The ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ Cast On How One Silly Time Travel Movie Became Such A Triumphant Success
Four score and three decades ago, moviegoers were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure conceived by two teenage boys who were destined to save the world but couldn't pass high school history. The time travel comedy Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure premiered 30 years ago, and despite the time that's passed since the duo hopped in a phone booth and traveled through history, Bill and Ted are still a much-beloved bunch, as evidenced by the fact that stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, along with original writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, are in the process of creating a third installment in the Bill & Ted franchise.
In addition to the return of our beloved BFFs in Bill & Ted Face the Music, as it is reportedly called, the third film also presents the possibility that other Excellent Adventure characters might make an appearance. So Bustle turned to the rest of the cast of the original movie, including many "personages of historical significance," to revisit the past, find out if the making of the film was as triumphant as it seems, and see what their characters might be up to in 2019.
Some of the cast members have since left us. The actors who played Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron), Socrates (Tony Steedman), Beethoven (Clifford David), and the time travel master Rufus (the incomparable George Carlin) have since passed on to another plane of existence, hopefully one that is most tranquil and where there is excellent music. But Billy the Kid (Dan Shor), Napoleon (Terry Camilleri), Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin), Missy (Amy Stoch), and Medieval princesses Joanna and Elizabeth (Diane Franklin and Kimberly Kates) all agreed to a trip back in time, and assure me that it truly was an excellent adventure.
Personages Of Historical Significance
With their two stars set, filmmakers had the task of finding actors to play the famous historical figures. Dan Shor, who played the lovable Billy the Kid, was just coming off being a series regular on Cagney and Lacey when his character was killed off.
"They had just killed me, and then they won all the Emmy awards for my death!" he says over the phone in January. "So I go in for this silly audition to play Billy the Kid, right? Just a regular audition, nothing special, for a no big deal movie."
Shor wasn't asked to come in for any callbacks, which is a stark contrast to the audition process for Amy Stoch, who played teenage stepmom Missy, one of the few present-day characters of the film.
"I went back six times for the same part!" Stoch says on our call. "The audition was the scene where the phone booth drops down behind her and she’s busy watering the garden and out pop all of the historical figures." Stoch notes that ability to make the producers laugh is what ultimately landed her the role, despite her self-described "lacking" in other areas.
"Missy’s supposed to be a bombshell and there are all kinds of jokes of looking down her shirt, and I just had no boobs!" she exclaims.
Appearances were also a challenge for Australian actor Terry Camilleri, who would go on to play the French general Napoleon. "I was sitting in [the audition room] I’m looking around seeing all these Napoleon lookalikes and I’m going, 'God I’m never going to get this. All these guys look like Napoleon!'" he says over a Google Hangout.
"I was going up originally for the role of Missy," says Kimberly Kates, who played Princess Elizabeth. "I’d only been acting for three months, fresh out of school, and I didn’t know really anything about the movie other than I had to have an English accent." Her princess sister turned out to be '80s horror movie queen Diane Franklin, whom Kates already admired.
"I thought I was going in for Joan of Arc," adds Franklin, "because I had I just did Better Off Dead where I had a French accent ... I didn’t realize [until] I read the script that Joan of Arc had no dialogue, at all!"
But the filmmakers already had their eyes on the perfect Joan of Arc: Jane Wiedlin of the '80s new wave band The Go-Gos. Wiedlin tells Bustle that director Stephen Herek contacted her manager directly and offered her the role. "I didn’t even have to audition! [Which was] good, because I suck at auditions!" Wiedlin says in an email.
Meeting Bill & Ted
Reeves and Winter were, of course, the stars of the shoot, but from the testimony of the other cast members, they made everyone feel excellent.
"They were just so lovable," Shor says. "But this is the interesting part: I thought Alex Winter was going to be this big star and Keanu would be the puppy dog sidekick. Little did I know what chemistry is. All of a sudden the movie’s over and you go, 'Keanu’s sexy? Who knew?' It was really bizarre to me that this guy became a major movie star but it's not bizarre at all because he’s a delicious person. Delicious. You love him the second you meet him."
"I got crushes on both of them," says Franklin, "I crushed on both of them hard! They’re genuinely funny, creative, imaginative guys where anything and everything could happen."
Even though they were similar, they did have their differences, Wiedlin notes. "Alex was very social, very high energy and funny. Keanu was extremely shy and introverted."
