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'It's just a song': Bill & Ted Face the Music's writer wanted the duo to grow up and do the wives justice
In the original Bill & Ted movie, the titular SoCal slackers had to go on an excellent adventure in order to ensure they would be able to make their masterpiece. To hear Ed Solomon tell it, making Bill & Ted Face the Music, though, was more like a bogus journey — but the long-awaited third movie was also an unexpected dream come true.
“Getting this movie financed and getting it into production was a nightmare,” Solomon, who co-wrote all three films alongside Chis Matheson, tells SYFY WIRE. “Once [Director Dean Parisot] said 'action,' and we had the space to create the movie with this incredible cast and crew, it was a joy.”
Bill & Ted Face the Music, which premieres on VOD today, comes 29 years after the last Bill & Ted movie and after more than a decade of false starts and development hang-ups to reunite original stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as the iconic duo. Having traveled through time and to hell and back, Face the Music revisits them as adults with families of their own, including daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), who still idolize them. But, even after all these years, Bill and Ted haven’t been able to write the prophesied song that unites the world, and their relationships with their wives Joanna and Elizabeth (played by Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes, respectively) could be better. Also, the entire fabric of time and space might come apart. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s far more than Solomon could have ever expected.
“Revisiting these characters that we created as adolescents as middle-aged adult men in their 50s, that alone changed the whole tone of it,” Solomon says, explaining that he and Matheson wrote the first movie “on a lark” in their early 20s. “It suddenly went from being a part of my youth to a weird part of my whole life.”
Face the Music is coming out a weird time, too. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t just affect the film’s release. COVID-19 hit before they had totally finished the movie, and Solomon says there were additional scenes they wanted to shoot that they couldn’t. But, it wouldn’t be a Bill & Ted movie if it weren't a little scrappy — and if the Wyld Stallyns can provide folks with a little joy, power to 'em.
“In a weird way — and I want to be very clear, I’m not glad this is happening — but if this kind of crap is happening in the world, I’m glad Bill & Ted’s coming out now,” Solomon says. “Because it’s a good backdrop for a silly, ridiculous, feel-good movie about failure.”
Solomon caught up with SYFY WIRE prior to the premiere to talk about returning to Bill & Ted, doing right by the franchise’s female characters, and Doctor Who.
Given how long it’s been since the last movie, was it hard for you to get back into Bill and Ted’s simple little heads, and was it hard for Keanu and Alex to be metalhead slackers again now that all of you are in your 50s?
We didn’t know how that would be. The first thing [Chris Matheson and I] wrote was the wedding scene. And we thought, “How about that? It just came out.” We didn’t talk about how we were going to do it, we didn’t look at the first two movies, we didn’t discuss what the verbiage was going to be. We just started talking like 'em. And it happened.
For us, I think it was a little bit more like putting on an old coat. For Alex and Keanu, I think it was different. I think once they were embedded within the characters, they came back to life for them again. But Alex had been a filmmaker. He’s an incredible documentarian and he’s a really good director of narrative film, too. So Alex was doing two things. He was inhabiting Bill again and he was acting again. And Keanu, I think, had a different kind of difficulty. He was coming right out of John Wick. Literally the antithesis of Ted. There were jokes that some people made that John Wick is the alternate universe where Ted goes to military school. For Keanu, it was more, “How do I get my head into this?" He has never played a character like Ted since Ted. Once we were all there, it was a joy.
Does Bill & Ted’s promise of a utopian future and a world united by a work of art feel different to you in 2020 than it did in 1989? Face the Music puts a bit of a spin on that idea, but how does the core, future-looking message of the movie matter in a different way?
An adolescent fantasy is that you’ll create something that changes the world. That’s what Excellent Adventure is about, and even Bogus Journey. A more adult reality is that no piece of art changes the world. People’s interactions with that art, maybe. So in the movie, it’s not about the quality of the song. It’s not about the melody. It’s just a song. What changes the world or unites the world, so to speak, is the fact that everyone plays it. The song isn’t created by any one person. It’s just listened to by a few people who then create something out of it. That was the goal we were going for.
So much of Bill & Ted is about arrested development, but Face the Music forces them to grow up, at least a little bit. So, building off what you were just saying, how did you balance that maturation with the core slacker-ness that is Bill & Ted?
We had two choices: Make Bill and Ted like they were then, and dress Alex and Keanu so that it’s their adult bodies with kid personalities. Or, grow 'em. What would they become now? If they were those kids, what would they be as adults?
It was an obvious choice for us. They evolved. They grew. Ted, who had this buoyant effervescence as a teenager — which was really a reaction to what is clearly a kind of tortured childhood — well, now it’s weighing heavier on him. I think it’s a much more fascinating performance, honestly from Keanu, because it’s comedy played from pain. And Bill, played by Alex, who I think really does a great job, is trying so hard to maintain that positive forward-thinking, but you can see it weighing on him. I like that better, personally.
Can you talk about how you expanded Joanna and Elizabeth’s roles and gave them more agency, compared to the first films?
Look, we made a lot of creative errors as young writers while writing Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey, and one of them was the treatment of women in the movies. They were the babes, they were props for Bill and Ted. And we really wanted to rectify that. I don’t think we fully succeeded, to the extent that we wanted to. We just did not have the budget to shoot extra days and did not have the time to make the whole movie the way we wanted. We wanted a whole separate story for Joanna and Elizabeth in this movie that had to get cut because we had to make choices about what we could actually do, unfortunately. Erin and Jayma are wonderful. They’re great actresses and they do a wonderful job, and I’m so grateful that they did this movie.
We wanted, very much, in a deep way and on an emotional level, to have [Face the Music] be more than saving the universe. It’s about having screwed up with their wives, and really, desperately wanting them back. And I think part of it might stem from — and this was never a conscious thing, it’s something that Chris and I only just realized recently — Bill and Ted don’t have mothers in the first two movies. Bill’s dad is divorced and Ted’s mom was in an original script but then just disappeared from the script and we never accounted for it. Never. Both are raised by dads, who are messed up. Because of that, Bill and Ted are dedicated to their wives. They love their wives, they love their daughters. They’re not bad parents, they’re just driven by what they thought was supposed to be a calling, and that’s their struggle.
Are there any time travel movies or shows that you were inspired by in between the time Bill & Ted first kind of threw the whole concept of time paradoxes at a wall for comedy’s sake?
Bill & Ted’s inspirations were never other similar genre movies. One could argue, because we have a phonebooth, that we were inspired by Doctor Who, but the truth is that it was a van initially. The studio that had it at the time, Warner Bros., was worried about Back to the Future opening, so they made us change it. The director Stephen Herek said, “What about a phone booth?” I was a 24-year-old Angelino who had no internet because it hadn’t been invented, and I had three TV channels. I’d never heard of Doctor Who, I’m ashamed to say. Had I heard, I would have said “No phone booth. They have a TARDIS. It’s too similar.”
So, I was anti-inspired by Doctor Who, but in hindsight, one could claim that. Between Bogus Journey and this one, our inspirations were A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. But, not other science fiction movies.