Warwick Davis talks ‘Willow’: the film, the legacy, the belly tattoo
Warwick Davis in 'Willow' (Photo: 20th Century Fox)
Warwick Davis has traversed the realms of many a sci-fi/fantasy franchise, from the galaxy far, far away of "Star Wars" to the hallowed halls of Hogwarts in "Harry Potter" to the perilous maze lorded over by David Bowie in "Labyrinth." He's also quite the horror icon after no less than six appearances as the ever-rhyming Irish demon in the "Leprechaun" series, which took him from the farmlands of North Dakota to the mean streets of the 'hood and even all the way into outer space.
Davis made his feature film debut at the age of 13 as Wicket W. Warrick, one of the most resourceful and, well, excitable Ewoks in "Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi" (1983). He reprised the role in two made-for-television spinoff films, "The Ewok Adventure" (1984) and "Ewoks: Battle For Endor" (1985), and it was on the set of the latter that George Lucas first hinted that he may have an even bigger project in mind for the young actor, one that will put him center stage (and without a mask).
That project ended up being "Willow" (1988), a grand fantasy epic directed by a just-getting-started Ron Howard (the "director of 'Cocoon,'" as he was described in the teaser trailer). "Willow" tells the tale of Willow Ufgood (Davis), a farmer and amateur conjurer who finds himself on a dangerous quest after he's tasked with protecting an infant prophesied to end the reign of the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), an adventure that teams him up with the swaggering warrior Madmartigan (Val Kilmer).
We spoke with Warwick Davis upon the 25th anniversary Blu-ray release of "Willow" about the project's origins, memories of '80s summer movie seasons, some rather impressionable fan experiences and, of course, Disney's resurrection of "Star Wars."
BRYAN ENK: Somehow "Willow" is now a 25-year-old movie, which blows my mind. How did this project come about -- was it something that George Lucas was hinting at while you were shooting "Return of the Jedi" or did it come up later?
WARWICK DAVIS: George hinted at it during the time of the Ewok movie, "Caravan of Courage," around 1983 or '84, he mentioned it to my mom that he had an idea in mind. He didn't say anything more specific, but he did say at that time I would be a bit young to do it, but he would want to do it when I was a bit older. That turned out to be the movie "Willow."
BE: It's such a great role -- you get to be the main protagonist, you get to fight the bad guys, you get to argue with Val Kilmer. Do you remember your initial reaction when you first read the script?
WD: It was a weird process. I remember I got invited up to meet George and [director] Ron [Howard] at the famous Elstree Studios, which is where George had done everything prior to that -- all the "Star Wars," Indiana Jones. So I got asked to go up there and meet them both and they introduced me to the idea of this new film "Willow," but it wasn't sort of cut and dry that I had the part at that point -- it was really left up to Ron to make that decision, even though George had kind of been inspired by me when I was 13, 14. So I started going through a series of auditions to sort of win the role.
I don't remember having a reaction when sitting down and first reading it although I was very relieved when I was finally offered the part because I could see that it was going to be a great opportunity for me to do something where I wasn't hidden under a mask this time -- this was going to be something of a departure for me into the realms of proper acting. It was great that Ron Howard decided to have me go through with that.