Before 'Harry Potter' there was 'Willow'

27th November 2001

If you've seen a sci-fi or fantasy movie in the last two decades, chances are you've seen Warwick Davis.

The British character actor, 31, made his debut as Wicket the Ewok in 1983's "Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi." His latest role is that of Professor Flitwick in "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone." In between, Davis played the title character in both "Willow" and the "Leprechaun" horror flicks as well as characters in numerous other films, including "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," "The 10th Kingdom" and "Labyrinth." The 3-foot-4 actor also formed a management company that represents actors under 5 feet tall.

With "Harry Potter" going gangbusters in theaters and the DVD version of "Willow" arriving in stores Tuesday, Davis discussed his good fortune as an actor with Journal Sentinel reporter Gemma Tarlach over the phone from his home in England.

Q. Of all the memorable roles you've had, which one do people recognize you most from?

A. It's probably Willow, though when I'm in America, groups of 17-year-olds come up to me saying they recognize me from "Leprechaun." And a lot of times people will tell me they recognize my voice. I don't see it myself, but they'll recognize my voice from a role I played with heavy makeup or a mask. People even recognize me as Wicket (the ewok). They say they recognize my walk.

Q. Which role has been your favorite?

A. They're all very dear to me, because, as an actor, you put something of yourself into every role. But I'm very fond of Professor Flitwick from "Harry Potter" because I've always wanted to play a mad, eccentric kind of character.

Q. How does the hype for "Harry Potter" compare with the hype for "Phantom Menace"?

A. I thought nothing could top "Phantom Menace," but when I arrived for the premiere, I realized "Harry Potter" was something else. The amount of media interest was incredible. One side of Leicester Square, where they had the premiere, was completely filled with press from all around the world. It was bigger than anything I'd seen before, including "Star Wars."

Q. Why do you think "Willow," which was not a blockbuster, eventually became such a big cult hit?

A. It was moderately successful at the box office, but it lived on with a new generation of kids watching it. Every parent, I'm serious, every single parent who comes up to me tells me their children have worn out the tape watching it. Well, now they can buy it on DVD, and it will last forever (laughs). . . . Everyone relates to someone in that movie. And I think everyone likes the underdog, in this case Willow, who overcomes obstacles, like his height, to become a hero, because he believes in his heart that he can.

Q. What's next for you - a part in "Star Wars: Episode II" perhaps?

A. (Laughs) That's probably the most frequently asked question I get. No, I'm not (in "Episode II"). I'm disappointed, but I'd hate to be put in it just for the sake of it. So I'm hopeful there'll be something for me in "Episode III." "Harry Potter II" starts filming three days after this one's release, although I'm not needed on the set until January. But to be an actor knowing what's coming up for you for the next year is very, very good.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel