Exclusive: Warwick Davis on Merlin, Potter, Depp and future Leprechaun
|INTERVIEWS - FILM|
The star of Willow, no stranger to sci-fi and fantasy, discusses Merlin, Harry Potter, Star Wars and more...
You know, when people talk about iconic actors and/or actresses, there seems to be a standard set of names that people reel from. Depp, Cruise, Ford, Neeson, Portman – all great actors/actresses in their own right; but there is one actor who has, and continues to, star alongside them and many other of Hollywood's top entourage...Warwick Davis.
Whilst short of stature, Warwick is a giant amongst the fantasy/sci-fi genre, appearing in some of the greatest and most loved franchises of all time. With a repertoire consisting of Star Wars, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Harry Potter, to name but a few, Mr. Davis has become something of a household name; with a likeable presence and undeniable talent that have made him an appealing choice to some of the best directors in the world.
So, when Shadowlocked were lucky enough to meet with Warwick at the VIP launch of Warwick Castle's latest attraction, Merlin: The Dragon Tower, we decided to seize the moment and have a chat with him in regards to his remarkable career; from Willow – right through to Life's Too Short.
Warwick, you have just finished your first sitcom, Life's Too Short, alongside Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais. What was it like to work with these comic icons?
Well, what can I say...it’s a unique experience; a dream come true if you will. I have been a long-term fan of both since I watched them in The Office, and was honored to be asked to appear on Extras. They are both great writers and lovely guys; like you could tell Ricky anything and he will spin it into a little story/episode. Furthermore, we have had great interest from actors and the press alike, and I can reveal that Johnny Depp is due to appear, but that's all you're getting!
I must admit Warwick, when I first heard about the sitcom, I was surprised. What are you hoping viewers will gain from it?
Firstly, entertainment I suppose...I'd be pretty worried if it can't even provide that! (haha). Apart from that, maybe a slight insight into the life of a little person, who’s also an actor? The character is nothing like me, but he is me...you understand what I mean? Foremost though, it’s there to get laughs.
Willow was such a big release; and it was the second time you worked with George Lucas. What has it been like working with such an iconic director?
George has been such a big part of my career; after all, he gave me my first break in Jedi (Star Wars) – and then again in the Ewok movies – and he was also involved in Labyrinth I did in 1985. But yeah, Willow...he really took a risk there, because it was such a big role. No doubt about it, he went out on a limb – deciding to make the hero of this movie the underdog – but as we know, audiences love this. We bury our heads about it, but the truth is that audiences relate much more to this sort of character, rather than the generic tall, dark dashing hero that used to be thrust upon us.
When it comes down to it though, George really is a lovely man – thoughtful, kind, generous – sure, just look at the lovely foreword he wrote for my book. I never knew he felt so passionately towards me, so it was a real nice thing to read...and to hear I suppose!
I have to ask this Warwick. As you may have guessed, I’m Irish ( Warwick: 'Haha, I know where this is going!' ) and one of my favourite films of yours has to be Leprechaun. Would you mind talking us through it, and how it came to be?
It’s good. The writer who came up with the idea originally wanted me to do it, but never asked – he assumed, after seeing Willow, that I wouldn’t be interested. In fact, he had even held a couple of casting sessions before a friend encouraged him to send it across. Thankfully he did and I think he was surprised by my response, but I just loved it. The idea, the style, the look – it was just a great idea.
Of course, as an actor you have to be careful not to become typecast in roles, so I saw Leprechaun as my chance to prove I could happily manage other roles. Little did I know we would end up doing six...and people are crying out for another one...a seventh! Thing is, I would definitely do another one if the script can be sorted, and Lionsgate (who own the rights to the franchise) give it the green-light.
However, to this day I’m a bit worried that I have offended the Irish and their fine community with the role, and that I’ll be banned from the country. Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be the case, as I have since done two films over there and a pantomime in Belfast; but, as much as I love the people and the country, I wasn’t a fan of the rain – I’m sure I shrunk when I was over there!
