The 49-year-old actor from Surrey, England, has played more iconic fantasy and sci-fi characters than most of his contemporaries could dream of. So in a world where Disney owns the rights to many of those stories, the creation of a Disney streaming service means countless opportunities to revisit his best roles -- both for fans and for the actor himself in the form of potential sequels, reboots, and spin-off series.
Case in point: Lickspittle, a de-winged pixie forced to invent weapons for the evil Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) in Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Lickspittle’s unexamined backstory easily lends itself to a Disney+ prequel series. There’s also that all but confirmed Willow sequel series on Disney+, which Davis tells *Inverse* isn’t quite as official as the internet may think.
“There's a lot of work on development and working out what this potentially could be, but there's no definite green light go for this,” he says over the phone, adding that “the right people have come together” to bring back the 1988 Lucasfilm fantasy cult classic and “there's a firm chance” it could happen.
Even more exciting is Davis’ own pitch for a Star Wars spinoff based on one of the many roles he’s played in that galaxy: Weazel. The character, who first appeared in the podracing scene from The Phantom Menace as a low-level thief working for the Hutt Clan, showed up years later in Solo: A Star Wars Story as a member of Enfys Nest's marauders, the pirate gang that helped found the Rebellion.
“A character I'd love to bring back would be more Weazel,” Davis says. “I think he deserves a little bit more. The experience I had on Solo was so fantastic anyway, but I think there's sort of an intrigue to that character. And I'd like to know what he got up to between Phantom Menace and Solo. Why did he take the path he took?”
I could go on listing iconic Warwick Davis characters worthy of the Disney+ treatment, but I’ll let the actor speak for himself. Read on for a discussion on some of his greatest roles, his opinion on the ongoing CGI vs. practical effects debate, and how he influences the design of some of his own characters.
INVERSE: Your character in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Lickspittle, has an interesting inner conflict as someone forced to work for the villain. As an actor, how did you approach the role?
WARWICK DAVIS: Yes, he has a really interesting story and quite an important part of the underlying plot of the film. You usually get so much information from the script. Of course, the story is there, but for an actor, certainly with Lickspittle, I had to think about his backstory, which isn't written anywhere, and it's about, well, why is he the one chosen to work for the queen to actually try and come up with this formula to kill fairies? Why is he doing this? In my head, I imagine there was a line of scientists before him that perhaps didn't manage to do this for the queen and were quickly expelled, and he's just the next one. There were a lot of questions, but there were never any answers. But the questions always helped me figure out where I am with the story.
It's a pretty intense costume, even by your standards. How does it compare to your other iconic roles?
Part of getting into character is when you put on the costume and the makeup. And for me, sitting in the makeup chair for three-and-a-half hours, watching myself slowly transforming is really part of getting into character. And I use that as a starting point for my day. I don't walk around as Lickspittle all day, but nonetheless, you'd say it's lovely to sit down and watch that process.
The costume also helps. The little accessories, the goggles, the tools, the gloves, all of the things that Lickspittle has. As we're going through the costume fittings, I'm thinking about these things. Where would they be? Where would they feel natural to get them from? Do I have a pocket here?
And I'm confident enough as an actor now to say to the designer: Could I have a pocket there? Because that'll be useful. I can keep the tools in there, or I can have my gloves there, or whatever. So when I'm on set, I feel like, yes, I belong in this costume that feels right for the character.
As you’ve grown as an actor, do you have more influence on your characters and their physical design?
Yeah. I mean, I think as you're an actor with more experience, you become more confident in actually saying to the people designing the makeup or the costumes: Could we do this perhaps? Or having known the character from reading the script, this might be useful or whatever. And, more often than not, they'll take that on board and incorporate that.
Early on in your career, you don't do that. You just kind of go with what's given to you and what's presented to you. But the same with the makeup as well. I've worn enough prosthetic makeup now to kind of understand what works and what doesn't, and if I feel something's going to be restrictive for me as a performer, then I might mention, “Well, could we perhaps thin this area out a little bit, because I feel like you get more of a performance through it.” It's a collaboration really. There's a big team, and I'm just one of those people in that team.
