Obviously now in serious danger of becoming his on-screen counterpart in Life’s Too Short, genre legend Warwick Davis – he of Return Of The Jedi, Willow, Leprechaun and Harry Potter – spoke to us about his Tamagotchi-style iOs app PocketWarwick (available as a free download from iTunes), and it quickly became one of the oddest conversations ever….
Tell us a bit about PocketWarwick, the game.
PocketWarwick basically sees Warwick Davis living in your phone, quite literally. You have to look after him, make sure he’s kept fit and healthy and, at the same time, take him from being a Z-list celebrity all the way up to being an A-list celebrity, which is ultimately where every actor wants to end up. And at that point, he earns a lot more money, and life gets easier.
So you need to take care of his wellbeing, and his career…
Yeah, it’s a sort of balancing act, which is very much like life as an actor in reality. When you’re starting out, you haven’t got any success or notoriety, so you have to go to a lot of auditions, and when you get the role it may not pay that much money, but nonetheless, you’ve got to keep doing that, you’ve got to be able to eat. You’ve got to be careful, you can’t be overly extravagant and buy all those tempting things that may be on offer and so, the game kind of simulates that, but it’s main focus is humour and being entertaining, because that’s ultimately what I set out to do.
It seems like there’s a lot of potential for humour there; you can choose costumes and pick from made up film roles and so on?
Yeah, there’s loads! It’s my sense of humour through and through. From the film titles – there are 350 different job offers your agent sends through; I wrote all of those, there’s loads of humour in them, and then there’s the dialogue that Warwick speaks during the game, and then just visually it’s funny, which was a combination of things that I said to the designers and their humour, as well. Matmi are talented group of designers and programmers and they really got my humour and got the humour of the game, and started throwing in their own touches, which I loved.
But everything you see in the game is tailored to me, everything PocketWarwick eats, I like. There are some of my favourite foods in the game, and I wouldn’t allow anything in that I didn’t actually like eating in real life. It became a little bit ridiculous, but there would be times when they’d send me this beautiful artwork for something and say “we’ve created this” and I’d say “yeah, but I don’t eat that. I don’t eat it, so it shouldn’t be in the game.” I don’t know whether that matters, but I wanted it to be close to actually having me in your phone.
So you can’t feed you things that you don’t like… sorry, that sounds a bit weird.
It sounds a bit weird, anyway.
Okay. So, you can’t feed PocketWarwick things he doesn’t like? Can you make bad decisions in the game?
You can feed him things that aren’t good for him, and there’s a reaction to that. The food that you get in the game, that you never have to replenish, is chocolate biscuits, which I’ve often spoken of as my favourite food in the world. In reality, they’re McVities chocolate biscuits, but in the game, they’re McMatmi’s chocolate biscuits, and there’s an unending supply of those for PocketWarwick. And they’ll nourish him a tiny bit and satisfy him, but not as much as a good old chicken dinner or a glass of wholesome orange juice, you know?
Can you do other things that are the wrong decision, like picking films that damage your career, for example?
Yeah, I mean, your agent advises you and there are things that you end up having to spend more money – coins in the game, that is – on, and they don’t necessarily deliver that wage back again, but buying that outfit or whatever you had to invest in that audition, that will crop up again later on.
If you don’t look after your Warwick, if he’s not going to any auditions, what happens to him is similar to what happens to an actual actor when they’re out of work for some time. So I’m not going to spoil it, but you may well go into the game one day to find a very sad looking Warwick. That’s representative, though, of me back in the early Nineties, when I don’t think I’d had any acting work for about a year and I was thinking, ‘I need to pick a plan B now, this isn’t going too well.’ Fortunately I haven’t looked like that since, so yeah, what you see is based on actual events.
Will it be on Android as well as iOS?
It will be very soon. The iOS version is much easier to create, initially, and then port to Android, so that was the decision that was made. I originally understood it’d be about a month, that it would take, but I’ve just been informed it might be as soon as Monday. It’s going really well. I want to get it out there so everyone can enjoy it. I want to be in everyone’s pocket.
It sounds sinister when you say it like that.
It does, doesn’t it? What’s been lovely for me is being able to play with myself, which again sounds a bit dodgy. To sit and have my iPhone and have a game that’s all about me is really cool. It’s a lot of fun. And even though I know the game inside out, I find it really addictive to play. I put it down and think, ‘oh, I’d better check on him, it’s been half an hour.’ It’s really got that addictive side to it.