"They were really gracious. They were like old buddies," adds Camilleri. "They were really amenable and really pleasant to be with. Plus I play guitar and Keanu played guitar so we kind of jammed a little bit in trailers and stuff."
Strange Things Afoot In Rome
The earlier scenes of the film, when Bill and Ted pick up Napoleon, Socrates, Billy, and the princesses, were shot around Rome, Italy. The cast explored the city, ate delicious food, and had a generally triumphant time.
"I remember Diane and I, and Alex and Keanu, all going out dancing one night and that was incredible," says Kates. "The first time we actually went to this real castle — Castle Orsini was its name — outside of Rome and we literally had, I’m not kidding, race car drivers taking us back and forth to the set."
"We’re in full costume running around a 12th century castle... you just felt like a princess," adds Franklin.
One particularly bogus time, however, was when Kates almost got kicked out of the Vatican for wearing a short skirt. Her costars came to the rescue.
"Alex and Keanu ended up giving me their coats to wrap around my waist, and George Carlin was trying to help talk to the priest who was kicking me out," says Kates.
An Excellent Adventure
Besides a stint in in Italy and pit stop in the actual San Dimas, California, the rest of the movie was shot in Arizona. With everyone gathered in the desert, the full cast could finally bond, and that's where permanent friendships were formed.
"Every movie is about the friendships that you make," says Shor, who spent "many hours with Abe Lincoln, with So-crates, with Freud, with Joan of Arc ... Keanu and Alex were working all the time. The rest of us became closer because we had more free time, so we would be hanging out with each other in bars and in restaurants."
"At the end of the work day, all the historical figures would hang out at the hotel bar," Wiedlin adds. "Character actors are always total characters, so it was so much fun to spend time with them!"
On Sundays, Stoch adds, the cast and crew would meet at a local high school and play basketball. "One [weekend] my parents came to visit and I took my dad, because my dad was a basketball coach and player most of his life. I have this amazing photograph of Keanu trying to block my dad's shot," she says laughing. "Everybody on that first shoot, it was like family."
Shor fondly recalls some meaningful moments with Tony Steedman, who played Socrates. "Just walking the streets and fine dining, because he was a truly elegant gentleman," Shor says of their time in Rome.
Camilleri also speaks tenderly of another lost cast member, Carlin, who played the coolest character of them all. "He was an amazing man," Camilleri says. "We did a lot of shtick ... I formed a really good relationship with him."
Kates has a very vivid memory of sitting with Carlin in his trailer. "He was philosophizing with me in the most deep, profound ways. He was just talking to me so much about life and really trying to open up his soul to me and share everything that he had learned about the business, about what’s important in life, about just being a human being. And I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this guy is so deep.' It was so intense, what he was saying to me, but I literally sat and talked to him for over an hour and then we had to go do comedy afterwards!"
History books are filled with important men, because history was written by men. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure wasn't awash with important female characters of history, but the ones it does include are pretty excellent. Joan of Arc may barely speak in the movie, only a bit of French, but her silence is countered by the badass soldier that she is. On creating her character, Wiedlin says, "I just figured, she was a strong, intelligent, and unique young woman. So, I thought she’d be awed and confused at first, but would gain confidence quickly. She sure did worm her way into 'mall society' quickly!"
The Medieval babes were no damsels in distress either. "I wanted to play it as real as possible and I felt like we were like The Taming of the Shrew," Franklin recalls. "You get these strong princesses but also they have manners, they know how to behave, but they also can be emotional, so that’s how I saw the character. She was someone who was from a different time period, had different body language, a different voice but at the same time, she’s not precious. I felt like they were spirited, young teenagers."
"I thought similarly," adds Kates, "I thought that they were high spirited and obviously scheming to come up with a plan to escape those horrible old guys that they had to marry."
And while Missy and her marriage to Bill's much-older father might be a running gag of the movie, Stoch didn't want to play her as a joke. "When I read the script, first of all I thought the script was just so fun and weird and like nothing anybody had ever really seen before. And when I got to Missy and I realized she was a 19-year-old stepmom, I thought, OK, I’m not going to play her as a dumb blond because that would be stupid. She’s not dumb. She graduated from high school, married a teacher who already has an established beautiful home and a kid that’s already grown up, what’s stupid about that?" she says laughing. "I never approached the stereotype. So Missy for me, was just happy to be in her home and she loved gardening and she took her role as stepmother to Bill very seriously. You have to play the true intentions of the character or else she’ll come across as false and shallow and I certainly did not want that for her."