You were also recently in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker as your Return of the Jedi character, Wicket the Ewok. What was it like getting back into that costume after all those years?
Oh, it's amazing. I never thought I would see the day when this would occur. I originally played the character when I was 11. Who knew he would get the chance to come back?
It's thanks to J.J. Abrams and his vision and his enthusiasm and the fact that he is a fan of Star Wars that he did that. There were quite a few little cameos like that in Rise of Skywalker, which I greatly enjoyed seeing as a fan. But yeah, I never thought I'd be bringing that character back, and I also never thought it'd be quite so involved. I was able to consult in recreating that character and that costume because there's very little reference of how the costume was made.
What's the structure like underneath the fur? There has to be a bodysuit of some sort. Fortunately, I had some old photos of me on set where you could see underneath the costume when I'd maybe pulled the fur down a little bit to cool off. We have some photos of my own collection. So they were able to use those photos to kind of figure out the foam padding underneath. And I was able to use my memory to also let them know how things were inside the head. That's how we recreated the costume.
What do you think Wicket has been up to in between Return of the Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker?
I don't know what's been going on. It's tricky. Has life been good for Ewoks or not? I'd like to think that their victory left them feeling pretty good about themselves.
I mean, Wicket's had a child -- that other Ewok you see in Rise of Skywalker is his son, and indeed my son in reality who is inside that costume. So he didn't look like he suffered too much. He's got a family and stuff. But yeah, I gave it a bit of thought, but I didn't need to dig too deep, because I didn't need to be too informed for what we ended up doing in the movie.
"Wicket's had a child"
Do you think there’s room for even more Ewok stories in a movie or on Disney+?
Who knows. Everything's possible within the Star Wars galaxy, and we've seen that. Who would have known we would have nine movies in total when we started with Episode IV? Who would know we'd have Star Wars stories; who would know we'd have a Mandalorian TV series and lots more exciting things to come. So never say never in the Star Wars universe. That's what I learned over the years.
Another character I'd love to bring back would be more Weazel. I think he deserves a little bit more. The experience I had on Solo was so fantastic anyway, but I think there's sort of an intrigue to that character. I'd like to know what he got up to between Phantom Menace and Solo. Why did he take the path he took? Will it be something a novelist will come up with or will it be something we see in TV or a movie?
You know, you’ve played all these iconic characters in fantasy and sci-fi, but you’ve never played a superhero. Is that something you’re interested in? And are there any Marvel or DC characters you’d like to play?
I’ve never played a superhero, and you know what, I'd love to do that. I've been asked in other interviews, “What other character would you like to do?” and I completely forgot about superheroes. That's the kind of franchise I haven't stepped into yet, isn't it? The whole kind of Marvel/DC world. But yeah, whether there are any existing superheroes that haven't been brought to the screen yet, that would be something I could do, or whether we've got to come up with something, I don't know. But I think that would be a lot of fun.
Of all the roles you have played over the years, do you have a favorite souvenir from any movie that you’ve held onto? A prop or something like that?
My favorite thing is the wand from Willow; it's on the wall of my office. I have it in a box frame and it sits up there as a reminder that anything's possible, but the power normally to achieve anything is within you. That was the message behind Willow: The power to control the universe is within you. It's not anywhere else. The wand always reminds me to get out there and go for it.
"The wand always reminds me to get out there and go for it."
I think that's an important message in life. A lot of us spend time kind of going, “Oh, I can't do that. I shouldn't do that. I'm never going to be successful.” But that's your own voice saying that. It's not often other people say that to you. So stop that voice saying that; have that voice be an encouraging voice and go for it. Because even if it doesn't work out, you'll have nothing but regret if you grow old and look back and say, “I wish I'd done that, I wish I'd had a go.” Because it's too late then.
So that would be my message: Get out there and go for it! And the Willow wand always reminds me of that.
