Warwick Davis ('Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood')
'The Eveready Ewok Speaks'
Warwick Davis's career as an actor came about purely by chance. Back in 1981 his Grandmother heard a radio announcement calling for people under four foot tall to appear in the new 'Star Wars' film, 'Return of the Jedi'. He played the tiny Ewok, Wicket, who became one of the film's lead creature characters.
After the success of 'Return of the Jedi', Lucas went on to make two Ewok movies for ABC television: 'Caravan of Courage' in 1984 and in 1985, 'Battle for Endor'. Davis reprised his performances as Wicket in both. In the same year, Davis appeared alongside David Bowie in the fantasy film 'Labyrinth'.
In 1987 Davis was called to Elstree Studios in London for a meeting with Ron Howard and George Lucas. They discussed a new project, 'Willow', written specifically with Davis in mind. This epic fantasy has since become a film favorite with family audiences throughout the world. After the success of 'Willow', Davis was cast in two series of the BBC television classic 'The Chronicles of Narnia'. In 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader', Davis portrayed the swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep, and in 'The Silver Chair' he played Glimfeather the owl.
Up until this point in his career, Davis had always been cast as a goodie. On reading the script for 'Leprechaun', he was thrilled to learn that this Leprechaun was in fact a ‘baddie.' The film achieved cult status with movie fans in America, which has since prompted no less than five sequels to be made.
In 1995, Davis appeared as Gildrig in 'Gulliver's Travels,' which was followed two years later by another stint on the set of 'Star Wars'; this time for 'Episode 1: The Phantom Menace'. Davis played no less than four roles in the film, with character names such as Wald and Weazel.
Later in 1997 Warwick starred in 'A Very Unlucky Leprechaun' (which he played a friendly Leprechaun!), which was followed the next year by it's sequel, 'The White Pony'. Since then Warwick has taken on the role of ‘Professor Flitwick’ in all three of the 'Harry Potter' movies.
Chatting with him at his home in Peterborough, England, we talked about all things ’Star Wars,’ ‘Willow,’ ‘Leprechaun’ and, of course, ‘Harry Potter’, but it was the way that Warwick was genuinely willing to devote a full hour to the cause that bled through on more than one occasion. What follows is one of the most informative, and honestly-told stories of a career that I have ever had the pleasure to be told:
Chapter 1: ’Star Wars: Return of the Jedi’
What was it like back in 1983 to have gotten such a wonderful role as an Ewok in the year's biggest movie, and yet not to be able to even point yourself out to your friends on screen! "I was eleven years old at the time and so when I went back to school I didn't brag about it at all. A couple of friends really picked up on the idea that I was in this movie though. They were kinda the particular 'Star Wars' fans of the school and this particular friend of mine Daniel used to really bug me about Carrie Fisher. He was obsessed with her, but he really didn't take any convincing about me being in the film, he just accepted it and it soon became the talk of the school."
Did you sign a few autographs at that time in school? "Yeah, I think I did and I found the other day an autograph book of mine and it's got all of the signatures of all of the actors from 'Star Wars' ... and then I'd signed it myself: 'To Warwick, Best wishes, from Warwick.' Pretty ridiculous really," he laughs. "But, I didn't really become a brat after that film, because it was just such a brilliant experience."
Tell me more about why Mark Hamill gave you 'Star Wars' toys and why Carrie Fisher fed you milk and cookies! "Well, I don't know why Mark did that, but he had one day asked me what 'Star Wars' toys had a got and then asked me what would I like. I then reeled off this huge list of stuff and the very next day he came in with all these boxes including the Millennium Falcon, the Darth Vader carrying case, and then just numerous figures that I needed. And Carrie Fisher, we'd done the scene in the forest; which I was very lucky to get to do, and she was really concerned that I was too hot in this costume. And so after every take when the head was taken off, they would run in with a shamy leather soaked in this menthol-type stuff. It was very cooling when it was placed on the back of your neck. And then Carrie Fisher would be there with some chocolate milk and cookies just to make sure I made it through the rest of the scene."
"I wasn't aware that I was showing any signs that I was going to keel over because they actually always used to call me the 'Eveready Ewok'," he laughs. "I was always the one saying let's do it again and all the older, short actors playing Ewoks would be asking for breaks!"
