The 1993 film Hocus Pocus has been a Halloween cult classic for nearly three decades. The three Sanderson Sisters—17th-century witches from Salem, Massachusetts—are back for another round of spooky fun in a long-awaited sequel. 

Hocus Pocus 2 begins streaming on Disney+ this Friday, Sept. 30, and local actor Taylor Paige Henderson plays a key role, appearing as young Winifred Sanderson (Bette Midler). Brick & Elm’s Jason Boyett sat down with Henderson, who’s about to turn 16, to discuss the film, her experiences on set, and this exciting moment in her career.

[Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Photos by Ellie Boyett.]

Jason Boyett: A lot of kids dream about becoming Hollywood actors, but your dream actually came true. What did it feel like when you found out you got the role? 

Taylor Paige Henderson: Well, I was relieved because I’d been going through the [audition] process for two months at that point, and so when my mom told me that I got it, I was just so excited and crying. I was so happy and so really proud.

JB: What was it like to step on set the first time?

TPH: I was speechless, honestly. There was so much going on. It was just so much fun. Getting to have full costume and full hair for the first time—that’s an experience that I won’t ever forget. I got to do really awesome things that day. The weather was crazy!

JB: Was your first day on an outdoor set?

TPH: Yes, and it was rainy and windy. It was freezing. The weather just doesn’t magically follow our schedule. And so it was a very interesting first day on set.

JB: Were you nervous?

TPH: Oh, yes.

JB: But was it a different kind of nervous from being on stage? Because you’ve done a lot of plays and musicals with Amarillo Little Theatre. 

TPH: When I’m doing a play or a musical, I always have that “I’m going to throw up” moment right before I go on stage. This was more like—I wasn’t nervous to do the acting or filming or storytelling, but am I going to do the character justice? 

JB: Tell me about the difference between performing live on stage versus a film set. On stage, you’ve got one shot to get it right. On a film set, you have multiple takes but the entire crew is watching, and maybe you’re surrounded by well-known actors.

TPH: And that’s why I think I wasn’t nervous for the actual filming part of it, because if you miss a line you can go back and do it again. I wasn’t nervous about getting it right the first time. It was nice to know I had more than one chance to get it right, especially since I was portraying a character that is … quite complicated.

JB: Did the reality of being cast in a film match the dream you had as a kid?

TPH: It did match in a lot of ways. But there’s also just a lot of waiting. You get to set and put your hair and makeup on—well, I get my wig put on me—then you get your costume on and you get to set and then … you wait. It might be two hours. The fabulous hair and makeup team came by every 15 minutes and fixed things. I also had those [prosthetic] teeth, which were in and out all the time. So that hurry-up-and-wait was so different from theater.

Then you do a take and once you get it, you have to wait for the camera to move and the lenses and the lighting. It was fun to stand there and watch them work. Though sometimes I had to leave and go do school [while they were setting up]. You never think about, “Oh, I still have to learn. I’m a student.” I didn’t get to pause my freshman year of high school to go make a movie and then just start it up again. 

JB: You play a young Winifred Sanderson, which, of course, was Bette Midler’s character. Did you get to interact with her at all?

TPH: I did! Before we went on set, we did an on-camera test. Almost every cast member is there and you’re in full costume, full hair, full makeup and you stand in front of a camera and they tell you to make different faces, walk forward, walk backward, in different lighting—inside and outside. So Bette and I were walking to set the exact same time from our trailers and we ran into each other. I got to talk to her and she gave me great advice about the character. I was in awe. I got to watch her do her camera test in character! I wasn’t sure we’d be on set at the same time ever, so it was amazing.

JB: Did you study her to try to mimic her performance?

TPH: When I got the first audition I watched [the original Hocus Pocus] a lot. When I finally booked [the part], I watched the movie every night before going on the set. It was every night for a month and a half—maybe 50 times. I would watch a scene and then pause it and do exactly what she did, but with my script. Her speech, her inflection, the things she does with her hands, even down to the way she moved her eyes when a certain sister said something. It was very tedious work.

One of my favorite memories from filming was one night when all three of us—me, young Mary [Nina Kitchen] and young Sarah [Juju Journey Brener]—all watched it together. It was so much fun.

JB: Were you starstruck by anyone else in the cast?

TPH: I walked into the hair and makeup trailer one day and Hannah Waddingham [who plays The Witch] was sitting in the chair next to mine, and I almost collapsed to the floor. I don’t watch Ted Lasso but my parents do. Basically everyone I know does. We both have a theater background and it was so cool to ask her questions about her experience in the business and getting to know her side of all the projects she’s done.

JB: Was she intimidating? She has played some very intimidating characters.

TPH: No. She’s just the nicest person ever. Before that, she came to my hotel and was like, “I just wanted to meet you before I was in my costume and my hair. My character is kind of scary and I just wanted you to know that I’m not scary like that.” She is so kind and so personable. She is someone that I really look up to.

JB: Are there any ways growing up in Amarillo or your background with ALT and ALT Academy helped prepare you?

TPH: Yes! I learned to be a hard worker from a very young age from ALT. It’s my favorite place in the whole world. When I tried on my Winifred costume for the first time, after I took it off, I put it back on a hanger and walked out with my stuff. And my costumer says, “You put it back on a hanger! You must do theater. Every theater kid I’ve ever worked with—those are the only people who ever hang up their costumes.” It taught me everything.

I also think I have so much appreciation for the arts because I grew up in a place that has so much appreciation for the arts—not just ALT but the Amarillo Symphony. I took so many dance classes. The most special and amazing support system is here, because I grew up in a smaller town like Amarillo—somewhere where you know everyone—compared to growing up in a city where you don’t know as many people and you’re only around your family. My best friends are here and I see them everywhere. I think I really hit the jackpot and I’m really grateful for that.

JB: What’s next for you? How do you build on this?

TPH: The audition is the job for an actor, so you have to love the training and auditioning and waiting. The actual performing is a smaller part. That has to be enough for you. So what’s next is auditioning.

JB: Are you still auditioning?

TPH: Oh. My. Gosh. We have a whole room in my house dedicated to self-taping. It’s almost every day. The last time I went to an in-person audition was maybe two years ago. I used to hate self-taping but it’s becoming my favorite thing, because I just get to spend so much more time with a character. With in-person auditions you’re flying to LA or New York tonight and you have to audition tomorrow and it’s just a crazy, insane lifestyle. I can’t imagine going back to that, honestly.

Being home and in my space with my people and with the support system I was talking about—it’s so much easier. Since self-taping has started, that’s when the magic has really started to happen.

JB: There are still a lot of young performers getting their start right now at ALT Academy, and they want to end up doing what you’re doing. What message would you have for them? TPH: The only thing I can say is you have to work hard. You have to want it and you have to work for it. I still have to tell myself that sometimes. “You have an audition today. You need to sit down, memorize it, and book this job. You want it, so go and do it.” Working hard and being humble is the most important part of everything.