Warwick Davis talks Disney+ Willow series: “It's something which I never thought I would see happen”
Patrick Cremona talks to Warwick Davis about his career and some of his most recent projects – including the news that 1988 dark fantasy film Willow is getting a sequel.
Throughout his incredible career, Warwick Davis has appeared in some of the biggest film franchises of all time. Since making his screen debut as Wicket W. Warrick in Return of the Jedi, he’s appeared in various roles in numerous Star Wars films, was a cast member in all eight Harry Potter movies and has fronted several films in the Leprechaun series.
For many fans though, his most defining role remains playing the titular character in Ron Howard’s 1988 dark fantasy film Willow, and so when news of a sequel series on Disney+ was announced last month it was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm from some quarters. For Davis, though, his main reaction to the announcement was one of relief – he’d known about the series for over two years, and had been desperate to tell people for a long time.
“You know what, it's weird to be able to talk about it now!” he tells RadioTimes.com from his home studio a few weeks after the news broke. “It's something which I never thought I would see happen.”
Davis said that while he’d hoped to do a sequel for some time, the eventual genesis of the project was rather fortuitous. “Everything sort of aligned when we did the movie Solo,” he explains. “The writer John Kasdan was a huge fan of Willow, he grew up watching it and it's one of the things that inspired him to become a screenwriter, as well as his Dad (The Empire Strikes Back co-writer Lawrence Kasdan).
“And then Ron Howard came into direct and John mentioned to him that he was a big fan of Willow and that got them talking. And I was on Solo looking a little bit like Willow with my long hair as Weazel, and all these things came together. We took it to Disney+ and they were as excited as we were about it and greenlit the series.”
Production is slated to start on the project next year, and despite more than 30 years having passed since he last played the character, Davis isn’t too concerned about reprising the role – “it’s just like riding a bike”, he claims. That’s not to say he isn’t expecting any challenges: he acknowledges that there will be extra physical challenges now that he’s older, for example, but mainly he’s just excited to see where the character goes.
“I'm hoping that we establish Willow as a very accomplished sorcerer now,” he says. “I hope he's been practicing and we get to see him do some real magic, which would be fabulous. And also I'm hoping that we can reunite with Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley as well!”
Delayed sequels to iconic films and TV shows from previous decades have been all the rage in recent years, and Davis puts that down to the comfort that can be found in nostalgia. And he says that the most important thing when it comes to revisiting classics like this is staying true to the spirit of the original, something which he’s confident will be the case on Willow. “I think you've got to acknowledge the spirit, and, especially with something like Willow, the humour,” he says. “Because you forget that the movie had a lot of humour in it so it's important that the series has that humour and doesn't take itself too seriously.”
He’s also looking forward to seeing how the series can take advantage of the significant technological developments that have been made since the original film was shot. Davis says he’s been reading up on some of the methods used to film The Mandalorian, where sets have often been fully replaced by digital screens, and he wonders if similar methods might be used for Willow. “It's amazing what you can achieve now,” he says. “If someone is writing a script it can now be put on the screen exactly as it's written. It didn't use to be like that, you used to have to edit the script a bit to make it possible, but now anything's possible.”
While it might be the headline grabber for now, Willow is far from the only project Davis has in the pipeline. He’s managed to keep himself extremely busy in this difficult year, in no small part due to making a move into what is a relatively new arena for him: voice acting. It’s something that he’d been hoping to try his hand at for some time, and he’s fortunate in that his various voice projects haven’t been curtailed at all by the pandemic.
“I sit in my booth here and record, which is really lovely because it’s exactly the same as being in London,” he explains. “You wouldn't even know the recordings were being done at home! I speak with the director via Zoom and they can hear me in the studio directly so it works really well.”
Davis began voicing the character Sniff in Sky’s Moominvalley in 2019, and more recently has taken on the lead role in the brand new Boomerang kids show Master Moley. The series boasts an incredible voice cast – featuring Gemma Arterton, Charles Dance and Julie Walters – and has already been commissioned for a full season of 52 episodes, to be broadcast in 2021. Before then though, a Christmas special titled Master Moley By Royal Invitation will be released, and Davis reckons it’s more important than ever for kids to have some festive fun to look forward to.“We've got to have things for everybody to look forward to, especially youngsters,” he says. “And what appealed to me when I read some of the concepts was the fun in the character. He's a pretty ordinary guy which kids can relate to, he lacks confidence a bit but given the right circumstance he comes into his own and he just needs a little bit of a push sometimes and a bit of help, and then he can achieve anything.”
Davis is already hard at work recording his parts for the new series, and he’s got numerous other projects on the go as well: he’s soon set to go back into the studio for a new series of the quiz show Tenable, which he’s fronted since 2016, while throughout 2020 he’s continued to be involved with Willow Management, the “agency for short actors” he founded with his father in law and fellow actor Peter Burroughs in 1995. He said that, understandably, it has been a difficult year for most of the actors on the agency’s books, while he also says there’s been less work available in general in recent years, something that he hopes can be improved with the new Willow series, which has already began casting.
“More recently there hasn't been as much work about and I don't know why,” he ponders. “It seems to be one of those things where when there are no fantasy movies being made, the requirements for short actors kind of drop, so it's been a little more challenging.
“And I think sometimes TV can overreact to these diversity quota things and being extra sensitive about using short actors for fear of offending people. I think we've seen a bit of that recently, everyone has become a bit sensitive to that kind of thing.”
Given how much he’s achieved in his career already, you might wonder what other ambitions Davis still hopes to accomplish – and he admits that he’s already ticked off several items on his bucket list, including appearing on shows such as Top Gear and Doctor Who. He says he’d love to do some more comedy work, and picks out Will Ferrell as someone he’d particularly love to do a film with, but he “considers himself lucky” in that he’s already been able to take on such varied and exciting projects, while he says he’s always happy to take on a new challenge.
“Kids now go on computer games and they experience virtually what it's like to fight a stormtrooper,” he says. “And I gotta do it for real as an eleven-year-old! I'm really lucky, I consider myself lucky.
“And I like a challenge as well, so when I get the chance to do something different like Tenable, or voicing a character, it's an interesting challenge each time.
“It's not something that I find easy to work at, and I work very hard to achieve it, but that's part of living life and having a career, actually challenging yourself each day to do something outside of your comfort zone. And that's what I hope to keep doing with all of these different projects.”
Master Moley By Royal Invitation is available on 28 November at 9am on Boomerang. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide.