Exactly 20 years ago today, Speed revved into theaters and turned Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock into household names. Though the film is credited as being written by “Justified” showrunner Graham Yost, some of you may know that Joss Whedon was brought on to rewrite the dialogue. Whedon didn’t receive official credit on the film, but Yost has been complementary of his work on the movie in interviews before, saying that “Joss Whedon wrote 98.9 percent of the dialogue. We were very much in sync, it’s just that I didn’t write the dialogue as well as he did.”
Whedon hasn’t made a habit out of speaking about his work on the movie, but The Huffington Post managed to snag an interview with him in which he opened up a little about what he contributed, what famous line from the film he doesn’t like, and the movie’s legacy in the genre. I’ve pulled three highlights from the interview below:
In my whole career, I’ve never had to talk about [Speed]. I’ve never signed a copy of it, I’ve never sort of been a part of it. And I was proud of it, I worked hard on it, I had a really great time and I worked with really cool people. I thought it was good stuff. Graham has been very generous, but I did not get a credit on it. The studio gave me one, but then the Writers Guild of America took it away, and I was pretty devastated. I have the only poster with my credit on it.
So, I’m not a fan of “Pop quiz, hot shot!” It became a catchphrase, and everybody was led to it, and I get why, but in mind he was a lateral thinker. He would see things, and be calm about it. He would see things — this came after we sat down and redefined this character — not as a maverick, but someone whose whole goal is diffusing the situation. These people on the bomb squad are unfailingly polite, and they always say “sir or ma’am, you know? They’re bureaucratic.
You know, “Die Hard” is one of those movies that’s not only seminal, but also the best version of itself. Sometimes, directors put work out and wait for someone to do a good version of it, but “Die Hard” really was the best “Die Hard.” Although, I don’t think of “Speed” as a “Die Hard,” I do think it falls into the spectrum of updating the action movie so that the people in it aren’t immortal, gigantic, Schwarzenegger, Dirty Harry, above-the-law kind of titans. We had gone from cool ‘70s guys and Popeye Doyle [from “The French Connection”] to a much more hyperbolic era. I feel like “Speed” was part of our way out of that, into an action movie that understands that everybody matters. It’s more of a disaster-movie-action-movie hybrid. It’s based on saving these people, it’s not based on killing the bad guy. It’s also a really inventive notion … I look to the progression to films like “The Matrix,” and I think there’s the idea of the peaceful warrior germinating in [“Speed”], and I think that’s important.
Knowing about Whedon’s work on the Speed screenplay used to be one of those things that only diehard movie nerds would know, but since Whedon has ascended to become one of the most well-known filmmakers in Hollywood, it’s much more common knowledge at this point. Still, it’s cool to hear him talk a little bit about his work; I was actually surprised to hear he wasn’t a fan of the “pop quiz, hotshot!” line, because to me that sort of sounded like something he’d write.
Did you know Whedon was responsible for most of the dialogue in Speed? Do you have fond memories of the movie? Let us know below.
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