William Sadler reflects on comedy, horror, and Death

Keanu Reeves, William Sadler and Alex Winter star in BILL_TED FACE THE MUSIC. Photo Credit: Patti Perret / Orion Pictures
Keanu Reeves, William Sadler and Alex Winter star in BILL_TED FACE THE MUSIC. Photo Credit: Patti Perret / Orion Pictures /
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William Sadler
William Sadler (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images) /

William Sadler is one of our most reliable – and hardest-working – character actors with nearly 180 film and television credits to his name. We had the chance to chat with the veteran about reprising his iconic role as Death in Bill & Ted Face the Music, his affinity for comedy and his recent horror output.

William Sadler is one of the hardest working thespians in the entertainment industry. This year, he reprises his iconic role as Death in Bill & Ted Face the Music. The actor recently sat down with us to discuss the new film, his affinity for comedy, and his recent horror output.

1428 Elm: Let’s go back in time 30 years. In 1990, you played the villain in Die Hard 2; a year later, you were Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. And while Death could be construed as the oldest villain of all, he’s such a likable guy. Was it a conscious decision on your part to jump into a comedic role in a PG-rated film?

William Sadler: I spent my whole career in theater before I got into film. I did 11 years of theater in New York, and it was almost all comedy. I was in the Neil Simon play, Biloxi Blues, for a year and a half on Broadway.

Back in high school, I did stand-up comedy. I have a huge funnybone, and I really love comedy, but when I got to Los Angeles, they took one look at me and said: “Oh, yeah, he’s a villain for sure – he could kill you and sit on your chest and eat a sandwich.”

I was the villain in Project XHard to Kill, and then Die Hard 2; Hollywood was very happy to keep me in that vein. And when Bogus Journey came along, I wanted to show the industry there was another side; I didn’t have to be a murderer.

What I loved about the Reaper was, he starts out being this really scary dude. [Bill & Ted] are dead, and he’s got their souls – he’s this really frightening figure that everybody thinks of as Death, and little by little, he comes unglued. He loses his grip on all of that, becoming a petulant loser…and by the end of it, he wants to be part of [Bill & Ted’s band, Wyld Stallyns]; he wants to be accepted by these guys.

I just thought that was a lovely transition, y’know? I really love doing comedy, and when I get a chance to, I jump on it.

1428 Elm: In Bogus Journey, Death is really not fond of Bill & Ted when he first meets them, but then they become friends, and he winds up playing bass in Wyld Stallyns. Do you think Death secretly wants friendship and acceptance, but is hindered by his eternal reputation as a reaper of souls?

William Sadler: [laughs] I think that’s probably completely accurate. But that’s kind of everybody, isn’t it? We all have these personas that we go through life with, and inside we’re all sentimental…we want to be loved. I think that’s exactly right.

1428 Elm: Maybe Death has spent so much time in his lonely lair, and hasn’t had anybody try to thaw him out of his isolated rut.

William Sadler: [laughs] Millions of years of killing people! In Hard to Kill, I killed six people…in Die Hard 2, I killed 130 people or something, and now, as the Reaper, I’ve claimed everybody that ever died.

1428 Elm: Seems like a natural segue from Die Hard 2 to Bogus Journey, because you’re just upping the body count…

William Sadler: Yeah, exactly!