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G.O. Parsons tried for years to catch his Hollywood break, but nothing was working.
“I would edit myself into TV shows. I would be a delivery guy and try to drop off my headshots. I would have showcases for myself and I would pay people to come,” says Parsons. “It wasn’t going anywhere.”
Parsons moved to Los Angeles in 2000 to attend UCLA and chase his dreams of being an actor and a filmmaker. He found fulfillment putting on plays, but after years without tangible Hollywood success, he decided to write a script that broke the rules he thought he had to follow.
The result is Willy’s Wonderland, a script with a trajectory that’s hard to believe: Parsons’ zany project is not only a reality, it also stars Nicolas Cage in a movie in which the Oscar winner has no dialogue.
In Willy’s Wonderland, Cage plays a man known only as “the Janitor.” When his vehicle breaks down in a small town, he accepts a job cleaning a rundown children’s arcade for a night in exchange for having his ride fixed. But as he learns, he will have to do battle with possessed animatronic creatures to survive the night.
Parsons gave his lead character no lines because he imagined he’d play him in a no-budget version of the movie.
“I thought I was going to be hitting record on the camera and then fighting a friend in an animal suit, so I didn’t want to worry about learning any lines,” Parsons says with a laugh.
But casting director Venus Kinani dug the script and put it in the hands of Michael Nilon, Cage’s manager. One Friday, Parsons was informed Cage would be reading Willy’s Wonderland.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my God!’ Just staring at the wall for 48 hours. And then Monday morning, we get this call. ‘Nic loves this script. He’s in!'”
Cage was instrumental in getting financing, and the film was officially greenlit on Oct. 31, 2019, with a February 2020 start date.
“We had to build the set, the costumes, get the whole entire thing ready to shoot,” says Parsons. “Then all of a sudden COVID hits. If one thing had gone wrong, cost us two days, four days, there’s a chance this movie shuts down and never gets made again.”
Fortunately, they finished the film just before COVID shutdowns hit the world in March.
Director Kevin Lewis brought his own flair to the film, as did Cage, who had a key request. The actor, who made headlines in 2019 for acknowledging he once spent $276,000 on a dinosaur skull, wanted to change up the animatronic animals.
“He’s very into reptiles, amphibians and dinosaurs,” recalls Parsons. “In that original script, they are all mammals. He said, ‘These are dogs and cats. Let’s get some lizards in there. I want an iguana, I want an alligator!'”
Parsons considered having Cage’s Janitor deliver one line of dialogue during the final battle.
“He looks at Willy, he’s about ready to rumble and he goes, ‘Come at me bro,’ ” says Parsons, laughing.
The team asked Cage’s opinion. Perhaps he could improv some lines to try a few out.
“Nic said, ‘No, I absolutely think it should be silent the whole time,'” Parsons recalls.
For the screenwriter, seeing the fan art come together on social media has been among the most gratifying parts of his whirlwind experience. He heard from one woman whose son, who has special needs, loves the movie. The boy has trouble making friends at school but has found a community online of people who love making Willy’s Wonderland art and dressing as the Janitor.
As for his future, Parsons reveals he has plenty of projects — films, TV shows and podcasts — at the ready just for this moment.
Says Parsons: “One thing I’d say to anyone reading this is be ready. Have all that stuff ready to go so that when the opportunity arises, you are ready. And I am 100 percent ready.”
Willy’s Wonderland is available on demand.
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