Warwick Davis: People who judge the show just aren’t getting it
As Ricky Gervais made headlines in October over posting “mong” jokes on Twitter, accompanied by a picture of his contorted face, people were ready and willing to chastise the actor and his new BBC mockumentary Life’s Too Short.
In it, protagonist Warwick Davis plays an amplified version of himself, with an ego which overshadows his three foot six stature, but the BBC show has received some criticism for making his height, as opposed to his character, the punchline of the joke.
While it’s undoubtedly littered with comic moments that wouldn’t work without a dwarf as the central role, Davis holds that it’s more about how people react in everyday life to these situations:
“Many of the things that happen to my character are anecdotal. I think it’s a lovely platform to be able to show that, and enjoy that, but also think about it and bring those issues to the forefront. Really, what we’re doing with the series is holding a mirror up to the audience and saying this is what happens sometimes.”
Scenes which feature in the series that have drawn upon real-life events include Davis having to ask a passerby to reach a doorbell and using a mop to reach the higher shelves in a supermarket. Relaying both the frequently experienced situation and a scene from an upcoming episode, Davis comically describes how: “When I go shopping I like to be independent, so I sometimes grab a broom to get things down – otherwise I’ll just be buying from the lower rows. In the scene security guard comes over and asks “Are you going to buy that mop?” I reply, “Well, no, I’m just using it.” Being a jobsworth he responds “If you’re not going to buy it, you can’t use it.” And I ask “What am I supposed to do, bring a mop every time I go shopping?!”
This is situation comedy, and the sort of awkward social scenarios Gervais and Merchant are renowned for bringing to our screens.
In the series, Warwick Davis is struggling with a messy divorce, as well as a vast tax bill which leaves his need for work wrestling with his thoughts of self-importance. Was he concerned people might mistake these for his own traits?
“I wasn’t worried until Ricky said “You know people send flowers to bereaved characters in soap operas, don’t you?”
Another real-life parallel with the show is that Davis runs an acting agency for dwarves, though unlike the show he doesn’t take all the best roles for himself. One storyline features the actors asking why they’re never offered serious roles despite of their height, as opposed to roles in which their height is the central requirement. Although Davis (real-life) can see the frustration, he also appreciates the opportunities his own roles have given him:
“We love it when a breakthrough role comes through which really gives actors the chance to really show off their skills playing a character which is not necessarily in a sci-fi or fantasy genre film. But at the same time, that sort of work is what’s been a staple of my 30-year career so you should never deny that.”
“I know that there are some short actors in America that see it as being a proper actor when they don’t have to go inside a prosthetic or inside a creature suit anymore. But for me, if I get offered a role that feels challenging or interesting, then I will still consider it.”
Having appeared in the Star Wars saga and the Harry Potter films, (the latter which he saw through to the last day of filming and is currently promoting the DVD’s release), Davis is no stranger to sci-fi and fantasy and feels fortunate to have been a part of such successful franchises:
“It’s about the performance, it’s not about any sort of pretence or fame or anything else. So I would always encourage clients to take on work that isn’t degrading or in any way insulting to them as people.”
With the recent revelation that the England rugby team has been taking part in a dwarf-throwing contest in their spare time, Davis points out that the show is distinctly not advocating this kind of behaviour:
“Of course in the real world it’s completely unacceptable. We’re not giving it the nod in Life’s Too Short, we’re saying this goes on, how terrible is this?”
And on the theme of the controversial, Davis comments on the Gervais “mong” furore in the press recently:
“He’s shown a certain level of…I don’t know whether remorse is the right word…but I certainly think he realises it was a genuine mistake on his part. It’s to do with words changing their meaning over time.”
It seems that whilst Davis doesn’t get offended easily – even when people sometimes take his photo and don’t appear to even know he’s an actor – he understands about finding the balance in comedy.
“My parents armed me with an amazing sense of humour, and it’s what you need when, well, it’s what anyone needs in this world. I do a lot of public speaking and presentations and I’ll always start with a self-deprecating joke to make everybody feel comfortable with my size because there can be hang-ups and anxieties.” He moves on to mention how they present this in the show: “The way people deal with me – they’ll go overboard in trying to be politically correct and make a mess of it. Everyone’s so worried about what they’re saying to everyone else, that they don’t talk very much. I think that’s why we’re all obsessed with texting and emailing, because you can carefully control what you write. I’d much rather people had a chat with me and made a few faux-pas, I won’t take offence. I’m the first to see the humour in my size and this is very important, because otherwise you’d shut yourself away.”
Davis describes how he was asked to take part in the Children in Need series Celebrity Scissorhands, but was reluctant as he assumed he wouldn’t be able to physically reach to be able to cut and style customer’s hair.
“At first they approached me and I thought “Oh, I won’t be able to do it” but then I realised, hang on, they’re asking me, and I had a go. I got letters from people saying, I’m not short or anything, but you inspired me to get up and have a go at what I’ve always wanted to do – and that’s what it’s all about.”
“If I can inspire anybody to take up the profession who perhaps otherwise feel that they limit themselves. Regardless of disability or what have you, a lot of people sit at home and think “I can’t do that, I’ll just stick at my job I’m doing.” You have to get out there and try it or you’ll never know otherwise.”
It must be frustrating for everything to be focused on height, so what would the co-creator in the series like people to say?
“I don’t want to be just somebody short who happens to act. I hope my legacy will be Warwick Davis, Actor. The favourite newspaper thing (and I thought since everything went metric it would stop) is “Pint-sized actor, Warwick Davis.” Surely it’s not pints anymore anyway? Surely one-point-something-litre-sized actor? It doesn’t bother me that much, but it would be lovely in future.”
Willing to be self-deprecating and see the humour in a situation over and above the negative, a lot of us should probably take a leaf out of his book.
“For people who judge the show for mocking short people, they’re just not getting it.”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is out on DVD nowTagged in: harry potter, life's too short, Ricky Gervais, Warwick Davis
Recent Posts on Arts
- Friday Book Design Blog: Man Booker Prize Shortlist Special 2014
- Indian art auction gets Delhi's depressed elite to splash out and buy
- Friday Book Design Blog: Collector's Edition, by Stuart Tolley
- Interview with Maybeshewill: “We’re not relying on guitars as much as we used too”
- On Berlin's beat: An interview with Berlin Atonal organiser Laurens Von Oswald
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter