Warwick Davis: the small man with big talent
Warwick Davis has had a stellar career since he landed his first film role in Star Wars at the age of 11. Now he is on his way to Derby as founder of his own theatre company and co-producer of a touring farce.
At the beginning of the year he set up the Reduced Height Theatre Company for actors who are under four feet tall. His troupe is undertaking a three-month tour of Philip King’s 1945 comedy See How They Run.
So why did Warwick set up the company?
“The first reason is a selfish one, me wanting to appear in a play. I love going to the theatre and would always sit there and wish I was up there with the actors.
“I’ve been fortunate to do pantomime for many years and I debuted in the West End last year in (the Monty Python musical) Spamalot. But I still had the desire to do a play in a more traditional sense.
“I thought that after 33 years, perhaps the time had come for me to take action, produce something and cast myself in it.
“At the same time I was aware of colleagues of mine who are also short actors and their desire to do something which challenges them a bit more. They haven’t had the opportunities that I’ve had in my career.
“So I thought maybe I should form the Reduced Height Theatre Company, put on the plays ourselves and celebrate the acting abilities of the group.
“When you come to watch See How They Run there’s no reference to our size whatsoever. I did scale the set down to accommodate us, so when you watch the play you actually forget that we’re short actors and enjoy the play and the performances.”
Warwick Ashley Davis was born in Epsom, Surrey in 1970. He had spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenital, a rare disorder of bone growth that results in dwarfism. His parents were told he would not live to see his teenage years.
When he was 11 his grandmother heard a radio commercial asking for people under four feet tall to audition for a part in the Star Wars film Return of the Jedi. Director George Lucas picked Warwick for the role of Wicket.
Warwick’s career ballooned after that. He played the title role in Willow, a fantasy film directed by Ron Howard, before being cast as Professor Flitwick in the Harry Potter franchise.
On television he has played a satirical version of himself in the BBC comedy series Extras; starred as a fictional version of himself in Life’s Too Short, written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant; and last year was cast in one of his favourite shows, Doctor Who.
“The worst part for me was in the early ‘90s when there was no work for about eight months. You start to question whether this is the career for you.
“We had no money and it was a pretty difficult time. I was considering what else I could do. I’m quite good at graphic design and thought maybe that was the kind of business I needed to develop.
“Just as that was at the front of my mind a script came through the door for a series of films called Leprechaun. They were horror films. I did the first one of those and six more. My career just started to fall into place again.”
His lack of work had coincided with problems in his personal life. He had married Samantha who has achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. She became pregnant with their first child but Lloyd survived only nine days as he inherited both their genetic conditions.
Warwick admits it was a hard lesson to learn. Now they have two children, Annabel who is 16 and 11-year-old Harrison.
“It’s important when you’re an actor that you balance your work life with your family life,” says Warwick. “My family totally understand what I do and why I do it.
“Where possible they all come with me on trips, particularly in school holidays. We’ll travel together. During half term they’ll come and stay where I am. We try to make sure we’re together as much as possible.”
I’m pretty proud of being able to put on a tour and actually do what I dreamed of
He confesses that See How They Run is one of the best things he has done.
“Being in Star Wars is something I’ll always be immensely proud of. It was an ambition of mine for years to be in Doctor Who.
“Now I’m proud of everyone in See How They Run. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do a farce. The pace has to be there, the precision has to be there to make it work.
“I’m pretty proud of being able to put on a tour and actually do what I dreamed of.”
Warwick admits taking See How They Run around the country was a risky proposition.
“My co-producer made me very aware of the fact that you have to attain a certain level of sales to make sure you don’t end up losing money.
“But I enjoy a challenge. It makes you so proud watching the show happen and seeing the audience enjoying themselves.
“It’s such a gratifying feeling to give an audience a very entertaining evening as a performer. You get twice that when you know you’re responsible for making the show happen.”
“When you’re an actor or in the entertainment business, you’re only as good as your last piece of work. You have to keep a momentum going. If you drop off the conveyor belt they forget about you.
“Even though I’m on tour at the moment I’ve already worked out my next two jobs. I’ve had a meeting developing new stuff for later in the year. You have to be proactive.
“You’ve got to get out there and create work – give people ideas, inspire them to think about you in different ways for roles. That’s what I’ve spent my days doing.”
Twelve months ago Warwick presented his first television programme, an inspiring documentary for ITV about the Ovitz family – a touring Jewish musical troupe which included seven dwarfs who survived Auschwitz. More presenting will follow. This month he has a new show on ITV called Weekend Escapes With Warwick Davis in which he champions the great British holiday. He is also working on another programme for ITV but cannot release details just yet.
Whatever he does, Warwick’s humour will no doubt be evident. He is the first to make jokes like the ones on the Reduced Height Theatre Company’s Facebook page which ask whether the tour is a short engagement and if there are any half-price tickets.
“Whether you’re short or tall, you’ve got to have a sense of humour about yourself,” says Warwick.
“I like to break the ice. If someone’s a little bit uncomfortable about what they should say to me, I’ll make a self-deprecating joke about myself. Then they relax because they know I’ve got a sense of humour and they won’t be worried about accidentally saying the word short!”
Expect Warwick Davis to take even bigger strides in his career over the next few years. And that’s no tall story.
* This article appeared in the April 2014 issue of Country Images magazine