Since his big-screen debut as the Ewok Wicket in 1983’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi at age 12, Warwick Davis has been a pop culture staple, appearing in some of the most popular imaginative fare embraced by multiple generations, including the title role in the fantasy film Willow and the central figure of the Leprechaun franchise, as well as the Harry Potter films’ Professor Filius Flitwick and Griphook and a multiplicity of roles in subsequent Star Wars prequels, sequels, and Ewok-centric spinoffs.
The latest addition to Davis’ enviable filmography is Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, the sequel to the reworked live-action origins of one of Disney’s most iconic villains, as played in the films by Angelina Jolie. With the film newly arrived on home video, Davis joined ComicBook.com for a lively look at his expansive career, which also just included suiting up as Wicket again nearly four decades after debuting the character.
ComicBook.com: You, maybe more than any actor I know, really get to delve deep and create these really great, imaginative characters. Tell me about what that process was like for you on Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, figuring out who Lickspittle was and how you wanted to portray him.
Warwick Davis: A lot of it initially comes from the script, of course – It’s where you start with everything that you do in movies, unless there was a book that the script is based on. But you actually start with the script and then you can understand the story of the character and his journey through that and what he's involved in within the main plot and all of that stuff. And there'll be little descriptions in there about him and sometimes only a couple of words would describe maybe how he will look, or a behavior. So you grab all of that out.
Once you start working on the production, you go into costume fittings and makeup fittings and tests and those things. And then they all start to add layers on the character that you're creating. And then the environments as well, the sets.
Particularly with Lickspittle, it was laboratory-come-prison cell. That environment really helped me understand a bit more about this guy. The fact that he has to sleep under the bench there tells you a bit about what his situation is: it's basically a prison and he ain't getting out of there unless he does what the Queen's asked and comes up with a way of exterminating fairies, which is pretty soul-destroying for somebody like him to have to do.
Was there something unique about this experience on Maleficent that stands out from everything else on your long film resume? Was there something that tested you or challenged you in a new and fresh way?
I think I always feel challenged. I think that's the pull that you take on a project: that it is something that will challenge you. And Maleficent was a huge movie involving hundreds, if not thousands of people, and so just going, stepping into that for a start, and then the makeup – I'm very experienced with prosthetic makeups, but each one of those would present its own challenges.
With the performance of Lickspittle I had dentures and contact lenses, so wearing those sorts of things and making sure that you can be heard, your dialogue is still clear, you can see what you're doing. Because often the lenses will make it quite difficult to see. So there's always challenges, be they physical ones or mental ones.
I look at challenges as important, I think, to making you a better performer in the future. I'm giving the performance an energy that's right for the part. I think if we go into a set feeling relaxed and, “Oh, well, this is easy,” I don't think the energy then translates onto the screen. It's a quite dull performance. But if you're there, fired up, needing to work your hardest to be able to get this performance, then I think that delivers onto the screen for the audience as well.
You've been acting, especially in these very imaginative fantasy and science fiction landscapes, since you were a little boy. Tell me what you love about it that's exactly the same as you did when you were a kid, and what's matured about why you love what you do?
I love it. It's because acting, to me, is about, especially in fantasy and sci-fi, it's about becoming a kid again. Using that childlike imagination that we all lose when we grow up, but being able to imagine stuff that's there that isn't. You have to keep those skills in you and it's fun to create characters, be other people, but you're not. And so that's ... and I do genuinely love to perform and entertain.
If you didn't love acting in this business, you'd soon lose faith and do something else. You have to love it because you're working under very difficult conditions, harsh environments, through the night, all of that. So it's dark and takes you away from your family. You have to love the performance part of it, to actually say, "Yeah, this is worth it." And then when you see a finished production, of course, that can actually enhance that as well and you can realize, "Yes, it is all worth it. This has been brilliant."
It was great to see you back on the screen as Wicket in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. And I understand that was your own son with you on screen?
Oh, that was Harrison, yeah! He played Wicket's son, Pommet Warwick. And it was really great working with Harrison and bringing Wicket back again as well. I had a really great couple of days on the movie with that character again.
You've had the cool luxury of being able to re-enter the Star Wars world as different characters. Tell me what you enjoy about creating a new character each time out. And then what was the special fun of being back in the Ewok suit?
Whenever they call up and say, "We've got this character – would you want to do it?" It's academic that they actually ask you, because of course I'm going to want to do it. However small of a cameo it is, it's just such a blast for me being back on Star Wars again, because it's where I started – and being a fan as well, just making it onto a Star Wars movie! I remember on Rise of Skywalker when I walked into the set where the Blockade Runner is, it's parked. That's a full-scale set – there's no CG! The Blockade Runner, it's full scale. It's there, and it's just amazing to see this craft parked here.
It happened numerous times in all of the recent Star Wars for me, but it's great. And however small the character is, just being able to come up with its real backstory, what it gets up to, be it a droid, I just apply the same thought to a droid. It's not just a matter of standing there wagging about – you've got to think about this character. Why does it do what it did? What is its purpose in the Star Wars galaxy and what's happening for it at the moment? And then your personality has to come through. It's very, very important, because the droids in Star Wars, they all have personalities. I just enjoy thinking about all of that stuff.
Do your kids share your passion for Star Wars?
Yeah, they'd have to, really, because they've grown up with it. That's all they've ever known, is me being involved with Star Wars. Because when we're not doing the movies, I'm still very much part of the Star Wars galaxy in the other work that I do. Be it at promotions, be it at Star Wars Celebrations.