Chapter 2: ’The Return of the Ewok’
Tell me more about the behind-the-scenes documentary, ‘The Return of the Ewok’ "It was filmed by David Tomblin, the first assistant director who told me that he would wake up in the middle of the night with ideas for this. Which eventually became this script for 'Return of the Ewok.' It told the story of me, Warwick getting the job in the movie and becoming an Ewok. Although that wasn't the factual way that they explained how I got the job! But then, with the fantasy blending with the fact, I ended up going to the airport as an Ewok and having to change back to myself to get through quarantine and then meeting an astronaut and being taken to Endor in his rocket! It's really brilliant and at the very end of the piece my mum and dad come walking through the forest telling me that they'd been looking for me everywhere, that they'd had to come all the way there on a rocket and that I'd missed my tea back at home!"
What was the overall purpose for the short film? "I really don't know. Whether they were intending to run it as a short before main features to promote 'Return of the Jedi' or something, I don't know. But we spent many, many lunch breaks, Sundays and days off doing this and everybody lent their time as well. It's just one of those treasures now and I only know of about six VHS copies of it as the original film print is lost. But, the fans get to see it at the big 'Star Wars' events round the world as I'll take it along and it's always a big hit."
Chapter 3: ’Willow’
Is it true that George Lucas wrote ‘Willow’ specifically for you? "Yes, but I think George had the idea for this film back in 1983 because he mentioned it to my mum when we were doing the Ewok movies for TV; just after 'Return of the Jedi'. It turned out that what he was talking about at that time was 'Willow.'
In 1987 I had a meeting at Elstree Studios in London; which is where we shot all the 'Star Wars' movies, with Ron Howard and George who both told me all about 'Willow.' They told me about the movie, but it was kinda like 'Here's the bait, but you haven't caught it yet because we're gonna audition loads of people for the role along with you’," he laughs. "I then don't remember what happened immediately after that, but I remember then I went to about four auditions for 'Willow’ along with hundreds of other short actors from all over the world and was eventually asked to go to LA. There I auditioned the whole day with actors coming in as Madmartigan like John Cusack and all sorts ... and Val Kilmer was one of them. I think they were looking for a chemistry and after that day I think they told me that I'd got the part."
Why all the auditions? "I think they just wanted to be sure that I wasn't too young. Because at seventeen I was gonna have to portray a father of two children and they just wanted to check that I had the ability to do that."
Chapter 4: ’The Leprechaun’
Bring us up-to-date on the new story line for 'Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood' "Well, he's back in the hood as the title suggests, although it's not a direct sequel to number five ['In The Hood']. And I do think its a shame that they call it 'Back 2 Tha Hood' because it doesn't seem as if it's a direct sequel to that one as the only same person in the movie is me! So, the Leprechaun is back there again creating havoc with another group of girls and boys who have stolen his gold again and are using it for not such legal things! But, what's different about this one is he's a lot more physical in this one and instead of using a sort of kinetic power to disarm somebody, he's in there with his fists and weapons and he's getting physical. Which for me was quite refreshing and it's one of the things that attracted me to getting really keen on doing the role again."
Do you do your own stunt work? "Well, yeah and it's really tough as we do these in about two weeks and it really is a grueling schedule for these movies and every day I'm going back to the hotel with bruises and strains and things! But, I'm one of those people that can't do anything but give 110% to it at the time ... whatever the consequences are later."
And you did yet another commentary track for this 'Leprechaun' movie "Yeah and I did quite enjoy doing them, but 'Willow' was very hard work because it was such a long time [14 years] after the movie that I did that one. So, I did review the film once and try and make notes and try and recall things that would be of interest to people. But it was much easier for 'Leprechaun 6' as I was sitting there with the director and it was only a year after we'd actually done the shooting of the film. So, with Steve [Ayromlooi] we just sat there and we talked about the film. I kinda interviewed him a little bit as well and then I threw in some Leprechaun facts that a friend of mine had brought along."
Is there word already of a ‘Leprechaun 7’?! "Well, I dunno. You just never know with these things because every time they call me about one I'm shocked! And you'd think by the fifth time I would have gotten used to it. It's one of those things that's weird as there's quite a big fan base for these movies and although nobody likes to admit it, everybody's seen them," he laughs. "But I was getting email on my website before this movie had even come out asking me if there was going to be a number 7? And I was saying come on guys, watch this one first! But, yeah, people are keen on it, but I've not heard any word myself."
But what could they do to the 'Leprechaun' that would spice the character up for another installment? "Well, they want a 'Vs.' movie next. Like, 'Leprechaun Vs. Chucky'. They are doing a new 'Chucky' movie at the moment in Prague, but I haven't had a call."
"But I think it would be nice to see him battle something else, like another mythological creature from Scotland say. They have things called Red Caps * and lots of other weird and nasty kinda creatures. You see, the Leprechaun's weren't nasty so if I go to Ireland I'm gonna get pummeled," he laughs "As I've kinda just created this bad character."
