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, William Sadler (who plays Death in the franchise) talked about how he became aware of the reality of Bill & Ted Face the Music actually happening, how he felt about the next step in Death’s story, getting back into character, reuniting with co-stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, and which board game he’d challenge Death to. He also talked about embodying Michael Flynn for Showtime’s The Comey Rule, and tackling voices for Our Cartoon President.
Collider: When did you first hear about the possibility of this third film and when did you realize it was actually becoming a reality?
WILLIAM SADLER: It’s funny, people have been kicking around the idea for 30 years or something, since 1991. It was about three years ago that I got a call from Ed Solomon, one of the writers, and he said, “We’re developing the script. Are you still interested in doing it? We’ll write Death in if you’re interested in reprising the role.” And I said, “Yes, of course I am.” And then, I guess they shopped it around to lots of studios and places before it finally found a home. That’s a saga that I was not involved in. I would catch snippets of it here and there about how it’s on, no it’s off, it’s on, no it’s off. And then, it was, “They wanna do it, but they wanna recast everybody.” I was really happy, though, when it finally became a thing.
We’re all really happy that it finally became a thing. What was it like the first time you read the script? How did you feel about the overall story and what you got to do?
SADLER: I had heard what they were gonna do. Ed had described to me what the Reaper’s part in this was gonna be, and I was jazzed. It’s a continuation of where we left off in Bogus Journey with this triumphant battle of the bands and this song going out all over the world, with people dancing in China and dancing in England. And then, in the credits for Bogus Journey, they have these newspaper articles that keep talking about Wyld Stallyns going on a world tour and Death joining them. And then, Death goes off on his solo career. I was just completely jazzed. I was happy that they were getting the band back together – Keanu [Reeves], Alex [Winter], me, Amy [Stoch] and Hal [Landon Jr], plus all of these wonderful new faces. They just stepped right into the spirit of a thing. It was great.
Did you ever have a moment of worry, before opening and reading the script, where you were like, “What if, after all these years, it just sucks”?
SADLER: Well said. I often worry that what I’m about to do is just gonna suck, especially with sequels. It’s funny because people have expectations. If you loved the first two, they set the expectations pretty high. It’s easy to surprise them, the first time you show them something. I did Die Hard 2. The first Die Hard was a huge hit. It was this really amazing action hit. There’s a fair amount of pressure when you’re doing a sequel because people have expectations. You’re gonna be compared to a really wonderful film. It’s like doing Shawshank Redemption 2. Really? Tell me why we’re doing that one.
How did you get yourself back into character after the long hiatus? Are there tricks to playing Death?
SADLER: It was pretty easy for me because a lot of the character derives from that Czechoslovakian accent that I do. I went back and watched Bogus Journey before I went to film this, just to refresh myself. I found myself doing a gesture, which is very feminine and almost like clutching your pearls. I saw myself doing it, over and over again, in Bogus Journey. The character came back almost immediately for me, and especially in the scenes with Alex and Keanu. It was like we’d never stopped. It was all very available, like it had been waiting in a bottle to be on the court. The Reaper came spewing all out again.
Was it easier, this time around, to get into the whole get-up for Death or does it take the same amount of time to get into the look for him?
SADLER: The make-up took about the same amount of time. It was a different makeup team and an entirely different crew, but they were terrific. They were great to work with. It took about three hours every time. It just did. I’m not sure why it takes quite that long. If I had to do it again, I think I’d shave my head so that I could skip the bald cap. I like my hair, but that was a pain in the butt. In New Orleans, it was 150 degrees. Even at night, it was so hot and muggy. The makeup takes awhile but once the makeup was finished and I put on the robes and started getting into character, he was just there. He’d been waiting all this time to come to pop back up, and he did. I was really surprised. I didn’t have to go hunting for him, at all. He was waiting, all this time.
How was it to reunite with Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter? Are they different in any way, or are they exactly the same to work with now?
SADLER: They’re both really old and they were such jerks. No. They were lovely. I was really surprised because we’re all old now. There’s no getting around that physically we’re all older but the spirit was just instant. The moment Keanu set foot on the set, after John Wick and The Matrix and all of these films that he’s done, it was like, “Whoa, dude! Death, dude!” It was great. The spirit and the energy was right there. It was really lovely. It was like a reunion with the three of us. It was great fun. It took a long time to birth this thing but I’m glad. I think it was worthwhile. It was wonderful to see Alex and Keanu again. It was really fun to see them again. We laughed a lot.
Considering the events of Bogus Journey, what board game would you challenge Death to and feel confident in actually winning?
SADLER: If I had to play against myself and I was Death, I would challenge him to Scrabble because the second you get past the three or four letter words, he’s done. My wife loves to play Scrabble and I’m just the worst at it. I’m so bad.
You’re playing Michael Flynn in The Comey Rule and you do voices for Our Cartoon President. Do you find that there’s a line between impersonations and embodying them as characters when you play people like that?
SADLER: There is a line. For Our Cartoon President, you try to be real, as realistic as possible. What’s funny is the situation that they put this character. When I do the Mitch McConnell character voice, what’s funny is that they write him all of this stuff to say and your job is to play it as straight as you can, because it isn’t funny if you’re poking fun at yourself and you’re self-consciously trying to be funny. You just play it as straight as you can and trust that what’s being said is funny. That’s where the laugh is. But with Michael Flynn, he’s not funny. I didn’t try to do an imitation of Michael Flynn. What I tried to do was find a believable path for this character through what happens to him. That’s my philosophy of acting. If you can get the audience to believe what they’re seeing, even just a little bit, you can take them anywhere. You can scare them and you can make them laugh. I don’t think any of us went for an imitation of Michael Flynn. I don’t think it would have made any sense because nobody knows what he sounds like, anyway. His wife does, but most of America wouldn’t recognize it anyway.
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.