WILLY'S WONDERLAND Interview: Director Kevin Lewis On Casting Nicolas Cage, Possible Sequel, & More

Willy's Wonderland is now available to stream online, and we were recently given the opportunity to chat with director Kevin Lewis about his experience making the riotous horror comedy. Check it out...

If watching Nicolas Cage trapped in a haunted equivalent of Chuck E. Cheese while fighting for his life against possessed animatronic mascots sounds like your idea of a fun night in, then you need to check out Willy's Wonderland.

The riotous horror comedy is now available to stream online, and we recently got the chance to speak to director Kevin Lewis (The Drop, The Third Nail) about his experience working on the movie.

During our interview, Lewis talked about Cage's involvement, the FX used to bring the evil mascots to life, a possible sequel, and more.

Willy's Wonderland: Where to watch UK – streaming services and price

Mark C: So the film is based on G.O. Parsons' short Wally's Wonderland. Could you tell me how the idea to expand the concept into a feature first came about, and what necessitated the title change?

Kevin Lewis: "When I got attached to the project, I read the feature script. The Producer Jeremy Daniel Davis submitted it to me. I only found out about the short after the fact. I loved the script when I read it and commissioned an artist to work with me on conceptual designs and key frame art to present to Nick and his team along with potential financiers. The change came about when we were in pre-production and Nick really liked 'Willy' and so we decided to change the name from 'Wally’s Wonderland' to 'Willy’s Wonderland.'"

Did you always have Cage in mind for the lead, and was it difficult to get him on board?  

"Absolutely. Nick was the only one that we wanted. Jeremy Daniel Davis was the main producer that spear headed this project from the start. We made an offer through a casting director to his manager Mike Nilon and after Mike read it and liked it, he took it to Nick. Nick read it felt the same way and came on board along with Mike as producing partners." 

His character "The Janitor" is fascinating to me. In some ways he's this silent, the "Man With No Name" archetype, but then there's another side to him with the almost obsessive soda drinking and regularly scheduled pinball breaks. At the end of the day, he agreed to clean the place, and that's all he really cares about... it's almost like he's only killing the mascots because they're getting in the way of that!

Could you talk a little about coming up with the character and giving him these quirks? 

"I always pictured the Janitor as an “OCD” type. But also talking with Nick his point of view was “These animatronics are just trash and they just get in the way”. In Nick’s mind as The Janitor, he gave them no respect, he is there to do a job and he does it. In the original script I believe it was root beer that he drank and of course when you are making a movie you need to get product placement. So, we tried to get a lot of different drinks – “Jolt Cola” was on the table, but it didn’t work out. I was actually hoping we could make our own drink up because I love world building and even on an Indi budget that is what we were doing. So, art department calls me up and says, “Well we are going to have to make up our own soda any ideas?” And I replied “Hmmmm…Punch Pop, A Fistful of Caffeine To Your Kisser”. Molly our Production Designer liked it immediately and said, “What’s the logo?”. Then I just came up with the fist with the lightening. It was really cool how the name just popped in my mind. I am a big pop culture collector and just thought of what I would like to see, and voila, Punch Pop was born."

Willy the Weasel and his pals are brilliantly brought to life and genuinely unsettling at times... Siren Sara, in particular, was the stuff of nightmares.  Am I right in thinking most of them had actors in the suits, or were any fully animatronic? 

"There were 8 creatures, 7 were suits and Ozzy was a puppet. Stuntmen/women were in the suits. We knew they had to pop and lock like the animatronics do in real life to make it look believable. My fear was the audience would just look at it as people in suits so there was a lot of thought put into designing the creatures. Ken Hall and his team did an amazing job on designing and building the animatronics. I wanted the eyes and mouths to move because if you look at the “Showbiz Pizza” animatronics or “Chuck E. Cheese” animatronics it is the eyes and mouths that really give that “creepy” feeling and make it very unsettling. They also give them that realism that they need. " 

Willy's Wonderland' Review: Nicolas Cage Delivers a Full Metal Assault

I know its very early days, but has there been any talk of a sequel? There's a lot of potential there with the continuing adventures of Liv and the Janitor! 

"It has been so cool talking to a lot of fans of this movie and everybody I run into wants a sequel. I think The Janitor is such an interesting character and we made a new superhero without an S on his chest and a cape. So yes, I would love to see more adventures with The Janitor. I also think we can do a lot more with Willy and the Gang. In these kinds of movies nobody really dies, do they? Who knows, so many great ideas out there to bring them all back. But if we do it has to be a story worth telling and I would love to come back and deliver for the fans another double shot of Willy’s."  

Finally, this being CBM, I have to ask if you have any interest in directing a comic book of superhero property, and if so, are there any specific characters that come to mind?

"Well, I have to tell you that I am a huge comic collector. Even on the set of “Willy’s” when I was directing Nick, I would reference specific artists and comic issues and Nick knew every one of them. I would say 'OK Nick, this is the moment when you break the cuffs like the Neal Adams Superman 233 where Supes breaks the kryptonite chains'. So, comics were a huge influence on me making this movie. I collect a lot of silver, bronze age, and have over thousands of comics. So yes, I would love to direct a comic book movie. So many of them have been done now but there are a lot left that could be amazing. “Spy Smasher” the Fawcett character would be a dream to make into a movie. I also love the old serials, and “Spy Smasher” has all the ingredients you need to make a great “Indiana Jones” type adventure movie."

That sounds awesome! At the rate comic book-based projects are being greenlit these days, Spy Smasher probably isn't that much of a long shot. Could you tell our readers about any projects you might have in the pipeline?

"I am working on several projects at the moment. Seeing my kids have “Willy” watch parties with my friend’s really drove the point home to me that these are the type of movies I want to keep on making. Movies that are fun, bring a smile to people’s faces and entertain. So, I am working on a couple of things like an “ultimate Halloween movie” and an action horror adventure with a great writer and friend. I can’t wait to share more with you guys as things develop along!"

A huge thank you to Kevin for taking the time to chat with us about the movie. Willy's Wonderland is available to stream on Amazon Prime and YouTube, and you can check out our review HERE.

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