Be Excellent To Each Other
None of the cast members I spoke with expected the film's success at the time, but totally understand why its message reverberates into 2019.
Even so, the excellent adventure almost didn't happen. As Stoch explains, the production company went bankrupt and it was almost two years before Orion swooped in and finally cut the film together for release. "When it finally came out and it became popular I was really just so excited that it finally got out there," she says, "and then it just exploded."
"By the time it came out I had assumed it would never see the light of day," says Wiedlin. "I was thrilled when it became so popular, and the enduring fondness people have for the movie is really amazing."
But before the movie became a hit, Kates had an interesting run-in with a casting director that led her to have doubts. "I had such a weird experience. I remember going in to meet with some big casting director and she said, 'You really should take [Bill & Ted] off your resume because I’ve heard it’s terrible.' I was so shocked. But I never did take it off and then it came out, and it was a hit! Never in my wildest dreams expected it to be a cult classic. And it has such a great message, especially now in these times. Be excellent to each other, we really need to hear that."
Camilleri started getting a sense towards the end that they were really onto something big. "We kind of had a feeling something was happening, and we realized something was changing when shooting the scene at the end in the auditorium. Well that was originally done in a classroom. But then they cut that and we re-did it because they knew they had something more, so they made it more of a grand affair, and it worked."
The movie's goodwill and warmth are big reasons why it's still so poignant today. "It was stunningly silly but the heart of the movie was so sweet," Shor says. "Nobody was making fun of these kids. It wasn’t mean-spirited ... The vibe was just joyful. And we need that in our world. I’ve made 100 projects and people know me from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. And I go, 'Wow, that’s the thing?' OK. Cool. Joy wins."
Facing The Music
A sequel to Excellent Adventure called Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey was released in 1991. Rather than traveling through time, Bill and Ted traveled through the afterlife, visiting both Heaven and Hell, met celestial beings, and, in the film's most hilarious sequence, bested the Grim Reaper in a series of board games. But Bogus Journey wasn't as well-received by critics and fans as Excellent Adventure. It was definitely more cynical and less joyful than the original, which found humor in its historical figures fish-out-of-water characters, and it unceremoniously replaced the princesses with different actors, perhaps the result of a new director (Peter Hewitt) at the helm.
"We were surprised we weren’t in Bogus Journey," says Franklin. "We had to audition [again] for our own roles, which was very unusual. I think it was just the director’s choice because I know the guys liked us, so I don’t know what happened."
Now a producer herself, who's working on an as-yet-untitled Snow White project, Kates understands that these things happen. "I just learned not to take these things personally even though it’s hard not to. But what I was really surprised about is the fans’ reaction."
One Excellent Adventure character who did return to Bogus Journey was Missy, who had left Bill's father for Ted's father, and became kind of a new age guru who held a séance for the departed Bill and Ted, which Stoch called "my favorite scene of all of the films."
Despite the lackluster reception of the sequel (Excellent Adventure scored a 78 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with Bogus Journey a measly 54), there has been talk for years among fans, Reeves, Winter, and writers Solomon and Matheson, about another installment. Per The Hollywood Reporter, a third film is due to finally come to fruition sometime this year. According to an interview with the writers and stars in Entertainment Weekly, Bill & Ted Face the Music explores an aging Bill and Ted who haven't yet accomplished the musical greatness for which Rufus told them they were destined. Historical figures are set to return, and there may even be a tribute to George Carlin in the form of Rufus' daughter.
So would all of the historical figures be up for another excellent adventure? Camilleri says, "Absolutely."
"I know they’re working hard on it, and would be so much fun to be back," Stoch says, contemplating Missy's next marriage. "I think Missy should be married to Death actually, I think that would make me Queen of the underworld."
Shor believes Billy and Joan never went back to their original timelines anyway. "I’ve already spoken to Ed Solomon. I said Joan of Arc and Billy the Kid live in New Jersey, and we are having a middle-class life, and we need an adventure!"
The original princesses may return as well, perhaps as the long-time wives of our heroes. Married or divorced, however, Kates is pretty sure they'd be into online shopping. "But the interest rates have gone up quite a bit!" she adds.
Whether Bill and Ted are facing the music, saving the world, or just rocking out, audiences will surely show up in droves for a third movie, and not just because they love the characters. The message of being excellent to each other, the joy that the original movie evokes, and the innocence of their journey of self-discovery are all incredibly relevant topics in 2019. Be excellent to each other, indeed, and party on dudes.