A lot has happened since we last saw Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) coaching the scrappy underdogs the Mighty Ducks to victory. Now, in The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, he’s hiding out at the Ice Palace, eating leftover pizza and cake from kids’ birthday parties and hating hockey, until he can’t help but be drawn back in by a new team of misfits looking to challenge the ultra-competitive Mighty Ducks.
During a virtual junket for the franchise revival, Collider got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with Estevez (who’s also an executive producer on the series), who talked about why now was the right time to bring The Mighty Ducks back, adjusting to not knowing how things will evolve or where they’ll end up on a TV show, the mistake he made with the sheet cake, and wanting to pay homage to the original films. He also talked about his cameo in Mission: Impossible, and the possibility of a Young Guns 3.
Collider: When you finished with The Mighty Ducks movies, could you ever have imagined that you’d be returning to this world in this character? Was it something that you wanted to do, at any point, or did this all take you by surprise?
EMILIO ESTEVEZ: I would say it’s a combination of both. When we did The Mighty Ducks 3, that same year, I did a cameo in the first installment of Mission: Impossible. It was between those two that I made a choice to step out of mainstream movies and start directing and producing independents. I’ve been in that independent film world wilderness, if you will, for the last 25 years. And so, to come back into more mainstream fare, through the vehicle of The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, feels like a real full circle plan. To say that it was a plan is not real. It was an accidental plan, if that makes any sense.
We’re at peak nostalgia right now and, if there was a moment to revisit and rebrand, it was now. Steve Brill, the original creator of the franchise, showed me the script and said, “We’d love to have you come back and be a part of this.” I said, “Well, where is this guy going? Where has he been? It’s been 25 years, and when we find him, he’s sleeping on his couch in his office and he’s eating birthday cake and pizza from kids’ birthday parties at the skating rink. He’s in a very strange and dark place. Where does he go?” The difference between shooting a film versus shooting a TV show is that, when you shoot a movie, you see all 110 to 120 pages and you know the full arc of the character. With television, they break it down for you with a synopsis and a one-pager of where each episode is gonna go, but you don’t see the script. Oftentimes you don’t see it until the week before you shoot. It continues to be this evolving series of surprises where you say, “The character does what now? Wait a minute.”
So, that was an adjustment for me to get used to, not really knowing where this character was going, all the time, or how he was evolving and what his relationships are, not only to the kids, but also to Alex, Lauren Graham’s character. It was an adjustment for me, especially coming out of a place where I was fiercely doing movies my own way and making films that had a social message. I went from Ducks 3 to doing a movie about PTSD with The War at Home, to fratricide with Rated X, to political assassination with Bobby, to a spiritual journey with The Way, to a movie that takes place in a library and that’s about the intersectionality of social infrastructure and homelessness with The Public. It was a far cry from anything that you would do would consider mainstream, in terms of coming back to reboot this character and reboot the franchise. It just seems like such a move from out of left field, and yet it also feels organic and natural.
This guy is clearly disgruntled with life and has had some dark days. What would you say his darkest day was?
ESTEVEZ: Well, here he is, he doesn’t have a house, he’s living in the ice skating rink, he’s sleeping on the couch, and he’s showering there. Essentially, his life has devolved to a point that’s nowhere near the last time we saw him, where he was a guy on top of his game and a sought-after coach. In Episode 2, we talk about how he arrived at this place, and without giving anything away, he’s a guy who made some bad choices, in terms of collegiate recruitment, and he was banned from ever being able to coach or play again. That was his life. That happened off-screen, but we hear about it. He’s in a much darker place than when we last saw him. With a 10-episode series and five hours of screen story to tell, there’s a lot of opportunity to tell his full story and redeem him. I promise he will not be the same guy, by the end of the show, that we see him in the beginning.
Image via Disney Plus
In the first episode, you have a scene where you’re walking, talking and eating the leftovers of a sheet cake? What are the logistics of pulling a scene like that off and how did you feel about that cake, once you were doing shooting with it?
