Tom Beasley chats to the creators of Bill and Ted about the return of the most excellent duo in belated threequel Bill & Ted Face the Music…
It has been a long road for Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. More than 30 years ago, they penned the script for the unusual slacker comedy that became Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Now, they’re back for the highly anticipated threequel Bill and Ted Face the Music, in which Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves return to the roles that helped make their names, with Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine showing up as their daughters.
The film sees the two, who are at something of a life dead-end after the musical fame of Wyld Stallyns waned, tasked with penning the song that will unite the universe, before time collapses in on itself. The stakes are bigger than they have ever been and both Reeves and Winter are firing on all cylinders.
Matheson and Solomon recently sat down with Flickering Myth on a Zoom chat to discuss the history of the franchise and how this new film came about, as well as their own secret cameos and the possibility that they might go back to this world for a fourth movie.
This has been in the pipeline for a long time. Why has it finally come about now?
CM: I think it’s a combination of things. I think John Wick plays a major role in why it is finally happening now, personally, and I think that there’s a level of interest in the world that just consistently manifested over the years. That was very helpful, obviously.
ES: We’ve been trying for over a decade to get it made. With the fact that social media became a bigger and bigger presence in our culture, I think that the people who put money into movies were able to see that there were people who were really interested in seeing it. When the first movies came out, there wasn’t a big foreign distribution and Bill & Ted did well, but not gigantic, so whatever financial figures that the people who finance films need to see from earlier versions of movies didn’t reflect that somehow it had managed to stay in the culture and grow. So that combined with what Chris said about Keanu and John Wick I think became a perfect storm and suddenly it became more viable to people. We always thought it would be, but we had to fight pretty hard for that.
Was there a frustration for you guys when you’ve got a fan base telling you they want another movie, but you have to convince the money people?
ES: I found it incredibly frustrating, honestly. I constantly would say to people that, everywhere I go, people are asking me this and Alex and Keanu were getting the same thing. They were going “oh, we don’t know if the numbers support it” and there was always talk about rebooting it and trying to do a new, younger Bill and Ted. I think there was one draft, which we didn’t have anything to do with, where they time travelled with a cellphone or something. I don’t even know. We were like “no, we want to carry this story to the end”.
CM: At the same time, we were aware that the story we had chosen to tell was about failure and mortality. It’s ultimately Bill & Ted and it’s meant to be a comedy and it’s meant to feel good, but the themes of it were kind of serious and I think that made it a heavier risk. We felt that. We felt that this made it more difficult to get it done, but if we did get it done, it made it more worthwhile.
A lot of it is about failure. A lot of people will have seen in the trailers the duo travelling forward in time and seeing themselves in prison. It’s a comedic sequence, but it’s tinged through with sadness. I think it’s a really interesting approach.
CM: We were really inspired by A Christmas Carol, in fact. We wanted that kind of vibe to it. It is tinged with sadness and pain. We wanted it to have some depth to it because otherwise why talk about them at 50?
Did you guys feel any pressure going into this, once it became clear that it was going to be made. Did you feel pressure to do justice to the films you’d made before and to fans who had been wanting this third movie?
EM: I felt like I didn’t want to disappoint the people who really love the films. The first thing I wanted to make sure is that we had a script and then a movie that we, Chris and I, really loved and could stand behind. So yeah, I do feel a kind of pressure.
One of the really nice things about this movie is that, once we see Keanu and Alex as these characters, it’s like they’ve been away for 30 minutes, not 30 years. They just immediately drop back into it. What was it like for you to see how easily they took to it?
CM: It was fantastic! It was amazing! We wanted it, we hungered for it. We were like fans. We were trying to get them, over the whole process of like nine years, “please, do a little Bill and Ted for us, we want to see Bill and Ted”. They just really wouldn’t do it until very close to the end. Maybe the last couple of rehearsals before filming. But then, watching them do Bill and Ted and how naturally they just fit right back into it, it was beautiful and so exciting.
