With the series debuting on Disney+ November 30, Vital Thrills got a chance to talk to the Willow cast and writer/executive producer Jon Kasdan. The action-adventure series is based on George Lucas’ fantasy-adventure film Willow, released in theaters in 1988, and comes from Lucasfilm and Imagine Entertainment.
The story began when an aspiring sorcerer, played by Warwick Davis, is whisked away on a journey to protect an infant empress Elora Danan and vanquish the evil Queen Bavmorda from their world of Andowyne. Now, the story continues with Davis reprising his titular role, as he leads an unlikely crew of heroes on a quest to protect Andowyne from an even larger foe than they had imagined possible.
The Willow cast also includes Ellie Bamber, Ruby Cruz, Erin Kellyman, Tony Revolori, Amar Chadha-Patel, Dempsey Bryk, and Joanne Whalley. Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwan, Jonathan Kasdan, Tommy Harper, Wendy Mericle, Roopesh Parekh, Ron Howard, and Samie Kim Falvey serve as executive producers.
Warwick Davis was asked about whether or not he ever imagined sitting here, talking about a new project around Willow. “Certainly not, no, absolutely not,” he said, “for years it’s been talked about, not by anyone official but by the fans. They’ve constantly pestered me, saying ‘when are we going to see a sequel to that movie?’ And it’s a question that I could never answer.
David continued: “Until I met Jon Kasdan, who I understood was also a fan. And I wondered on the set of Solo who had let him onto set. You know, no fans allowed here, because he was obsessed, talking about Willow. And surely we should be concentrating on making this Star Wars story here, shouldn’t we?”
“…it was decided that there should indeed be more Willow, and so that was the catalyst for this project to, to happen, really, and it happened very quickly in Hollywood terms. You know, it wasn’t years and years of development, before I knew it I was sat on set, in Wales for the very first day of filming. Once again looking just like Willow, but a slightly older, more mature, better-looking version.”
Writer and executive producer Jon Kasdan said it was “in a lot of ways” as simple as Davis said. “I mean, there was the impulse certainly between Ron and Warwick and myself to continue this story, and return to this world. And I came at it as a fan, and they came at it both as the creators, and they found a champion in me, and I kept fighting and sort of hoping that we’d get a chance to go back here.
“My ace was always that Warwick would be back and that he would look so attractive and America would — and the world — would really fall on their knees. I think everyone got that, and everyone appreciated that, that there was something really special in the opportunity to bring this.”
Amar Chadha-Patel, who plays Boorman, said of joining the Willow cast, “I first watched it about seven or eight years old. And it sort of fit neatly into my upbringing, in the sense that I grew up on escapism and fantasy, and NeverEnding Story and The Princess Bride, that’s my childhood.
“So by osmosis I’d sort of imbibed the quality of that kind of film. So it was always a part of me, I think. And then I rewatched it again when I got cast, because I figured, you know, research is probably useful.”
Tony Revolori plays Graydon and talked about whether he’d seen the film: “I was alive. I actually watched it with my parents, and my brother, and yeah, I love the film, I fell in love with the magic of the world and you know when this opportunity came around, I was excited and honored.”
Dempsey Bryk, who plays, Airk said, “… the production gave us — on day one of bootcamp — a cap that said, ‘congratulations, you survived bootcamp’ which felt a little premature.”
Revolori said, “I mean, look, it was the horse riding that I was really scared for. And then I think I had to like learn the language and learn how to read and write it, but also do everything in the sword training and stuff like that.”
Kasdan talked about balancing the fantasy and contemporary themes: “It’s the challenge, and it’s always, with every episode you’re sort of walking the line between, between making it familiar and satisfying what fans expect from the brand Willow, and then trying to push it forward and tell a story that’s surprising and unexpected.
He added: “And you know, the great weapon we had with us was Warwick, who just lent the whole universe of Willow credibility, and the moment you see him on screen, you suddenly believe these six other foolish kids could somehow fit into that world, and really inhabit it. And they did so so beautifully and with such gusto and enthusiasm.”
Of the callbacks to the original film, Davis said, “Yeah, certainly for me, one of the most enjoyable things about the series was, was really those callbacks to events that had happened in the film. You know, times that when I as a character talk about those events, and that was a really fun way of looking back at those things, and certainly I think, I think fans will get a kick out of.
“But also, as you say, we went back to locations, environments that we’d already been to in the film. In particular, Nockmaar was one of those particular places, that for me really kind of gave me the shivers. You know, there I am kind of standing or sitting somewhere that Bavmorda would have sat, and you know, still kind of felt her presence in that area.”
Kasdan added, “There was an incredible thing that happened where we got our friend Kevin Pollak out to reprise his role as Rool. And he told me when he arrived that he and Warwick had never actually done any scenes together, because all of the brownie bits in the movie had been filmed on, at Skywalker in Northern California. And Warwick and he got to actually riff off each other, and Tony got to be a part of that, and it was quite an amazing thing to kind of watch them actually interact, these old friends who didn’t know each other.”