Does it work as a motivational tool for you? Like you’re playing with him and you think ‘maybe I should drink some orange juice…’
Yeah, exactly. I see him chugging it down and he comments on how nice it is, and I think, ‘maybe I should have that.’ Actually I’ve got apple juice at the minute. He does like that as well. But it makes me think about auditioning – I hadn’t auditioned for anything for a while, and I did an audition the other day, and now life is imitating art.
You’ve kind of got an imaginary status bar over your head while you’re auditioning.
Exactly. You know, I ran around and prepared for it and decided what to wear, which is what you have to do in the game.
The game was your idea initially, right? Why did you want to make a game?
Yes, it was. It came out of my love of performance and my love of iPhones. I thought, ‘How can I combine these? I want to be in the phone.’ And I sort of stuffed myself in a phone. That’s what I said initially, I want to live in here, I want this little character of me in here, and you’ve got to look after him, and he’s trying to be a better actor than he is, he wants to be an A lister and he’s only a Z lister. That’s where we started – the people I pitched it to, to fund it, really loved it, and they knew a brilliant developer, which was Matmi, who could take it and programme it, and that partnership was formed and the game started to take shape. It all happened quite quickly, really – I was surprised how quickly. They storyboarded the idea and made flowcharts of what happens if you do this or that and it was all quite complicated. It felt like a maths lesson at first, but once we got it on a computer I could just sit there and direct the whole thing. There’s a big team involved, around 15 people who sit there and create art and sound for it and programme the actual game.
How much of your performance was there, then?
Quite a bit, I mean there’s photographs of expressions, and then the actual recording of dialogue, which I did in the office here. When I had an idea I’d do a little session of recording and send it to them. At the beginning, about six months ago, there wasn’t much audible dialogue in the game, but then I did a few ridiculous recordings – especially in the shower, when he has a shower – and everyone was chuckling away and said ‘let’s do some more’. So I did a few more, and so it went on. So it’s at the stage now where Warwick has a comment for just about everything he does or everything he has involvement with in the game. Because we found it just worked so well and I enjoyed doing those recordings.
You’ve talked about the humour in the game – is it adult humour, or is it suitable for kids?
It’s suitable for everyone. At the point when I initially recorded the shower stuff, it was an adult-only game [laughs]. It was really funny at that point; I mean, it’s still funny now, but I had to just go, ‘OK, what’s appropriate and what isn’t?’ So it’s suitable for everybody.
Are you much of a gamer yourself? What games do you play?
Yeah! I’ve got board games on here, which sounds a bit weird, but I think Monopoly is very good to play on the iPhone, because it sorts it all out for you so you don’t have to mess around with the cars. I like the Reckless series games, Reckless Racing and Reckless Getaway, I like them. Bike Baron, I was into that for a while but now it does my head in, I’ve got to a point now where I can’t get past certain obstacles. Angry Birds, well, I played it quite a lot early on, but now I’m annoyed with it. I’m like an angry dwarf playing Angry Birds standing on a platform at the railway station, so I don’t play that in public now.
Oh, I know what I like at the minute – Face Juggler. If you want to laugh, do that. If you’re at a dinner party and it’s boring, just start playing with that, it’s funny. And Akinator! I like that. I like thinking of me, and then I end up being the answer. But not everyone can do that, can they? But it does work.
I’ve got a lot of utilities on my phone, like things to test the speed of networks, I like doing that. And what else – data usage, that’s another good one so you can see how much data you’ve downloaded.
Are you a loyal Apple fan, then?
Yeah, very much so. I’ve got every kind of thing they’ve come out with for the last five or six years. I haven’t got the iPhone 5 yet because I sort of don’t really know what it’s going to be like to have a phone as big as I am. It’s bigger than the iPhone 4. Although there’s a lot more room for PocketWarwick in there. So it’s good for him, but not so good for me. I’d like to see him on an iPad Mini, that’d be good.
It’s interesting, I think the reason why the idea of the game works is that people feel affectionate towards you, or they feel like they know you because you’ve been in so many films that people hold close to their hearts.
People say they grew up with those films, which makes me feel old, but it is quite a compliment. I hope people do feel affectionate towards him – I saw some tweets from people this morning from people downloading it and they did want to keep an eye on him.
That’s got to be a bit weird for you, people talking about what they’re doing with their PocketWarwicks. We’re encouraging people to send in screenshots of what they’re up to with him.
I don’t know if that’s nice or a bit creepy, for you seeing that.
Well, he isn’t actually me. And I’m used to it, because there have been action figures of my characters and dolls, and as an actor you get used to that sense of people sort of taking you in as part of their family. I’m fine with that, kind of keeping them company. And it is company – if you’re at the bus stop all alone, you’ve got a little mate there in your phone who wants to interact.
PocketWarwick is available for your iPhone or iPad now, download it free from iTunes.