If there’s anyone who benefited from watching “Hocus Pocus” on repeat over the years— like so many of us have — it’s Taylor Paige Henderson, the teenaged actress cast as young Winifred "Winnie" Sanderson in “Hocus Pocus 2” now streaming on Disney+.
Audiences are raving about her performance. “Give young Winifred Sanderson the Academy Award,” writer Evan Ross Katz posted on Instagram. “She is AMAZING,” commented actor Claybourne Elder.
Even though the original movie starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy came out in 1993 — 14 years before the 15-year-old was born — it’s become one of her favorite films.
“I had watched this movie every Halloween for as long as I can remember,” she told TODAY by phone. So the Amarillo, Texas teen was aptly prepared when she landed an audition for the sequel to play the younger version of Bette Midler’s iconic character of Winifred Sanderson, a witch set to eat children in order to maintain her youth.
The entire process — including rewatching the original about 40 times on her own accord for research purposes — took about two months starting in July of 2021, Henderson said.
No longer watching it for fun, Henderson carefully studied Midler’s Winifred: Who she was as a person, her relationship with her sisters and Midler’s innate mannerisms on screen like how she talks, things she does with her eyes and the way she reacts to things.
“When you watch the [first] movie, that’s something that you notice about Winifred — that weird thing she’s doing with her hands with her fingers by her face. I thought it was really important to add that in because obviously she does it a lot,” Henderson said of her character study. “Winnie is always moving. She’s everywhere all the time. She’s up in everyone’s business. She loves her sisters so much. So, I really focused on that because I think that was really important.”
When Henderson officially booked the role in September of 2021, her mom surprised with the news by giving her “Hocus Pocus” themed cups. It marks her biggest role to date. Home schooled, Henderson has been performing since the age of 5 and started acting professionally at age 11. She’s also a classically trained ballerina.
During production, Henderson watched the original film each night prior to filming, which she said lasted about twenty days on set in Rhode Island, alongside her on-screen co-stars Juju Journey Brener and Nina Kitchen (who play young sisters Sarah and Mary Sanderson, respectively).
She got to chat with Midler once about playing Winifred while on set. “Bette said to embody the character more than I think is necessary. Bigger is always better with her,” she recalled of Midler’s advice.
“She said to use what Winifred has to be the character — the hair, the hands, the teeth. Oh my God! When I put the teeth in for the first time that helped me so much to become her better," she continued.
To re-create Winnie's signature buck-toothed look for the film, Henderson’s dentist first made a mold of her real teeth. The costumed teeth were custom made by Academy Award winning special effect makeup artist, Kevin Haney who flew to the set to hand deliver them.
“Young Winnie came to life once I put them in for the first time. It was fun to play with the character from there!” she wrote in an Instagram post. Then, Henderson’s orthodontist helped make sure her real teeth stayed in place during the two months of filming since she was still using Invisalign.
Director Anne Fletcher also coached Henderson on how Winifred speaks and her facial expressions, all of which lend to her dominion as ringleader.
“We talked about a lot about where in the script is an appropriate time to laugh with (my sisters) and where is an appropriate time in the script to yell at them, make a face of them and call them dumb or whatever. So that was interesting to figure out.
"They influence everything (Winifred) does. All of her lines are based on everything (her sisters) do. That was really cool to discover with her. She’s very protective over them, which was pretty easy. I’m pretty close with both of the two girls who played my sisters. I do feel very protective over them so that was probably the easiest part.”
Out of all the praise Henderson’s been receiving on her performance, including calls for a breakout “Hocus Pocus” movie centered on the young Sanderson sisters, there is one person’s opinion that mattered most to Henderson: Midler's herself.
They caught up on the red carpet at the film's premiere.
“She said she really, really likes me in the movie, which was amazing. That is all I wanted and all I needed,” Henderson said.