The theatrical release of Hocus Pocus in July 1993 was, for all intents and purposes, a box office failure. Said to have lost Disney millions in revenue, the film would have only been a footnote in the company’s long film history if it hadn’t been for its addition to the Halloween lineups on Disney’s multiple channels as well as its DVD release in the early 2000s. What became a failed attempt at a Halloween movie turned into a cult classic which later became a cultural phenomenon.
Taylor Paige Henderson is familiar with the rollercoaster ride that is Hollywood. Prior to being cast in the highly anticipated Hocus Pocus 2, the young actress had a full schedule in 2020. With Studio Ghibli and Goro Miyazaki’s Gkids film Earwig and The Witch under her belt, she planned to make her off-Broadway debut with “The Bedwetter,” based on Sarah Silverman’s acclaimed memoir of the same name. In addition, she was set to take on the titular role in “Annie” for Broadway Sacramento in California.
Then the pandemic swept the nation with entertainment being postponed and/or canceled.
“I think I learned that nothing is ever guaranteed and to never take anything for granted. It was also such a great lesson [to] just keep moving forward and to not give up,” Taylor says when asked what she learned from that startling experience in her career. “Both of those things getting canceled actually opened up so many different opportunities. I can’t really think about the ‘what-ifs’ of those two situations because I would not change a single thing.”
Not focusing on the what-ifs is easy when one thinks about the fact Taylor portrays Bette Midler’s young counterpart in Hocus Pocus 2.
Just days before the trailer debuted, Taylor celebrated the one-year anniversary of her casting by sharing the video from when she found out the news. In the posted clip, she immediately breaks down in tears, receives a hug, and stands in her house in disbelief.
She laughs now as she looks back on the moment. “Oh gosh. Relief, I would say, is the biggest feeling I was feeling,” she says. “I’ve been going through this callback process for months, so it was a huge relief when I found out that I actually got the role. Obviously, I was very happy and overwhelmed with excitement, and also disbelief. I could not believe that that was actually happening to me.”
Taylor’s magical journey started in July 2021, 28 years after the original film’s premiere, when she got her first request to audition from her manager. “About a week after I did that, I got a Zoom callback with the director [Anne Fletcher]. That was actually so much fun because I was really nervous and our director Anne is so good at putting me at ease. She just tells me that there’s no need to be nervous at all.”
I think people are going to love the discovery that they go through because I really enjoyed reading that and getting to portray that.
She continues chronicling her audition process, sharing that about two weeks after that she got another Zoom callback with Anne and the producers, saying it lasted an hour and 20 minutes. “It was so much fun and I got to play with the character so much. Getting to know them, the team, was so awesome.” She guesses that it was only a few weeks after that when she finally booked the role.
“It was a huge sigh of relief [getting cast] but it was months of lots of hard work.”
Joining the cast of Hocus Pocus 2 was both exhilarating and daunting. Hocus Pocus has been a part of Taylor’s life for years. “I would watch that movie every Halloween with my family. This Halloween is going to be different – there’s two to watch!” she says, laughter in her voice. “I’m so excited.”
A fan herself, she is aware of the passion behind its fandom. “When I got the audition, I was so excited because those characters are all so iconic and I was so excited about the possibility of being a part of a new generation of Hocus Pocus,” she says. That’s not to say that there wasn’t some slight nervousness on her part.
“It feels very exciting, but also super intimidating,” she says of being able to add to the rich history of Hocus Pocus. “Obviously in my head the whole time while we were filming was just this sense of wanting to make sure that I was staying true to who Winifred was because the Sanderson Sisters are so loved, so well known by a ton of people.” It was not a task she took on lightly and the gravity in her voice furthers this notion. “It felt like a huge responsibility, but it was a huge honor.”
Portraying the young counterpart to Bette Midler’s ‘Winifred Sanderson’ would cause anyone to tense with nerves but Taylor jumped head first into increasing the accuracy of her portrayal. “I studied Bette Midler like a crazy person,” she shares with a small laugh. “When I got my first audition, I watched the movie a ton of times. Then when I finally booked it, I watched so many interviews of Bette talking about Winnie and her process of becoming Winnie. When we finally got on set and we were filming, every night before a day on set, I would watch the movie. I think I watched the movie every night for two months straight.”
