Warwick Davis has been a Hogwarts professor and a horror-film leprechaun. He was the lead Ewok in the George Lucas universe and even walked across the screen as wise, old Yoda. The actor, whose memoir is titled “Size Matters Not,” may be 3-foot-6, but he has put together a towering film resume in sci-fi, fantasy and horror.
None of the experiences, however, quite measure up to his 10-year “Harry Potter” tenure, which is coming to a close as the franchise finishes its epic tale with the two-part film “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”
The first of those films arrives Nov. 19, and Davis says it’s a bittersweet sensation to leave Hogwarts for good. “It feels like we’ve all graduated, and we’re all going off to university or going on to get a proper job in the world,” Davis said. “It was so much like that, just leaving people. We’ve all grown together over the last 10 years, and it was a really sad day, the last day… There was this sort of stunned silence afterward, when we all sort of realized, that’s it. Tears were shed.”
Davis, who will play the goblin Griphook in the final film in addition to reprising his role as charms Professor Filius Flitwick, has a slew of fantasy and sci-fi films under his belt, including “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and “Willow.” He said appearing in fantastic cinema allows him to keep his inner child fully engaged.
“As an actor, especially working in sci-fi/fantasy films, you have to be able to tap into that childlike quality again and be able to picture the dragon that’s standing in front of you, even though it won’t be until you sit down and watch it in the cinema,” he said. “You have to be in touch with the child that’s within you and use your imagination. Kids do that all the time. They’re always imagining things.”
Davis said he felt “quite at home straight away” in the “Harry Potter” universe, but said the films “felt different just because of the sheer scale of the production” and the attention to detail. “Coming into it, I immediately was just in awe of how brilliantly everything was being done. You did feel that there was this care being taken,” he said. “What’s sad is that often the moviegoer doesn’t get to see quite how much work and craftsmanship has gone into these films. If you walked around one of the sets, you see so much more than you actually end up seeing on the screen, and so much time and effort goes in toward that. I mean, it has to be there, because I’m sure we do pick up on it subliminally when we watch the film, but it’s kind of outstanding.”
Davis said he tried to portray Flitwick and Griphook with the same care, seeking descriptions from the books he could use on screen. “There were just some very, very key words that described Flitwick that were very useful and stayed with me throughout the whole series of films: He’s a ‘gnome-like wizard,’” Davis said. “‘Gnome-like’ is kind of the sense that he’s not entirely human. … He’s slightly quirky and a little bit out of the ordinary. Eccentric, even. You kind of take an initial little bit like that, and you sort of embellish upon it.”
It was the “beautiful little details,” like the diminutive professor lecturing his charms class from atop a pile of books, that brought Flitwick to life, Davis said. “It’s probably what I would end up doing,” joked Davis. “Many of the students
would be taller than I was, or certainly taller than Flitwick was. To get up on the books there would be exactly what he needed. Although, I’m slightly baffled why he didn’t just levitate.”
The character’s appearance changed dramatically after the first two films, in which Flitwick was an old, white-bearded wizard. Flitwick was written out of the third movie, but Davis was offered the part of “Choir Conductor” instead — a younger, bow-tied and mustachioed wizard. Flitwick was back in the fourth film, and when director Mike Newell was shown photographs of Davis in both costumes, he opted for the newer look.
“To be diplomatic to the two chaps, I’m not going to pick a favorite,” Davis said. “All the characters I’ve played, they feel like members of my family. It sounds really odd, and I should possibly be locked up, but you become attached to them, and they’re kind of personal friends. I love the old Flitwick. He was eccentric, warm, that kind of teacher that you could go to if you didn’t do your homework. … The other Flitwick, he gave me so much potential for comedy and humor. There’s something about him that just lends itself to humor, and you see me throughout the series of films, whenever something funny happens, I’m kind of involved somehow.”
Davis said he relished his new role as the goblin Griphook, a Gringotts Wizarding Bank worker and “a devious, mischievous scoundrel.” “You don’t know where you are with a goblin,” he said. “That’s one of their character traits.”
Completely encased for up to 14 hours in heavy makeup, contact lenses and pointy-tooth dentures, Davis said the role was difficult and physically demanding, but satisfying. “What was lovely about this character is he was so different from Flitwick,” he said. “I think most actors like playing a villainous character. They’re always remembered. They’re always more fun to play, because the more opposite to your own character, I think, sometimes the more fun. And I’m not devious or untrustworthy at all, myself.”
Throughout filming, both Flitwick and Griphook were spotted zooming to set on a Segway, which Davis found useful for getting around the studio.“I’ve ridden that Segway down Privet Drive, I’ve ridden it round the courtyard at Hogwarts, and I’ve ridden it around the Great Hall at great speed, actually, but I’d get into trouble if Dumbledore found out,” he joked.
He keeps Willow’s wand in a case on his wall and says his “ultimate dream” would be to display Flitwick’s wand just below it. “I’ve dropped loads of hints,” he said. “To have a wand would be a truly treasured possession.”
In the last book, Flitwick performs some heroics in a battle scene that was “terrific” to read, Davis said. “It’s exciting. It’s an unusual situation in a film to kind of be able to see the future, as it were, before the scripts are written,” he said.“You can kind of follow the adventures of your character, and … picture yourself as you read the book instead of this other character. You’re seeing yourself, thinking, ‘Oh, that’s going to be fun. Oh, that’ll be interesting. Oh, I wonder how we’re going to do that?’ … It was a very unique kind of perspective that I had there as each book was coming out, slightly ahead of what we were up to.”
But now the films have caught up, and Davis reflects fondly on what he calls “an epic undertaking” by the “cream of British talent.”
“We will have eight films that we’ve produced over 10 years, and I think that’s something we can be very proud of and something, hopefully, that people will be sharing with their children and their children’s children, and onwards down through the generations,” he said. “‘Star Wars’ is over 30 years old now, and I’ve enjoyed sharing that with my children, and they’ll hopefully share that with their children. I think Harry Potter will be very similar. Our legacy is those films and people being able to enjoy them into the future.
“I think there’ve been other films in recent years that have had the potential to be kind of something that could compare with Harry Potter, but they’ve never quite managed it,” he said. “It is so wonderfully imagined, that world. … It’s just wonderful and far-fetched enough, but at the same time, there’s some credibility in it. … To open a book or walk into a movie theater and be taken somewhere else that feels like home but isn’t quite — it’s a much more magical and fascinating and inspiring place — that’s kind of where we all want to be, and I think that’s why these movies are so effective and successful.”
— Noelene Clark
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