Hocus Pocus 2 stars reflect on reuniting to resurrect the Sanderson Sisters: 'It's quite satisfying'

Hocus Pocus 2 stars reflect on reuniting to resurrect the Sanderson Sisters: 'It's quite satisfying'

EW exclusively speaks with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy on the sequel's musical numbers, working with Drag Race queens, and twists to the Sanderson mythology.
Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker give their first interviews for 'Hocus Pocus 2' — and reignite the magic between them like the Black Flame Candle.
Kenny Ortega's 1993 original cast a weak spell over audiences and critics during its theatrical run. With $39 million in ticket sales atop negative reviews, the actresses felt the icy breath of death creep up on the Halloween-themed project's neck — curiously, during the height of summer in July. A sequel, it appeared, was a far-off fantasy for Disney.

KATHY NAJIMY (MARY SANDERSON): It came out in summer, but I think it should've come out in the fall. It sort of did okay but went away. What we think happened was, people weren't sure if they could bring their kids or not, and wondered if it was scary or not. When it came on television, it became a runaway train. Parents showed it to their kids and those parents showed it to theirs. It was a surprise to us all.

With the OG trio officially reunited, they began re-familiarizing themselves with the beloved characters and finessing the script with the studio and writer Jen D'Angelo. The ladies held phone meetings together to sift through the material, working with filmmaker and choreographer Anne Fletcher — who joined the movie after her longtime friend and collaborator, Adam Shankman, stepped down as director (though he's still a producer).

PARKER: The most important thing was trying to figure out a story that everybody was excited about and that was familiar enough in tone to make sense, nod to the past, and pay tribute to a [the first film's] whimsy, ridiculousness, evilness, and wickedness. The script was the hardest part.

NAJIMY: They sent us story ideas, then Sarah, Bette, and I would have phone meetings with lots of snacks, and we'd talk over narratives and character arcs. We were able to give them our two cents, and what the writer and studio came up with was difficult, because you can't take something that was so successful and stray too far from it. The first one had something delicious about it, but you also want to make something new. With a little bit of our input, the writer's input, and Disney's, we came up with something that's current and fun.

MIDLER: We also pitched [a scene about their purgatory period], that's one of the things the three of us got together and talked about. Where have they been for the last 30 years? But, in the end, it fell by the wayside.

Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker return in 'Hocus Pocus 2'

FLETCHER: [We] give each girl not only the same color in the vein of our witches — Becca [Peak] being Winnie, Izzy [Escobedo] being Mary, and Cassie [Buckingham] being Sarah — and their hairstyles, in a way, are similar. It's a modern-day twist on it…. At the end of the day, the movie is about sisterhood, it's about sticking together through thick and thin, and being there for one another.

FLETCHER: The opening sequence of the movie, we get some history of our witches and Billy. We get a little kiss — pardon the pun — of the Billy aspect of it, and the world that they lived in and what happened to the witches. I always missed that in the first one. Like, what are the witches the way they are? I did have that question, and the script came, and I loved the opening 1600s. I pushed that a little bit more, because I really wanted to point at, ever so slightly.... the idea that the 1600s and the now are the same. There's no difference. I just want to poke at the irony of it. But, in the joy of the film you get to see the young version of them and have a great time and understand the what and why of what happened to them.

MIDLER: [We] explain how they got to the point where they gladly become witches. They're so tight as sisters, and that's explained. It's quite satisfying.

DOUG JONES (BILLY BUTCHERSON): It is seamless between the first movie and the second, that's the first thing I felt. It keeps the pureness and nostalgia alive and well for those who grew up with the first movie, and for any new fans we're gathering now will be excited about modernization for the current time we're in.

For the ladies behind the witches, piecing their characters back together was like mixing a sweet cauldron concoction steeped in nostalgia and deep adoration for both each other and the source material. They reacquainted themselves with the charms of their work in the first film, but baked in new quirks, too — like boarding an updated fleet of cleaning tools (remember Mary's vacuum and Sarah's mop?) in place of their trusty broomsticks. it took a bit of real-life magic to align the busy actors' schedules, especially with COVID-related delays, but they rekindled their magic (and the Black Flame Candle) as a sisterly group shortly after shooting began in fall 2021 in Newport, R.I.

MIDLER: Winnie talks in some strange accent, some strange English, who the hell even knows what it is. She's very, "Thou, thy, and thine," and that had to be correct. [Perfecting it] was a fun process.

JONES: Billy came back to me immediately, it was frightening how he's been alive while I've been playing other characters all these years…. He was pretty decrepit to start with, and I out of the grave looking exactly like two minutes have passed. I drank some formaldehyde. The prosthetics are the exact same makeup artist, Tony Gardner…. It was the exact same wig. They had it on a dummy on display for 29 years, they put it back on my head in the same style, it didn't even need a touch-up. The costume was rebuilt to be the same as the first one, so I looked exactly the same. It was so nostalgic for me to look in the mirror and go, "You're 30-nothing years old again!"

NAJIMY: You'll see that Mary's mouth is now on the other side. We can justify it because there's a scene at the beginning where Winnie slaps me, and my mouth goes to the other side, and then she slaps me again and it goes to the other side, and sticks. It's on the other side mainly because it's so hard for me to do it on the side I did it on 30 years ago. I'm sure the fans are going to go into deep detail about why it's on the other side. It's just something I came up with the first week. This is a big comedy, so you don't have to be subtle or have a 40-page Shakespearean backstory.

'Hocus Pocus 2' resurrects the Sanderson Sisters for a potential performance on stage.
without music. Salem's soundscape was magical unto itself in the first film, and the sequel crescendos that legacy with composer John Debney's refreshed, fluttery score and two grand-scale musical numbers that hope to join "I Put a Spell on You" as defining moments for the film series.

MIDLER: I hope they fall into the category of equivalent [to "I Put a Spell on You."] We worked hard on them. We had rehearsals during COVID, we went from pillar to post, dancing, singing, and carrying on, in masks. We're 30 years older, and I know the tracks sound great. It's always fun doing a musical number with those girls…. When I saw the first movie, I thought, "Bette, you're doing a great job, it's you, you, you," but I saw it a second time and I saw what those girls did behind me, and I thought, "These girls are stealing everything that's not nailed down!" It made me laugh hysterically. It's all shared now. It's a three-way composition as far as the sisters are concerned. It feels very sisterly. It's much more loving than it used to be. After 30 years in purgatory or limbo, they're happy to be free again.

NAJIMY: It's the same concept. We're looking for something and find ourselves just like we did in the first one: At that big party, people are on stage, it's the same deal at the same Halloween party, but this one is outdoors and a lot bigger.

for another virgin to light the Black Flame Candle, you might have to wait even longer for the series to resurrect another story. For now, the cast just wants fans (whose enthusiasm Midler directly credits for stoking Disney's interest) to enjoy their marvelous (re)introduction.

NAJIMY: I feel like we're done. We've pulled every story you could pull out of this. I guess, never say never, but I feel grateful that we got to do it again. I don't know that there are plans for a third one, but I know fans are dedicated to this film. I'm just happy we can bring this to them.

PARKER: Kathy had a good idea that the third one should be animated. That would be cool and a smart idea. It's fun, funny, and could be interesting and innovative, like old-fashioned or new [animation]. Of course I'd be happy to have a conversation, it just depends on what Kathy and Bette want!

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Three young women accidentally bring the Sanderson Sisters back to modern-day Salem and must figure out how to stop the child-hungry witches from wreaking havoc on the world.

Hocus Pocus 2 stars reflect on reuniting to resurrect the Sanderson Sisters: 'It's quite satisfying'