A laugh escapes Taylor as she confesses that she hasn’t watched the film in about a year, understandably.
For the actress, the best part of getting to know the character did not come during her numerous rewatches but during the camera test. “Bette was there the same day as me and I got to meet her and talk to her, but I also got to watch her do her camera test,” Taylor says. “So I got to watch her get into character and do all of the Winnie-isms that I needed to learn, and I finally got the hang of, at some point.”
She adds, her voice still holding a thrill at the thought of the memory. “It was amazing. It’s not every day that you get to watch a mega-star do her thing like that. It was awesome.”
How was it to meet said mega-star, one might wonder? “Insane,” Taylor answers with a laugh tinged with awe after a moment of pondering. “She’s so kind and so generous with advice for the industry and for the character. It was amazing to kind of talk to her for a little bit and get to know her a little bit,” she says. “I was so grateful that I got to talk to her because I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to, but I did and it was awesome and she had really great things to say.”
Portraying ‘Young Winifred Sanderson’ has more attached to it than the rich legacy Bette Midler has already sowed for the character. Taylor gets the chance to explore more of the backstory of the Sanderson Sisters, though audiences shouldn’t worry too much about how their young counterparts will act. “They’re really just the younger versions of themselves,” she says, adding that the three sisters will go through “so much” discovery in the film. “Original fans are going to really, really appreciate that they’re obviously similar because they’re the same person, but I think people are going to love the discovery that they go through because I really enjoyed reading that and getting to portray that.” It is also what she is most excited for audiences to see in the film.
“I’m so excited for them to meet the young Sanderson Sisters. It’s the same iconic trio in the first film, just… a lot shorter,” she says, the grin palpable in her voice. “Of course, [there’re] so many fun surprises along the way and I just can’t wait for people to experience all of that.”
When the trailer for the film debuted earlier this month, fans were treated to not only the first glimpse of the young Sanderson Sisters but also of Hannah Waddingham as The Witch.
“Oh, Hannah is amazing,” Taylor gushes about her co-star. “She’s an incredible actor and she’s so kind. We got to share a hair and makeup trailer, so we got the chance to just get to know one another a little bit better. She’s so kind and she was always asking me about my life here at home.”
Taylor continues, “Plus, watching her get into character and work during the scenes was just incredible. Watching such a professional just do that all the time was amazing. I learned so much from watching her. It was awesome.”
The young actress spent quite a bit of time in the hair and makeup trailer to become Young Winifred. “We would get to set around seven o’clock in the morning. We would eat breakfast and then I would go straight to hair and makeup, which was my favorite part of the day because I love and miss our hair and makeup crew so much. They were fabulous.” She details her time by saying, “I would get my wig on which would take maybe an hour, and then I would get my makeup done. I would go back to my trailer and get my costume on, and then I would do a lot of character work for, I don’t know, maybe 45 minutes. I would just take that time to get into the mindset of Winnie and all that she is.”
Afterward, she and the other young Sanderson actresses Nina Kitchen and Juju Journey Brener would be on set for seven to eight hours a day. “But because we’re just kids, we would have to fit in school, and it was a lot because at the time I was only 14.” Looking back, she still wouldn’t change anything about her experience. “I would not have it any other way.”
Reliving the memories from the set brings forth a few of her favorites, from getting ready in the trailers to shooting on location.
“Anytime I was in the hair and makeup trailer, I would just laugh and it would be so much fun,” she says, smiling as she reminisces. “But I think my absolute favorite was [when] we spent a week filming in Chase Farms in Rhode Island where they built a set to look like a village from the 1600s.”
She shares, “That week was my absolute favorite. I got to work with an amazing actor. One day of that week it was pouring rain outside; it was super challenging to get that scene down but it was incredible to watch the crew deal with those conditions like true professionals and it was probably one of the most surreal moments during the making of this huge movie.”
