'Bill And Ted Face The Music' Writers Ed Solomon And Chris Matheson Look On Their Excellent Adventure, Scenes That Didn't Make It, And More [Interview]

If Chris Matheson could go back to 1987 when he and Ed Solomon were first writing the screenplay for Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, he would tell himself, "Don't write that gay joke."

Even while trying to seriously ponder what he would tell his 26-year-old self, Matheson can't help but crack a joke, which pretty much embodies the tone of the good-hearted sci-fi comedy Bill and Ted Face the Music. The long-awaited sequel, which comes nearly 30 years after the last Bill and Ted installment, Bogus JourneyBill and Ted Face the Music seems like it might be bringing a relic from a happier, simpler time. Its two lead characters, played by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves with the same wide-eyed enthusiasm as they did 29 years ago, are still the dim-witted, optimistic slackers we know and love, now saddled with middle-aged burdens like marriage problems and missed potential. But that was something that Matheson and Solomon wanted to explore, even after decades had passed since Bill and Ted first traveled in time in that dinky old phone booth.

"In 2008, Ed and I had a notion, a starting point, which was that it just hadn't worked out [for Bill and Ted], that that all this time passed, and they hadn't saved the world and they hadn't achieved what they set out to achieve," Matheson told /Film in a joint interview with Solomon ahead of the release of Bill and Ted Face the Music.

So when given a deadline — write the song that will save the world, or reality will crumble — what will Bill and Ted do? Exactly what you expect them to do: cheat off themselves. And though it could seem a little strange that Bill and Ted haven't changed much over the years, for Matheson and Solomon, it was important that these beloved slackers maintain the core of what made them so beloved — especially in times like these.

"We're bringing back these uncynical characters to a much more cynical world," Solomon said.

Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey were both well-received when they came out, but it feels like in recent times there's been a resurgence in appreciation for Bill and Ted and their feel-good legacy. Did you feel from the beginning like you had created something special or was it something that slowly dawned as the appreciation for the films grew over the years?

Ed: I think when we first started, we were truly only trying to make ourselves, the two of us, laugh. And we had no idea that they would catch on in any way. This movie went through so many different starts and stops that we never knew if this movie would ever even get out to the public. I personally didn't feel like we'd hit anything culturally until somebody sent me a T-shirt from the Clinton-Gore campaign. And the front of the T-shirt said, "Bill and Al's Excellent Adventure" and the back of it says "George and Dan's Bogus Journey," and I thought, "Whoa, did we actually put a footprint in culture?" And it kind of shocked me. Chris, you have a different take on that?

Chris: I never really had much of a sense of its place in the world. It sort of just crept up on me. I don't even think I really perceived it until pretty recently, the last five years. A little bit. It still shocks me.

The third Bill and Ted had been talked about for so long that it almost became one of those Hollywood projects that would always be discussed but never made, until suddenly things kicked into gear three or four years ago. At what point did you seriously consider making Bill and Ted 3, and bringing the whole gang back together for it?

Chris: In 2008, Ed and I had a notion, a starting point, which was that it just hadn't worked out [for Bill and Ted], that that all this time passed, and they hadn't saved the world and they hadn't achieved what they set out to achieve.

Ed: It's the pressure of having been told you're going to be the greatest people who ever lived or that your music's going to save the world. What that must actually feel like and really living with that pressure.

Was there any concern about Alex and Keanu coming back virtually unchanged as those beloved dimwitted slackers, that they might feel out of place in today's world?

Ed: There was. We're bringing back these uncynical characters to a much more cynical world. But the important thing is that they're still Bill and Ted. They've never fought and they always have each other's back, they have a sort of buoyancy and a lot of optimism. But life hasn't quite worked out for them, and that's real for them. And that's the main gist of the story.

Every director brings something different to a Bill and Ted movie, from Stephen Herek's goofy comedy with Excellent Adventure to the full-blown weirdness from Pete Hewitt with Bogus Journey. What would you say Dean Parisot bring to Face the Music?

Ed: I think Dean brought a combination of an absurdist sense of humor, a sophisticated visual style, a big heart, and a genuinely humanistic perspective on life, as well as having suffered a lot of loss in his own life. I think when the idea of Dean came up, I think Chris and I both felt like he was the perfect director. He was the only director we went to. And when he said yes, we felt like we got the best person for the job and I think I'm speaking for both of us. But I think we both feel the same way now, in fact probably even more so.

Chris: Yeah, to just add to that, I agree with all that. Dean is, I think, the platonically perfect director for this movie in pretty much every way. Dean is deep. He's a deep guy. And we wanted to go for deep. He's got a light touch, but he's deep. And we needed that, that's what we wanted here. He also has very sophisticated musical taste he comes from a musical family and he understands music very well in the building of music and that turned out to be very, very important in the end, because that's what the finale of the movie is. In terms of Steve and Pete, Steve was kind of perfect for the first movie because he was just very unpretentious. Very unpretentious, very genuine, very easygoing, created a really lovely energy on the set — lovely family energy on the set. He had really good, solid taste and, you know, something that just defined these movies is the outstanding casting these directors have done. Steve Herek cast Alex and Keanu. Pete cast Bill Sadler, and Dean cast Brigette and Samara. That's a lot of really good casting that defines us all on the way.

Ed: You know, I think along those lines that the movies really do reflect different parts of Chris and my personal relationship, as well as personal life. We were in very different stages of our lives during each script, and having a different director interpret each script differently, I think, in hindsight was a great.

Chris: Yeah.

Ed: And a great way to differentiate the films further. We wanted Face The Music to have its own personality, just as Bogus Journey had a different personality from Excellent Adventure. And I think having different directors actually accentuated them.

In the process of all the different scripts for Face The Music, were there any ideas that never made it to the table? Or were you basically given a blank canvas for the craziest and out-there ideas because of how beloved the series has become?

Chris: Yeah, I mean there were a lot. We worked on it...it was 10 years from the time that we started, and 11 years from the time we started our first meeting with Alex and Keanu, before the cameras rolled. So in those 11 years, there's a lot of drafts. And there's actually a lot of really funny stuff in those drafts, that either conceptually didn't make sense as the piece evolved, or just financially it was not affordable. As we got close to production, there were some pretty funny set pieces that just fell by the wayside as we moved along.

Were there any you can talk about that you wish that you would have been able to follow through with, or is that something that you'll save for later extra bonus features?

Ed: I think Chris and I both feel like there were a few scenes that either made us laugh or moved us emotionally in certain ways that, for a variety of reasons, didn't make it in the movie. Some was budget, some didn't seem like the movie as the movie was evolving. I think the two of us feel like after the movie is out, we might just release the script pages to people and let them read them and see, you know, just to share with people.

Chris: Just to give you a little idea, one of [Bill and Ted's] ideas to solve their problem was, "Well, why don't we go back. Maybe the way to solve this problem is let's go back, not forward." They'd go back to when they were kids or teenagers and try to change it then, and their interaction with their child selves and their teenage selves, were pretty ridiculous and pretty fun.

That sounds like such a fun idea.

Chris: [The idea was] let's go back and just change ourselves from within, like let's go back and tell ourselves, you have to be different, and then they try that. It was funny. It was really, really funny. I loved that.

I feel like that would fit with the themes that the movie currently has of not living up to that potential and trying to go back and change it. That would have been so fascinating.

Chris: Yeah, well limited time, limited money, you know.

Bill and Ted Face the Music FeaturetteSamara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine came into the project without either of them knowing much about the Bill and Ted movies, but both came in and nailed it. How was the casting process for them and figuring out how much like Bill and Ted there daughters should be?

