Warwick Davis: Willow inspires people with physical disability or disadvantages (exclusive)

Watch: Warwick Davis on his return to Willow

Warwick Davis hopes his return as Willow will inspire people with physical disabilities all over the world.

Debuting on Disney+ on 30 November, this six-part legacy series follows director Ron Howard’s 1988 movie of the same name — a film devised by George Lucas — that gave Davis his leading man debut back when he was just 17 years old.

“People often say how the film allowed them to escape from their real-life experiences at the time, how it brought them hope. I think the character of Willow is quite inspirational,” Davis suggests to Yahoo.

Read more: Does Val Kilmer return in Willow?

“He’s three foot six, the world’s bigger than he is… but because he believed in what he was doing, his heart got him through and that gave him the courage to succeed. It also inspires people, not only with dwarfism around the world but hopefully people with any sort of physical disability or disadvantage.

"This is an important character,” continues Davis.

Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) in Lucasfilm's WILLOW exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.
Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) in Willow. (Lucasfilm)

“I think that’s quite an inspirational idea for people who may think they’re at some sort of disadvantage in this world. They can seek solace and encouragement from that.”

Now, after a 34-year wait, the Star Wars and Harry Potter star is back as the unlikely sorcerer charged with saving his mystical world from an ancient evil that threatens to rise once more.

“It was really cool going back to the character again,” smiles Davis, now 52 and back in Willow’s world.

Read more: How Harrison Ford landed the role of Han Solo

“Once you play a character, he’s within you and becomes part of who you are - and Willow was always in me,” he admits.

“Going into this series, Ron [Howard] said to me, ‘You had great instincts when we did the film, just use those when you come to do the series… go with what you feel is right for the character because you know him better than anyone else’ - and that’s what I did.”

Original Film Title: WILLOW.  English Title: WILLOW.  Film Director: RON HOWARD.  Year: 1988.  Stars: WARWICK DAVIS. Credit: LUCASFILM / Album
Warwick Davis in 1988's Willow. (Lucasfilm)

As we quickly discover, the Willow of today is a far cry from the clumsy wannabe wizard we first met back in ‘88. In Jonathan Kasdan’s continuation, Willow has finally achieved his goal of becoming a legendary sorcerer but when he glimpses a vision of approaching evil, he’s lured back into the realm of swords and spells, with echoes of his past never too far behind.

“A lot has happened to Willow since the end of the film,” teases Davis. “His life has been turned upside down by several events, some quite challenging. I leaned into the real-life experience I’ve had since the end of the film and the fact that I’m a lot older now,” he explains. “I think it helps. There’s a lot more gravitas to Willow now than when I was 17 years old.”

Watch a trailer for Willow

There’s also a lot more humour. Since Davis last donned Willow’s robes, he’s played a variety of different roles and even tried his hand at comedy alongside The Office creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. In a strange turn of events, it was this collaboration that played an unlikely yet pivotal part in crafting Kasdan’s fantasy world.

“[Jonathan] said ‘the more like Life’s Too Short you can make this, the better,’” reveals Davis with a smile. “He’s a massive fan of the series and wanted to bring that out in Willow, which was weird for me because I’m so used to playing the character in more of a straight way. He said I could be as broad as I want and be funnier and [he] encouraged improvisation and ad-libbing.”

Cast members Ricky Gervais (L) and Warwick Davis attend the panel for the HBO television series
Ricky Gervais and Warwick Davis during a panel for the HBO television series Life's Too Short in 2012. (Reuters)

He adds: “It took me a while to get used to that way of working. I wanted to be true to the character and what we’d done before… but it is fun - and funny.”

He’s not wrong. Flanking Davis is a diverse cast of breakout stars, including Amar Chadha-Patel, Erin Kellyman, Dempsey Bryk, Ellie Bamber, Ruby Cruz and Tony Revolori from Tom Holland’s MCU’s Spider-verse. Each is tasked with injecting some new blood into a familiar fantasy while taking Willow into some new and unexpected places - and they all look like they’re having a hell of a time doing it.

Read more: Talisa Garcia makes history in Willow

“All of them messed about,” grins Davis. “I felt like a real old curmudgeon sometimes. I was like ‘guys, just calm down a bit. We’re trying to focus.’ I kind of felt like the character, trying to tell everyone to focus while they’re learning sorcery,” he chuckles. “I also felt the weight of the fanbase who have been with us for 35 years since the film came out. I wanted to do the best job I could for them and have this best it could be,” reasons Davis. “I felt a great responsibility.”

Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) in Lucasfilm's WILLOW exclusively on Disney+. ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.
Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) in Willow. (Lucasfilm)

With fantasy and nostalgia key commodities in today’s pop-culture landscape, the Star Wars and Harry Potter actor is right to keep fan expectations in mind. Over the years, Willow has become a much-loved form of escapism for many audiences - and one with a great social message that this new series was keen to champion and bring to a new generation of fans.

Willow is streaming on Disney+ from 30 November.

Watch: The cast of Willow address Val Kilmer's presence in the show