Back in 1989 Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon wrote a little film about a couple of young men who travelled through time to pass their history report – Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure would be a success both at the box office and critically. It would go on to spawn a sequel two years later with Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey – bringing along a darker element to the franchise as our heroes, Bill” S. Preston Esq (Alex Winters) and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan (Keanu Reeves) are murdered and sent to hell, meeting Death himself (William Sadler).
Now, a tubular 32 years later, Bill and Ted (and Death) are back just when the world, both literally and figuratively, need them most in Bill And Ted Face The Music.
SciFiNow and Chris Matheson dial the phone box all the way back to the late Eighties to explore the Bill & Ted franchise…
Can you remember back to when you first came up with the idea for Bill & Ted?
Gosh, 38 years ago. Actually, we made up Bill and Ted in 1983 and we wrote the first movie in 1984, so it’s a really, really long time ago [haha]! I remember some of it very vividly, and some of it’s probably slipped away, but yeah, I remember coming up with the guys and really enjoying them and thinking they were very funny very quickly.
What came first, the story or the characters?
Oh it was definitely the characters, which Ed and I have always felt was very important for the Bill And Ted movies. We didn’t have any story to even put them in! They were just a couple of guys that we really loved. We sort of came to know them for about a year before we put them in any story at all and we would just talk as Bill and Ted and write letters back and forth, building their inner lives. Finally, after probably about a year we thought: ‘Well, what if?’ We both wanted to be movie writers so we thought well maybe we could. These guys are funny, what if we put them in a movie?
“I remember coming up with the guys and thinking they were very funny”
Then we started thinking: ‘Well, what kind of movie?’ Time travel seemed good and it seemed funny because it threw them up against all kinds of hugely important figures that they would be very non-plussed by interacting with. The original idea was for them to be inadvertently responsible for everything bad that had ever happened. Like somehow they started the Black Plague and somehow they caused World War I, etc. That seems funny to us, but the implications of that were bad! If they’re really, really responsible for everything bad that’s ever happened that ceases to be comedic pretty soon! But we liked time travel and then we started playing with time travel…
How does the process work with you and Ed Solomon writing together?
We wrote the first one kind of face-to-face. We just sat and had pads and pens because this is 1984 [haha]. We’d just do dialogue as Bill and Ted; just sort of ping pong it back and forth and then when one [of our] hands got tired of writing, we’d just hand the pad to the other one! So that’s how we wrote the first one and that’s also how we wrote the second one.
We didn’t get into splitting stuff up [until] the third movie. A lot of what happens in the second act was divided up – one of us would take a whack at it and then send it to the other guy!
Are the final performances from Keanu and Alex how you envisioned the characters when you were writing them?
The best possible thing is when someone not only inhabits the role the way you envisioned it, they [make it] way better! [Our characters] were kind of losers, they were scrawny, nobody liked them. They just sort of shuffled around and had long hair. They were the most unpopular guys in school who people made fun of.
“The original idea was for them to be inadvertently responsible for everything bad that had ever happened…”
Then Alex and Keanu come in to play the roles, and they’re these very good-looking young men who are very charming and naturally charismatic, and so it changed who Bill and Ted were and what they feel like. They’re both very good physical comedians. They elevated and enlarged it, and made Bill and Ted much cooler because neither one of us really was like a cool guy in high school!
For Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – why did you choose the historic characters you did and were there any you wanted to include but didn’t?
Yeah, there’s a bunch who ended up getting cut. I mean, just in the first movie, Babe Ruth was in it for a while, and Amelia Earhart was in it for a while… Charlemagne (who they called Charlie Magne) was in it, and Julius Caesar… I’ve often joked that neither one of us knows anything about history! We don’t know anything. I guess we wanted to throw them up against a philosopher because that seemed funny to us so, but why we picked Socrates and not Plato? I can’t really say why we threw them against Billy the Kid in the old west. I don’t know, I guess we wanted westerns…
To some degree, we were trying to do funny mashups and Socrates and Billy the Kid struck us as really ridiculous, like that makes no sense. When would you ever see Socrates and Billy the Kid hanging out? You just wouldn’t. It’s absurd so we liked that. Abe Lincoln… of course we’re going to pick Abe Lincoln, easy! How we got to Freud and Joan of Arc…? Again, I can’t emphasise enough: we know nothing about history. It was just like ‘let’s pull out a list of the 100 most famous people in world history and see which ones we can use!’
How did you develop the language used in the film?
Well, I grew up in southern California in the Seventies, so I suppose some of it must have just been the environment that I grew up in. Ed grew up in northern California in the Seventies, so a slightly different reality, but not that different. It’s hard to explain… Bill and Ted seemed to have a way of speaking that we found pretty early. It was a mixture of sort of beachy, sort of stoner but they’re also not presenting [themselves] as very bright, but they’re very bright and are actually using big words correctly. For me the Bill and Ted way of talking comes from that relaxed way of looking at things; it’s a mindset.
At what point did you have the ideas for Bogus Journey and Face The Music?
I seem to recall that when we were writing the first one, we had an idea for the second one. We were very excited that we had an idea. But actually I don’t believe it was what Bogus Journey turned out to be [haha]. But when we were writing the second one we pretty much thought that was it. There was really no anticipation that there was going to be a third one. We didn’t even really start thinking about a third one until 15 years had passed and then we just we just pulled it out at one point. Like I wonder what Bill and Ted would be doing now? Should we think about that? Yeah… why don’t we think about that! Let’s contact [Alex and Keanu] and see if they’d be interested in thinking about that. Then they were like, ‘yeah, if you guys come up with a good story, we’d be interested’. So that’s how the third one started.
“The Bill and Ted way of talking comes from that relaxed way of looking at things; it’s a mindset”
I wouldn’t say that at the end of part one we were like ‘oh yeah, we know what part two is going to be’ because we didn’t and definitely part two felt like the end. I do remember at the screening of Bogus Journey in 1991 [people] saying very kind of casually, like so what do you guys think…? Can you ever imagine doing this again? And we’re both like ‘no, no, I don’t think so!’
What was it like revising Bill and Ted 32 years later for Bill And Ted Face The Music?
It was interesting. They have ended up being a lot of different for us. They’ve ended up being weird alter egos and dealing with life, getting older, marriage, fatherhood, success and failure.
I think that we were very conscious this time around that our relationship with Bill and Ted was very different. It was much deeper now than it was before. When we wrote the first and second movie, they were just these guys that we knew in high school. It wasn’t really until this movie that I thought, ‘you know, I think we’re actually kind of a lot more like Bill and Ted than we ever realised!’.
What do you think it is about Bill and Ted that has endured and still has us talking about them all these years later?
From the start, in ways that we didn’t even really understand, there was a kind of depth to these guys. There was actually a lot of pain in them that Ed and I – certainly I – was trying to come to terms with. It’s a very [fun] movie, the first one, but if you just look at it a little more carefully, these guys have no mothers It’s never explained why they have no mothers, but they have no mother. That’s not good for anybody and their fathers – Bill’s dad is very insensitive and thoughtless and Ted’s dad is downright unkind, so they don’t really have fathers either. They’re very alone. I remember when I first saw Beavis and Butthead (and Beavis and Butthead is a whole different thing), but that sense of loneliness and [it being] just the two of them. That’s really sort of a weird subtext in the first movie.
“There was really no anticipation that there was going to be a third one…”
The second one is really dark. The second one is really about death, self-destruction and self-hatred. We killed them and sent him to hell and the robots who kill them are them. So that’s pretty dark stuff. Then [Face The Music] is about failure and mortality and dealing with that. What do you do with failure? How do you live with it? These are pretty dark things to make comedy out of, but there’s simultaneously kind of a silliness and absurdity to the movies… I don’t know exactly what the answer to the question is, but I wonder if those darker, deeper underpinnings maybe have something to do with that.
These guys were human beings to us. These guys had inner lives. These guys hurt and worry. To me, the better comedy comes from that. That is where good, deep comedy comes from. [Alex and Keanu] certainly connected with that, they understood that very well. They’re both deep, thoughtful guys and with a lot of stuff they’re dealing with – I would like to think that in a very light way, Bill and Ted has given them [a way] to explore some of that comedically.