- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
For Disney’s sequel to the widely popular Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning, Warwick came aboard to portray the curious character of Lickspittle, a de-winged Pixie in service of the evil Queen Ingrith.
Warwick spoke to us from England about bringing Lickspittle to life and his career entertaining the world.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is now available on Digital and Blu-ray.
HTF: Hi, Warwick. It's lovely to meet you.
Warwick Davis: Hello, Neil. You sound like you have a British accent.
HTF: I am. I've been living in the US for about 25 years now, but yeah, I'm born and bred British.
Warwick Davis: Very nice. Very nice. Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.
HTF: Of course! Let me dive right on in. I am interested in your process not just for getting into character but also building out the backstory or the unique history for that character. In your films you tend to embody a terrific array of non-human characters and creatures, and I wonder if you find that the script provides you what you want in order to build out who the character is beyond the lines that you'll perform, or do you do that through consultation with writers and directors? Because you had a really terrific character, Lickspittle, in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. I was just curious how you got to understand the interesting and morally complex character in this film.
"And for me as an actor, often the makeup and the costumes are really what helps you feel grounded in the character."
Warwick Davis: Yeah. It's a combination of all those things you've mentioned there. It's initially the script, obviously, But I think if you just rely on that, there wouldn't be the depth that you need to find in these characters. So, it's looking at Lickspittle's predicament and then starting to consider, "Well, why is he doing what he was doing?" And then you look at the morality of all of that. Obviously, there's a kind of a selfishness in a way, because people are like, "he's only doing this to save his skin because if he doesn't do it, then the consequences are dire." And his need to escape out of [what is] basically this prison he's in is to come up with the way to kill a fairy. And so that, in a way, is quite complex [because] you start to question, "Well, why is he there?" Was he in a line of different kind of scientists or chemists that were brought in to try and do this and the others before him have failed and have been executed? What's going on there? So, it's not really so much a backstory. It's kind of a series of questions that you have in your head which help you and discussions with the director as well. You get little tidbits but no more than that. It's about really kind of just digging deep and kind of thinking about it for yourself and what's what.
And for me as an actor, often the makeup and the costumes are really what helps you feel grounded in the character. When you sit in the makeup chair for three and a half hours slowly transforming into this character, and then you put the costume on, which brings with it its own kind of difficulties and restrictions. But all of those things you have to look at as part of the character as opposed to being a restriction. You have to see them as being the kind of foundations that help inform the character.
HTF: I was going to ask whether the incredible makeup and costume work you are now intimately familiar with in many of your characters and performances was a hindrance? So, do you have a sort of a symbiotic relationship with the makeup and prosthetic effects where you use that time in the chair to become that person, so that when they say, "Okay. You're ready to rock and roll," that you are Lickspittle?
"It's the shoes. For me, normally, as an actor, when I put the shoes on, I then feel that character becomes alive at that point. It was the same when I played the Leprechaun. Lickspittle's shoes were handmade shoes."
Warwick Davis: Well, yeah. I mean, I'm not method in that way. I don't then walk around as Lickspittle the entire day, but without doubt there is definitely an element of you slowly transforming and seeing that transformation happening. And that becomes part of the character, of kind of getting into character process. But as I said, I don't spend the whole day walking around as Griphook the Goblin, or Professor Flitwick, or Wicket, or whatever these characters are. I just drop in and out of them. But I think that probably comes easier because you've actually sat there, and you've lived through the transformation. But it helps having that makeup process going on. And it's the costume. It's the shoes. For me, normally, as an actor, when I put the shoes on, I then feel that character becomes alive at that point. It was the same when I played the Leprechaun. Lickspittle's shoes were handmade shoes. His boots were handmade for me, and so when you kind of lace them up, you kind of feel, "Yeah. I'm in that mode now. I'm in that mode of character."
"It's about finding what you do best. I think I've been very lucky. I think although you need talent, I think you do also need a lot of luck in this industry, and I've been really fortunate in working with the people I've worked with."
HTF: That's fascinating. Let me ask you about if the world gotten better for you as an actor that just happens to have dwarfism? Is the world more understanding in the making of film and television, or are you still facing similar challenges when you first put on Wicket's costume, way back when?
Warwick Davis: Oh, my goodness me. I mean, the business is about finding your niche. It's about finding what you do best. I think I've been very lucky. I think although you need talent, I think you do also need a lot of luck in this industry, and I've been really fortunate in working with the people I've worked with. About being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, and what have you. I mean, every opportunity to perform, in my view, is a great gift because when you are an actor performing is what you ultimately crave. To be in front of a camera, to be up on a stage. That ultimately that is the greatest thing in the world.
HTF: I have followed you since Return of the Jedi, and that was before I knew it was you. And when I really knew it was you that I was following was when Willow came about, and I was enchanted and entertained by that film. Still watch it probably every few years now. And that was when I could see you in your performance in that role that wasn't with heavy costume or makeup or prosthetics, and it really brings me to the awesomeness of the Life’s Too Short series you worked on with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, where we see you, or at least a comedically twisted version of you. And while you've created legendary characters in films like Star Wars and Harry Potter, do you find it more freeing to be to play human characters? Or is it freeing to just the same to launch yourself into more unusual, fascinating non-human characters?