ES: Chris and I used to go “maybe they’ll do Bill and Ted this time” and then we’d be totally disappointed. One time, they almost did it. They started and then stopped. We just kicked each other under the table because it was so frustrating.
CM: It was like five seconds of it. We were like “oh my God, they’re gonna do Bill and Ted” and then they didn’t. After the Beatles broke up, there’s one thing that exists of John and Paul playing together – and Stevie Wonder is there too – and it’s just so amazing to listen to because it’s actually the two of them, the only time that I’m aware of. And for me that was like with [Keanu and Alex]. I just wanted to see them play together again and, when they did, it was great.
Those two are at very different points in their career now. Alex has done a lot of filmmaking and Keanu is now everyone on the internet’s boyfriend, I think. Did you ever expect that they would go where they have gone when you were making the first two films with them?
ES: Well they’re both really serious guys. They’re really smart and film savvy. We obviously couldn’t predict the trajectory Keanu was on, but we knew he had something really special. And Alex was always a filmmaker. He talked about making movies from the first day we met him, so I wasn’t surprised he was going in that direction. Not long after Bill and Ted was done, he was already starting to shoot commercials and stuff like that. They’re both really interesting, really smart and really good dudes.
CM: We got so monumentally lucky with those two guys. We really did. Not only that, but these two guys really legit like each other. And they’re not Bill and Ted, but the depth of their friendship is real. You feel that and it’s beautiful.
I’m always in awe of anyone who can write a time travel script, because it hurts my head to even think about it. How do you guys approach that? Do you really think it through, or are you figuring it out as you go along?
CM: I don’t think we’re very rigorous at all, honestly. We just try to find funny things and then just whatever can glue it together in the most slipshod way. Wouldn’t you agree, Ed? Are we really rigorous at all when it comes to the time travel rules?
ES: Yes, in a way. We have an internal sense of what we think the physics of it would be. We don’t put any thought into it, but we’ll often say “this is a wrong note” or “this feels wrong”. As far as I can tell, I don’t think we’ve ever spoken about the rules. But we have had a sense and we did, when the script was finished, show it to a physicist and just say “how close are these ideas?”. In fact, I have to say, Chris is responsible for some stuff about quantum mechanics in it. We asked this physicist how accurate it was, and he said it was right.
CM: Well I just went to Wikipedia for half an hour.
ES: You picked the right section!
I wanted to ask about cameos. I think the little Rufus moment is lovely and did I spot you guys in the credits with a cameo?
ES: We were the demons. We were in hell.
CM: Finally, where we belong!
ES: Filmed on location, by the way.
And how did you go about doing justice to Rufus and to George Carlin?
CM: Well that was a hard one. We had, in a previous draft, a much, much bigger presence for him. They were really going to go back and talk to him and have a real scene with him. It’s written, but it wasn’t really doable on the budget we had. It was a very tricky scene to pull off, so we couldn’t do that. But we liked it. It was a good scene.
ES: George has a daughter named Kelly, in real life. We named Kristen Schaal’s character Kelly. And also, Kelly Carlin has a little cameo in the future as well. His absence was a big presence for the whole making of the film and we really wanted to honour him.
Very quickly, before we wrap up, is the door now closed or is Bill & Ted 4 something that may happen one day?
ES: I can’t imagine doing a Bill & Ted 4, but Chris how do you feel?
CM: I wouldn’t do it. I just wouldn’t do it. Three is the magic number. We’ve told their story. I think, with anything else, I wouldn’t feel right. I could see the daughters going forward and maybe the guys playing some cameo-ish thing. I think Sam and Brigette are great and, I think if that went forward it’d be nice. But no, I don’t think I would do it.
Thank you very much, Ed and Chris!
Bill & Ted Face the Music will be released in the USA on demand and in cinemas from 28th August, with the UK release due on 23rd September.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.