 3 is coming, is that true?
There’s a mish mash of stuff on the internet, isn’t there? So here’s the truth. The reality is me, Keanu and the 2 original writers got together and hashed out an idea for a third one, that we really liked. Where the 4 of us would be producing and Chris and Ed would write the script again, so now we’re trying to put it together. So it could come to fruition, it hasn’t happened yet. We’re still at the beginning of that process.
So how would that work, storyline wise?
(he’s laughing at me, I had to try all nonchalantly).
I can’t tell you that, I would have to kill you. It is the ultimate question though and a funny one. I mean what becomes of these 2 guys, whom the last time we left them, were suppose to solve every single problem of the world? Keeping in mind, they didn’t seem to have the mental capacity to do so. I can tell you this, that question gets answered.
I mean forget time travel, what happens to 2 guys like that in life?
Well exactly, yeah. All those questions will get answered, if we go ahead with it the way we want to.
I’m so nostalgic, I can’t STAND it!
Yeah, I put so much prevalence into those films, when I look back they weren’t the most thought provoking fare.
Hey, and that’s OK.
Also Keanu Reeves was the first Eurasian I’d EVER seen, so I started to find profound signs in Bill & Ted that weren’t there. I have no acceptable excuse for The Lost Boys. Absolutely none (sigh).
Ah that’s hilarious, but it’s still OK (he’s giggling, which is actually quite comforting).
(I’m positively GUSHING nostalgia right now!)
OK random question time!
Oh no! I hate these types of questions!
(yes, everyone does Alex).
3 favorite albums?
Well the caveat is that changes constantly, so no I don’t have favorites. Let’s say unshakeable masterpieces, for today.
Blood On The Tracks - Dylan
A Love Supreme - Coltrane
Magic and Loss - Lou Reed
Is Rock & Roll dead?
It’s un-killable!! In the 70s and 60s it was the revolutionary medium, in this era technology is. People wait for the latest iPAD, like they use to wait for a Stones record. The shock of the new today isn’t freak out your parents by listening to “The Who,” but freak them out by being wired to 9 devices simultaneously. That’s today’s rebellion.
(I think Alex should teach at Berkley or UCLA, he’s very knowledgable and throughout this interview I feel like I’m learning some new ideas).
So when you say you hate “these types” of questions, are we talking “favorites” or “multi-choice?”
(laughing) All of the above! Mainly because my opinions are constantly changing, all the time, every day.
You see I’m very judgmental, so mine pretty much stay the same.
Really? I’m gonna give it the old college try though. Go on.
Have you seen the site?
Yeah the photos are great!
If you had a theme tune what would it be?
Favorite movie soundtracks?
Fellini’s - Casanova, Spotify that one. West Side Story and The Stunt Man.
3 TV commercials that stick in your head?
Roger Woodburn’s Timex commercial, love that one. Tony Kaye did a gun control commercial that was great.
Did he do that tire commercial, with Velvet Underground’s Venus in Furs?
Yes, that’s a famous one. Britain makes some of the best commercials I think. Or Fincher, pretty much of all his.
Tell me your own favorite commercials, you made?
I did some ‘out there’ Supercuts commercials, a bunch for the UK I especially like. My favorite one was probably my BBC “Fingers” commercial, that was really surreal. Finger people.
Do you have any obscure knowledge to share?
I think I just did.
Any obscure film info from the movies you were in?
You can imagine how many times I’ve been asked about a couple of those movies. I don’t think there’s an unscreened, uncapped, anecdote left (laughs).
Yet part of me doesn’t care and might continue to ask, is that evil?
(laughs) A little bit.
I feel like you don’t trust me and that hurts Alex.
Quick word association round.
England - I suck at this, I really do.
Afro - turf
Bubblegum - Why not.
Half shirt - Yep, I did that.
Ah yes, you certainly did Mr. Winter, you certainly did. Downloaded premieres at SXSW Film Festival on Sunday March 10th!