In 1988 Star Wars creator George Lucas turned his attention away from the stars and set his sights on the world of sword and sorcery storytelling with the cult family classic Willow. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Return of the Jedi’s Warwick Davis, the original Willow film saw the aspiring sorcerer protect an infant princess from the evil machinations of the villainous Queen Bavmorda. Joining him in his quest to see the child to safety, Davis’ Willow Ufgood was joined by Val Kilmer’s boastful mercenary Madmartigan and Bavmorda’s own daughter, Sorsha (played by Joanne Whalley).
Now more than 30 years after the original Willow earned its place as a bona fide family favourite, Davis is set to return as the fan-favourite Nelwyn sorcerer in a new sequel series helmed by Solo: A Star Wars series screenwriter Jon Kasdan. Recently we were lucky enough to catch up with two of the show’s new young stars, Ruby Cruz and Dempsey Bryk, to talk about their journey within Willow’s world of magic and high adventure.
“I played Airk, he’s a prince,” Bryk explains, introducing his character who audiences will quickly discover possesses an important relationship to the characters in the original film. “And he’s very much easy-going – he’s kind of a puppy; just good natured wants to keep everything, everybody happy and is the social glue.”
Cruz, who plays Airk’s twin sister Kit, suggests that her own character is cut from a very different cloth to her more carefree brother. “She takes things a lot more seriously,” Cruz explains.” She’s definitely on the heavier side of things. Like, she’s very stubborn. She’s very headstrong, and opinionated and p***ed off a lot of the time.
“[It was] really cool,” she says of getting the opportunity to play the role, “because she’s joining the family of Disney princesses, which was a really cool opportunity to construct a new princess… I wanted to make sure that she was an accurate representation of young women, and she was messy, and she makes mistakes. And she’s stubborn. She was a thrill to get to know and I can’t wait for other people to get to know her.”
Of course, neither Cruz or Bryk originally had any inkling of the characters they were originally auditioning for, or even what project. Being a Lucasfilm production, the Disney-owned studio applied the same level of secrecy to Willow’s audition process that they typically applied to their Star Wars projects.
“So, when I was doing my audition,” Bryk recalls, “it’s very secret because it’s Lucasfilm so they don’t tell you it’s Willow. They’re not going to give you scenes from the show. So Jon Kasdan wrote these fake dummy scenes where you’re in a bar….”
“I was at a café,” Cruz chimes in.
“Yeah, mine was flirting with a girl in a bar,” Bryk continues. “So we do these auditions then I get on the call with Jon after and he’s like, ‘Have you seen Willow’?”
However, having originally been released long before either actor was born, neither was familiar with the 1988 film prior to landing their chance to appear in the series. “But then I watched it,” Bryk tells. “And the experience was just something unique. I haven’t seen it a lot in contemporary cinema. It really, truly has something that I think that adults would enjoy, but then also kids and also adolescents. That’s what we’re going for as well – appealing to different markets in an authentic way, not pandering.
“I had a similar experience,” Cruz adds. “Where I watched it once I was attached to the project. I’ve recommended it to everyone in my life, because it is so special and something so filled with charm… you don’t really get that much – all the practical effects and the contemporary comedy, it was just it was really ahead of its time.”
While a lot of time has passed since the original film was released, the new series provided its young stars with a unique opportunity to perform alongside a cinematic legend in the form of Warwick Davis. Aside from his various roles in Star Wars, Davis has accumulated a long and celebrated list of screen credits from some of the biggest franchises on the planet, including the Harry Potter series.
“He’s just an iconic person,” Cruz says of her famous co-star. “I mean, everybody knows and adores him from every single thing he’s in, he’s just iconic. And that completely rings true to just who he is. I mean, he was hilarious on set.
“Sometimes we just let him let him riff, let him, you know, just be so funny. And he would just improv for so long, and they would just keep the camera rolling and it was really entertaining to watch. It was like you got front row seats to that which was cool.”
Bryk adds: “He cared so much about Willow, and so he just set a precedent for everybody in the cast and crew to be like, ‘Okay, we really have to be at our best because this means something to him.’ It also means something to the fans who loved Warwick and Willow for a long time.”
As for what fans can expect from the new Willow series, Bryk suggests the show will stand out from the plethora of other fantasy shows currently gracing people’s screens like House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
“I think it does all the things that a fantasy fan might expect of a fantasy show,” Bryk explains, “and it’s very exciting. It’s magical and dramatic… it’s really funny. And I think that was something that Jon Kasdan did so well, and that was the intention at the outset was like, ‘Let’s have fun. Let’s make it fun and funny,’ and I think people will probably like that.”
Fans can return to the magic of Willow when the new series premieres on Disney+ on November 30
LEAD IMAGE: Graydon (Tony Revolori), Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), Dove (Ellie Bamber), Kit (Ruby Cruz), Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) and Jade (Erin Kellyman) in Lucasfilm’s Willow