Warwick Davis, Retrospective

Warwick Davis, from Star Wars, to Labyrinth and Willow to Jack the Giant Killer . . .

Warwick Davis is married and lives with his wife and two children in Yaxley, near Peterburough, Cambridgeshire, UK. In honor of his newest film Jack the Giant Slayer, we here at Den of Geek US thought it would be timely to take a look at the wonderful, the magnificent, the always awesome, Warwick Davis

 Well loved actor, Warwick (pronounced War-rick) Davis was born on February 3, 1970 to an insurance broker and his wife in Surrey, England. Warwick was born with a congenital disease that causes dwarfism. While the most common cause of dwarfism is a condition known as Acrondroplasia with some 70% of dwarves being diagnosed as such, Warwick was born with a very rare condition known as Spondyloepiphysial Dysplasia Congenital (commonly shortened to S.E.D.). Of his own dwarfism, Warwick has said, “As you get older, you can suffer from painful hips and our joints wear a lot quicker than for people of average height” and that the only drawbacks of being a dwarf, in his opinion, are the added health complications that come along with the condition. While many might see Warwick as being disabled, he acts anything but. At 3’6”, he has had an immensely successful career thus far and it shows no signs of slowing any time soon.

Warwick’s illustrious career started at the early age of 11 and the height of just 2’11” when he auditionws for the part of an Ewok in George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of The Jedi. He got this audition after his grandmother heard an advertisement on the radio that said the producers of Star Wars were looking for actors under the height of 4′. Warwick was already a huge fan of Star Wars and his grandmother immediately thought of him. Ending up with the role of the lead Ewok, Wicket Wysrti Warrick, was a matter of luck for Warwick. He was originally cast as an unnamed Ewok, but was chosen to replace Kenny Baker as Wicket by Lucas himself after Baker fell ill. Other members of the cast just fell in love with little, 11 year old Warwick. In fact, Mark Hamil bought Warwick all the Star Wars figurines he didn’t already own, as a gift. He did so well in the role of Wicket that Warwick went on to play the character in two additional movies (made for television). When asked about his role as this fictional, teddy bear like species, Warwick said he based his movements as an Ewok on his dog, who had a habit of tilting its head to the side at anything it found strange.

Warick played a goblin (who was part of the Goblin Corps.) in Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie’s dark fantasy, Labyrinth. But as with Return of the Jedi, his extensive costume and makeup hid his features.  After the small role in Labyrinth, Warwick again found himself working with the famed George Lucas. Lucas called Warwick in to meet with him and Ron Howard about a new project they wanted to do, called Willow. Warwick had impressed Lucas so much on the sets of Star Wars and the Ewok movies that together, Lucas and Howard wrote the part of Willow Ufgood specifically for him. Willow is a reluctant Nelwyn dwarf and aspiring sorcerer who plays an important part in protecting an exceptional infant from an evil queen. Starring as the title character, this would be the first film in which viewers would get to see Warwick’s face with no mask of any sort. At only 17 years of age, Warwick made the most of what he was given on the set of Willow, where he met his future wife, Samantha Burroughs. Burroughs was cast as an extra in Willow’s village. The film boasted impressive special effects for its time and was hailed for the radical idea of casting a little person as the lead. Co-starring with Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, Warwick delivered such amazing acting that the film earned a Royal Premiere in front Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales. Unfortunately, the movie did not fair as well at the box office and drew in a dismal amount of revenue. Despite the lack of success in theaters, Willow went on to be nominated for two Oscars and has since become a cult classic.

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After a few years of roles in television shows, such as Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (BBC), in which he played the swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep and The Silver Chair, where he filled the role of an owl named Glimfeather, Warwick took a short break in 1991 to marry fiancé Samantha Burroughs on June 29th and then start a family. Unfortunately for Warwick and Samantha, their first son, Lloyd, was born with a fatal condition and died shortly after his birth in September of 1991. Two years later, their second son was stillborn and it was determined that he had the same fatal condition as his older brother, Lloyd. After not one, but two, tragic losses, Warwick and Samantha tried again to have a child. Warwick has been quoted as saying, “My wife is short as well, so having children was like playing a genetic lottery. The chance of us having a normal child was one in four and the chance of a child developing S.E.D. was also one in four.” This time, in 1997, their beautiful daughter, Annabel was born, followed by her brother Harrison six years later in 2003. Both are healthy children who were born dwarves, but inherited the more common Acrondroplasia.

