Tuesday, August 25, 2020

William Sadler On Reviving Death For ‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’ [Interview]

At the conclusion of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Death (William Sadler) joined the Wyld Stallyns band after aiding Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) in their bid to return to Earth and defeat their evil robot counterparts. An integral role in saving the day, a series of news and magazine headlines over the end credits indicated the Wyld Stallyns had achieved massive fame, and that eventually Death, the bassist, had a major falling out and went solo. Bill & Ted Face the Music picks up twenty-nine years later, with Bill and Ted still as yet to achieve their destiny. As time is of the essence, you can expect Death to pop up once more on their latest journey.

Speaking with Sadler about his return to the franchise, he revealed, “I don’t think it’s been an easy 29 years for him. His musical career has gone down the toilet, and God is pissed off at him for bringing the guys back to life in the first place. You’re not supposed to do that, apparently. When we meet the Reaper in this movie, he’s in a pretty dark place. I don’t want to give away a plot point, but his solo career didn’t go well.

That passage of time may have been a punishing crawl for Death, but slipping back into his character wasn’t so difficult for the veteran actor. With a laugh, Sadler jokes, “The robes are very slimming. No, I was surprised! I watched the first two movies again before I went to work on the third one, just to remind myself what I had done. I was really surprised at how easy it was to fall right back into this guy. He’s so much fun to play. He’s big, and he’s petulant, and his ego gets bruised really easy.” As for that earworm accent, that came easy too. “That’s how I get into the character. It’s Czechoslovakian; I think because I stole it directly from a Czech actor named Jan Triska, who I worked with in theater back in the ‘80s in New York. It’s this beautiful mutilation of the accent. Traditionally Death is the thing you’re most frightened of, but I thought if I gave him that accent, I could make him funny.”

The biggest hurdle in reviving Death for the sequel turned out to be the makeup. It wasn’t just the makeup process that altered a bit, but the actor’s response to it. “It took about the same length of time; it took three hours to get it all on. The technique is different now; they use airbrushes now instead of makeup brushes, sponges, and things. So, that was pretty much the same. What was different is that in the intervening years, I developed an allergy to makeups. My face started to burn and swell up. I would do it for a couple of days, then one night they’d take it off, and I’d wake up the next morning with my eyes swollen shut. We’d call the makeup team and tell them we needed to try something else. They’d try this, they’d try that, and finally, I was on prednisone to keep the swelling down. That part wasn’t fun, but the makeup is part of the transformation, and the transformation is a lot of fun.”

Because of his extensive career full of noteworthy films featuring ensemble casts, from Bill & Ted to Demon Knight to The Shawshank Redemption, it sparked a question of whether story or casting drives Sadler in choosing his projects. He explained, “Somehow, these projects pick me. I don’t do a lot of picking and choosing. If they come along and they’re interesting, I get involved. Like VFW, as soon as they started telling me who else was in it, I said ‘yeah, of course.’ Any time you can gather really talented professionals together and give them something that they can sink their teeth into, it’s just fun. It doesn’t get any better than that. I think that’s why VFW was so much fun for audiences because we all knew each other beforehand. The same thing happened with Shawshank. That was deliberate. That was Frank Darabont and Niki Marvin, when they put together the cast for Shawshank, there was a moment when they were talking to Tom Cruise to play Tim Robbins’ role. They even did table reads at Castle Rock. Frank didn’t want to use Tom Cruise because he didn’t want it to be a star vehicle; he wanted it to be an ensemble. They deliberately cast people who had strong theater backgrounds who create individual characters but play as a team. I’m pretty sure that’s why it worked as well as it did.”

We’ll have to wait for the release of Bill & Ted Face the Music to see if the Wyld Stallyns finally fulfill their destiny and create the music that saves the world. But we did ask the musically inclined Sadler if music or movies were the greater unifiers. Without hesitation, he answers, “Music. Music is just such a universal language. You don’t have to speak the same language; you don’t even need any equipment besides a human voice. The music that underpins the movies that we do is just as important. I hear the James Bond theme music, and my spirit starts to rise.”

Bill & Ted Face the Music releases on PVOD and in theaters August 28, 2020.


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