Davis remembered showing his son the original film. “I remember the time I first showed Harrison the movie. At the time I think he was about six. I left him in our living room watching it, and went and did a bit emailing and work. He came running through to my office saying, ‘Dad, dad, you’re in trouble, are you okay?’ I said ‘I’m fine.’ At that time I was being attacked by a troll on screen. So yeah, I mean, it had a profound effect on Harrison. And he’s had counselling ever since. (Laughter)
“But yeah, it was wonderful to have Harrison and my daughter Annabelle as part of the series. Annabelle plays Mims, Willow’s daughter. And she’s a brilliant actor in her own right now. And we had a lot of fun playing the scenes together. Obviously we’ve got that natural chemistry between us, which I think really shines in the scenes we have together. I’m immensely proud of her work.
“And also Harrison, for me, he’s the most perfect stunt and photo double, he stands the same height as I do, looks just like me. And he’s slightly disappointed now that he’s never going to be recognized for the work he did, because as a stunt double, and photo double, you should not be known, you should not even exist.”
Ruby Cruz, who plays Kit, was asked if Davis had any advice for her. “Wisdom and advice from Warwick Davis? I think honestly just being in his presence was like… I was going to say a lesson in its own right, but not in that way. But I think, I think getting to just be around someone who’s so good at what he does, and someone who’s such a professional in what they do, like Warwick, you taught me, watching you be able to just switch it on and off, which is something I really struggle with, was a huge… honestly, like I really admire you for that.
She continued: “Coming in, you’d just waltz on set, and then suddenly you’d be like in the most emotional state. Or you’d be like cracking one-liners the entire time, while everything is going to disaster. So that, I think it was just being around you, and getting to witness you in your element was really cool.”
Kasdan addressed the fact that Val Kilmer, who was in the film, is not in the series. He said, “Yeah, I mean, not tricky at all. It was always sort of going to be, right at the core of the story we were, we were telling. And it really had to be… but because we were telling a story that had so many young characters, and they were all sort of searching for their identity, the search for Madmartigan, and the question of what had happened to him was right at the heart of the story we were telling.
“And we knew that it would be woven into this quest in a fundamental way, really, to see where he was and what had become of him, and what he’d given up. Particularly for Ruby’s character, Kit, and for Dempsey’s character, Airk, in order to do good. And that question sort of follows the whole season.
“And we always knew that we sort of wanted to pay it off in one way or another, and we had a lot of ideas about ways to pay it off and ways to leave it open. And one thing that happened, because Val himself wasn’t able to come out to Wales and work with us, was that we added this texture of a friend of Madmartigan’s, who could give us some clues about his whereabout.”
He continued, “And deepened the mystery around what happened to him, in a way that only actually extended the story we were already telling. So it was very satisfying, and it sort of prevented… it provided an opportunity for us to add a whole new element that we didn’t expect to the show.
“And the Madmartigan is still out there, I mean, I have had many conversations with everyone involved, and our feeling is, he is, he is out there to be found, should the day arrive. And I think Warwick and I would both love to see him pick up that sword again.”
Kasdan also spoke about George Lucas doing fantasy. “Oh I mean, you know, George entering the universe of fantasy, working in that genre is such an exciting thing. And I remember the feeling of being eight years old and hearing that George Lucas was giving us a new franchise. And this one would have magic and wizards and sword fights, and it wasn’t called Star Wars. That was a pretty unbelievable concept to an eight-year old kid.
“And it… for me, it’s sort of a miraculous thing that it hasn’t been developed more, and that it sort of remains as this artefact from a certain time in my life, with all this potential for more stories and more adventures.”
Erin Kellyman, who plays Jade, is doing her second project for Lucasfilm after playing a role in Solo: A Star Wars Story. She said of the project, “I feel like I don’t ever want to stop playing these bad ass women. I think they’re all so multi-layered, and I love trying to pick them apart and understand them.
“I think Karli was super hard to understand because she does a lot of messed up stuff. But Jade, I think has been the person that I’ve put the most work into. I think me and Jon had the time to like really go back into her past and, you know, created that space where we could make time and I could understand her a bit more. Yeah, I really can’t wait for people to, to see her.”
Ellie Bamber, who plays Dove, said of training for sword fighting, “I feel like on a daily basis I would come out of my trailer and witness something that was just such, so great. I mean, I was, I felt so lucky and it was such a reward to see this every day. But Dempsey, on the green within the studio, probably for hours a day would be practising his sword skills. And I think that it was a real wonder to watch.”
Consisting of six episodes, the Willow series will be available on Disney+ starting November 30, 2022.