ESTEVEZ: So, let me tell you about the birthday cake. When you shoot a scene, there are multiple takes and multiple angles. If you see in the scene that you’re eating, you wanna make sure that you’re eating something healthy. I made the horrible choice of insisting that I didn’t wanna eat cake and that it should be a cornbread. And so, they made this cornbread cake and they covered it with frosting and I started eating it. And of course, you know how dry cornbread can be, unless you’re getting it with barbecue sauce and beans and all of the stuff that you should eat cornbread with, not with frosting. With each bite, the dryer my mouth got and the more crumbly it got in my mouth. There were scenes later on where I had to continue with this stupid idea of eating cornbread instead of birthday cake, and it was just a disaster. You can see that there’s a scene later on, where it’s in my mouth and I’m trying to say the lines, and the cornbread is not only falling out of my mouth, but it’s stuck all over my mouth and I’m struggling. Anyway, you learn those lessons, trying to be healthy. I should’ve just gone with the damn cake to begin with.
Obviously fans of the films are going to wonder if we’re going to see any other familiar faces from the movies. Was it important to you to pay homage to those films, or do you think it’s more important to have this series work on its own, before any of that happens?
ESTEVEZ: I think it’s a little bit of both. You do have a certain responsibility to the original franchise to pay homage. This had to look like it was a worthy successor to the first three films. Especially with this sort of lag time, between Ducks 3 and Game Changers, what still lives in people’s memory? Where is the sweet spot and the comfort food zone that people wanna live in, in terms of their own personal memories of the films? How do we reconnect with that? But also, a lot of young people who fell in love with the characters in the original franchise, they now have kids of their own. How do you sit your own kids down now, as a parent, and say, “This franchise was so dear to me growing up now, I wanna share it with you, and I wanna share this new iteration”? As filmmakers and producers, we have a responsibility to pay homage and try to capture the magic of the original. Obviously, anytime you reboot something, there are gonna detractors and there are gonna be a lot of people who say we didn’t hit the mark, but there are gonna be plenty that embrace this and say that we did. That’s what we’re going for.
Image via Disney Plus
By the end of the season of this show, would you say that Gordon Bombay is inspiring the kids more, or are they inspiring him more?
ESTEVEZ: I would say that it probably cuts both ways, in terms of who inspires who. He’s inspired by Lauren Graham’s character to get off the couch, to behave like an adult, and to engage with the kids. I think that he sees them as a form of redemption, but he’s slow on the uptake, in terms of his willingness to wanna participate, and you see that over the course of the show. It’s Lauren’s character that’s really the engine and the driver behind getting this team up and running and succeeding.
You mentioned the cameo that you did in Mission: Impossible and one of my co-workers wanted me to ask you what you think the functional purpose of that elevator claw that kills you in the movie was, since it’s not a normal piece of elevator equipment. Was it there specifically to thwart any IMF operatives that just happened to be hiding on the roof of the elevator car?
ESTEVEZ: You would have to ask Jon Voight’s character, Mr. Phelps, about how that elevator was rigged to create my demise because it wasn’t a brake. It was a steel spike that went right down the center of my head, which didn’t bode well for the sequel for my character, unfortunately. The idea of killing the entire squad, at the beginning of Mission: Impossible was so you got a sense that anything could happen and everybody was vulnerable. As it was explained to me by Tom [Cruise], at the time, it was, “We wanna create an atmosphere where the audience is on edge and we have very recognizable people, all getting wiped out in the first 10 minutes of the film. Are you game?” And I said, “Absolutely. I’m happy to come in and be a part of this.”
If you’re going to go out on a movie, that is definitely a memorable way to do it.
There’s also been talk of another Young Guns.
ESTEVEZ: What?! I haven’t heard anything about that, at all.
Are you actually working on a third installment?
ESTEVEZ: Yeah, it’s definitely in the works. I drive a lot and I spend a lot of time in the Midwest, and people will tell me, “We haven’t seen on screen for awhile. Come back! We’d love to see you in the movies again. We’d love to see you play Gordon Bombay. We’d love to see you play Billy the Kid.” So, I feel like we’ve ticked one box, and we’re working on ticking the other one. The Kid is a fun character to play. There’s a lot of speculation about what happened that night, in 1881 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Did he die? Did he not? And so, there’s a lot of mythical, historical and actually some factual things that we can examine, if we’re serious about going back to that franchise, as well.
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers is available to stream at Disney+.
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It’s good to see the gang back together.
About The Author
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Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.
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