Val Kilmer’s Willow absence was a last-minute heartbreak

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

We won’t be seeing Val Kilmer in the new Willow Disney+ TV show — but that wasn’t the original plan.

The actor originally portrayed Madmartigan in the 1988 film of the same name. The character won’t appear on-screen even though showrunner Jonathan Kasdan made it a point to weave him deeply into the plot of the series. According to a recent EW interview, Kilmer fully intended to reprise his role this year.

Then came the global event that changed everything everywhere for just about everyone: The COVID-19 pandemic.

For some of us this meant rationing toilet paper; constantly refreshing Twitter to make sure Tom Hanks was OK; watching in awe as it became all too clear how many people still didn’t know how to unmute themselves on Zoom. But for Kilmer, the pandemic meant trading his part in Willow in exchange for his life.

According to Kasdan, Kilmer “really wanted to come out and be in the show. I remember going to see Val right after this thing started to get some momentum, and I said, ‘Listen, we’re doing this. And the whole world wants Madmartigan back.’ And he was like, ‘Not as much as I do.'”

His experience with throat cancer shut down his plans when the pandemic hit. “We started building out the first season with the intent of having him appear,” Kasdan recalled, admitting it wasn’t until the last minute that Madmartigan had to be written out. “Val reluctantly didn’t feel he could come out. We had to figure out a way to preserve the story we wanted to tell with him about how his story was playing out.”

If you’re worried about missing Madmartigan in Willow, its showrunner has already taken the possibility into account. While the character won’t appear on-screen this season, Kasdan is hopeful for a second chance with Kilmer in a future season. But he did everything he could to include him in what you’ll see this week.

“We wanted to leave open the door to any possibility in the future and also honor the spirit of him,” he said. “We’ve tried to do that and work with him in a way so that he is felt and heard, if not seen.”

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The first two episodes of Willow are streaming now exclusively on Disney+.