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In Willow, Erin Kellyman feels the closest that she ever has to a character.
This fall, the English actress plays Jade in the Disney+ series reboot of Ron Howard’s 1988 fantasy adventure of the same name. It’s a role that was written specifically for her by Jonathan Kasdan, whom she worked with on 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story — a breakout role for Kellyman, who played the brutal and elusive resistance fighter Enfys Nest.
“I had no idea that he would even remember me,” says the actress, “let alone have me in mind for this character.” After reading the script for Willow (premiering Nov. 30 on Disney+), Kellyman says she immediately fell in love with Jade — a strong, silent type who’s training for knighthood and has a fierce loyalty to her loved ones and her kingdom. “I think if I’d grown up where she’d grown up, I’d probably be exactly like her. [And] I think in all the ways that I’m not like her right now, I am striving to be that. She’s very courageous.”
Willow picks up well over a decade after the events of the original film, as dark forces surround the land of Tir Asleen once more. At the heart of the show are the journeys of three women — the passionate but sometimes reckless princess Kit (Ruby Cruz), the lovestruck yet determined Dove (Ellie Bamber), and the brave and dedicated Jade.
“One of the qualities about Erin that’s really at the forefront of her many gifts is that she can do silence like almost no one I’ve ever seen,” says Kasdan. “She can react in a way that is relatable and emotional and communicate just by looking at you.”
In the past few years, the actress also has made notable appearances in Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (as antagonist Karli Morgenthau) as well as in David Lowery’s medieval fantasy The Green Knight and the 2018 adaptation of Les Misérables. It was the surreality of her entry into the MCU that Kellyman, 24, says she’s still processing.
“I was a big fan, and my sister is obsessed with the movies and watches them religiously,” Kellyman says about Marvel. “I don’t know when it’s going to sink in. It hasn’t yet. It’s a very weird thing to be working on something with people that you’ve admired for so long. This is one of the only industries where you could be working with your role models, which is very daunting, but also a massive blessing.”
Going forward, Kellyman wants to keep doing what she’s doing — playing characters and telling stories that bring something new to the table. “I have always wanted and still want to play characters that I feel like I didn’t have growing up, so that I can give that to people who might not have seen themselves [onscreen],” the actress says. “I’ve had experiences meeting young girls that have seen my characters, and it’s been so emotional, and that has been the highlight of my career. I want to continue to do that.
“Then, quite selfishly,” she adds, “I do want to also play characters that are so far from me that I have no experience in that sort of area whatsoever. Just to keep me on my toes.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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