Entertainment Weekly's Cast Reunions: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
by Darren Franich
Bill & Ted 3: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and the writers talk proposed sequel (which might actually happen!)
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure hit theaters in 1989 and became a box office phenomenon. It was a multimedia franchise for the multimedia age. There was a cartoon spin-off, a live-action TV spin-off, a Nintendo game. 1991 brought a sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, where the San Dimas duo played by Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter went on a journey through the afterlife, meeting the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) and defeating him in a bout of Battleship.
Almost 30 years later, Hollywood runs on reboots and revivals. The top-grossing films from 1989 include an Indiana Jones, a Batman, a Lethal Weapon, a Ghostbusters, and Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid, all franchises that still exist in various stages of activity. (The most-watched show of 1989 was Roseanne, currently earning big ’80s ratings on 2010s network television.) Could there be another Bill & Ted movie? This was the big question on our minds when we reunited Reeves and Winter with original Bill & Ted writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon.
The lead actors had kept in touch over the years. (They actually worked together in 2015, when Winter, a director and a documentarian, had the John Wick star narrate his film Deep Web.) And the possibility of a new Bill & Ted movie actually first came up over a decade ago. “Chris and Ed came to us in 2007 with the idea of doing it,” Reeves explains, “They pitched us an idea. It sounded great.” Simple, right? “In show business,” Reeves says, wearily, “There’s show and then there’s business.”
“We’ve been to the altar a few times,” is how Solomon describes the lengthy development process, which has been full of rumors but has resulted in no actual production news as of yet. “We get rejected right about the ‘now you may kiss the bride’ part of it.”
Solomon and Matheson wrote a complete script for the third film on spec. “‘Spec’ means ‘for free’ for all you folks in Toledo, Ohio, who don’t read all the entertainment blogs,” jokes Winter.
“We wanted to get it right,” Solomon explains. “We wanted to have it be something that we — all four of us, Chris and I, Alex and Keanu — could stand behind, and know we’re doing this for the right reasons.”
The result of their efforts is a script titled Bill & Ted Face the Music, which finds our intrepid explorers still struggling to complete the great work of their life. At the end of Excellent Adventure, futuristic mentor Rufus (George Carlin) told the teens that they would write music that would turn the world into a utopia. “You’re told you’re gonna save the world,” Matheson says. “And now you’re 50 and you haven’t done it. Now they’re married, and it affects their marriages, and it affects their relationships with their kids, and it affects their everything.”
“Everybody’s a little older now,” notes Reeves. “A little afraid.”
“There’s certain comparisons,” says Winter. “A rock band that never goes to the place it thought it was going to get to. Having that moment in their life of going: ‘Do we try to get there, or give up the dream?'”
“Indomitable spirits confronted with, ‘Is this the end?'” Reeves continues. “Of course, there is a little caveat in that someone comes from the future and says: ‘Not only do you have to save the world, you have to save everything.'”
“I think it’s kind of like A Christmas Carol with Bill and Ted,” teases Solomon. “Looking at their lives, and really kind of rediscovering what they’re about.”
And here’s some nigh-bodacious news: To hear the creative team talk, we’ve never been closer to the third Bill & Ted. “We are hoping to close a deal with some financiers,” says Solomon. “Hopefully within the next month or so, we’ll have news that will stick.”
“We went out and found a director,” says Winter. “Dean Parisot, who we love, did Galaxy Quest, which is a masterpiece.”
“Steven Soderbergh is one of the producers on it,” says Solomon. “Along with Scott Kroopf, the original producer [of Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey]. Bill Sadler is back, returning as death, and a few delicious cameos by people to be named another time.”
Will Bill & Ted Face the Music triumphantly emerge from development hell as triumphantly as the main characters ascended from actual Hell? Winter, at least, has a suitably historical serenity when he describes the process of making the third film. “The whole trajectory of getting the next one off the ground has been pretty much exactly like the experience of getting the original. Going to every studio, and they’re like, ‘What the eff is this?’ It’s this kind of independent spirit, and the films have an anachronistic quality to them that’s a big part of what they are, fundamentally. I’m really happy that this one is the same. It doesn’t feel like some stale knockoff that a studio would have immediately gone, ‘Oh, this feels right. We have rebranded very successfully.'”