*Information Note: Red Caps are small, Goblin-like creatures. Also known as Lowland castle spirits, they are some of the most bloodthirsty Scottish elves that are described as short, old elves with a sturdy build and long grey hair. They are about four feet tall and have red eyes and get their name from coloring their red caps … with human blood!
How did you all decide on the final accent for the 'Leprechaun' "It's a voice more than an accent, I think. If you watch the first movie I think the director pushed the accent a bit more, but as it went on - and because in each movie the directors were new - they were kinda saying 'Warwick, you're kinda doing your own thing so we'll leave you alone with that' and they kinda got on with directing the movie as a whole rather than focusing on me. He's just a voice, it's a little bit Irish, but it's become very familiar to a lot of people."
How long does it take to get all that make-up applied to your face? "Well, it's about a three hour make-up and it's done by Gabe Bartalos who is a fantastic guy … and he's either a genius or he's insane - that's all I’ll say! He worked on the first movie and he designed the make-up and then applied it and in each subsequent film we've been the only two who have remained the same on each film. I mean, you have to be able to get on with someone like that. Without him I'm just me with a voice and without me it's just the make-up which looks nice but doesn't really do anything. We really are a team when we do these things."
So, in this day and age of replacement actors, how is it that you have remained the man behind this character for over 10 years now? "Hopefully, it's because I'm doing a good job that they kinda do ask me and are fairly accommodating ... to a degree. But, I feel that I'm still disposable in the role! They never let me feel too comfortable with it and I think that's purely Hollywood tactics really. Because they always say that they have somebody there that they could put into the role if they can’t work it out with me and I'm always thinking if they really do or not," he laughs. "And they know that I have such a loyalty to the role. Whenever you create a character you do use a little feed of something inside of you, a little bit of yourself to make that character. And so yes, believe it or not there's a bit of me in the Leprechaun - I think it's my mischievous side. And so it becomes very personal to you and you also feel a certain loyalty to the people that enjoy the movies. The wait is always an anguishing time. But at the end of the day I just enjoy working."
SPOILER ALERT! Reveal a behind-the-scenes secret about the filming of 'Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood' "Yeah, right at the end of the movie the Leprechaun drowns in this cement that sets hard and encases him in there for ever more. But, the night we shot this scene it was right at the end of the shoot and about three or four o'clock in the morning in LA and they'd made up this big vat of food stuff mixed with water which looked like un-set cement. They then said that I had to fall back into that and then let myself sink! Well, I thought that can't be too hard, so I fall back into the stuff ….. and I'm just laid on top of it and not going anywhere! So I start to struggle as if it was getting me, thinking that if I do that I can sort of wiggle myself down. But it was making me very buoyant, whatever this was you couldn't sink in it. So, I reached down and found some sandbags that were down in the bottom and literally had to pull myself down with every ounce of strength I had! And so Steve [Ayromlooi, director] said that they got one frame where I had totally submersed before I'd bobbed back up again and that's the one you see in the movie."
How did they get all that stuff off of you? "They just took me out afterwards and literally hosed me down with fire hoses! It was the only way to get the stuff off and so I'm stood in the middle of a parking lot in downtown LA being hosed off .... but, that's the glamour of showbiz folks," he laughs.
Any other cool stories? "Oh yeah, in most of the 'Leprechaun' movies I smoke something or other, but this time they introduced me to a bong! Now, I'd seen a few of these around the set and so when we came around to shooting this scene they told me it was filled with herbal tobacco ... but I still didn't know what to do with this bong! And it's amazing how many of the crew stepped forward and said, 'Well, you do it like this ...'!," he laughs again. "Well, now I know what you guys were doing in the Sixties!"
The Sixties?! More like six minutes before shooting! "Oh yes, probably," he giggles. "They all seemed to know what to do so there was no lacking of instructors there on the set. And in the final scene you'll see me coughing and spluttering and that was real coughing and spluttering as I could just not help myself! It just so blasted the smoke that my eyes were streaming and it was just a complete insult on my sinuses."
Do you think that the marketing for the 'Leprechaun' franchise around the world has been generally good? "It's really funny as Jennifer Aniston was in 'Leprechaun' before she was the famous Jennifer Aniston and after she became well known for 'Friends' they dusted it off and re-issued the video ... but this time with her name on the front in this huge four-leaf clover," he laughs. "Whereas before it was just me," he again laughs.