In 1995, Warwick and Peter Burroughs, his father-in-law and fellow little person, joined together to create the now widely used talent, Willow Management. Willow Management initially specialized in the management and representation of actors under 5 feet tall, who were often forced into certain types of roles because of their height. Willow management is now a “go to” in the industry for “little” actors. Several of Warwick’s co-stars and fellow dwarf actors from Star Wars, Willow, Labyrinth and the Harry Potter series are represented by the agency. In fact, over 40 people represented by Willow Management were cast in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 alone. In 2004, they expanded their base to include the representation of actors over 7 feet tall. Warwick has said that they chose to start representing this group of people, along with the original group, because he had noticed that they too often suffered from being confined to “niche” roles in their movie careers.

Upon returning to his film career, Warwick played the lead role of “Leprechaun” in the aptly titled movie, Leprechaun. I know, I know. I can hear your eyes rolling already. As cheesy as the movie seems to us nowadays, it was released in the hey day of cheesy horror films based on seemingly benign mythical characters. In fact, it was enough of a hit that it spawned three sequels. In these movies, Warwick plays, of all things, a Leprechaun who is haunting the Redding family after they rent The O’Grady Farm where the previous owner trapped the evil little minion in a crate. These movies have all the twists and turns of typical 80’s and 90’s horror flicks. But the completely bizarre topic of an evil Leprechaun who is nearly impossible to get rid of, has allowed this series to become a cult classic. You’d think this might be a part of Warwick’s career that he would want to forget, but he has proven otherwise by continuing to appear in Leprechaun movies. While the original four form the Leprechaun series, there were a couple straight to video releases, such as Leprechaun in The Hood and Leprechaun: Back 2 the Hood. While I am a huge Warwick Davis fan, I have not seen and most likely will not ever see these last two Leprechaun movies.

As if starting his acting career off with a role in Star Wars wasn’t awesome enough, Warwick went on to appear in the 1999 release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. While he wasn’t reprising his role as Wicket, Warwick did end up doing his fair share of acting in this film. His main part was as Anikin’s Rodian buddy, Wald, but on top of this, he also played two other roles: Weazel, a gambler who sits next to Watto at the Podrace and he was also used as Yoda in certain shots of Yoda walking. As if Lucas writing a role specifically for Warwick (Willow) wasn’t proof enough, I’m pretty sure that he solidified his love of working with Warwick when he placed him as Yoda’s body double. I mean, come on! It’s Yoda, people!

By this point, Warwick was absolutely rolling in “Geek Cred.” But that wasn’t good enough for the amazing Warwick Davis, he had to pile on more and more. Starting with his role as Acorn the tricky, wheelin’, dealin’, prison escapee dwarf, in The 10th Kingdom, an NBC TV movie/mini-series. Warwick stepped out of his regular nice guy role and stepped into the not so nice guy role for this series, yet again proving his versatility. While it was “only a TV movie,” it quickly became wildly popular among young and old alike. I myself, can remember watching it every night with my mom and being incredibly sad when it ended. I think that was the beginning of my geeky love affair with Warwick. And then he showed up in Harry Potter and my love was sealed.

As in Phantom Menace, Warwick plays several different roles in the Harry Potter film series. In the first movie, he fills the shoes of Professor Fillius Flitwick and an unnamed goblin bank teller. While in the first movie, Flitwick is shown as an old man with white hair and a long white mustache with noticeably goblinesque features, his onscreen appearance changes considerably in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In this movie, he takes on a more human look, with slicked down, dark hair and mustache. According to Davis, the moustachioed character was not originally supposed to be Flitwick, since Flitwick was absent from the script for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but the producer added the new character of the conductor of the school choir and orchestra (credited as “Choir Master”) so that Warwick could still be present in the film. It was supposed to be a one time, unnamed character, but the producer of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Mike Newell, preferred this younger look and thus stuck with it for Professor Flitwick. In Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Warwick replaced fellow little actor, Verne Troyer, as the goblin Griphook and kept the role through to the end of the series. I personally think that this was a very good choice on someone’s part as I don’t think Verne Troyer could have given as conflicted and emotion filled a performance of this very important character.