Speaking of Willow, I read that Disney is bringing it back on Disney+ and you're involved. Can you tell me anything about the return of the character and the upcoming show?
The internet has got a little bit ahead of us here. There's a lot of work on development and working out what this potentially could be, but there's no definite green light, go, we're doing this. There's a lot of work going on. The right people have come together. There's a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of goodwill from the right people and also from the fans. I think that's what's really so heartwarming is the enthusiasm from people around the world. So, yeah, no definite news there. I think there's a firm chance that this is going to be something that becomes a reality. Definitely.
That's great. So I’m guessing you’re also personally enthusiastic about the idea?
Oh, I am. I'd love to do this. When I did the movie I was 17, and it was a steep learning curve to play the character. Ron Howard was an integral part of my being able to do it.
Now I feel, as an actor, I've learned a lot over the years. And to play the character older would be fascinating. I mean he's older, he's wiser -- has he learned to become a sorcerer? Has he mastered the craft? What's been going on in the world of Willow? So yes, if we do get to do this, there'll be a wonderful story to tell, I'm sure. And I'll greatly relish the opportunity.
You’ve spoken in the past about the medical issues associated with your dwarfism -- the surgery you’ve had and the knowledge that it gets worse as you get older. Is that something you consider with each new role you take?
You have to look at your situation in the most positive light, and I always have done that. The fact that I'm a little person and have dwarfism, I see it as a positive. I never look at my career and think, Oh, if only I had been average height I could have played that character. It's not like that. It's really: What opportunities has it afforded me? Well, a great many. It's given me a career, one that I consider to be quite successful. So you have to look at it in that way. I never see it as a disadvantage.
Hopefully, people like Tom Hanks are looking at me thinking, Oh, I wish I could've played Griphook, but I can't. It was the role for Warwick. That's how I see it.
Of course, any actor will do that. I'll look at roles and think, Oh, that's a great part; wouldn't that be a dream role to have? But then I need to sit back and look at what I have been able to achieve, which is also great.
"I'm just grateful that people still ask me to do movies. I'll never take it for granted."
I'm just grateful that people still ask me to do movies. I'll never take it for granted. There's no law that says somebody's going to call you up and say, “Will you be in my movie?” However successful you are, how ever many movies you've done, you never know if there's going to be another one. So whenever somebody asks me, I relish the opportunity, and I actually savor every moment on set, thinking, This is brilliant.
Thanks for talking about that and opening up. I really appreciate it. So, last question: You’ve done a lot of work in makeup and other practical costumes, but you’ve also performed as plenty of characters using CGI and motion capture. Do you have a preference between the two?
Oh gosh. I suppose the worlds of makeup and CG and straight performance and motion capture, they're all becoming one, really. With a character like Lickspittle, we have prosthetic makeup in there, and we have the digital addition of the ears. So there's a performance from me working with the makeup, and then there's a performance from an artist and animator doing the ears. And those two things or three things have to all work together to create the final character.
I think it's fascinating what technology is allowing us to do in films, but I also find it very interesting that we still rely on very, very old techniques, things that were established early in the film industry. I don't think we're ever gonna see those techniques go away. What was fascinating about working on the new Star Wars films was how much animatronics were being used again because there was a time in the late ‘90s and early 2000s when the industry felt that animatronics were a thing of the past. It was all going to become CG. That was the future. But now, we're seeing very much a return to puppeteering and performances and animatronics helping bring these characters to the screen. You know, I think a lot of what we see in Star Wars now, people might assume it's CG, but in fact, these were all real, created by brilliant people with a lot of time and patience.
I'm always amazed when I see them moving. I'm thinking, That can't be something I'm seeing in front of me because it looks so brilliant. It's absolutely amazing what we can do, but they are very old techniques just using new technology. Smaller servers, CAD design, and other things can actually now compress all of this stuff into a very small space that an actor can wear. So I don't know whether I answered your question, but I enjoyed saying it.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is now available on Digital and Blu-ray.