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Val Kilmer wasn't written out of new Willow series until just before production

It wouldn't be Willow without Madmartigan.

At least that's how showrunner Jonathan Kasdan felt about the devilishly handsome and roguish hero played by Val Kilmer in the original 1988 film. So much so that Madmartigan still remains an important presence in Kasdan's new Willow series on Disney+, his name, legacy, and children a key element of the plot.

But the idea wasn't always for the character to remain off screen.

"We really wanted Val to come be in the show," Kasdan tells EW. "And Val 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.'"

Kilmer has struggled with his health after a bout with throat cancer, and though he reprised his role as Iceman in this year's Top Gun: Maverick, it was a brief scene where he typed most of his dialogue. But Kasdan says Kilmer was up for anything when he visited the actor. "He embraced me when I left," Kasdan remembers. "He picked me up, and he said, 'See? I'm still super strong.' And I was like, 'Great.'"

With that in mind, Kasdan was ready to bring Madmartigan back. "We started building out the first season with the intent of having him appear," he says. "[It wasn't clear we couldn't get him] until pretty late in the process, frankly."

WILLOW, Val Kilmer, 1988, (c) MGM/courtesy Everett Collection
WILLOW, Val Kilmer, 1988, (c) MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

Of course, Kasdan's planning was all before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world into lockdown and made film sets completely rethink their approaches to production. "As COVID overtook the world, it became insurmountable," he explains. "We were prepping in the spring of the year that it was most happening. And 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."

But that doesn't mean we'll never see Madmartigan on the show. Willow launches its first season Nov. 30, but Kasdan is eager for a second and would love to get Kilmer on set now that COVID protocols are more ironed out.

"We wanted to leave open the door to any possibility in the future and also honor the spirit of him," Kasdan says. "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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