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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Jonathan Kasdan on ‘Willow’: ‘Like having a howitzer in your back pocket’

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Jonathan Kasdan is no stranger to the weight of expectations. The 43-year old writer-director worked with his father, Lawrence Kasdan (who co-wrote all those Star Wars films and The Raiders of the Lost Ark) on the divisive Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018). Kasdan is now attached to another fan favourite, Willow, developing the 1988 dark fantasy starring Warwick Davis as the titular character, into a series.

Tough stuff

“It is hard to return to these legacy characters,” Kasdan says over a video call from London. “We have to predict exactly what audience want and give it to them.” There, however, is a big difference between Solo and Willow, Kasdan says.

“In Solo we were recasting this iconic character, an actor, Harrison Ford, who was still alive. We were trying to say you got to believe this young kid who is funny, interesting and cool is your favorite actor and scoundrel ever. That is a big ask of anyone on the planet.”

Lucky strike

With Willow, Kasdan says he struck lucky. “I had this incredible gift that Warwick was still going to play Willow. He is even handsomer, cooler and funnier than he had been in 1988. That is like having a howitzer in your back pocket and it empowered me to move this story forward.”

Loving the movie as a child, Kasdan says he desperately wanted to see what happened next. “In the movie the little baby got a kiss on her forehead from Warwick. I thought well, that can’t possibly be the end of their story. He is never going to see her again? That is ridiculous!” Kasdan says he walked out of the theater slightly upset.

Endless possibilities

Warwick Davis as Willow and Ellie Bamber as Dove in ‘Willow’

When he became involved with Lucasfilm in the mid 2000s, working on Solo, Kasdan he continued to think about Willow. “I believed there was an opportunity to tell a Harry-Potter or Game-of-Thrones style fantasy adventure. A chance to follow the little girl and see what became of her as she dealt with all this power and responsibility, and how Willow was forced to mentor her through what was guaranteed to be a challenging period in her life.”

That very simple idea, stuck, Kasdan says. “Ron Howard (director of Willow) and I got together and were determined to see if we could tell that story. Ron saw it clearly and I wanted to be the one to tell it. From there on we had enormous momentum.”

Warwick was on the set of Solo in the early discussions of the show, Kasdan says. “He was game to return to what was clearly his most beloved character. He kept the conversation going and pushing me over the months and years following the completion of Solo to work on it.”

Old and new

In order to make that story work, Kasdan says, they knew Davis would have to be surrounded with new and old characters. “The one that I was most determined to have in the show was Joanne Whalley who I had an enormous crush on even at eight years old when I saw her in the movie. She was this ravishing beauty and intense presence and a symbol of all this eight-year-old Jon Kasdan thought, femininity could be.”

Thirty years later, on the show, Kasdan says, he wanted Whalley to be a strong, complicated queen in the center of the universe of Willow. “She more than fulfilled that. She was absolutely our Queen Sorsha and was royal in every way.”

Young guns

Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood in ‘Willow’

Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood in ‘Willow’

Once the foundation cast was set, Kasdan says he could surround them with a younger cast. “It was a joy to do that. Most of them were unknown, while some had worked before. Tony Revolori had worked in The Grand Budapest Hotel and Amar Chadha-Patel was a local actor from here in England.”

Erin Kellyman had worked with Kasdan on Solo. “I knew I wanted her on the show and wrote the part specifically for her. For Princess Kit (Ruby Cruz) and Elora (Ellie Bamber), the sorcerer’s baby from the movie, it was just the auditioning. I had zeroed on both of them nearly the moment that we met though they didn’t know it. Thousands of actresses across Los Angeles and Europe had to sigh unhappily because Ellie and Ruby, were so far out front that no one could quite compete.”

Willow is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

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