See the Cast of the ‘Free Willy’ Movies Then and Now
In the first ‘Free Willy,’ Jesse, a 12-year-old straight from the school of hard knocks, befriends an orca named Willy and eventually helps to “free” him from a water park.The 1993 film was a big hit, and Jesse, who was played by Jason James Richter, got to free his marine mammal pal again in two sequels, ‘Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home’ and ‘Free Willy 3: The Rescue.’
Richter was one of a handful of child actors who had prominent roles in the franchise. Check in on what the whale-saving youngsters of ‘Free Willy’ are up to now below.
Jason James Richter as Jesse
Then: Jason James Richter beat out 4,000 other child actors to make his film debut as Jesse in ’Free Willy.’ He continued to play Jesse in the two theatrical sequels and also made non-whale related appearances in ‘Cops and Robbersons’ and as Bastion in ‘The Neverending Story 3.’
Now: Richter took a break from acting in his twenties and played bass in the band Fermata. But the 32-year-old seems to be making a comeback — he appeared on an episode of ‘Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior’ last year and is slated to star in the upcoming horror flick ‘3 Solitude.’
Danielle Harris as Gwenie
Then: Harris played the adorably spunky Gwenie in ‘Free Willy.’ The family fare was quite a departure for the petite actress, who made her debut at age eight on the soap ’One Life To Live’ but was best known for her run as a “tween scream queen” in the fourth and fifth ‘Halloween’ movies.
Now: Harris has been working consistently since ’Free Willy,’ including a new role in the rebooted ‘Halloween’ film franchise. The 35-year-old recently appeared in movies ‘The Victim’ and ‘The Trouble With The Truth’ and will play the lead in ‘Night of the Living Dead: Origins 3D’ next year. Her directorial debut, ‘Among Friends,’ is set to hit the festival circuit later this month.
Michael Bacall as Perry
Then: You might remember Michael Bacall as Perry in ‘Free Willy.’ Prior to snagging that role he had a pretty substantial TV career, with guest appearances on shows like ‘The Wonder Years,’ ‘Doogie Howser, M.D.’ and ‘Highway To Heaven.’
Now: As an actor, Bacall plays small roles in Quentin Tarantino movies, including ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ ‘Django Unchained’ and ‘Death Proof.’ But Bacall has really made a name for himself lately as a screenwriter, having penned the scripts for ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,’ ‘Project X’ and ‘21 Jump Street.’
Mary Kate Schellhardt as Nadine
Then: Mary Kate Schellhardt played Jesse’s love interest Nadine in ‘Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home.’ She had made her film debut two years earlier in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ and was also Tom Hanks’ eldest daughter in ‘Apollo 13.’
Now: Schellhardt, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a BFA in drama, continues to act. She has appeared on episodes of ‘House’ and ‘Private Practice’ and spoofed Kristen Stewart in the video short ‘Not Twilight.’ According to an article in The Guardian, she also worked as a diner waitress while attempting a comeback.
Francis Capra as Elvis
Then: Capra played Jesse’s long-last half-brother Elvis in ‘Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home.’ His acting career started two years earlier when Robert De Niro discovered him and cast him in ‘A Bronx Tale,’ a role which earned him a Young Artist Award nomination.
Now: Capra is best known for playing Eli “Weevil” Navarro on ‘Veronica Mars.’ Since that show ended its run he’s been a TV drama fixture, popping up on series such as ‘Touch,’ ‘Blue Bloods,’ ‘Castle,’ ‘Heroes’ and ‘Friday Night Lights.’
Then: Before starring ‘Free Willy,’ Keiko lived and performed in Reino Aventura, a water park in Mexico City.
Now: Keiko went on to star in the next two ‘Free Willy’ movies, and in 1995 a campaign was started to release him back into the wild, despite the fact that he had been in captivity for 16 years. In 1998, he was transported to an Icelandic island where trainers tried to prepare him to reenter the wild. He died in captivity in 2003 of pneumonia at the age of 23.