“I love the characters so much — who they are, the spirit of their voice that Chris and Ed have given [them],” says Reeves, noting the underlying message of the original film, stated explicitly by Bill and Ted (and even Abraham Lincoln). “You can’t go wrong with: ‘Be excellent to each other.’ And: ‘Party on!’ I mean, it might actually be the beginning, one of the first examples of contemporary modern apocalyptic art.”
“Now we have to make the third one,” says Winter. “Before the apocalypse!”
Bill & Ted caused the Civil War? Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and the writers recall alternate endings and more
In the 1989 time-hopping fantasy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, two wannabe rockstars go to great lengths to pass their history class. With a little help from a futuristic phone booth, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) soar through history. They meet Socrates, Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc — or rather “So-Crates,” “Mr. The Kid,” and “Ms. of Arc.”
From the first time they read the screenplay by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, Reeves and Winter knew they’d found something special.
“Teen comedy scripts, they never had any kind of depth to the language,” recalls Winter.
“This one seemed to be such an assault on that,” says Reeves. “How do you not laugh at ‘Beeth-Oven’ and ‘Noah’s wife’? ‘Non-heinous.’ That’s funny!”
In Excellent Adventure, the history presentation is a great success. But in its original conception, the Adventure was decidedly non-non-heinous. EW recently reunited Reeves and Winter with Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon for the Untold Stories Issue, and the creative team recalled roads not taken in the first film — and the wondrously strange sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
“The original impulse,” explains Matheson, “Was that they were going to be responsible for everything bad that ever happened in human history. Like, they caused the Civil War. They caused World War I. They caused the Titanic to sink.”
Solomon actually still has the original notes from their brainstorming sessions. On top of the first page is the original title for the film: Bill & Ted’s Time Van. The original list of possible locations, settings, and big names is long: Revolutionary France, Egypt, Medieval England, Pirates, Magna Carta, Arthurian Legend, Charlemagne, Columbus, Hitler, Russian Revolution, Richard Nixon…
“One of the popular kids in the school ended up friends with Hitler for some reason,” Solomon says.
“This tells you how ostracized we felt by the popular kids,” jokes Matheson.
Excellent Adventure turned into a much more optimistic depiction of time travel, ending on the promise that Bill and Ted’s band, the Wild Stallyns, would create music so powerful it would transform the world into a utopia. Excellent Adventure ends on a climactic history presentation in an auditorium, a kind of arena-rock educational concert full of showcase moments for all the major historical figures. “They all get their own spotlight,” says Reeves. “They’re in their element doing their thing, imparting their knowledge.”
But the ending was initially much different. Recalls Winter, “We just bring the historical figures back to our classroom. And Keanu just sat on the desk, and watched them kind of talk about who they were. Then we’d go to the prom, and that’s the end. Even while we were shooting it, we were kind of depressed.”
The ending was reshot into its current form — establishing an unusual trend for the Bill & Ted franchise.
When it came time to work on a sequel, Matheson and Solomon boldly ditched the possibility of another time-travel adventure. Instead, Bogus Journey sends the titular pair on a wild ride through life and death, complete with a funny-freaky trip to Hell full of their greatest fears: A horrifying Easter Bunny doll, old crone Granny Preston (played by Winter), and military man Colonel Oats (Chelcie Ross.)
In the original conception, Matheson notes, those horrific entities would have returned in the climax. “In Act III, those fears came back, and were terrorizing them,” the writer explains. “The Easter Bunny clawing through the van, trying to get in.” (Actually, at one point, the writers discussed the possibility that Bill and Ted would return from heaven with biblical figures. “Moses was going to part a bunch of cars and things like that,” Matheson says. The idea was explored but quickly abandoned, seeming too similar to all the historical icons of the first film.)
“It was sort of being, you know, worked out on the fly,” is how Winter recalls the ending of Bogus Journey. “On a screenplay, when you cut scenes, you get new drafts. And the scene that are gone just say ‘omit,’ right? Normally, as you get towards the end of a movie, you start to get quite a few of those, because you realize you’ve written too much stuff. But in this case, it was just: omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit.”
