The Brownies
Rick Overton & Kevin Pollak

by Marc Shapiro

Hollywood is a town where everybody thinks big--everybody that is except Willow's actor-comics Rick Overton and Kevin Pollak.

Pollak and Overton, dressed in what Overton describes as "rat skins, war pains and Don King microwave hair," play a pair of diminutive fantasy characters who, when not engaged in comic bickering and laugh-inducing physical schtick, add considerable substance to Willow's quest and the final conflict at Nockmaar castle.  Their roles presented an acting challenge that Overton and Pollak claim played itself out on different levels.

"The humorous side of our characters is about 95 percent physical," explains Pollak.  "I think the physically funny stuff will just leap out at the audience.  We say some pretty funny things in Willow, but it's not so much what we say as how we say it.  Nobody's going to see me in this film and say, 'There's the next Cary Grant.' "

In true brownie fashion, Franjean and Rool come across as being mischievous.

"But there's more to their characters," notes Overton.  "Both are trembly and nervous creatures whose bark is much worse than their bite.  They try to ward off evil by baring their teeth."

Overotn and Pollak entered the world of Willow through Overton's previous work with director Ron Howard.

"I had worked with Ron in Gung Ho, and had auditioned for him for Splash," Overton says.  "Ron tends to use people who he has worked with before so he thought of me for the part."

After landing the role of Franjean, Howard asked who Overton could suggest for Rool.  Overton listed a number of comics, including Kevin Pollak with whom he had recently worked in Million Dollar Mystery.

"I came in and read for the part," Pollak recalls.  "First, they had me read from the scrip then they videotaped me doing some improvisation with Rick.  The tape was sent to George Lucas and Ron Howard who were in London at the time.  They took one look at the tape and the part was mine."

Both Overton and Pollak are form a stand-up comedy background, heavy on the improvisational.  And it was those particular talents that were brought into play when they began immersing themselves in the brownies' respective psyches.

"We weren't content to merely play the characters the way they were written in the script," explains Pollak.  "We wanted to create who these people were and where they came from.  Basically, we took what was written on the page and started from scratch.  We created their dialect, their walk.  We even came up with a brownie battle cry.  Creating those characters and making them believable was a constant and ongoing process."

By the time Overton and Pollak were ready to do their thing, the lion's share of Willow had already been shot.  Industrial Light & Magic, using two 10-inch Franjean and Rool dolls, had mapped out the FX floorplan; shooting scenes with dolls in frame to which the live-action Overton and Pollak would be added later.

"We were basically part of post-production," reports Pollak.  "We shot for five weeks, just Rick and I, Ron and the crew, six days a week, 14 hours a day.  Playing off a lot of blue screen and oversized props."

To wit: Twelve foot tall blades of grass, huge rocks and a giant leather pouch that Overton remembers with fondness.

"Kevin and I were in this large foam rubber pouch with lots of fake smoke blowing around us," he says.  We were in there for hours, sweating our butts off.  We thought that playing brownies was going to be fun and games, but let me tell you; being a brownie is no easy task."

But it was a task made creatively pleasant because of the room to move that director Howard gave the two actors.

"Ron gave us some definite space to play around with things," recalls Overton.  "Because he trusted us, he would say things like, 'OK, let's get a couple of takes of you guys having fun.'  Which was great because Kevin and I had worked up some totally improv stuff beforehand.  Ron was very open to our ideas and quite a bit of spur-of-the-moment stuff we did actually ended up in the film."

Howard, who Overton describes as "truly amazing," also earned brownie points from the comics when it came to what could have been the mind-altering process of reacting to blue screen.

"We came into those sessions expecting to bee playing off a teamster on a ladder eating a tuna sandwich and holding a flag for us to react to," says Pollak.  "But what we found was this totally animated Ron Howard running around saying, 'OK, there's something over here, react' and then he would run over to the other side of the studio and say, 'Now we need a look over her.'  He was jumping around like a crazy man.  It was great."

What was also pretty nifty was Pollak's first day on the set--the day he discovered George Lucas and Ron Howard were just normal folk.

"Rick had already worked with Ron, but I wasn't sure how comfortable I'd be around them," Pollak says.  "I was sure I was going to walk onto the set and a woman named Ellen would come up to me and say, 'You will receive all your instructions from me.  At no point will you meet Ron Howard or George Lucas.'  That first day, I arrived and was told to go to lunch.  So there I was standing in line and suddenly, George Lucas cuts in line in front of me trying to get to the three bean sald.  Twenty minutes later, I found myself eating with both George and Ron."

Rick Overton and Kevin Pollak come to Willow from an extensive background in stand-up comedy, television and films.  Overton, besides Million Dollay Mystery and Gung Ho, has appeared in Young Doctors in Love, Beverly Hills Cop and the as-yet-unreleased Earth Girls Are Easy.  Pollak has performed his comedy routines on late night television.  He guested on Thirtysomething and The Oldest Rookie and is a regular on the recent sitcom Coming of Age.

But working on Willow is something that Rick Overton and Kevin Pollak will never forget.

"Willow is so epic and incredible," Pollak says.  "Just being involved in a film with this kind of scope is a thrill of a lifetime.  But to have the opportunity to work with George Lucas and Ron Howard on top of that?  You're talking icing on the cake.

No matter what I do in the future, nobody will be able to take Willow away from me.  I'll have that experience forever."

Shapiro, Marc. "The Brownies: Rick Overton & Kevin Pollak."  The Official Willow Movie Magazine.  Ed. David McDonnell.  New York: Jacobs, 1988. 42-45.

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