The family at home, they get to experience Star Wars every day. Working in the theme parks, doing stuff with Disney – whatever I'm doing, Star Wars comes up very often in the household. The kids, they've become accustomed to it. And Annabelle has been in a few Star Wars movies herself, my daughter. And Harrison, now, has also stepped into that world as well. And my wife, Hannah, actually – she was in [Star Wars: The Phantom Menace]. We've all stepped foot in that galaxy far, far away. Star Wars is very much a part of this house.
J.J. Abrams is obviously a huge Star Wars fan. Tell me about seeing J.J.'s reaction when he first saw you in your full Wicket costume.
Oh my God. He was like a little child! I couldn't see much, because it's hard to see out of an Ewok costume because the eyes are misted up. But he was just so, so excited. And this was his idea to do this, and he relished every moment of it. And his gratefulness to me doing it. I was like, "You don't have to be thankful. I just love doing it. Thanks for asking me." And, yeah. It was absolutely, absolutely brilliant.
And he's such a lovely guy, as well. There aren't many people in the world that are as lovely as he is. His energy and enthusiasm for Star Wars is infectious. Even if we didn't all love it enough working on it, him being there and [made it] absolutely, absolutely brilliant. He's a great guy and I really, again, will thank him now again for the opportunities of bringing Wicket to the screen. And also involving Harrison, my son, as well.
Harrison, he was always slightly disappointed, though he never would say, that he’d never managed to get into a Star Wars movie. But right here and now, he managed to get into that galaxy far, far away. And, hopefully, it won't be his last opportunity to do so as we look forward.
We've heard about this potential Willow revival. What got you excited when you heard about the plans? Because that was such a rich world that's just been there ripe for the picking and finally it's maybe going to happen. So tell me about your feelings about it.
Well, just to say at the get-go here that, at the moment, there's no official green light on the project. The internet and the fans got a little ahead of us, in the sense of giving it that status. Whereas, behind-the-scenes, there's a lot of feverish development going on and a lot of work to make this a reality, and all the right people have come together. That alignment of those people happened on Solo: A Star Wars Story when Ron [Howard, director of the original Willow film] came in to direct. John Kasdan, who's a writer on Solo, the first thing he said to Ron was, “I like Willow. I grew up with it. It's the reason I'm a writer.” But I'm sure his dad [Lawrence Kasdan] had some influence on that, as well.
And so that relationship was formed there over Willow, and [Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy and her enthusiasm for it. And then George Lucas came to visit one day and it felt like everything was just conspiring to actually make this happen. And, yeah, what started off as an enthusiasm is now quickly developing into something that could potentially become a series. But as I say, no green light yet. But I'd love to go back to that character. And he's older, he's wiser, so am I. And I think it would be a really fascinating, fascinating series if it was to happen.
You started on this journey, as you mentioned, as a fan and you have developed one of the biggest fan bases, from the horror genre like Leprechaun to Star Wars and Harry Potter and Willow. What has it meant to you to be so connected to the fans over the years of your career, knowing how much these things meant to you when you were growing up?
I can actually fully – hopefully fully – understand what it is to be a fan. Because, as you say, I was a fan of Star Wars before I was even in it. And know that I would appreciate what it's like to be a fan. When I first met Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher, I saw them as Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker. They were the characters the entire time we were making Return of the Jedi. It was such a wonderful experience.
And they say you should never meet your heroes, but I don't know where that expression comes from. It doesn't apply to those three, because they were so gracious to me. And I must've been the most annoying person to have around, because between taping I would go and talk to them. And it wasn't the etiquette. You don't go up to the star on the movie and start chatting about whatever it is: “What's it like to fly in the Millennium Falcon?” I'm sure Harrison Ford was like, "Oh my God, who is this kid?" But anyway, they were more than gracious and humored me and entertained me and were brilliant.
So I get that whole thing, what it is to be a fan. And I honestly say this with complete sincerity, fans are so important to not only Star Wars, because they had kept Star Wars and have allowed us to make more movies and TV shows or what have you. Because they've been there through thick and thin. There were huge periods, weren't there, in history, where we've had no Star Wars. But the fans kept it alive the whole time, to the point that we could make more movies in the future. Franchises don't do that. They finish and then there is no more. So I'm hugely grateful to them.
Not only fans of that, but the Harry Potter fans. Again, these people are hugely passionate about their love for the productions. And I just feel very humbled and lucky to be part of these great things as well. Even the Leprechaun fans, who are the most unique fans. And I can definitely recognize a Leprechaun fan when they come running up to me – and I usually try and about turn and run the other direction! [Laughs] But they can catch me and often do. But I appreciate them all.
With the acting resume that you have, any actor would be envious of you. What's left on your bucket list as far as your career? Are there still things that you want to do, boxes you want to tick off? Are they entirely different kinds of projects than the things you've been mostly associated with?
I think I've loved my work in comedy. It was something I always wanted to do for a while, and then got the opportunity to do it in Life's Too Short. But I'd like some comedy in the movie world as well. And it makes it up to me. It's my guilty pleasure, but I'm a huge fan of Chevy Chase, of Will Ferrell, those performers. John Candy was a hero of mine. So the comedies that they've done over the years, I always enjoyed them. Then to work in that kind of way, I'd really love.
Also a superhero, a Marvel type thing. One thing like that would be good. I don't know that there are any superheroes left or with my stature, but maybe we should create one.
There's a great Canadian superhero called Puck in Marvel’s Alpha Flight comic book that you might keep your eye on.
Well, there you go. That would suit me. It's lovely to have the experience. But looking back, I feel really fortunate to have actually done all the things that I have done as well. I'm speaking like I've just retired, but I haven't!0comments
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD.