The indie throwback to '80s fantasy films costars Christopher Lloyd, Rhea Perlman, Michael Emerson, and Sean Astin.

By Rosy Cordero
July 15, 2020 at 05:55 PM EDT
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Credit: Everett Collection

It's been more than 35 years since Tami Stronach brought to life the Childlike Empress in Wolfgang Petersen's The NeverEnding Story and she's ready to recapture the magic of the era with her new film Man and Witch.

The indie fantasy film is secretly a romantic comedy that gives a nod to the way Stronach and her husband Greg Steinbruner — the film's writer and costar — met, fell in love, and lived happily ever after. And that's not the only familial connection fans can expect in Man and Witch, the couple's daughter Maya, 9, will have a magical role of her own.

"We grew up on '80s films and every time I would go to different comic cons, fans would tell me how much they miss the films from that era," Stronach tells EW exclusively. "I think there's this nostalgia for the '80s fantasy world, so we wanted to celebrate those types of films. I want to see audiences rooting for the underdog again, like when they cheered for Bastian in The NeverEnding Story. One of our goals with this film is to go back to those values and then give it a twist."

Steinbruner has had the idea for Man and Witch with him for some time, but it never seemed like the right time to do it. The proud husband and father, who had a successful career in Broadway, explains the catalyst to move ahead came partly from the renewed interest in The NeverEnding Story after the Stranger Things homage in 2019.

"It was last summer when I was finishing up the screenplay for this when a classmate from elementary school sends me a message asking if I'd watched the new season of Stranger Things. I had been working hard on the screenplay so I hadn't had a chance to see it yet. So he insists I watch the final episode immediately. So we sat and binged the whole season and when we got to the finale, we were blown away. That moment was a validation of everything we were about to do."

Even though the movie is very much an indie film, Stronach and Steinbruner have already secured big-name talent including Sean Astin, who will play a talking dog, Michael Emerson, who will portray a mysterious evil wizard, and Christopher Lloyd and Rhea Perlman, who previously worked on Taxi together and will play the witch's parents.

"When we were putting together this project, we didn't know who would sign-on but we're so excited such talented people are responding to the script and wanting to be part of it," Stronach explains. "The reason Sean is playing a dog is that from watching most of his projects, he just makes you want to be his best friend. He plays a best friend better than anyone. So when Greg wrote the character, who is man's best friend and also the film's narrator, I knew instantly it has to be played by Sean Astin."

And fans of The NeverEnding Story can expect plenty of Easter eggs in Man and Witch. For example, none of the characters in the film will have a proper name, an homage to Stronach's character in The NeverEnding Story. Although the actress wouldn't confirm whether or not she's contacted her former costar Noah Hathaway, whom she reunited with last year, she teases that "it'll be full of surprises." When pressed about the ultimate Easter egg, the Auryn — currently owned by Steven Spielberg — making an appearance Steinbruner says, "We would love for that to happen. We joke about it all the time."

The couple is working with the famous Jim Henson's Creature Shop to make realistic animal puppets for the project, as they have no plans to use CGI animation.

"We come from the theater world and the puppetry world. We don't have money for CGI, which is a limitation in one way but in another, it's an opportunity," Stronach says.

Steinbruner adds, "We did want to clarify the extent of our relationship with Henson's Creature Shop because there's been some confusion. We contracted them to build our puppets. Our director Rob Margolies encouraged me to add talking animals, so I did. And there's no one better out there who makes puppets as they do, and they were gracious enough to agree. This movie is not a Henson Production. It's being confused as having something to do with their Dark Crystal project and it's not."

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the couple doesn't have a solid schedule for production or a release date, but they're hoping to have it out by 2021.

"The scenes that Greg and I have together we can start shooting," she explains. "Our crew has also been in a bubble working together so we will be able to start shooting soon, hopefully. But we are at the mercy of gods during the pandemic and we are taking every precaution."

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