From Lucasfilm and Imagine Entertainment comes “Willow,” a new fantasy series, an eight-episode adventure series based on the classic 1988 feature film. “Willow” premieres today, November 30, on Disney+. That’s why the Playtech team spoke in an interview with celebrity Warwick Davis (who has also starred in Harry Potter and Star Wars), executive producer and writer Jon Kasdan, producer Michelle Rejwan, and supporting actors Ellie Bamber, Amar Chadha-Patel, Tony Revolori, Erin Kellyman, Ruby Cruz and Dempsey Bryk.
The original story began with an aspiring magician from a Nelwyn village and a little girl destined to unite the realms, who together helped destroy an evil queen and banish the forces of darkness. Now, in a magical world of wizards, trolls and other mystical creatures, the adventure continues as a group of heroes set out on a dangerous quest to places far from home, where they must face their inner demons and save the world together.
A vintage fantasy series with a modern sensibility, set in a haunted land of breathtaking beauty, “Willow” features a diverse international cast including Warwick Davis, Ruby Cruz, Erin Kellyman, Ellie Bamber, Tony Revolori, Amar Chadha-Patel, Dempsey Bryk and Joanne Whalley.
Jonathan Kasdan (“Solo: A Star Wars Story”, “Dawson’s Creek”) is the director, and the full list of directors (each has directed two consecutive episodes) consists of Stephen Woolfenden (“Outlander”), Debs Paterson (“A Discovery of Witches”), Philippa Lowthorpe (“The Crown”) and Jamie Childs (“Doctor Who”).
The writers are John Bickerstaff (“The Romanoffs”), Hannah Friedman (“Obi-Wan Kenobi”) and Jonathan Kasdan (“Solo: A Star Wars Story”). Producers are Stephen Woolfenden, Julia Cooperman (“Jupiter’s Legacy”), Hameed Shaukat (“House of Cards”); Max Taylor, with Kathleen Kennedy and Michelle Rejwan (“Obi-Wan Kenobi”), Jonathan Kasdan, Tommy Harper (“Top Gun: Maverick”), Wendy Mericle (“Arrow”), Roopesh Parekh (“His Dark Materials”), Ron Howard (“Thirteen Lives”) and Samie Kim Falvey (“Under the Banner of Heaven”) as executive producers. Co-executive producer is Hannah Friedman, and supervising producer Rayna McClendon (“Obi-Wan Kenobi”).
So, a new series continuing George Lucas’ 1988 fantasy adventure, “Willow” features the wizard Nelwyn who returns, years after rescuing little Empress Elora Danan, to lead a group of misfit heroes on a terrifying rescue mission to a world beyond imagination. “Willow” features Warwick Davis returning to his titular role. Below, I invite you to browse interviews with the actors and producers.
Ozana: Warwick, you played Willow in the classic 1988 film when you were just 17. How has your perception of the character changed in that time?
Warwick Davis: I have grown old, and the character has grown old with me. My perception is wiser, I’ve learnt an awful lot from the role when I was 17, and in the new role on the show I’ve used those lessons, given more depth to the character. Willow as a young man was optimistic, now, he’s more past life, he’s overcome obstacles, challenges, he’s learned a lot. It was a great privilege for me to reinterpret Willow, to bring him back into your homes.
Ozana: When it comes to reinterpreting classics like this, how important is it to stay in the spirit of the original?
Warwick Davis: We stayed true to the original script to a large extent. I think you have to somehow bring in those classic notions and elements as a gratitude to the fans of the classic. Millions of people have loved Willow since 1988, they grew up with it, it was part of their childhood. So, we brought back the magic, the humour of Willow, the mythological elements, but at the same time we had to bring in new elements, new characters that were ingeniously shaped to appeal to younger audiences.
Ozana: The Willow series has a young cast. What do you appreciate about the younger generation?
Warwick Davis: I have two children, 19 and 25 respectively, so I can understand a lot about the new generation, about how they see the world. Young people today live in a virtual environment, social media is a space where people can easily judge you. I appreciate young people who know how to take criticism, how to move on, even if people probably say bad things about them. Now it’s much easier to fall into sadness, because of comments you might not have heard so often before.
I also like the optimism of the younger generation. It’s a privilege nowadays to have a good life, you’re lucky if you can build a nice future, because many people don’t have that, they have to work hard. That’s the way it is with the characters in Willow. Youth is something you never get back, unfortunately.
Ozana: Are you happy with the results of the new show? What challenges did you face in this project?
