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Even in the golden age of reboots and revivals, there's a reason why you haven't seen Emilio Estevez in any recreations of his most iconic roles — until now. After 25 years, the actor returns to play the beloved Coach Gordon Bombay in Disney+'s The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, and it was a big deal for him to even consider saying yes to lacing up those skates once more.
"Over the years, there have been a lot of reunions, whether it was through the Anaheim Ducks or various charities. Famously, I have rejected all of those, whether it's a reunion for Breakfast Club or The Outsiders or St. Elmo's Fire or Young Guns, all of them," Estevez tells EW. "Fortunately I've been able to have starred in movies that have stood the test of time and have a long shelf life, so a lot of folks have wanted to see reunions of where are they now. So on one hand, it's a blessing to have been involved in that but on the other hand, it's like, I rarely, if ever, participate. So to come back do a Mighty Ducks reunion with replaying this role was a big step."
The Mighty Ducks films writer and Game Changers creator Steven Brill had floated the idea on and off with Estevez over the years, with a recent conversation happening while Estevez was filming his 2018 drama The Public, which he also wrote and directed. "While I was doing The Public, I was just not in the headspace for it," he says of returning to the character. "I didn't really see where they were going to go with Bombay, I sort of thought we had played him out. Steven and the writers started talking to me about this idea that Bombay has been hiding out, that hockey hasn't been good to him in the last couple of decades, that he's this guy who's living on the outskirts of town and not really engaging with people. He's not married. He doesn't have any kids. He's a bit of a mystery in terms of where he's been. But it wasn't a good place; it was a much darker place than the last time we saw Bombay. And that appealed to me."
Estevez found himself drawn to this idea of Bombay becoming a "scavenger," living off of leftover kids' birthday party cakes, and in charge of a rundown ice rink. "He's trying to keep the Ice Palace together with duct tape and prayer," he says with a laugh. "The fact that we were going to revisit this guy but so different than the last time we saw him? It's certainly not what we expect. But what I like is that there's 10 episodes that we had to discover where he's been and ultimately where he's going."
That's why Estevez finally broke his longstanding tradition of not doing reboots or revivals. "What's clear as day is that right now, reboots, reigniting old IP is at a fevered pitch," he says. "The question is, are we at peak nostalgia yet? If we're not, we're pretty close. [Laughs] I was inspired to a certain extent by the idea that if I'm ever going to reboot a character, it's probably now or it will never happen."
And because one of the characters he's asked about most is Coach Bombay, he knew the interest is still there. "I drive a lot across the country and my conversations with people on the road generally lean into, 'Why don't we see you onscreen anymore? Why are you spending all your time behind the camera?'" Estevez says. "And out of those conversations, people have expressed over the years there's two characters that we'd like to see you revisit: Coach Bombay and Billy the Kid. You start hearing that enough times, what's the old saying, if three people tell you you're drunk, it's probably time to sit down?"
He adds, "So I got to a place where you can't ignore the data, whether it's coming through social media or face to face in my day-to-day, that it felt like now is the time. And I'm not getting any younger. I'm going to be 59 this year, which, even saying that is mind-boggling."
Even after he decided to hit the ice again, he still found himself with some reservations. He knew that playing Bombay in such a different way than fans remember risks tarnishing the legacy that he built 30 years ago. "That's got to be top of mind anytime you're thinking about revisiting a character that's beloved," Estevez says. "That was something that initially is why I didn't want to go anywhere near it for decades. This new take is risky. You have the responsibility of preserving that character in people's minds. But you also have, if they had made the show without Bombay, would there have been outrage to the point where it would not have worked at all?"
Estevez knows there will be "purists" out there who don't want to see Bombay in any other way than he was in the original three Mighty Ducks movies. "And that's fine," he says. "But I also think that there's a whole new generation of fans out there, potential fans. And I think that parents who love the films and remember the films fondly will want to introduce this franchise to their kids."
Finally walking onto The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers set was a strange experience for Estevez, and it took him a little bit of time to acclimate. "For the last 25 years, I've been making independent films and kind of in my own self-created wilderness, if you will," he says. "I really walked away from everything mainstream and focused on independent films and passion projects. So this is pretty interesting to come back into something that is decidedly mainstream — it feels like I'm coming back to planet Earth after being on Mars for a while. I've gone from relative independent film obscurity back into the frying pan with mainstream fare. The stakes are so much higher and there's so much more invested."
Despite it all, Estevez was excited to come back to The Mighty Ducks after all this time. "I really was excited to reboot this thing," he says. "But then it was this sort of stutter start [due to COVID]. So all the fun, all the excitement was sort of zapped out of the overall experience and it felt more like work than this reunion and a rebooting. It was weird shooting a show during COVID and having to mask up and and not be able to create that community and get to know crew members and create long-lasting friendships. That is one of the reasons I love being in the business so much and it was a heartbreak to lose that."
The bright spot for Estevez was not only getting to reunite with the former Ducks team in the upcoming reunion episode but also seeing the new generation of kids playing hockey on the show. "The kids in this are really terrific and very funny and very endearing," Estevez says. "There's a lot to love."
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers premieres Friday, March 26 on Disney+.