The Free Willy cast has experienced various things after the three movies premiered – from days spent in jail, a Gossip Girl debut and Keiko's return to the wild.
Free Willy opened the eyes and the hearts of many viewers on what loving creatures orcas – or killer whales – are, and across three films, the journey into the species was told in a truly heartfelt manner.
The film tells the story of Willy, a whale in captivity, and Jesse, a child who is desperate to give the whale the opportunity to go back to the wild.
That’s just what he did, in both the movie, and real life.
Keiko as Willy
Keiko was born in Iceland in 1976 and in 1993, he made his first journey into stardom – but before that, he was in captivity and took part in many shows to perform for audiences.
His real-life was very similar to his life in Hollywood – once the films came out, many people fought to return Keiko to the wild, just like in the movie.
Members of the public got involved to support Keiko’s freedom, and in a bid to start training him to return to the wild, activists put him inside a large tank in the ocean and taught him how to hunt and hold his breath.
19 years after Keiko was first captured, he was flown back to Iceland and was observed from a distance – but it was a costly experiment, costing $3.5m (£2.5m) per year to keep Keiko in his pen in Iceland while he was trained on behaviour in the wild.
In 2002, Keiko finally went out on his own and swam into the wild, but after 10 years of trying to train Keiko to go into the wild and be with whales, he followed a boat of fishermen home in Norway and died one year later in December 2003 of pneumonia.
Jason James Richter as Jesse
Jason was picked out of 4,000 candidates who auditioned for the role of Jesse in Free Willy, but after the films, he carried on to take part in the occasional movies and TV shows, including a guest role on Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
In 2021, he appeared in the thriller The Little Things as his first studio film since Free Willy.
In 2018, Jason was sentenced to four days in jail and a 36 month probation period after he was arrested in connection to domestic violence.
The charges were later dropped, and he told Page Six: “After having the domestic violence charges against me dropped due to inconsistencies in my ex’s story and no evidence to support her claims, I was hoping to move forward from this awful situation.”
August Schellenberg as Randolph
August played Randolph the whale trainer in the first three Free Willy films and boasted a successful career around it.
He earned an Emmy nomination in 2007 for his role as Chief Sitting Bull in HBO’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and was nominated for three Genie awards over his career.
He also dabbled in TV too, featuring in Season Five of Grey’s Anatomy as a patient and having roles elsewhere in The Littlest Hobo and Due South.
Aside from his time on-screen, August taught acting workshops in Toronto and appeared on stage in the theatre, giving him a wide range of experience before he died in 2013.
August had been suffering from lung cancer and passed away at his home in Dallas aged 77.
Michael Madsen as Glen Greenwood
In the years that followed Free Willy, Michael Masden has been a big name within the movie industry for over 35 years.
Some of his more recent movies include Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Hateful Eight.
Stepping away from the spotlight, Michael also launched his own range of hot sauces called American Badass over in the US, and he’s still hoping that it will grow into a hot sauce empire.
Jayne Atkinson as Annie Greenwood
Jayne Atkinson has seen a successful career in the wake of Free Willy, with movies, TV shows and even theatre performances under her belt.
She was already successful before the trilogy, but it has certainly grown in the years since.
Shortly after she finished the series, Jayne gave birth to her son aged 40 after saying she wanted to focus on her acting career prior to that.
After giving birth to her son, Jayne continued to thrive in the acting world, landing roles on House of Cards, Clarice and The Congressman – for some time, Jayne even featured on teen drama Gossip Girl as Dean Reuther.
Lori Petty as Rae Lindley
Heading into film, TV and working as a director, Lori has tried out lots of aspects of the industry – and she’s been incredibly successful in doing so.
In the early years after the trilogy, she continued to land big movie roles – and in the time that followed she has appeared in many popular TV series including Prison Break and Orange Is The New Black.
Outside of her acting career, Lori launched a T-shirt business with positive and motivating phrases on them – but acting still remains her main priority.
Mykelti Williamson as Dwight Mercer
After Mykelti took part in the second instalment of Free Willy, he married his now-wife Sondra Spriggs in April 1997 and went on to have two daughters, Nicole and Maya.
He then returned to work and continued in his impressive career, taking part in movies including The Final Destination and The Purge. In 2017, Mykelti started to appear on Chicago PD as Denny Woods.
The actors all appeared in Free Willy when little was known about whales in captivity, though the film series became the first of many art forms highlighting information about orcas and how they live both in captivity and in the wild.
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