“History in Objects” is a continuing series exploring Lucasfilm’s legacy stretching from our founding in 1971 to today. Through objects both rare and commonplace, the company’s past, present, and future are brought to life.
“I’ve worked with a lot of little people,” George Lucas told Starlog magazine in 1988, “and the time has come to make a film about little people as heroes.”
Going back to Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), people of short stature played essential roles in Lucasfilm productions, including Kenny Baker’s performance as R2-D2 and 11-year-old Warwick Davis as Wicket the Ewok.
Willow (1988) put Davis himself, still just 18 at the time, in the leading role of a fantasy adventure directed by Ron Howard and executive-produced by George Lucas. Davis joined a cast of dozens of short actors including Billy Barty, Tony Cox, and Julie Peters (Star Wars alumni Kenny Baker and Jack Purvis also made cameo appearances).
A casting notice that dates to the fall of 1986 illustrates the massive search undertaken by the Willow crew. Organized by casting director Jeremy Zimmerman, 225 little people were recruited, initially from the United States and United Kingdom, and then from half-a-dozen countries across Europe. As the film’s production notes explained, “the majority were not actors at all, and many of them did not even speak English.”
Based at Elstree Studios, Willow’s production spread to Wales and New Zealand, as well as a nearby location in England. Less than 30 miles outside of London, the historic 13th century estate Brocket Hall included 1,000 acres of countryside. The Willow production spent a week there for the Nelwyn village sequence.
It was a cherished opportunity to bring so many little people together, perhaps more than any other film up to that time. Director Ron Howard referred to the sequence as “maybe the greatest experience” during filming. “In the end, it doesn’t really matter how big you are, [or] what size you are,” he said. “[What] matters [is] what you’re made of and what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Read the full notice in the sidebar!