“We really wanted Val to come be in the show,” showrunner Jonathan Kasdan told Entertainment Weekly in an interview published on Tuesday, November 29, explaining that he met with the Top Gun star, 62, before production began to see if he was interested in taking part. “And Val really wanted to come out and be in the show. … 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 was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015 and went public with his health issues two years later. As part of his cancer treatment, the Tombstone star underwent a tracheostomy surgery that permanently damaged his vocal cords and left a hole in his throat.
Despite his health issues, Kasdan told EW that Kilmer was excited to pick up his sword one more time. “He embraced me when I left,” the producer explained. “He picked me up, and he said, ‘See? I’m still super strong.’ And I was like, ‘Great.'”
Due to his determination to return to the world of Willow, the first season of the Disney+ series was written to include Kilmer’s character in a major role. However, after production was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that the Batman Forever star wouldn’t be able to take part. “We were prepping in the spring of the year that it was most happening. And Val reluctantly didn’t feel he could come out,” Kasdan explained. “We had to figure out a way to preserve the story we wanted to tell with him about how his story was playing out.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the swashbuckling Madmartigan will never return to the small screen. “We wanted to leave open the door to any possibility in the future and also honor the spirit of him,” the screenwriter continued. “We’ve tried to do that and work with him in a way so that he is felt and heard, if not seen.”
Kilmer’s health issues also impacted his appearance in Top Gun: Maverick, where he briefly reprised his iconic role as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. “You had to figure out a way to bring Iceman in,” director Joseph Kosinski told Entertainment Weekly in June. “We met with Val. He had the idea of how to integrate Iceman in a really authentic way.”
Like Kilmer, the character was unable to speak after dealing with a debilitating illness. Instead, he communicated with Tom Cruise‘s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell via text, which is how the California native primarily expressed himself at the time of filming. (Kilmer has since worked with Sonantic to create a prototype that uses archival footage to create a new voice.)
“Obviously [we] spent a lot of time on that scene, writing it, getting ready,” Kosinski, 48, explained at the time. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to work. … It’s a really beautiful scene. We shot it in Los Angeles in a really beautiful house up on a park. Very special to see not only Val and Tom, but Maverick and Iceman back on the screen together.”
Willow is now available to stream on Disney+.
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