According to Reeves, the actors came up with a title for the original ending: “Bill & Ted’s Omitted Adventure.” And according to Solomon and Matheson, the lengthy rewrites on Bogus Journey ultimately led to the creation of one of the more unusual characters in movie history.
“It was super late, and we were super punch drunk,” says Solomon. “We deleted this whole sequence, but it began with ‘Interior–Police Station.’ But I guess I didn’t get everything out of the computer, so it just said ‘Station.'”
“It was, like, three in the morning,” says Matheson. “We’re wiped out. We’ve been working hard. We just, for an hour, all we’d say is the word ‘station.’ ‘Station!'”
“Station!” echoes Solomon. “We vowed to not not have it in.”
“‘We’re gonna have a Martian named Station.’ And by God, we did,” laughs Matheson. “Now, was that a wise decision? That’s unclear.”
Bill & Ted stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter share memories of George Carlin
In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play Platonic ideals of ’80s suburban California youth. They love Van Halen; they use the word “dude” as punctuation; they sound like surfers but don’t surf. But the first face you see in the beloved film is older, and wiser. Legendary comedian George Carlin costarred in Excellent Adventure (and the 1991 sequel Bogus Journey) as Rufus, a deadpan time traveler.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role — which makes it even funnier to imagine how different Rufus could have looked. “Rufus was originally a 27-year-old sophomore,” says Ed Solomon, who co-wrote the Bill & Ted movies with Chris Matheson. In early versions of the story, Rufus was a friend of the titular duo, “who had a van that inexplicably traveled through time. We never explained it initially.”
At some point, Solomon and Matheson conceived the idea of a utopian future where the music of the Wyld Stallyns fixed all the problems of the world. Rufus would now travel back from that future, with a chrono-hopping phone booth.
“We were really afraid that whoever they were going to cast as Rufus was going to literally ruin the whole movie,” remembers Winter. “When we found out it was Carlin, we were honestly kind of blown away. Then he shows up, and he’s this larger than life, beautiful, spiritual, incredible human being.”
“He was super soft spoken,” says Reeves. “Quiet. Reserved. He was not one of those guys who wants to take over a room. ”
“Bill & Ted, I think, was one of the first movies he did just sort of acting,” says Winter. “I remember him really kind of finding Rufus, playing with a couple things, just being very modest.”
“‘Was that okay? Was that okay?'” Reeves recalls the comedian asking his starstruck costars. “‘It’s okay, George.'”
Reeves also remembers, with great fondness, of his final interactions with Carlin on the set of Excellent Adventure. “When I asked him for an autograph at the end, he wrote: ‘Hey Keanu, f— you.'”
“That takes a beautiful spirit to do that,” says Winter.
“It’s so awesome,” Reeves agrees.
Does he still have the autograph?
“You know what happened,” Reeves says. “It was on a rainy day, and he did it in blue maker, and it got water on it.”
“Even better, though” says Winter. “It’s just the ethereal nature of life.”
Bill & Ted stars reveal the magic behind Keanu Reeves' 'Ted Hair'
What do you remember about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? The impressively verbose lead performances by stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter? The historical figures crammed into the time-traveling phone booth? The futuristic cameos by real-life musicians Clarence Clemons, Martha Davis, and Fee Waybill? The air guitars?
For Reeves himself, one memory sticks out from his time working on the 1989 box office sensation: “I loved Ted hair.”
“Ted Hair was really hard to do,” says Winter. “I gotta give Keanu credit for that.”
To hear the actors tell it, the Wyld Stallyn’s wild hair was a very particular piece of production. “Ted Hair had to be kinda out like this” says Winter, motioning outwards, “But it had to be out at this kinda physically impossible level. But not too high.”
“I’m kinda close to Ted Hair, almost,” says Reeves, motioning to his long black hair.
“I had to suffer for months with him trying to get it where it needed to be,” laughs Winter. But his costar also notes the moment in the film when the preparation completely paid off. During the climactic history presentation, Ted receives a healthy dose of psychoanalysis from Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis). He leans up, unleashes a cathartic “Whoa,” and the camera catches him in a perfectly haired close-up.
“It’s the best example of Ted hair in the whole movie,” says Winter. “It’s perfect.”