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In between shooting for the Harry Potter movies, Warwick worked on a few other projects. One of these was the controversial film adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy in which he worked with fellow HP cast mate, Alan Rickman, to create the character Marvin. I say that the movie is “controversial” because while some loved it (like myself), others strongly disliked it. It’s one of those movies where if you ask ten random people how they felt about it, you’ll get ten different answers varying between “it sucked” to “it rocked.” But I mean, come on, the awesomeness of Warwick Davis and Alan Rickman all rolled into ONE character? How can you not love that? I’m pretty sure that even the people who criticize this film still giggled at Marvin’s antics at least once. Marvin is afflicted with severe depression and boredom, in part because he has a “brain the size of a planet” which he is seldom, if ever, given the chance to use. According to Marvin, “The first ten million years were the worst and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million I didn’t enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline.” Apparently, the best conversation he’d had was over 40 million years ago, which he had with a coffee machine. If you go to the Backstage part of Warwick’s site, there is actually a section called “Marvin’s Diary” in which he speaks a little about filming as the “paranoid android.” It is mostly just cheeky little insights into the mind of Marvin from Warwick’s point of view, but they are definitely worth a look. But here’s the real question: While reading these entries, do you hear them in Warwick’s voice or Alan Rickman’s? For me, I hear Warwick’s for some reason. If nothing else, these little bursts of text will give you a few more Marvin induced chuckles.

After the end of the stunningly successful Harry Potter film series, Warwick continued, stronger than ever. In 2011, Warwick joined forces with the epic British comedian, Ricky Gervais and British writer and comedian, Stephen Merchant to film a television “mockumentary” series called Life’s Too Short. Life’s Too Short is about being a Dwarf in showbiz. Davis plays a satirical version of himself and both Gervais and Merchant appear in supporting roles as themselves. The idea for the show came together when Warwick and Gervais were filming an episode of Gervais’ show, Extras. During filming, Warwick spoke of some of the hardships that come along with being short, including the fact that some people actually touch or rub him as if he were a Leprechaun (not just an awesome guy who played a horrible one). While talking about these things, the guys realized that all of this stuff is comedy gold! I mean, after all, who would guess that anyone nowadays would actually go up to a little person and rub them for good luck? That’s kind of like rubbing a fat guy’s belly. Though, that might be a nice little social experiment for the next time I feel like freaking people out. Sorry, back on track! When asked by an interviewer if the title of the show offended him, Warwick pointed out that he actually came up with it. Talk about a good sense of humor. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Gervais says Warwick isn’t affected by anything. “He’s probably the most grounded, stable person I’ve ever met. His kids are just amazing; he’s made them bulletproof by giving them a sense of humor, as opposed to hiding them away from this big, bad world.” His character in Life’s Too Short really couldn’t be any further from the real man. Warwick’s character in the show is named, Warwick Davis, but that’s about the only similarity between the real world Warwick and the small screen one. The real Davis is charming, resilient and sweet, while the satirical version is a calculating, narcissistic dude desperate to be back in the spotlight. In the same Huffington Post article, Gervais continued on to say that “Warwick is so drenched in this humanity and so likable, we had to make him into a little Hitler [type of character] so people knew what they were laughing at.”

While the recent announcement of the end of Life’s Too Short has left some fans floundering for another Warwick Davis fix, they don’t have to look far. He played a small role in an episode of BBC’s Doctor Who (more geek cred) and he even developed his own star-based game app called PocketWarwick (available for iOS and Android). PocketWarwick is modeled after a combination of old school electronic pets and Sims games. Fans can see their favorite Dwarf now, in his newest film Jack the Giant Slayer. Warwick stars alongside Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor and Bill Nighy (who was also part of Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy and Harry Potter along with Warwick).

Fans who wish to keep up with whats going on in the life and career of Warwick Davis can follow him on twitter @warwickdavis, like him on Facebook [http://www.facebook.com/warwickadavis] or visit his very own website [http://www.warwickdavis.co.uk].