‘Bill and Ted Face the Music’ Writers on the Original Smaller Ending, Cameos, and Cutting Elvis

     August 31, 2020

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[Editor’s note: Some spoilers for Bill and Ted Face the Music are discussed in the interview below.]

Destined to save the universe, Bill S. Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are still living in San Dimas, California with their historical babe wives (Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays) and equally music-obsessed kids, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving), and they still haven’t written the song that’s meant to ensure the survival of all mankind. Now middle-aged, they find themselves in a race against time and they must act fast, to keep the world, their lives, and their families going.

During this phone interview with Collider, co-writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson – who created the characters and wrote all three films in the franchise – talked about developing the idea for Bill & Ted Face the Music, getting Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter back on board, how the budget and schedule affected certain aspects of the story, the music supergroup member they had to cut out, seeing the actors bring their characters to life, over the course of the film series, and whether they see this story continuing, in the future.

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Image via Orion Pictures

Collider: Whose idea was it to do this third film? Was it your idea? Was it someone else that prompted the existence of another film?

ED SOLOMON: We had been wondering about the idea, probably starting around 2000 or 2001. We were like, “Do you think we’d ever wanna do another Bill & Ted movie? But I know Keanu [Reeves]’s management was adamantly against him doing another Bill & Ted movie, so we just assumed it was never gonna happen. And then, around 2004, Keanu was on line at a red carpet for some premiere and somebody asked him, as they always ask him and Alex [Winter], “If there was ever gonna be another Bill & Ted movie, would you do it?” And Keanu actually said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t be averse to that.” And I remember Chris and I, one of us called the other and said, “Did you see that? Is this really a possibility?” I remember I went and met with Keanu’s manager and I sat down with him, and he said, “Look at my face. The answer is no. Keanu will never do another Bill & Ted movie, ever. I promise you.” And he made me leave his office. Well, a couple more years past, and Alex and I had always remained friends. We didn’t all hang out socially, but the four of us have always been friendly with each other. Chris and I saw, a couple more times, Keanu expressing some interest publicly, so I called Alex and said, “Hey, do you think this is a possibility?,” at some time in 2006. And finally, around 2008, Alex said, “Why don’t you guys come to dinner at my house?” And so, Chris and I went to dinner with Alex and Keanu at Alex’s house. Chris and I had thrown a few ideas around, so we brought up the idea directly to them and said, “Is it worth doing another movie? Would you guys ever want to?” And their feeling was, if it was a really strong story to tell and it meant something to them, personally, sure. So, we threw a couple of ideas around, and the one that they sparked to was this idea of, all the pressure they must have felt, being told, as teenagers, that their adolescent fantasy, which was that their rock band was gonna unite the world, was in fact a destiny, and what would happen if that destiny never actually played itself out and they were struggling now, in mid-life. How would you get rid of that pressure? That was the genesis of what became the movie.

Once you keyed in on that story, did the story pretty much stay the same, or did it change, along the way?

CHRIS MATHESON: I will say, at that meeting with Alex and Keanu, there were different story and plot possibilities, but in terms of a basic starting point, that was the only version of the story that was of interest to us. We didn’t present, “Well, maybe it has worked and you guy are giant rock stars, but you had a falling out and you’re living in two mansions, feuding.” We didn’t present that one. It was only ever gonna be that it hasn’t worked out. That was the only starting point. That’s what was of interest to me and Ed, and thankfully, it was really of interest to them. That stayed. That starting point stayed pretty rock solid, from beginning to end. We also knew that it was gonna be their kids. We knew that, from the start. And then, it had to have what we thought was a really happy ending. The plot that was gonna carry it, which involved them traveling into the future to steal a song from themselves, came pretty early. That came around 2010. Those scenes stayed pretty much the same. What grew, between 2011 and 2019, was the kids’ adventure, bringing Death in, and the robot. Those things grew, along the way, but those core starting points were pretty solid.

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Image via Orion Pictures

SOLOMON: The fate of the universe being at stake, and saving all of space and time and reality, as we know it, grew, as well. The original ending that Chris and I had imagined, and the first draft that we wrote, ended in a very, very small way. It was a personal realization for Bill and Ted, and a big sense of relief once they realized that their kids were the ones, all along.

The movie absolutely feels like a Bill & Ted movie. Was that something that you felt you locked into right away? Did you have to find that again? Were there times where you thought it didn’t feel Bill & Ted enough?

MATHESON: In early 2010, we had the plot figured out. We had the big story arc and we had the plot, so it was time for us to actually sit down and write it. At least for me, there was some trepidation. I was like, “We’re gonna now be re-entering these voices, that we haven’t done in almost 20 years, at all.” We really didn’t do it, in that 20 years stretch. So, we were like, “How is this gonna be?” Thankfully, it was like riding a bike. We just started, and it was like, “Oh, yeah, there they are.” We just still feel them, and that was a nice feeling.

SOLOMON: I don’t know about Chris, but I didn’t watch either movie, in preparation for writing this. It never even crossed my mind to watch either movie, and I haven’t seen them in decades. In a way, I’m glad that I didn’t because the movie has its own fingerprint, or its own signature, or whatever you wanna call it. I think the movie has its own thing, a little bit more, because of that. If I had watched Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey first, I might’ve gotten into a mode of trying to copy it a little bit more. But by not watching either of those, it gave me a sense of writing it from where I am now, as a person, as opposed to trying to copy what it was.

MATHESON: Yeah, I totally agree with that. They had just somehow grown, organically, in our heads, or inside us. So then, when we wrote them, we weren’t trying to match them up with those guys, but we think they did, anyway.

I was impressed with how big this story gets, throughout the journey. Did you ever go too big with it? Was there anything that you had to cut, due to budget or time?

SOLOMON: We cut so much, due to budget. We cut scenes and we cut scope, and sadly, we didn’t really have enough time to shoot it. We had to work pretty quickly because we didn’t have enough money to completely make the movie. Before we started shooting, we lost a series of scenes that, in hindsight, we might miss. We did end up whittling the script down to what people tended to believe were it’s central core elements, simply to make the production schedule and the production budget. We weren’t allowed to have any flights of fancy, or scenes that went off, but didn’t serve the plot. We had to tighten it up. That’s why it’s a 90-minute movie. That was all we could shoot, basically.

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Image via Orion Pictures

Are there many deleted scenes from the film?

MATHESON: I don’t know if there’s anything, really. Dean Parisot, Native American style, used the entire buffalo. Every part of it.

SOLOMON: There are some scenes from the screenplay that, at some point, Chris and I might publish or put out there, that didn’t make it into the movie. But in terms of what we filmed, very little was cut out of the movie, itself.

When you were putting together your supergroup of musicians for this, was there anyone you wanted to include, but couldn’t?

SOLOMON: We had Elvis Presley in it for awhile. He came and went. I think Jimi [Hendrix] ended up replacing Elvis. Beyond that, I don’t know. At certain times, we talked about [Janis] Joplin. We talked about The Boss. We floated a number of different things. Elvis actually got on the page for awhile.

What made you ultimately end up cutting him?

SOLOMON: It was all budget. We only have room for so many, so we just had to trim the band that the girls picked up, more like Excellent Adventure, where the guys picked up Billy the Kid and Socrates, but then they very quickly picked up Freud and Genghis Khan and Joan of Arc. In this one, we were gonna spend time on Louis Armstrong and Jimi Hendrix, but then they were very quickly gonna pick up a number of others. We just didn’t have the time, we didn’t have the days, and we didn’t have the money to do that.

Did you guys write in Dave Grohl, and then have to get him to be in the film, or did you just write for a random rock star, to see who you could then get for that scene?

SOLOMON: We had a couple rock stars in mind. We knew we wanted to be a certain type, which Dave Grohl fit perfectly. And when we found out that Dave Grohl was interested, we were thrilled when we found out that he would do it. We had a few people in mind when we wrote it and we knew that the chances of getting any one of them was going to be slim. So, the fact that Grohl did it was a giant thrill for us.

MATHESON: He’s so funny, with his line, “Who are you guys?!”

Since you guys weren’t originally involved in the casting process for this, what was it like for you, after spending so much time writing for these characters, to see people actually bring these roles to life?

MATHESON: It was Alex and Keanu. They were brilliant and spot on, from day one. There’s a story that we’ve told a number of times, of Ed and I being in a McDonald’s in Phoenix, Arizona, three or four days before the movie was gonna start filming, and we saw these two guys in front of us in line, just messing around, joking, and laughing. And we said, “Man, imagine if we had those two guys playing Bill and Ted. Wouldn’t they be perfect?” And it was actually Alex and Keanu, in front of us in line. They were perfect. They were fantastic. They made Bill and Ted so much bigger and better than what we had in mind. Our guys were outcasts and losers, and there was just no way that Alex and Keanu were gonna pay that. They’re too good looking they’re too cool. They just couldn’t do that, or it would have been false. They made Bill and Ted so much cooler.

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Image via Orion Pictures

SOLOMON: Once they were cast, they became our partners. We could never imagine Bill and Ted with anyone else. There was pressure put on us to try to write a new, young Bill & Ted, but we had no interest. Those guys are our partners. They are Bill and Ted, and they’ve been great partners to us. They were the reason we got to do Bill & Ted Go to Hell, which became Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey because they made us retitle, instead of whatever it was gonna be. They’re the ones that stood behind us and said, “No, let’s do the weirder version. That’s what we wanna do.” They were the ones, from square one, helping us develop this story into something, and they’ve been with us, every step of the way, in lock step. We couldn’t have asked for better partners.

How was it to then see their kids brought to life? 

SOLOMON: For Brigette [Lundy-Paine] and Sam [Weaving], the challenge was, “How do I find a voice that is both appropriate for being the child of Bill or Ted, and also is unique to who I am, as a person, and can be different, as well?”

MATHESON: I think that a huge part of the success of the franchise is something that you and I had absolutely nothing to do with, and that’s the casting. (Director) Stephen Herek, (producer) Scott Kroopf, and everybody involved with Excellent Adventure, cast Alex and Keanu, and that was the core of the whole thing. And then, (director) Peter Hewitt cast Bill Sadler as Death, and that was huge. And then, Dean Parisot, who directed this one, cast Brigette and Sam, and also Anthony Carrigan as Dennis, the robot. The casting has really been inspired, the whole time, and that’s a big deal.

Is there a fourth installment in your minds, at all? Do you have possible ideas for another film? Is that something you’d even want to do, or is this the end of their story?

MATHESON: It’s certainly the end of mine and Ed’s story, I think.

SOLOMON: I think their story is complete. It would be hard for me to imagine. It would be weird because, at the end of this one, they actually have pulled it off, so to go back to the well again and say, “You know what? They still haven’t,” I wouldn’t like that. That would feel fake to me. It’s hard to know what the story would be. I wouldn’t do it. I think we have a beginning, a middle, and an end now. Three is good.

Bill & Ted Face the Music is in select theaters and available on-demand.

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.

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