2nd generation fans bring back “Willow” for the Disney+ series
“Wow. Suddenly I feel responsible for fans all over the world. I have to do a good job here.”
So said actor Warwick Davis when asked to sum up his reaction to being on set for the first day of filming on the Disney+ series “Willow.” The show, which will run for eight weekly episodes beginning Wednesday, November 30, sees Davis reprise her role as Willow Ufgood, a character she first played in the 1988 Lucasfilm feature of the same name.
That project, born from the mind of George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, certainly had the pedigree to go with the premise of a small would-be wizard drawn into battle against a tyrannical empress, but its failure to light up the box office extinguished any franchise hopes – until the possibilities offered by Disney+.
Davis, who was just 17 while making the original but already a veteran actor thanks to appearances in “Return of the Jedi” and a pair of “Ewoks” TV movies, didn’t enjoy the full scope of the project until later.
“It wasn’t until after the movie that I realized, looking back, ‘Wow, that was a big deal for me,'” he told The Chronicle during a recent video interview.
While a sequel never materialized, the actress learned firsthand in the intervening decades that the audience for more “Willow” was there — and growing. “Parents started showing their kids the movie, and it was this kind of generational movie that people liked to share with people they loved,” Davis said. “It’s really the fanbase that developed and the ones that had the loudest voices when they asked for more ‘Willow.'”
Show developer and executive producer Jonathan Kasdan was also part of that fan base, crediting his experience watching “Willow” in theaters as a child as a formative cinematic moment.
“The film was riveting from start to finish,” Kasdan said in a separate interview. “It was emblematic of the power of big movies, of event movies at a time when there weren’t that many of them.”
The sequel series follows Willow Ufgood – now a far more skilled magician than when audiences last saw him – who returns to help the kingdom of Tir Asleen in a desperate hour, along with a host of new and returning characters. For Davis, it was easy to disappear back into the part once the initial uneasiness had subsided.
“He is a more worldly character. He has been through a lot in his own life, as I have been as a person too. And you bring all of that to the table, you put it on the character and you end up with this new incarnation of him,” Davis said.
This is a story Kasdan spent much of his childhood and adulthood hoping to tell, but it wasn’t until 2018’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which Kasdan co-wrote with his father, Lawrence, that things began to come together for a “Willow” follow-up.
“It seemed like fate was on our side because Warwick first came into my life when he worked with us on ‘Solo’; then Ron came in and worked with us on “Solo” and they were both as passionate as I was about the film and seemed to understand its special power, that it was so special in its time and moment, both as a big fantasy with some really scary stuff in it and like a very human, personal, funny story,” Kasdan said.
While Davis is back, in addition to Joanne Whalley playing warrior-turned-Queen Sorsha, one character sadly absent from the roster is Val Kilmer’s rogue swordsman Madmartigan. Kilmer’s recent health issues meant he couldn’t attend the reunion, but Davis has nothing but praise for his friend and fellow player.
“When things were physically tough and I was ready to throw in the towel, Val was there with a joke and some support.” Davis said. “We were also in touch during the production of the series. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think about Val and wish he was with us.”
Taking stock of this project and returning to one of his most beloved screen personas, Davis is reflective.
“I knew a lot of people were going to watch this and expect good things from it and from me as well, so I felt the pressure of doing the series, but now I’m luckily a bit older and have been playing for quite a few years now, over 40 years. So I’ve had a lot of experience and know how to take that responsibility.”
As for whether he can envision suiting up again for more “Willow” adventures after this one, Davis is cautious but optimistic.
“It’s weird to be talking about more ‘Willow’ already, when we haven’t unleashed the series on the world yet,” he said. “But of course we had a lot of fun working together on it, and we’d love to revive it. Next time, I’d like Val to be a part of it in a big way.”
“Will” (TV-14) premieres with two episodes on Wednesday 30 November. Subsequent episodes will be released on Wednesdays up to and including 11 January.