Warwick Davis on Life’s Too Short | Interview
The little actor plays it big in a Ricky Gervais series for HBO, Life’s Too Short.
In the mockumentary series Life’s Too Short, Warwick Davis plays Warwick Davis. They’re both little actors in a big actors’ world—but the character, according to the man who plays him, is “not pleasant.” Davis was 11 years old when he landed the central role of Ewok Wicket in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. His three decades of credits include Willow, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series and the horror movie (and Jennifer Aniston’s first feature) Leprechaun—parts one through six. In advance of the HBO debut of Life’s Too Short, which premiered on BBC last year, the Briton spoke from his home outside London at 10:30pm, after putting his two kids to bed.
You took the idea for Life’s Too Short to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who wrote the series. How’d the idea come about?
The initial concept came to me from being approached quite a bit by TV companies and producers wanting to do a fly-on-the-wall documentary following me and my family. My wife is short, and my two kids are also small. I was like, no, I’m an actor; the last thing I want is to walk in [at home] and there’s a camera as well. After a while I said maybe I should produce a show myself; at least I can control it a little bit.
Ricky and Stephen based the episodes on anecdotes you told them about life as a man who’s three foot six, but I assume you haven’t actually been asked to attend a wedding dressed in an Ewok costume?
Very obsessed fans do ask actors to attend their weddings. People have Star Wars–themed weddings, but no, I’ve never been invited to one. A Leprechaun fan’s wedding, that would be quite frightening. But my character thinks he’s being asked there because of his fame, and it turns out that they just wanted somebody to be an Ewok.
The show sends up not only stereotypes about little people but your character as well, rather than treating him like a victim of prejudice.
Exactly, that’s what’s unexpected about it. People who are short, they’re often portrayed as the victim. Warwick in Life’s Too Short is a victim, but it’s his own fault. He’s delusional. He thinks there’s no reason why everybody shouldn’t know who he is and berates people if they don’t.
Do you see that character trait in yourself at all, that desperate need for celebrity?
[Laughs] I don’t crave fame. I mean, it’s nice to be recognized. It is useful. I do a sneaky little trick: If I don’t have a first-class ticket, I’ll have a few photographs in my passport of characters I’ve played, and as I take the passport out they accidentally spill out, and then hopefully the person who’s checking in says, “Oh, what are these?” I go, “Oh, it’s just a few characters that I played.” But the person that has never seen Star Wars is the one checking you in that day. The guy that’s just helped you with the baggage, he has, but he’s no help in the upgrade situation at all. He just expects a bigger tip.
Your talent agency represents actors under five feet and over seven feet. Since it began in ’95, have things improved for little actors?
I do think it is improving, certainly. But people say to me, “Don’t you get fed up with all of the fantasy-genre film roles that you get?” And I say, “Well, you’d think that, but no.” You have to totally transform everything about you to suit this character. It’s very challenging and very fulfilling.
You wouldn’t find straight roles more meaningful or important?
I don’t think they are. If you’re a performer, you love performing, and getting any chance to act is what it’s about. The goblin Griphook in Harry Potter was one of the most challenging roles I’ve had, physically and emotionally.
Any concern that, with this series, you’d end up constantly having to talk about size? Here I am asking you size-related questions.
I don’t worry about that because when you’ve been three foot six for 41 years, you’ve heard everything that there is to say about the subject. And I’m only ever reminded that I’m short when I have to talk about it. There’s a scene where a lady on the street decides she wants to take a picture of me, and Warwick in the show thinks it’s because she’s recognized him, but she hasn’t. She just wants to take a picture of a dwarf. That has happened to me. They take the picture, and then you realize from the look on their face they didn’t know who you were. They were just interested in taking a picture of you because you were unusual. [Laughs]
How are you handling your son’s desire to act?
I will of course encourage him, but I will also be realistic about this business that, for any actor, average size or short, it’s not an easy profession. He does show that desire to entertain. I think it comes out of being short. Harrison, at eight years old, is half the size of his peers at school, and so to not get lost and forgotten, you develop this larger-than-life personality. It’s exactly what I did.
When you look at your kids, Harrison and Annabel, can you measure how society has or hasn’t changed since you were their age?
Oh, yeah, definitely. The more that the world sees something, the more at ease they are with it, and that’s what the Internet has done, and television. For me back in the ’70s, I was a novelty.
Life’s Too Short begins February 19 at 9:30pm on HBO.