He’s known for ridiculous catchphrases and playing the guitar badly on-screen, but in reality, Bill S. Preston Esq – aka Alex Winter – quit acting professionally in 1994.
“Once I was able to pay my bills writing and directing, I said, ‘thank you very much’ to my acting agent and parted ways,” Winter tells us. “I’d been in the business since I was nine. So by the time I was 25 or 26, I’d had a lengthy career and I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do full-time. I was very sure about that.”
Before going to film school in New York, Winter had forged a successful career on the Broadway stage, appearing in ‘The King & I’ and ‘Peter Pan’. But treading the boards long-term didn’t appeal.
Instead, the man who was Bill in the ‘Bill & Ted’ movies and vampire Marko in 1987’s ‘The Lost Boys’ (as well as appearing in ‘Death Wish 3’ and ‘The Equalizer’ TV show amongst others) segued into writing and directing and never looked back.
Not that he minded being remembered for playing the one of the dim-witted duo in ‘Excellent Adventure’ and the 1991 sequel ‘Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey’.
“I’m a pretty private person,” he told the Guardian, “so it’s kind of useful that my public persona is so different from my own persona. It kind of gives me cover – it’s a good deflection shield.”
Fans will also be pleased to know that his on-screen chemistry with Keanu Reeves extended off-set. The pair – Winter calls his friend “Reeves” – still hang out. “[We’ve] remained close over the years,” he says. They even go on holiday together. “We get some pretty fun reactions,” he has said.
After the success of ‘Bill & Ted’, Winter wrote, directed and starred in a well-regarded sketch series for MTV. Meanwhile, his first attempt as a big-screen filmmaker was ‘Freaked’, a wacky comedy about a guy who ends up trapped in a mutant freak show run by a mad scientist. It also starred Mr T as a bearded lady and an unrecognizable Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy.
The film gained a cult following, but wasn’t a smash and Winter ended up becoming a successful, award-winning commercials director, with a company based in London’s Soho. The England-born 49-year-old made the odd movie, such as 1999’s ‘Fever’, but focused mainly on adverts.
“London’s my second home,” he says now, having shuttered the company and moved back to Los Angeles. “I just started to get older and I started to do a lot more long-form and movies and I had to make a tough call whether I was based out of London or LA. My kids had to go to school or the cops were going to come and get me.”
Having made promos for everyone from Frosties to Google, Winter began to get work directing children’s shows like ‘Ben 10’ and ‘Supah Ninjas’ and soon found himself as a regular port of call for episodic telly.
But he kept his hand in with features, turning instead to long-form documentaries. After initially trying to make the story of Napster, entitled ‘Downloaded’, as a narrative movie in the early Noughties (which would have starred Shia LaBeouf and Michael Cera as the music company’s founders and Winter himself as Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich), he turned it into a well-received 2012 doc.
However, it was the Elijah Wood-starring Hitchcock-inspired ‘Grand Piano’ that finally managed to convince him back before the cameras this year.
‘I get asked [to act] a lot and normally say no,’ he says. ‘This was a strange, risky gambit of an idea that was fascinating to me.”
‘Grand Piano’ is a high-concept thriller in which concert pianist Wood is targeted by a crazed killer during a comeback performance, who tells him he must play perfectly or his wife will be killed. Winter plays an assistant at the venue who may not be exactly what he seems.
“It’s extremely arch and intentionally so,” says the star. “We were playing with Eighties stereotypes – it’s John Cusack, it’s me, the orchestra hall is called the Anthony Michael Hall. It’s great.”
Still, it’s unlikely he will go back to acting full-time, although he still practices. “I still train [in acting], because it’s something I’ve always done, I take it seriously,” he says. “So I still study. Doing scenes with actors and running monologues. I still take classes and train individually with a trainer as well. It’s very helpful for my writing and directing.”
It’s also because he expects to return for the third ‘Bill & Ted’, which will happen some time in the future. However, he’s not interested in returning to the ‘Lost Boys’ franchise, which has spawned two recent direct-to-DVD sequels, though not because he’s worried about the original’s legacy.
“I’m not really a vampire movie guy,” he explains.
He’s prepping another documentary about children in showbusiness and is currently shooting another technology-based one called ‘Deep Web: The Untold Story of Bitcoin and Silk Road’.
Still, he did enjoy being able to avoid directorial responsibility for the Barcelona shoot of ‘Grand Piano’.
“It was kind of a relief!” he laughs. “I didn’t have to worry about whether they were going to make their day, or if the focus puller screwed up the take!”
‘Grand Piano’ is out now in cinemas and on VOD and is on DVD from 20 October.
Photos: Getty Images/Rex/Everett/Warner Bros./Anchor Bay