You mentioned typecast earlier Warwick – did you ever feel that you were [typecast] because of your size?
No, not at all. I have been asked constantly over the years whether I got fed up of sci-fi and the fantasy genre, but I never have done. First and foremost, I am an actor, so to be given the opportunity to act – and be paid for said acting – is brilliant. I have never turned my nose up at a sci-fi role because ‘I fancied doing a drama’ – it’s just not who I am, and I never intend to.
Most importantly though, I adore the creativity and diversity that only the sci-fi and fantasy genres can provide. Characters are more interesting to play; story lines are more intrinsic and it's just generally more fun to work on a sci-fi or fantasy release. To work on something like Harry Potter, where you’re totally immersed in Goblin make-up – which, in this instance, involves donning dentures and contacts – is just incredible, and the feeling of looking in the mirror and recognising nothing is something that only fantasy can offer you.
For me, fantasy and sci-fi are what cinemas were made for; you go in there, the lights go out and you are transferred to a whole different world – no other genre can offer you that sort of existential reality.
I couldn’t agree more Warwick, and I think it’s safe to say that is why the Potter films have been so successful. Talking about Potter, you know Radcliffe et al very well, so how do you think they will survive when the franchise ends?
Well they have all made the transition from child actor to adult actor seamlessly, so I think it's safe to say they will do all right. In fact the other week I was in New York and went to see Daniel [Radcliffe] in his Broadway musical, ‘How to Succeed Without Really Trying’, and he was an absolute joy to watch. He is so charismatic – he can sing, dance, emote – he is just an infectious performer.
I know Rupert [Grint] is working on a movie; Emma’s got a great career ahead of her – they all have something different about them. Saying that, the likes of Tom Felton and all the others outside the main three are all doing well too...and rightly so. They add so much to the franchise and I’m sure all of them will go on to great things. Saying that, you still need some luck in this industry – being in the right place at the right time – but ultimately I have every faith in each one of them.
Warwick, it must have been great to come into a franchise so well supported prior to its release. Sure Willow was brilliant – as were Leprechaun and the many others you have featured in – but very few had the pre-established fan base of the Potter series.
I would agree with that. A lot of the following was from the book, the originating source of everything Hogwarts, but the Potter franchise has been so successful because of its open-ended attraction. While the fans came to see it, the franchise succeeded because it managed to attract the media-bound audiences, individuals who wouldn’t ordinarily read a book. I think they always wanted them to be treated as separate entities, to be seen as two different forms of art.
But yeah, I still can’t get over it. I went to the launch of the exhibition in New York and it was like a premiere; there were fans, media attention and a huge hype surrounding it, so I cannot wait till the actual premiere in July. It's going to be emotional, but it's always a pleasure.
We recently reviewed Deathly Hallows: Part One, and our reviewer really picked up on the fact that it appeared to be building a foundation, a background story for the second half...
I’m glad she picked up on that, because this is exactly what we were hoping to achieve from the first instalment of Deathly Hallows: Part One...keep hold of her! In a way, I am looking forward to the second, and think it will be a fitting conclusion to a franchise over ten years old.
However, I’m not looking forward to it because of how sad it has to make it. The epic destruction of Hogwarts was especially hard to deal with; it’s hard to explain how you can become so attached to a set but, presumably due to the large amount of time you spend there, it really has become a second home for me. The Great Hall in particular, I loved that set. We had so many great scenes there over the years – the great feast of the first film; house sortings; the guild ball – it just means so much to you.
I am going to miss everything about the Potter lifestyle, from the actors to the sets, but I am so proud to have been part of it. Also, there’s a load more to come – from the exhibition to studio tours – so although it may be disappearing from our screens, Harry and co. will remain in our hearts.
Warwick was speaking to Shadowlocked at the VIP launch of Warwick Castle's latest attraction, Merlin: The Dragon Tower. His book, Size Matters Not, is available from Amazon, Play and his own website; and his sitcom, Life's Too Short, will be shown on BBC2 in the autumn.
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