We’re just a few days away from the release of Bill & Ted Face the Music, and I thought this made for the perfect occasion to look back on where it all started over 30 years ago, and celebrate the historical figures and those responsible for bringing them to life on the silver screen for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. For as charming and endearing both Bill S. Preston, Esquire (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan were (and still are), the other time travelers in the original film added so much personality and delivered such memorable performances that I thought it was only right to take a moment to shine the spotlight on all of them.
Party on, Dudes!
Napoleon (played by Terry Camilleri)
I love the entire supporting cast in Excellent Adventure, but I feel like Terry Camilleri’s performance as Napoleon in the film nearly steals the whole damn show away from everyone else in it—he’s just THAT entertaining. Much like the titular characters are experiencing life outside of their own time, Napoleon has his own Excellent Adventure, while going on the weirdest “double date” ever with Ted’s brother Deacon (Frazier Bain) and two of his female classmates. He gets to make a “Ziggy Piggy” out of himself while scarfing down a sundae bigger than his head, and after cheating and subsequently getting ditched at bowling, Napoleon doesn’t let being shunned get him down. He heads out to the Waterloo water park for a sun-soaked day of fun riding water slides, and ultimately, being a great big kid, far from his responsibilities on the battlefield, isn’t that the dream, really?
The biggest reason you fall in love with the character is because of Camilleri’s performance, which is so perfectly haughty at times (he pridefully wears his Ziggy Piggy badge for the latter half of the film, alongside his military medals, which indicates a sense of pride in his achievements), and then other times, the longtime actor’s Napoleon is filled with glee-inducing reckless abandon that you can’t help but love him. I also adore the way that even though he’s by no means a child, there’s something very child-like about aspects of Camilleri’s portrayal of the legendary military leader that makes him truly entertaining to viewers, even if he is a “dick.”
Billy the Kid (played by Dan Shor)
Not gonna lie—back when I first saw Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, I developed a huge crush on Billy the Kid. There was just something genuinely adorable about his “aww, shucks” brand of outlaw, making him the safe kind of dangerous for me at that age. Now that I’ve gotten a bit older, I still think Billy is still just as handsome, charismatic, and genuinely watchable as both Bill and Ted, but I’ve definitely picked up more on everything that’s going on with Dan Shor’s performance than I did back when I was younger.
If you watch closely, Billy the Kid is instantly drawn to his time travel hosts, almost immediately taking on some of their mannerisms, and he quickly embraces their jargon as well. Also, when Socrates joins their group, he’s warm and welcoming, and you can sense a strong kinship that develops between the two of them that turns them into brothers in arms. Billy and Socrates even set out to pick up some babes at the San Dimas Mall together, and during Bill and Ted’s final project, when their fellow students aren’t giving them the attention they deserve, it’s Billy who steps up to make sure the audience settles down (albeit by shooting off his gun, which is probably something that wouldn’t fly today). But if they ever had made a spinoff buddy movie featuring both Billy the Kid and Socrates, you better believe I would have watched it.
Socrates (played by Tony Steedman)
Tony Steedman was one of my favorite “That Guy!” in movies growing up, and prior to his involvement in Excellent Adventure, he had already been working in films and television for over 30 years, amassing an impressive resume to boot. And while there are a lot of great moments in his career, my favorite Steedman character has to be Socrates (or So-Crates as Bill and Ted call him), as there’s just something genuinely lovable about the philosopher, and the way he becomes besties with Billy the Kid (and everyone, really) almost instantaneously is just so damn endearing.
A really clever touch to the character of Socrates in the film is that he is supposed to be this fount of wisdom, and yet, he’s easily impressed by Ted’s declaration of, “All we are is dust in the wind, dude.” I also love the sneaky reference to the Days of Our Lives opener, too, when we see Socrates philosophizing, and how he is transformed into a man of action when Bill and Ted are in need of rescuing in Medieval England. It’s been nearly 20 years since Tony Steedman passed away, but between Excellent Adventure and his brief role in Scrooged, I’m thankful for the reminders of just how much he brought to all of his roles, big or small.
Sigmund Freud (played by Rod Loomis)
Sigmund Freud, or “Siggy” as he prefers to be called, is sort of the stick in the mud amongst the time travelers in Excellent Adventure, but he’s an incredibly hilarious stick in the mud all the same. His stodgy demeanor and Rod Loomis’ deadpan delivery of all of Freud’s lines adds a nice comedic balance alongside everyone else in Excellent Adventure (plus the bit with his flaccid corn dog after being called a “geek” by two lovely ladies is just such a great touch, too).
Beyond being an observer of modern life and culture, Siggy’s functionality in Excellent Adventure also involves being able to reconcile Ted’s issues with his father during their final history presentation, which provides Reeves with his meme-making “whoa” realization. I also love the moment when Freud offers to talk Bill through his issues, too, but he cops to having an Oedipal Complex, so he turns down a slightly forlorn Siggy. Loomis may not have had the biggest role in Excellent Adventure, but he makes the most of the time he does have in the film.
Beethoven (played by Clifford David)
Clifford David’s Beethoven is another traveler who doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time in Excellent Adventure, but what he does get, David makes every second count. We meet Beethoven as he’s tickling the ivories for a group of fancy pantses in Vienna, and he is ultimately whisked away with the group to eventually discover all the wonders of modern-day San Dimas, California. Beeth-oven (as he’s referred to at one point) of course finds himself inside a music store once they hit the local mall, and I love the sense of wonder that washes over David’s face when the salesman plays the pre-recorded track for him on the keyboard. He looks like a teenager who has just fallen in love for the first time.
It’s still a mystery to me just why exactly poor Beethoven would get arrested along with the others (is playing a keyboard too excitedly for a crowd of onlookers a crime?), but there’s a real joy to David’s subtle performance as Beethoven in Excellent Adventure that I’ve always enjoyed. Plus, he was also great at cleaning windows. Unfortunately, Clifford David passed away just a few years ago in 2017.
Joan of Arc (played by Jane Wiedlin)
Honestly, when I was a kid and I was watching Excellent Adventure on repeat, it didn’t click with me for several years that Joan of Arc was portrayed by one of the most badass women in rock ever: Jane Wiedlin from The Go-Go’s. And that just makes her character even cooler than I already thought she was before I was able to connect those dots. Admittedly, the iconic figures from history that are featured in this first Bill & Ted end up being a bit of a sausage fest, which is another reason why Joan of Arc always stood out to me way back then. Wiedlin’s character adds a note of femininity to the group, but not in a “damsel in distress” way, either. She’s totally her own person here.
When Joan gets to the San Dimas Mall and discovers the wonders of aerobics, that’s when we get to see Wiedlin break out from the pack, and honestly, the scenes where she’s working up the entire crowd into a sweat-soaked tizzy by over-exercising them is still hilarious even after three decades (especially as they carry her off the stage while Joan is still in motion). She may not have any lines in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but I’d argue that Wiedlin’s presence is so great here (so much of her performance comes through Jane’s eyes) that she didn’t even need them to leave such a huge impression on everyone.
Genghis Khan (played by Al Leong)
I’m not saying anything here that most people don’t already know, but veteran character actor and stuntman Al Leong is an absolute legend, which makes it all the more perfect that he’d play a legend in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. His performance as “Bob” Genghis Khan is the perfect showcase for his talents—you’re immediately drawn in by his non-verbal performance (save for some grunts and growls), and on a physical level, the scene where he takes on a couple of security guards in the Oshman’s Sporting Goods store is easily one of the most uproariously memorable sequences in Excellent Adventure (which is no small feat, considering just how damn memorable the movie is as a whole).
I also love that, as he’s introduced, director Stephen Herek really leans into the all-consuming nature of Genghis Khan, as we see him voraciously devouring some food, and then pulling a young woman in for a little makeout session. The only thing that is able to distract him is a dangling Twinkie (the second best use of a Twinkie, next to Ghostbusters? Probably), and we find out that Genghis ends up being a pretty big fan of the Hostess snack due to the excellent sugar rush. Leong had quite a run during the 1980s and ‘90s, but I think his role in Excellent Adventure easily makes my list of my three favorite performances from him during that era (Die Hard is definitely in there, with there being a tie between Big Trouble in Little China and Lethal Weapon, too—depending on my mood).
Abraham Lincoln (played by Robert V. Barron)
While he may have the least amount of screen time in Excellent Adventure amongst all the time travelers, Robert V. Barron’s performance as Abraham Lincoln is one for the ages. Not only is he the final speaker during Bill and Ted’s history presentation, but it’s Barron’s delivery of “party on, dudes!” that was the cherry on top of the sundae of awesomeness that is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The scene when he goes and gets his picture taken at one of those old-timey photo places is a riot, too, especially as we see the usually presidential Abe start physically tussling with the photographer over his hat (and beard), which is downright hilarious.
The subtle way Barron presents his character’s name and birth date to an incredulous Captain Logan (Hal Landon Jr.) in the police station booking scene is so great, too, and I think it’s the actor’s matter-of-fact delivery that really amps up the humor in Abe’s segment in particular. Sadly, Robert V. Barron passed away in 2000, but I know we’ll always fondly remember him for his now iconic performance in Excellent Adventure.
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