Val Kilmer was forced to leave the newly released Willow reboot due to “insurmountable” health problems.
The actor, who was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015, had planned to return as Madmartigan for the Disney+ series, but had to pull out as a precautionary measure in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“As COVID overtook the world, it became insurmountable,” series showrunner Jonathan Kasdan told to Entertainment Weekly. “We were prepping in the spring of the year that it was most happening. And Val reluctantly didn’t feel he could come out.”
Kilmer starred in the 1988 original film as a disgraced knight who helped sorcerer Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) to save Elora Danan, a baby girl who was prophesied to bring about the downfall of the evil Queen Bavmorda.
Kilmer’s character was beloved by fans, so much so that Kasdan was determined to get the actor involved in the new series.
“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,'” Kasdan recalled. “And he was like, ‘Not as much as I do.'”
Kasdan explained that Kilmer was eager to reprise his role, despite his ongoing health problems.
“He embraced me when I left. He picked me up, and he said, ‘See? I’m still super strong.’ And I was like, ‘Great,'” he said.
“We started building out the first season with the intent of having him appear. [It wasn’t clear we couldn’t get him] until pretty late in the process, frankly.”
While the first season was forced to go ahead without Kilmer’s involvement, Kasdan made it clear that the actor is welcome to return for the second.
“We wanted to leave open the door to any possibility in the future and also honour 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.”
Earlier this year, Kilmer reprised his role as Iceman in Top Gun: Maverick, but was only able to film a short scene with limited dialogue due to a tracheostomy that permanently damaged his voice.
“I can’t speak without plugging this hole [in his throat]. You have to make the choice to breathe or to eat,” he told People in 2021. “It’s an obstacle that is very present with whoever sees me.”