Warwick Davis: Yeah. Oh gosh. I mean, I suppose it's easier to play a human character because it's just basically a version of yourself in a sense. But I think I probably get most enjoyment from playing these kind of more immersed sort of fantasy characters that I do, doing prosthetic makeups like Lickspittle, because you're not only having to kind of create those characters often in a kind of fantasy environment, there’s a fantasy world that you have to get to know as well.
I think, for me, those characters offer the most challenges, but you [do] have a challenge whatever project you do. And working with the people you work with in those characters, that is a huge thing. Brilliant makeup supervisors and the teams that apply the makeup and all of that stuff, you're collaborating with people and that's a great experience to then bring that character to the set on the first day and everybody go, "Wow, how cool," and all of that stuff. So I mean, I enjoy acting and performing, so all of those versions, the fantasy character or the real-world character, they allow me to perform, which is ultimately why I love, but I think that I get the most kind of satisfaction from performing the fantasy characters well and not playing a human character. There's something different about them.
HTF: And talking of Life’s Too Short, it really was a great exposure to me of what terrific comedic timing you have. And there are great actors who are great actors that don't quite have the comedy timing, but you certainly do. And Life is Short just had my wife and I rolling on the floor every episode. I know you bring a lot of that comedy to the stage productions you are involved in as well. Is comedy just something that you've always gravitated towards? And is that something that you look to try and explore more of, or do you find it just as interesting, just as challenging, just as satisfying to do fantasy and drama and horror and those kinds of things?
"I'm a huge fan of Chevy Chase and John Candy, all these people are my influences, and the comedy of Will Ferrell. They're all my guilty pleasures. And to do stuff like that would be where I want to go because it's comedy."
Warwick Davis: Well, comedy for years was something I wasn't given the opportunity to do and I would always be thinking, "I wish I could just do some comedy. It'll be so great." And I kind of was a co-creator of Life's Too Short and that's why I wrote the initial treatment, to be able to do something funny, which was this kind of alternate version of me. And I'd actually messed about doing some kind of test scenes and stuff that I shot myself as this kind of alternate version of me and took that to Ricky and Stephen, and then we, together, created what it ultimately became Life's Too Short series and Special. Before that though, comedy was a dream. And then I got to do it. Since then, sometimes I'm described as a comedian, which is kind of interesting. But I'd love to do more. I mean, I'm a huge fan of Chevy Chase and John Candy, all these people are my influences, and the comedy of Will Ferrell. They're all my guilty pleasures. And to do stuff like that would be where I want to go because it's comedy. But then comedy's really hard as well. It's much harder than drama. Drama, to me, is quite an easy thing. But to do comedy, there's a difference between a line being funny and not. Pause or an intonation on your line somehow can make the difference between it actually being a funny line and an unfunny line. So, when I've worked with comedians like Steve Coogan for example, the angst and the time taken over a particular line to make sure it's as funny it can be, it's draining and very, very challenging. And we found that on Life's Too Short as well with some stuff. It's like, "How can we make this the funniest it can be?" But I do admire and respect actors who couldn't pull that off because we all watch these comedies, thinking, "Oh, that's easy. They're just messing about, having fun." But believe me, it's not as easy as it looks.
HTF: I am raising a child with Down syndrome. He's seven years old. And the way my wife and I are raising him is that Down syndrome's just a tiny piece of the whole person he is, and the world wants to label him as disabled, the world wants to label him as having Down syndrome and I just want to label him as my son who will give anything he wants to give a shot, a shot. And I get the sense that that's how you have embraced life. Is that how you've embraced life? And how did you come to not let the shackles of the world label you to the point where it's telling you that you can't or you shouldn't, and all those things?
"I'll never shy away from an opportunity. I'll never have a negative inner voice that tells me, "Oh, you can't do that. You shouldn't do that. You're not going to succeed at that." I'll always have a go, and in that way, I'll never look back and have regrets."
Warwick Davis: Well, firstly, I mean, I just want to say I really admire your attitude and I'm sure your son will reap great rewards from the fact that you have that attitude about him, which is fantastic because more often than not, the world can indeed be restrictive in its attitudes towards people with disabilities. And I think it's important that, as you have done with your son and I too have always done, and that's due to my parents, is embrace what you're given in life and use that to your best advantage. Never see it as a disadvantage because other people will. They'll do that for you. So, all you got to do is see it as an advantage and how you can make the best life from what you've been given. And so, I'll never shy away from an opportunity. I'll never have a negative inner voice that tells me, "Oh, you can't do that. You shouldn't do that. You're not going to succeed at that." I'll always have a go, and in that way, I'll never look back and have regrets. I'll always know, even if it doesn't work out, that I had a go at that because I don't want to be old and looking back at my life, thinking, "I should've tried that. I let myself down there." So, you do have to fight a bit more. You have to have a bit more tenacity, a bit more determination. But yeah, more often than not, if you just go for it in life, you'll succeed.
HTF: That is wonderful advice. Well, Warwick, thank you so much for talking to me today. It's been an absolute honor. I'm a great admirer of yours and I really enjoyed your character in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. It's always fun to see you in anything that you do.
Warwick Davis: Thank you. I really appreciate that. And I appreciate your time tonight as well. Thanks for saying that. Thank you.