Well, if the roles had been reversed you might have been one of the 'Friends'! "Well, it was offered to me, but I turned it down,” he jokes. ”But, it's quite funny because they're doing the last series of 'Friends' and I'd never watched it; I have to be honest with you, and a couple of weeks ago I had to go and be part of this documentary about the phenomenon of 'Friends.’ All because I'd been someone who had worked with Jennifer. And they were asking me all these questions and they asked me how I saw the show and I was like, 'Oh yes, well, it's about these four people .....' and they were like, 'It's six!' Which shows how much I know about it," he laughs. "They obviously thought I was gonna come up with all this stuff and look like I knew what I was talking about and I just came out with was this nonsense."
Chapter 5: The ’Harry Potter’ Movies
It must have been a dream come true to land the role of 'Professor Flitwick' in the 'Harry Potter' movies "Oh, absolutely. I was most excited about that one. I was working on a comedy thing for the BBC and one of the other cast members who was about twelve had a book and it was 'Harry Potter.' And when the movie started coming together I wondered if there was something in it for me. As you know, my career has always consisted of being in sci-fi, fantasy, horror genre pictures so anytime I hear about anything like that I'm always thinking there might be something in there for me."
"But, it was many, many months later that they came to me and told me they were casting 'Harry Potter' and that they'd like to meet me for this character 'Professor Flitwick.' I hadn't read the book and so I went and bought a copy the night before the audition and flicked through. I found my scene and just got a general idea of the style of the whole thing. I went in and auctioned, had a great time improvising a little bit with Chris Columbus [director] , and I had to wait about three weeks later to hear if I'd got the part. But, as it turned out I was the only one who went up and read for it anyway! So, I had nothing to worry about, but they offered me the 'Goblin Bank Teller' at the same time. So, I had to play two roles, but I was very excited to get those roles and to be surrounded by this wonderful British cast."
Word has it that you actually played THREE characters in the 'Harry Potter' movies! "Yes, it's a little-known one, but I actually did the voice of 'Griphook'. He's the Goblin who, myself as the 'Bank Teller' I order to take Harry and Hagrid down to the vault. So, you see little 'Griphook' taking them down there; who the actual physical person is played by Verne Troyer ['Austin Powers'] and they asked me to do his voice. It was quite fun having three characters in the movie," he gently laughs.
Didn't that enhance your paycheck also?! "No it didn't, not at all," he sheepishly laughs. "It was just one of those things and didn't change it at all. I should have sat down and had a word with someone, but it would have been like, 'Well, yeah, you see, ... oh well, never mind'," he laughs again.
Is there anything about the forthcoming 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' for us to be aware of? "In particular I would just say that fans that may be concerned that they are not seeing Richard Harris now as 'Dumbledore' should not worry as Michael Gambon is a very adequate replacement for him. He doesn't try and do a Richard Harris impression, he does his own 'Dumbledore' which is wonderful and after you've watched it for thirty seconds you're completely at ease with it. He's 'Dumbledore' then. He's done it very, very well. But, I've got to be very careful about what I say," he laughs.
Has there ever been a prop leave the set of 'Harry Potter' and wind up at your house?! "Well, Annabelle my daughter was given something officially. She was given some Gringott's coins from the bank [Wizarding coins] which are lovely and were minted especially for the movie. But, I tell you what I would really like and that's a wand. I would love 'Professor Flitwick's wand, 'cause I actually have a 'Willow' wand here and I have it framed in one of those box frames."
But there must be a hundred of these damn wands all over the 'Harry Potter' set?! "Oh yeah, they have lots, but the props people are ever so secure with them. They'll hand them to you and you're almost having to sign for them when you get them. Immediately that it's lunchtime they're right there wanting the wand, before you can even get one step towards the door! Apart from that really, there's nothing else ... unless I wanted to have an old piece of make-up. But when you take it off at the end of the day it's all gooey and yuck! But now I'm thinking it would have been nice to have a piece of 'Professor Flitwick's face!"
Will you be in the fourth installment, 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' "Who knows? You always hope that your character makes it through the adaptation from book to script, but apparently they're writing a script for number four ... so who knows?! But, how they're gonna fit that massive book into one film, I don't know!"
Chapter 6: New Projects
What roles are you looking for these days? "I’m looking out for those really good parts that kinda allow me to act. Not to belittle any of the other stuff that I've done, and not to say I don't enjoy doing roles where I'm hidden behind masks and in costumes, but it would be nice to have a dramatic; or comedic role where I'm not having to be covered up."
Tell me more about your role in the upcoming 'Ray Charles Story: Unchain My Heart’ "Yes, that was really nice because the director Taylor Hackford just met with me and offered me the role there and then. And the writer had said that he'd written the role with me in his thoughts as well. It's just a nice little role where I help Ray on his way through the club that I'm the MC at onto the career that he then had. But, it was based on a couple of short guys who used to do MCing in the jazz clubs in America at that time."
What’s the latest word on your own on-hold movie project, 'Agent One Half’ "That's an idea that I came up with while we were shooting 'Willow'! It was this thing of this is great what we're doing here, but I'd love to be able to do something where I don't have to wear a wig! So, myself and David Steinberg, who was another short actor who played Meegosh [Willow's best friend] sat down one day and came up with this idea. And it's been kicking around and it's been in my filing cabinet for fifteen or sixteen years until I found the person who said that they knew a writer who would like to have a go at it. And that writer seemed to have the same kind of sensibilities and the same kinda ideas as I did and it developed and matured into this much better idea now. It's really the story of a top secret American agency, but all the agents are short and they are all named after fractions. So, I'm One-Half, and Seven-Eighths is the boss, and there's two-thirds and so on and we're the agents that back up the average size spies. So people like James Bond look like they're doing all the work, but really we're under the tables pulling all the levers, pushing all the buttons and getting things done while they take the credit!"
Chapter 7: “Getting Personal”
OK, so you’ve played an Ewok, a Goblin (‘Labyrinth’), a mouse and an owl (‘Chronicles of Narnia’), Yoda himself in certain scenes in ‘Star Wars: Episode 1,’ and a devious Leprechaun – but which role has brought you the most joy and why? "I think it would be 'Wicket' in the sense of being a child and being on the 'Star Wars' set. Being part of something that you had such a love and passion for before. It really did have an impact on me and it was my entry into this business. I mean, if I hadn't done that, who knows? Would I have been an actor or would I just have become an Insurance man like me dad."
"But, I'm quite creative so I think I would have done something artistic; something in that way. I don't think I would have become somebody who sold insurance or work in an accountancy firm. I was always a bit more creative than all that."
Perhaps you could have been the new Michealangelo?! "You never know, ... wasn't he the one who painted the ceiling?"
Yes, the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Italy "Yeah, but I do floors," he laughs. 'Skirting boards, you know."
Tell me more about your company, Willow Personal Management and what it does for the short actors of today? "It's really an agency and we represent actors under five feet. It was brought about because my father-in-law, who is four foot six and has been acting for 40 odd years now. He was represented by an agent here and was really a bit fed up by how he was being represented. So, we talked about it and we set up our own agency and it became Willow Management. The name really came from the film, because it was a very positive film for short people and we just felt that it was right to use. We represent over 100 actors now under five feet and about five actors over seven feet. And it seems to be the first place that producers call now to have somebody for commercials, theatre, television and all sorts of novelty characters. In fact, we are the largest agency for short actors in the world," he states proudly. "It's really great and so rewarding to be able to phone someone up and say 'You remember that audition you went for ... well, you got the part.'"
What’s the most fascinating thing to know about Warwick Davis? "Well, I'm very anti-litter," he says adamantly, "And it's something that I tend to get into a lot of trouble because of. I'm one of these people that when it comes to litter I just help myself. If I see somebody drop litter I have to tell them, however much my wife is telling me that the guy is far, far bigger than me and that's he's gonna beat me up! But, one day, I was walking along the street and at my feet fell a whole load of fish and chips and wrappings! It had been tossed out the window of this car and so I looked over and saw that there were two kinda rough-looking guys in the car and I picked up this fish and chips and threw it back in the car," he breaks into loud laughter. "I did it without thinking, but I walked off thinking 'Oh my God, I don't believe I just did that.' Nothing happened though as I think they were so stunned! I mean, you would be if this guy who's like three feet tall threw your fish and chips back at you. I mean, they just didn't do anything ... thank God!"
Finally, describe yourself in three words "Short, perfectionist, asshole," he laughs for the very last time ... for now!
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
Info on Gabe Bartalos - "He's a soon-to-become legendary cult director! Or, at least he is right now, but isn't recognized yet," Warwick laughs. "It's to do with this movie that he's done called 'Skinned Deep.' It was a movie that when we were doing either 'Leprechaun' 4 or 5 that he came up with it. He's actually very creative and the reviews that it's had at some of the film festivals are wonderful. It’s back to that golden age of horror in the late 70s. It's that kind of horror that everybody kinda loves. I play a character called 'Plates' who's obsessed with porcelain plates! And he uses them as weapons to throw at people! I live with this crazy family in this house, but there's this other family who break down in their car - as people will do in movies - who get brought into the house and then gradually killed off one by one. And it's getting absolute rave reviews at festivals and stuff."
Click here to check out all about 'Skinned Deep' the movie.
For more information on Willow Personal Management, check out:
Or, check out Warwick's own website at:
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