Interview: Warwick Davis

We talk to the veteran actor about his career, before the release of his autobiography.

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253WarwickYour breakthrough role was, of course, Willow. Looking back on the film, do you think that it’s aged well?

Yeah, it hasn’t aged badly at all. It’s kind of timeless in the sense that there’s not really anything to date it particularly, there’s no fashions or anything, except for my mullet perhaps, there’s nothing else that will. Special effects-wise, I suppose, it can be become dated as we’re used to seeing things that are beyond imagination nowadays.

The film itself was quite groundbreaking in terms of effects, though.

Absolutely, it was the first use of morphing, I think? It was, at its time, right on the forefront. And the biggest compliment I get today is people saying, well they used to say a few years ago, that they had to buy another copy of the film because they’d worn out their VHS that they had. Now they can’t wear out a DVD, but they still say ‘Oh, my kids watch that all the time, I grew up with it, I showed it to my kids’ so it’s generational. It’s a good family movie and it seems to be one that people go for. That’s lovely, it’s a big compliment, and who knows, we might be looking forward to a nice Blu-ray version soon.

Of course, you were acting alongside Val Kilmer – that must have been quite an experience?

It was quite the experience. Val, you never know quite where you are with him, he’s all over the place. One minute you think he’s mad, then he’s euphorically happy and having a laugh with you, then he’s serious and you think ‘Are you having a laugh still?’ I never knew quite where I was. But he was the kindest, most generous man that I could have hoped to work with and really, again, with a few figures on that film he was one of the most important people in getting me through the movie. It was gruelling, it was particularly difficult for me, and he was there to keep me going and keep my spirits up. Along with Ron Howard of course. He had some great acting tips for me, and we still keep in touch now. When he comes to London we do speak. He’s often very elusive, but when do meet up we have a good time, and we’re straight back where we were, we pick up where we left off. Which is good, because we were very close for six months, and you pick up a kind of bond with somebody.

We were talking about Leprechaun briefly, and it’s one of your better-known roles of course. We’ve been hearing recently that it’s being considered for a remake.

There’s all sorts of stories out there, and everybody who loves the story wants a sequel, and wants a follow-on. Somebody that I know has pitched to Lionsgate with a concept, and there’s various other scripts that float around. I don’t know whether any of them have officially found their way in.

Would you consider being a part of it?

Oh yeah! I mean, the thing is, it sounds really… I don’t know what it sounds like, but I’d love to do it again because it’s such a fun character to play. The make up’s horrible. And gruelling. But just to get out there, and especially when you play a character that is kind of culturally significant in that field of horror movies. When you get to put that gear on again you feel extra special. So each one I’ve done, because we got into five and six, there was a certain amount of respect for the character from the crew and the cast members, and when we were filming on location, other people that would be around the set would say ‘Hey, it’s the Leprechaun!’ It was a really cool character then. So that would be one reason to step back into those shoes again, another being that it is such a blast and you get to do such outrageous things. There were really no boundaries to the character. Because I established him, I know him better than anybody, I can take a script and go anywhere with the performance and it really doesn’t matter because that’s what he is.

And of course you have some great experiences, such as the guerrilla shoot in Las Vegas?

Oh God. Oh my God, as I say in the book it was quite an evening, just getting made up in the hotel room and having to walk out into the casino, and then actually filming on the strip. Although I think I blended in quite well there, because you get a lot of characters in Vegas, people are so used to the spectacle that when they see a leprechaun walking around is [the norm]. They either think they’ve had a bit too much to drink, or it’s some sort of luck charm. I bet I lost people a lot of money that night because they were all going ‘We’ve seen a leprechaun, let’s go put some money on, it must be a good omen’.

Outside of big productions, you’ve also done a lot of smaller films, such as Small Town Folk?

Yeah, I’m often sent scripts from independent film producers. And this group of lads sent me a script through, and some concept art with it. And that was what really intrigued me the most, it had a great look to it – they were very adept at Photoshop and they’d created some great concept art. It looked very much like the film ended up looking, with this almost slightly surreal look to the world. It appealed to me, just that image. And also the character that I was and what they did, that appealed to me, the Knackermen. I think that’s a real job back in the day, when we used to drive around in horse and carriage the entire time, horses used to die at the edge of the road and the Knackerman would come and clean it up. That’s as I understood it, maybe they were telling me a load of nonsense to make me do it! So yeah, I like to support that sort of filmmaking because they’re the future of the industry, basically, and I’m hoping that when I’m old and out of work, these directors I’ve helped out when they were young will come along and say ‘Oh Warwick, we’d love to use you in our film’, and by then they’re making multi-million dollar budgeted movies. We’ll see if that plan works out. But they were a great group of lads, and we shot it in an industrial unit down near Southampton. It was all good.

So, Harry Potter. How did you become involved with the films, was it through the audition process?

It was an audition process, yes. I’d had my ear out for a while, because I’d read the book and thought that it could be really good. And when I heard that they were doing it I knew that I had to get on to this. So the agent said that I had an audition, I prepared well for it, went in and did it. It was a great experience, I had lots of fun with it, and I came away with a good feeling. But sometimes, in an audition that’s not really a good sign. I’ve often done that and thought ‘Yes, yes I‘ve nailed it,’ and then you don’t. And other times I’ve come out a bit anxious and I’ve got it. So three weeks went by, and then I heard that ‘Yeah, you’ve got that, and you’ve got that as well’, I had two parts. But then, at that time, little did I know that it was going to become a part of my life for 10 years. It was 2000 then, it’s now 2010, and I’m still doing it. I still will be doing it until June.

How did you feel about the decision to split the final two films?

I think it was good, because I think sometimes in the past we could have done that with the other stories, because they are so rich. I’m never actually disappointed… well, I am disappointed because sometimes it leaves my parts out… but I think the readership is sometimes disappointed. They’ll read in their minds, and in the later books certainly, you were starting to think ‘Ooh, I wonder what this is going to look like in the movie, I bet this will look fantastic’ and then when certain sequences weren’t in there, there was possible disappointment. So I think it’s a really good decision, because we can do justice to what is the last book and what is the finale of, if you take it as a whole saga, the end has to build, do you know what I mean? I don’t remember a point in the films though, where we knew ‘Right, now we’re going all the way’. I just remember each time we were finishing, we were wondering if we were going to be back again. If I’d have known 10 years ago it would have been lovely. Because as an actor, you really live day-to-day, you live by each job you do. And my theory of really keeping my feet on the ground is to say that there is no rule to say a producer will use me again in a film. So I look at this job that I’m doing and relish it, because it may well be my last. Because who’s to know? It keeps you grounded, it keeps you humble, and it keeps you doing your best work, because you know that you’re only as good as your last movie. Val Kilmer said that once, actually, when he was disappointed because one of his films had flopped.

Size Matters Not: The Extraordinary Career Of Warwick Davis, by Warwick Davis, is published on 22 April 2010 through Aurum Press.

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