Nearly 30 years ago now, fans first fell in love with William Sadler’s cheeky portrayal of Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, as he tried to cheat our titular characters at a variety of games, but ended up joining their band in the end, and showcased his badass skills on the bass, too. For Bill & Ted Face the Music, Sadler is back for more fun as we catch up with him after all the years and see just what exactly Death has been up to since the end of Bogus Journey.
Recently, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Sadler about reuniting with the Bill & Ted family for Face the Music, and he discussed how much it means to him to see how the fans have continued to embrace his character after nearly three decades, what was different for him this time around, how Death has changed after all this time, and more.
Look for Bill & Ted Face the Music in theaters and On Demand beginning this Friday!
When you take on a role, I'm sure you always want to hope that it connects with fans. But I'm curious, how much fun is it to have a character in your repertoire like Death, that fans still rave about all these years later?
William Sadler: I am blown away by that, I really am. I mean, it's always fascinating. You do what you do in these movies, and the jobs come along, and you do the job, and then you go home. You never really see how people react because it isn't like live theater, where you hear the applause or you know the scene worked. You have no idea how it's affecting people. And it's really, really fun to hear. I had no idea that the Bill & Ted movies, and the Reaper in particular, people had been enjoying it over and over again, since we made Bogus Journey 29 years ago. That's a long time. But the reaction on the web, when people found out I was going to reprise the role of the Reaper, was just astonishing. It was really fun. People got excited. I couldn't believe that they still remembered me from Bogus Journey.
The fan responses are obviously cool, but how great did it feel on a personal level to know that this was a character that also felt integral to this universe and to these stories, from the perspective of Ed and Chris, the writers? That they were like, "You know what? If we're going to do this, and we're going to come back, we need to make sure we have Bill involved with this as well"?
William Sadler: Ed contacted me about three years ago. They said they were writing a third one. They were writing a third one, and he called me and said, "We're writing a third one, and we'd love to have you come back as Death. Are you interested?" I was blown away. I said, "Of course, I'm interested." I had so much [fun] playing Death the first time, so I was on board from the get-go. It was very gratifying that they felt he was an important enough part of Bill and Ted's world that he get included in the third one. That was really wonderful.
So, on Face the Music, here you are—your first time back on this set in decades where you're in the makeup and those robes. What was different for you this time around versus Bogus Journey all those years ago?
William Sadler: Well, for one thing I'm old [laughs). No, I'm not that old. I have just a little bit less energy. But I guess what was different about it was coming back to it with the perspective of having had this career. Keanu went off and did all of those movies, and Alex went off and did his documentaries, and I went off and did whatever, movies and television and what have you, in the intervening years. So, to get back together again, I think it was maybe more fun than it was the first time around, because we could all look at it through that lens. You don't get a chance to do this very often, so you should enjoy the hell out of it, because this doesn't happen for everybody. I was fortunate enough to do it the first time around, and it was even more fun the second time around, even though I'm old.
For me, for professional actors, for people that do this as a career, as an art, or a craft, every single time you get to do it, it's a gift. It's always a gift. And that was just a really special gift, to be able to put the robes on again and play that bigger-than-life, goofy character again, who has so much heart. That's what I like the best about playing him. Underneath his robes, Death is like a big softie.
Bogus Journey introduces us to your character, and we get a sense that he's fun and obviously he's great on the bass and everything like that. But what I loved about Face the Music was that, it really expands who you are as a character, I thought, in a very smart and endearing way. Was all of that already there on the page, or did you come in a little bit and talk with Chris and Ed, and be like, "Hey, guys, would it be fun if we did this or that?”
William Sadler: I think Ed and Chris had a pretty good handle on what and where they wanted to be. He has this failed career in the music business, and he’s down on his luck now in a way fans might not be expecting. But I think it's always been a collaboration between myself and Ed and Chris and the director. I never hesitate to offer an opinion or a suggestion, because sometimes it's a good idea. If it's a good idea, it ends up in the movie. And if it's not, it doesn't. But that’s how it happened in Bogus Journey, too. But for this one, they are the ones that came up with the idea that he's living in exile and has had this failed musical career. So he's a little bitter, and he's cynical and he's pissed off about that stuff, and he needs to be rescued. You can't go on like that. You can't just cheat at hopscotch for eternity. Ed told me about that while they were writing it, and I thought it was a terrific idea, so I'm glad it works. It feels like it completes the character.
I know we're getting really close on time, but I wanted to ask you about the makeup, because that is obviously a big part of this character. I know it's been a while since you've had to do this, so how great did it feel to be physically transformed once again into Death? And was the makeup process easier this time around for you since you knew what to expect?
William Sadler: Well, the thing that happened to me was somewhere between the Bogus Journey and this one, I developed an allergy to makeups. Back when I was doing Roswell, my face started to swell up every time they put makeup on me, and I started to not wear makeup back then. And so, the transformation, once the makeup was on and the robes and the boots that make me six foot two or something, was complete, it was wonderful. It was really, really fun to inhabit this guy again. But then when they took the makeup off, my face was swelling up. We tried different makeups, and we tried this and that, and finally, I was on Prednisone. We got through it, so that part was a little more difficult this time around. That didn't happen at all the first time in Bogus Journey. I don't know, somewhere along the way, my skin decided that I didn't like makeup at all. But that being said, I love the transformation. There's nothing more exciting for an actor than to transform.