On Saturday, fans got treated to a most excellent event when Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter reunited virtually for the Bill & Ted Face the Music panel at Comic-Con@Home 2020 to discuss their upcoming new film. Along with Reeves and Winter, who reprise their iconic roles, were actresses Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine, who play Bill and Ted’s daughters, respectively, and actor William Sadler, who reprises his role as the Grim Reaper, as well as director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) and the franchise’s screenwriters, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. The panel was moderated by filmmaker Kevin Smith, who has already seen the movie and called it “emotional” and “adorable.” He also advised fans to stay in their seats for the final credits, and hinted that late-great comedian George Carlin, who played Rufus in the previous two films, would appear in the new movie in some way.
The panel began with Matheson and Solomon recounting how they had created Bill and Ted when they were in college and would perform the characters themselves in a stand-up routine. Matheson then revealed that it was his father, legendary screenwriter Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, Real Steel), who encouraged him to write it as a feature screenplay. Since the screenwriters began by playing the characters themselves, they weren’t sure who they would be able to get that could actually play Bill and Ted. During the audition process for the first film, Solomon and Matheson were having lunch nearby and overheard two teenagers speaking exactly the way they thought the characters should, but they figured they would never find actors that could sound specifically like that. To their great surprise they soon realized that the two kids from the restaurant, were actually Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, who were about to audition for the film.
Reeves and Winter followed up by both recounted their memories of auditioning for the first movie. “We went through a very vigorous audition process,” remembered Reeves. “The first audition I recall had ten actors and we would all switch and read for different parts. Sometimes you’d play Bill, and sometimes you’d play Ted. We started in the morning, had lunch, and went to the end of the day.” Winter added, “It was more like an athletic tryout then an actual acting audition. It was a grueling and somewhat prolonged experience. Keanu and I became good friends to some degree just through the audition process,” he explained. “We kept getting brought back and eventually we got to know each other. So, we were very relieved when we got cast, just because that process was over.”
The first sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, was originally called Bill & Ted Go to Hell, and while the studio would eventually change the title, Ed Solomon discussed how the risky concept got greenlighted in the first place. “Initially we were pitched by the producers to do another version of the original where Bill and Ted have another test to take, an English test this time and they go into books. Chris and I didn’t want to rehash the same story again, but we had this other idea which was, why don’t we just kill them and send them to Hell,” the writer explained. “The studio wasn’t into it until we went to see Keanu and Alex and told them that there were two ideas we had for a sequel, one the studio wants us to do and one we want to do. They basically said, there is no way we are doing that first idea. So, without the backing of Alex and Keanu, we wouldn’t have got to do the weirder version, which I’m grateful we got to do.” Matheson confirmed that Bill & Ted Go to Hell was the shooting title of the film, but that when it became time to release the movie, the studio refused to release it with the originally intended title.
Rumors of a third Bill & Ted movie have been circulating for years, so Smith asked Winter when Bill & Ted Face the Music first came into his life, and if this version of the film is the one that they’ve been talking about making for a long time. “There wasn’t really a version of this years ago,” Winter said. “We all went on our own paths after the last one, but we remained friends. It was about ten years ago now that Chris, Ed, Keanu, and I were all having dinner together and they proposed, similarly to how they proposed the Bill & Ted Go to Hell idea, about doing another Bill & Ted movie. So, they laid out this very summary version of a take on Charles Dickens, where you go back through different iterations of your life and find that each version of your life is worse than the previous, and it was pretty damn funny. None of us had really thought about making a third movie, so I think we left the dinner thinking this is a great idea, but no one really needs it and we won’t do it unless we can make it really funny and hold on to the creative so that initial idea can hold on to its integrity. Thus, began a very long road.”
Actress Samara Weaving, who plays Ted’s daughter Theodora, wasn’t even born when the first film came out, and she admitted that she didn’t know what it was until her boyfriend, a fan of the franchise, encouraged her to audition. “I remember getting an audition for it and not knowing what Bill & Ted was. My partner was sitting next to me and he leapt off the couch. He started doing this bizarre surfer voice that I had never heard of. That’s when I realized that those films created a whole impact on America and surf culture, especially. So, we watched the first two films right away and I just haven’t seen comedies done like that before.” Weaving also reminded the panel that she has an odd connection to Keanu Reeves, as she is the daughter of actor Hugo Weaving, who famously played Agent Smith opposite Reeves in The Matrix movies. “My father and Keanu worked together before, so that was a weird connection. Mr. Anderson I’m coming for you,” she joked with Reeves.
Brigette Lundy-Paine, who is practically the spitting image of Keanu Reeves, plays his daughter, Billie, and the actress talked about her character and how she prepared for the role. “I watched the movies, but also the experience of meeting the guys and becoming friends with them, while secretly watching them all the time to see how they move their arms, that really helped,” she laughed. “But Billie and Thea are like geniuses, in the way that Bill and Ted are goofy and naïve, so those are some of the differences that we found and played around with. Billie and Thea are still goofy, but their goofiness leads them to saying some very smart things.”
Director Dean Parisot, who has made such popular comedies as Galaxy Quest and Fun with Dick and Jane, discussed his trepidation at directing another Bill & Ted sequel, and the challenges of finding the right actresses to play the title character’s offspring. “It’s daunting and they are iconic characters, so all of that was part of the puzzle of putting it together,” said Parisot. “To contemporize it and also bring these characters back in middle age, and to find their daughters. Which, as soon as we saw Samara and Brigette, we knew we found the right actors to play the roles. But what is funny is that we didn’t actually look at them side by side with Keanu and Alex before we cast. So, we put photos of Keanu and Alex against photos of the girls, and we were astounded that they actually did look like their daughters, which was bizarre.”
Reeves and Winter are not the only returning cast members to the franchise, as veteran actor William Sadler reprises his role as the Grim Reaper from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. The actor, also known for his work in The Shawshank Redemption, talked about his first day on the set of the new film, and reuniting with Reeves and Winter. “The very first shot of the very first take, of the very first scene I did on Face the Music, I was supposed to be playing hopscotch by myself, and cheating at it. But I tripped, and I sprained my wrist,” Sadler explained. “I thought, this is a disaster, and I’m off to such a bad start. But the really fun moment though was when Alex, Keanu and I were reunited on screen, and it was like we never left off. So, that was really fun, working with Alex and Keanu again.”
Reeves and Winter have remained friends since making the first film over thirty years ago, and Reeves explained that for him, the best part of making Face the Music was getting to work with his friend again. “I can’t laugh the way I do and have any more fun than I do when I’m working on these characters with Alex,” he said. “That doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world for me. So, to partner up and work on the craft side of it, and then get to play these characters that Chris and Ed created, and meet their children, there is no place that I can laugh like this. To play these characters again, every day was a pleasure because Alex gives such a wonderful performance. It’s not just playing Bill and Ted again that is great, but playing older versions of them, and getting to play off Alex and the situation and the words, that doesn’t exist anywhere else, that laughter and that connection, it’s fun.”
Finally, Winter recounted his favorite moment on the set making Bill and Ted Face the Music. “I remember about half way through the first week we were shooting one of the iterations of Bill and Ted’s former selves,” he explained. “I just remember that the whole family was there, a lot of people that I have known most of my life. Keanu and I were kind of getting ourselves up to speed after all this rehearsing, and I just remember we really got into our characters and just went off. I remember coming off set and looking at Keanu and saying, ‘Bill and Ted are fucking back!’”