Star Wars & Harry Potter star Warwick Davis on the return of Willow
- Credit: Gordon Tarpley/Flickr
The Epsom-born actor will return to our screens in a TV adaptation of the 1980s cult George Lucas film
Call him Warwick, call him Willow, call him Yoda, we all know who you are talking about - the diminutive international actor, Warwick Davis.
Thanks to his appearance in blockbuster film franchises such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, Warwick has gained a massive fan following but essentially he remains a really nice bloke who turned misfortune into fortune. And he has never forgotten his Surrey roots.
“I was born in Epsom which is a great place to have been born as everyone has heard of Epsom,” he says. “I think we are all proud of being the home of the Derby but there is the famous clock tower as well which attracts a lot of people.
“Epsom is in a beautiful part of the world. When you are growing up somewhere you can take things for granted but being in Epsom was brilliant for me - you could get on a train and be in London in a short time and the surrounding countryside is fantastic.
“I didn’t have the best of starts in life and for my parents it must have been really tough because they were of normal size and I was just very, very small. I had quite a rare disorder called spondyloepophyseal dysplasia congenita. I have had years of practising how to say that. Most people just call it SED.
“The medical professionals prepared my mum and dad for the worst and said that I probably wouldn’t live long enough to be a teenager. Well I did and that is a tribute to my parents who refused to think anything other than positive and instilled the same approach to life in me.”
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Warwick’s parents, Ashley and Susan, and his sister, Kim, all appeared alongside Warwick in Return of the Ewo - a mockumentary about how Warwick got the role as Wicket in Return of the Jedi.
“We were a close family and I had a lot of support. I did, of course, make it to be a teenager and I am 50 now and still breathing with a family of my own and what I can only describe as happiness,” Warwick enthuses. “Thinking positive was always how I grew up and there was always also a lot of laughter. I laugh now at some of the things I can’t do or have to do. Not many people can claim to have had to jump up and down in a McDonalds to get noticed.”
Jumping up and down sounds energetic but indeed Warwick has never been anything other than energetic which is perhaps why he became an actor.
“I went to school at the City of London Freemen’s School in Ashstead and then the Chinthurst School in Tadworth,” he said. “Obviously I was little and different so you might think an easy target for bullying. It didn’t work like that though, everyone was quite kind and I had a good sense of humour so no real problems at all. I have fond memories of my schooldays but then I was making films before I was a teenager and went to the well-known Laine Theatre Arts school. My parents sent me there because I was full of energy and they thought it might do me good. It did.”
Warwick’s first big break was in George Lucas’ third Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi, which hit cinemas in 1983.
“It was my grandmother who heard that someone was looking for people under four feet to appear in Return of the Jedi,” Warwick explains. “I don’t think you ever go into these things with expectations, hope of course, but not expectations.
“I was a huge Star wars fan so when I got the job I was just amazed. Because I was only 11 I could only work limited hours but I took roller skates with me and used to skate around the studios. Kenny baker was due to play Wicket, one of the leading Ewoks. Kenny was ill and they promoted me from Ewok extra to the character Wicket. It was fantastic and the real start.”
Perhaps though it was the classic film, Willow, which is currently being adapted for TV by Jonathan Kasdan for Disney+, really turned Warwick into a star.
“I am thrilled that it is going to return as a TV series,” Warrick says. “I really enjoyed Willow. It was hard work but I loved it and, best of all, I met my wife, Samantha, on the set. She was an extra and she charmed straight away.”
Warwick has rarely been off the screen ever since and he has also established himself as a stage actor and TV presenter.
“I like to be busy,” he says. “If there isn’t much going on I make something happen which is why I have an agency for small people, a theatre company and all sorts of other things.
“ I enjoy going to the Star wars fan conventions as well. I am still a huge Star Wars fan and have a great collection of memoribilia. I started a collection even before I landed my first job and Mark Hamill was very kind to me because he arranged for me to get all the merchandise that was available but that I didn’t have at the time. That’s what the Star Wars family is like. I played Yoda once and that was just fantastic too.”
While Warwick is constantly busy he does make the most of his recreation time and heads back to his home county when he can.
“Samantha and I enjoy family time with our daughter Annabelle and our son Harrison, we are a close family and we like to go places and have fun together,” he says. “We are all small people and easily spotted but that doesn’t matter, people are pretty good to us and don’t make lots of demands for photos. I never mind signing autographs or doing the selfie thing as long as it is respectful and pleasant.
“I live near Peterborough these days but I travel a lot and often find myself back in Surrey which I still love. Whenever I visit I like to go round the shops and perhaps go for a pub meal somewhere – there are plenty of great pubs to choose from.
“Surrey has so many great places. Who could ever visit Virgina Water and not fall in love with it? It’s the same for Frensham. You could make a sandcastle on its beach and not have to go to the seaside. In fact that’s a good idea for a family outing – see you there.”