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 Neilson Barnard/Getty Images) /

1428 Elm: In Face the Music, the scenes in Hell are imaginative and very funny. What was your favorite on-set experience?

William Sadler: I loved that we get a chance to see Death’s house. I thought that was really cool. Kudos to the set designers, because he gets the best crib in the world. He’s got John Lennon’s piano, he’s got the stuff on the wall.

I guess my favorite part of the film would be the reconciliation [with Bill and Ted]; when everyone apologizes, and they get back together. That, and playing in the band was cool.

1428 Elm: I wanted to ask about some of your recent horror work. Earlier this year, before the theaters closed, I took in a screening of The Grudge, and was very happy to see you in that film. What was it like working with writer-director Nick Pesce?

William Sadler: Nick was fun to work with. I have socks in my sock drawer that are older than Nick. But that said, I thought he did a terrific job.

Again, that’s not an easy thing to do. That franchise has been around awhile, and it’s always hard to come on and do another installment when people already know the big surprises that are coming. He was perfect to work with, from an acting standpoint.

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1428 Elm: You have a great scene that features some grotesque prosthetic makeup, and I thought that was one of the most effective images in a horror movie this year. Your performance is fantastic, but the makeup adds so much.

William Sadler: Thank you. That makeup about killed me – my face broke out. I’m having a really terrible time with make-ups these days.

My skin reacts to it, and my face swells up; my eyes swell shut, and I look hideous. So I’m glad it worked. You’re talking about the scene in the hospital, where he’s restrained at the table?

1428 Elm: Yeah, where he’s talking to Andrea Riseborough. 

William Sadler: Yeah, exactly.

1428 Elm: So you were really suffering for your art in that scene.

William Sadler: When they took the makeup off, I started suffering. “Let’s do this and get it quickly, so I can get it off my face.”

William Sadler
Martin Kove, Joe Begos, Bill Sadler, and Stephen Lang (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images) /

1428 Elm: VFW is one of my favorite movies of 2020, where you were part of another great cast. As a veteran of action cinema, though your heart is in comedy, how did you prepare to make the character of Walter Reed such a standout?

William Sadler: I think part of the way I approached that film was, I looked for the funny in that character. Part of what makes that movie special is the camaraderie that the actors had for each other. Steve Lang and Marty Kove, and David Patrick Kelly, and so on…

We had all worked together before, we’d all been in the trenches together, in other shows. And so, when they threw us together, as veterans fighting for our lives…that camaraderie was easy to let fall over into the performances, so it looks like these men care about each other.

And as soon as they actually care about each other, the audience starts to care what happens to them. There are moments of levity that were written into the script, and some we found along the way. Like when I said, at one point, “Remember the Alamo.”

I came up with that, because it was just funny – it’s a battle cry, but it’s the wrong battle cry for this moment, because they all died at the freakin’ Alamo! You have to sprinkle in moments like that. It doesn’t make the movie a comedy; it gives people a second to breathe and laugh, and then you suck them right back into the action.

1428 Elm: I agree with what you said about the camaraderie. Within 10 minutes, I was invested in these guys, and everything that happens from that point onward, because you can tell they have an affection for each other.

William Sadler: Exactly, and you care about them then, because they clearly care about each other.

1428 Elm: And that gallows humor you mentioned is pitch-perfect. Those little “calm before the storm” moments carry a lot of weight and impact. I loved it.

William Sadler: Thank you.

1428 Elm: Thank you, Mr. Sadler. It’s been a real pleasure talking with you.

William Sadler: You’re very welcome. Stay safe out there.

Bill & Ted Face the Music hits theaters and VOD on Aug. 28.

Are you looking forward to Bill & Ted Face the Music? What is your favorite William Sadler film? Let us know in the comments.