Ed: Dean Parisot and [co-executive producer] Scott Cohen, I think, should deserve the credit for that the casting of Sam and Brigette, and we felt instantly the second we saw them these are perfect and they were perfect. In terms of finding their voices, it was a daunting challenge for both of them to show up, to recognize that they are the progeny of these two characters who have a very unique way of speaking and acting in the world, and then to create for themselves characters that were original yet also felt like the children of these two guys. That was the work they were doing when they arrived, it was like, "Do we move more in the direction of, like, imitating the guys? No, we don't want to do that. Or is it more about, you know, our own voice? And if so, what is our own voice?" etc.

With Bogus Journey, you introduced the fan-favorite character of Death, which undercut that somber perception of the Grim Reaper, and you do it again in Face the Music with Dennis, the insecure killer robot, who was one of my favorite parts of the movie. How did the idea of Dennis come about?

Chris: Almost from the beginning, we had some sort of nemesis from the future trailing them, chasing them. Somebody was after them. And probably about midway through the process, through this long development process we thought, "Well, why don't we send like a killer robot after them?" And then of course for Ed and I, the moment the idea of a killer robot comes up, we think great, right? Because he is going to be insecure. That's what we do, you know? Our "scary" guys are just going to the pathetically insecure. So, the more "scary" they are, the funnier they are to us, because they should be scary. This guy is literally a robot. He literally murders every character in the movie pretty much — not Joanna and Elizabeth — but it kills everybody and sends them to hell. And you like him! And he's sympathetic!

Ed: And you feel sorry for him!

Chris: And you feel sorry for him, because he's a loser in high school, you know, just like Death is like the loser. Oh man, we loved writing this guy. When we get one in our sight, oh man, just a lot of comedy comes from those guys, I think. Ed?

Ed: For sure. I think for both of us, we just love poking the holes in that kind of pomposity and that was why Death was so fun to write. But Death ended the last movie having been revealed as no longer a scary character, so that wouldn't work in this movie. And when we rejoined Death in this movie, he and Bill and Ted are in a very different place in their relationships. So, once we realize that we had this comedic opportunity and then once Anthony Carrigan was cast, who is utterly brilliant and I have to say, added exponentially [to] that the comedy of that role. When that happened, we got really excited.

If you could take a time machine back to yourselves in the 1980s when you were first writing Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, what would you say to yourselves?

Chris: [Laughs] Um, "Don't write that gay joke, Chris. It's a bad joke. Don't write that joke."

Ed: I share that with Chris. And uh, yeah, that's a great question. What else would we tell ourselves, is there anything positive we'd say to ourselves?

Chris: I would probably say, yeah have fun with this. You're never gonna believe how meaningful these characters that you think are just a lark to you right now, actually are. And enjoy them. Because, living in their headspace is going to be a wonderful respite from a lot of your other anxieties and fears in the world. And the other thing I would have told myself on a creative level is, don't be afraid. Fight for some of your more out-there notions. Because I think, still to this day, some of my favorite scenes in Excellent Adventure, are things that we trimmed and could have had longer, and I think would have given me even more joy had they been longer. Like the police station scene where the entire concept of time travel is conceptual as opposed to actual time travel, when they're saying, "Okay, after the report, let's put keys here," and then they find them, etc.

Ed: I would say don't give in to your desire, Ed, to make the powers that be happy, ie the studio and the producers. Hold on to the stuff you guys really believe in. And you don't have to accede to as many of the ideas that you think you have to accede to, to get this thing made. Meaning, where Excellent Adventure I think strayed for Chris and me comedically was when the jokes could have been jokes from any movie. That's why I'm not as fond, I think Chris I'm speaking to you here, too, but that's why I don't think we're as fond of, say, the mall scene as we are scenes that are very unique to Bill and Ted's characters.

Chris: I would go back and say, "Dude, you're going to have a most excellent adventure." [Laughs]

Ed: That's great. I love that.


Bill and Ted Face the Music hits VOD on August 28, 2020.