While Hocus Pocus 2 may be Taylor’s biggest project to date, her resume already started to showcase her talent and experience with her roles in Studio Ghibli’s Earwig and the Witch and her numerous theater spots.
I’d never done anything like that before but it was awesome.
“I started acting at my local community theater when I was five and I knew immediately that was something that I loved and wanted to keep doing,” she says. “I did that for a while and then when I was 11, I started training with an acting coach in New York. He introduced me to my very wonderful agent, who I’ve been with ever since then, and I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else.”
Television and film projects have taken center stage in Taylor’s life recently but she is always open to an opportunity to return to her acting roots.
“I would love to return to the stage!” she exclaims. “I’m always working and I’m always training and always auditioning, but if the opportunity came along, I would absolutely love to return to the stage because it’s what made me fall in love with acting in the first place. That’ll always be my acting first love, I guess. Being on stage. It’s awesome.”
She has her dream roles locked and ready, should the call come. First is as ‘Elle Woods’ in Legally Blonde, one of her top picks. “Oh, she’s hilarious and I love her!” Taylor says. The second role she mentions is ‘Zoe Murphy’ in the hit Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen. “I saw that show recently with my best friend and I was just… oh my gosh. I love that character,” she gushes. “She’s so much fun and she has lots of different layers; I love a good character with a nice layer. So much fun” she says, a short laugh punctuating her statement.
Lastly, she names ‘Lydia Deetz’ from Beetlejuice. “I’ve wanted to play that role since I was like 11 years old,” she says in an excited rush. “That was the first one, ever, that I just have wanted to play for so long.” She would love any of the roles, according to Taylor, because they are so amazing.
It comes as a small surprise then that Taylor says she never considered pursuing music as a separate career, given her fantastic singing abilities. “I mean, I love singing and I love performing. Being a professional musician though… is honestly nothing I’ve ever really considered.” She laughs and one can imagine her shrugging her shoulders on the other end of the phone call as she says, “But I mean, never say never, right?”
Instead, Taylor will continue to focus on acting, no matter what form it comes in. Be it stage, camera, or voice acting, the rising star has tried it all.
“I think that stage acting is great because you get instant feedback from the audience and it’s different every night. You never know what’s going to happen on stage and it’s so thrilling,” she says of her first love. Her true love for acting, though, lies in performing on camera. “Camera acting is probably my favorite,” she confesses. “I love all the moving parts of that. [There’re] so many things going on, so it’s great.”
She adds another reason it is her favorite, saying, “Exploring a character in different ways, you have so many takes to do different things with those characters. That’s really awesome.”
Voice acting is the most challenging for herself, according to Taylor. “It’s a lot of work which I think most people wouldn’t realize. You have to be very disciplined and focused because you’re working in a tiny little booth by yourself all day, most often. So you’re reacting to things that sometimes aren’t there that you can’t even see, and your voice gets tired. You get tired. It’s a lot of work but when I got to do voiceover work, it was amazing. It was so much fun.”
Her role in Earwig and The Witch is something she looks back fondly on, given the voice acting experience she gained from it. “It was so cool,” Taylor says. “I’d never done anything like that before but it was awesome.”
In celebration of the Halloween season, TEENPLICITY asked Taylor Paige Henderson a few themed questions!
TEENPLICITY: What is your favorite Halloween candy?
Taylor: Probably a Blue Raspberry Jolly Rancher.
TEENPLICITY: Favorite Halloween costume?
Taylor: Two years ago, I was Wednesday Addams. (Taylor says she’ll probably be watching the Netflix series because she loves Jenna Ortega. “She’s such a wonderful actress.”)
TEENPLICITY: Favorite Halloween movie?
Taylor: Hocus Pocus, obviously. [laughs]
TEENPLICITY: Favorite fall/Halloween activity?
Taylor: Probably painting pumpkins with my friends.
Hocus Pocus 2 will be streaming on Disney+ on Friday, September 30th!
*Interview has been edited for clarity and length.