Warwick Davis: The biggest challenge was the physical part. Like I said, I’m getting older, I’m not 17 anymore. Obviously, filming now is not as easy as it was 35 years ago. When you play the lead role, you don’t have breaks, you don’t have days off, you’re in almost every scene, and that’s demanding. It was also a big responsibility for me, as I was the veteran, so to speak, to guide the young people, to give them advice. But I like challenges, all my life I have accepted challenges and I am very happy with the results.
Ozana: Were you also involved in the creative process of the show, or did you limit yourself to just acting?
Warwick Davis: We had a lot of discussions with John Kasdan (the director) at the beginning about what the show was going to be like. We consulted, of course. For me it was important to emphasize the magic, to explain it. You know, all these films, series about magic show you how magic is done, special effects and so on. But they don’t explain what magic is, where it comes from. So we wanted, through Willow, to delve deeper and explore that subject.
Magic, in the real world, I think comes from optimism, from being able to push your limits and achieve what you set out to achieve in life.
Ozana: You’ve been in Harry Potter, Star Wars, now Willow. What’s your favourite franchise and why, if you can tell us?
Warwick Davis: I really can’t answer that, really! (laughs) It’s very hard… I can only say that I’ve been extremely fortunate to be part of all these great franchises and to work with all the professionals that have worked on them.
Ozana: What has been the biggest challenge in your personal or professional life?
Warwick Davis: When someone close to me hasn’t done well, neither have I. I’m referring here to health or other problems. I’ve faced some of life’s challenges in that regard. Also, if you have a disability in this world, it’s hard. Often life is hard for those with such problems. But for me, a challenge is not a barrier, but something you can overcome with a lot of ambition and strength of character. You must not see any obstacle in life as a barrier, you must not stop, but you must be determined to achieve what you set out to do.
Ellie Bamber, Amar Chadha-Patel & Tony Revolori
Ozana: Can each of you tell us a few words about your characters?
Tony Revolori: My character is Graydon who is shy and introverted, but very intelligent. He has traumas from his past that he is trying to deal with on this journey.
Ellie Bamber: I play Dove who makes the best cookies in the world, she’s the lonely, quiet type. She goes on a journey to rescue the prince because she’s in love with him.
Amar Chadha-Patel: My character is Boorman, who’s kind of a Machiavellian crook, but underneath the tough exterior is a big heart. He goes on this journey both for fun and to figure out what he has to offer.
Ozana: Ellie, when did you first see the original Willow movie from 1988 and how did you decide you wanted to be part of the 2022 series?
Ellie Bamber: I first saw the classic film when I heard about the new project. I was really drawn to the story, the characters, the fairytale world they create, the costumes and decided to start this fantasy journey.
Ozana: Amar, you said in an interview that you like to collaborate on important projects. How do you see Willow?
Amar Chadha-Patel: In this industry, it’s important to know what you want. It’s important to collaborate with your fellow set mates, with the directors, with the producers, with the whole crew. I studied production design at university and became a director before I became an actor. I had a great time on set, I even had a bootcamp, I worked with some professionals at Willow.
Ozana: Ellie, in the second episode you have a scene where you talk about intuition. What relevance does intuition have in your personal and professional life, how does it guide you?
Ellie Bamber: Intuition is something we all have and it’s important to follow it. Yes, it’s important to me in making decisions in my life. My character, Dove, learned how to use her intuition over the course of the show with the help of her partners.
Ozana: Tony, Willow is a film that transcends generations. But a lot has changed since the original film. What new elements did this year’s show introduce?
Tony Revolori: Yeah, I’m a big fan of the original movie. I think the creative team and writers did a great job of preserving the magical spirit of the classic film. Of course, Warwick (Davis) was also there to guide us, he was the resident and the expert, because he knew the story best. The modern element would be the young cast who bring a new breath to the story. They created new stories that I hope will be relevant to younger generations. Jon (the producer) gave us a lot of freedom to bring our own personal touch, so the dynamic between the characters was incredible.
Ozana: What was the hardest scene you filmed at Willow, Tony?
Tony Revolori: I was on a mountain top, it was raining, it was cold. It was hard, but fun at the same time. As hard as some of the scenes were, we had each other, we helped each other, we supported each other, like a real team.
Ozana: There are a lot of fantasy shows – Game of Thrones, The Witcher, etc. How do you think Willow differs?
Amar Chadha-Patel: Through fun, amusement, a magical world, and unparalleled escapism. It also appeals to nostalgia, takes you to a bygone era in 1988, and recreates a classic success story.
Ellie Bamber: Willow is a fantasy world filled with monsters, fantastic creatures and mythological elements in spectacular sets – half of the scenes we shot in the real world and half were professionally created sets. Every character has a sense of humour and that’s the whole charm of the show.
Erin Kellyman, Ruby Cruz & Dempsey Bryk
Ozana: What do you think is the dynamic of the characters in Willow, the relationship between them?
Ruby Cruz: The relationship between the characters is a complex one. Each character is unsure of themselves, neither really knows the other. That’s why they go on this journey, to learn more about themselves. I’m lucky to have been part of this cast, we were like family.
Erin Kellyman: Audiences will understand more about these characters and the authenticity of their relationships when they watch the series, which we hope will appeal to fans of the 1988 classic, but also attract younger moviegoers.
Dempsey Bryk: For example, when I first started working with Ruby, on set, it was like we were twins already. We communicated very well, almost on a telepathic level, and that helped us a lot when we played the roles.
Ozana: What have been your biggest challenges with your characters?
Ruby Cruz: From my point of view, the physical challenges were complicated. I pushed my body to the limit, I was exhausted, I trained, I gave it my all.
Erin Kellyman: I agree, the physical part was the hardest, I didn’t think I was capable of doing a lot of the things I did on the shoot. At the same time, on the emotional, acting side, things weren’t easy. But they were beautiful.
Dempsey Bryk: It was an emotional challenge for me this series, but I think I handled it with flying colors.
Ozana: How did you first discover the original 1988 film?
Ruby Cruz: To be honest, I can’t remember exactly when I first saw the film, but I saw it once together before we started filming. It was a very pleasant experience. I’m grateful to have been part of such a big project, we worked hard and I hope you like it
Erin Kellyman: I love the original movie! And now even more so. It’s full of charm, good cheer, mystery, special effects, everything a story needs. I immediately accepted the proposal!
Jon Kasdan – executive producer and writer, Michelle Rejwan – executive producer
Ozana: Jon, you started your career in front of the camera as an actor, but then embraced a career as a writer, director, producer. Do you have a personal ranking of which of these roles is most important to you?
Jon Kasdan: Yes, I’d like to be an actor! (laughs)
Michelle Rejwan: What?!
Jon Kasdan: Yes, actors have the most fun on set. Being an active actor is the coolest job in Hollywood, being an actor without projects is dramatic. The truth is, at the end of the day, in my heart, I’m a writer first, then a producer and director, and I have the least experience as an actor. But it’s a lot of fun when you’re acting – you don’t have to think too much about what to say, someone tells you what to say (laughs)! However, my vocation is as a producer.
Ozana: What was your experience like with Warwick Davis in Willow?
Jon Kasdan: We had worked on the film “Solo: A Star Wars Story” from 2018, the best film in the franchise. He did a great job in Solo as well, and obviously in Willow. I was a fan of his in the original 1988 film and we really wanted to do something current, and without him, it wouldn’t have the same appeal. So we insisted he play in the new Willow series.
Ozana: Why did you decide to make a Willow series and not a movie?
Jon Kasdan: It’s complicated, Willow, as nice as it is, it wouldn’t be box office if we made it a movie. It wouldn’t have had the same impact as Star Wars or Indiana Jones. A Disney series was the ideal way to do it, because we could develop the characters more, bring out their traits.
Michelle Rejwan: Actually, it’s the perfect story for this format, because it’s a whole ensemble that we developed over eight episodes. The story is so beautifully shaped, it makes you want to be part of this team of unusual heroes. It’s a group of people who become friends as they go on this adventure and discover so much about themselves. So the serial format gave us more flexibility and freedom to explore their adventures and obstacles, freedom and time that you don’t get in two hours of film.
Ozana: How difficult was it to bring a classic script back to the screen?
Jon Kasdan: If you have confidence in what you’re writing, you can outline a classic story and bring it to life. The more confidence you have in yourself, the more successful you are. I identify with the characters, because they, too, set out on a journey they believed in.
Ozana: Why do you think people are still crazy about classic films and their reinterpretations?
Jon Kasdan: It’s nostalgia, but there’s a slightly more cynical explanation. We live in a time with so much content that wants to grab your attention at all costs, and people feel the need for something from their past (see also Top Gun: Maverick). So it’s easier to grab the attention of someone who’s seen the old Willow movie. But we’re hoping to attract some younger fans.
Michelle Rejwan: People want to reconnect with old stories that had some impact on them, that they grew up with. Also, if you like reinterpreting a classic story, you feel the need to share it with others, to let them feel what you experienced, to empathize with you and your experience.