Transformation becomes routine for 'Potter' star Davis

2nd December 2001

Warwick Davis knows all about magic: Makeup artists performed it on him each day when he went to work on "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as levitation, his specialty as the film's wand-waving Professor Flitwick.

No, it took four hours to turn the 31-year-old British actor into a bald, bearded, wizened instructor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And at the end, he didn't even recognize himself.

"I wear quite large contact lenses and dentures," Davis said by phone from his home in England. "There's nothing left of me to see - not even my eyes."

But his performance is still there - one of many he's made in the fantasy realm since his debut as a bearlike Ewok named Wicket in 1983's "Return of the Jedi."

Davis reprised that "Star Wars" role in two TV movies in 1984 and 1985. But he's perhaps best known for playing the title character in "Willow," a 1988 fantasy of sorcery produced by "Jedi's" George Lucas.

Davis was just 17 when he made "Willow," a costly production that debuts this week on DVD. One reason Davis is well-recognized for "Willow" is that he got to show his face in the movie.

"It's fairly rare I'm offered a role where it's basically me, though that happens more now," he said.

"Even so, to create a strange character that doesn't exist is quite challenging, and it's more fun than being a regular guy on the street. I'm grateful for anything, really."

Other credits include the monstrous title character in five "Leprechaun" horror movies. He'll also appear in an upcoming live-action "Snow White" on ABC.

You'll also spot Davis in 1999's "Star Wars" movie, "The Phantom Menace." In its spectacular podrace sequence, Davis plays two cheering spectators. For the first, Wald, he wore an alien mask. But he said Lucas "felt bad about putting me in a mask again, as he'd done with Wicket." So Davis appeared as another spectator, looking much like Willow.

He also had dual roles in "Harry Potter," which tied "The Phantom Menace's" record of making $100 million in the United States in its first five days.

Of course, as usual, it's hard to recognize Davis in either case. Besides playing the hairy Professor Flitwick, Davis is a wary, beak-nosed goblin teller who greets Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) when they arrive at Gringotts Bank.

"That was another four-hour makeup job," Davis said with a sigh.

His only child, Annabelle, 4, visited the set that day. "As a souvenir, the head of Warner UK gave her a goblin coin minted especially for the production," Davis said.

He, Annabelle and wife Samantha live near Cambridge. He has an agent in London, but he also runs his own agency for actors who, like him, are short. (Davis is 3-foot-4.)

Six years ago, Davis launched Willow Management to represent actors shorter than 5 feet tall.

"There wasn't a specific agent that looked after short actors," he said, "and often they were treated like commodities, not people. 'How many do you need? OK, $200 each.' I felt they should be seen as artists and performers like anyone else."

Willow Management, in fact, placed many of the 40 short actors who play goblins in "Harry Potter's" Gringotts scene.

Regardless of the role, Davis is grateful for the film, which he calls "a huge honor and a thrill.

"I couldn't believe that cast. I'd sit in the Great Hall among all these great names in cinema - Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman."

"Harry Potter's" premiere in London outranked even those for "Willow" and "Star Wars," he said.

As a fan of the book, he's glad that author J.K. Rowling insisted the film be "a very British thing, hiring an entirely British cast and shooting it all here."

He just wishes some of his scenes - as if covered by Harry's invisibility cloak - had not disappeared.

"There's 'lots' on the cutting-room floor," Davis said of the film, which is already long at more than two hours.

Among his own scenes, "some bits in the classroom were edited purely for time, not because they aren't good. And there's lots more stuff of Professor Flitwick getting rather over-enthusiastic about the Quidditch game," he said with a laugh.

"But you never know," Davis said. "Thank goodness for DVD," which could supply extra scenes when "Harry Potter" reaches video.

Davis won't have to wait long to start adding still more scenes. He will start work on "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" in January.

"I will be Flitwick once again," Davis said. "He's in that one. In fact, he's in all of the books."

But Davis doesn't take for granted that he'll always get the role.

"It's still nice to be asked back," he said.

Just to make sure, at the London premiere he approached Rowling to say, "Sorry to bother you, but was Professor Flitwick OK?"

He said Rowling replied, " 'No' - he was 'great.' "

What a relief.

"I was very worried," Davis said. "She'd have said so if she didn't like it - she's very frank. But she gave me the thumbs-up, and she's given the movie her seal of approval."

Now he hopes audiences worldwide will do the same.

"Millions of people have read the book and have their own idea of how Professor Flitwick should sound and look," Davis said. "I just hope I got it right for at least a few of them."

By Bruce Westbrook from The Houston Chronicle