A few months ago, I got to visit the set of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when the production was still shooting at Leavesden Studios outside London. As you might imagine, it was an amazing experience which you can read about here.
While on set I got to participate in group interviews with a lot of the cast. Even though getting to speak to Danielle Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) was very cool, I’ll admit that getting to interview Warwick Davis was on the same level. That’s because, like you, I grew up watching Davis in films like Return of the Jedi (he plays Wicket the Ewok) and Willow, so I was thrilled to be able to ask him some questions.
If you’re not aware, Davis plays Professor Filius Flitwick in the movies, and in The Deathly Hallows, he also plays Griphook. If you’ve read The Deathly Hallows, you know Griphook plays a very important part in the final installments. During the interview, Davis talked about the challenges of playing two characters at the same time, what it’s like being in all the Harry Potter movies, some memorable experiences, and so much more. You can either read or listen to what he had to say after the jump:
Since many of you like to listen to an interview, you can click here for the audio. Or you can read the transcript below. And for the two people that haven’t seen it, here’s the amazing trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 which gets released November 19, 2010:
Warwick Davis: Hi. How are you?
Davis: Yes it is. It’s brilliant. It’s perfect for this sort of environment, as you realize, there’s a lot of walking around here, you see and I’m always having to go here, there and everywhere to different sets to film – first unit, second unit, back to the make-up area and everything, so it’s perfect.
Is it fun to fool around on that thing?
Davis: Yeah, it’s really great. The boys in the workshop made me a seat for it as well, because it doesn’t have a seat. So if you’re on a long trip on it, you can just sit down there. But mine’s unique because it’s called an Egway because they cut the tube down a bit because it was a bit high. The S has been cut off the logo. [laughing]
Davis: It’s unique. In the world, it’s the only Egway ever.
You play two different parts in 7th – Part One and Two.
Davis: Yes I do.
Can you talk a little bit about the two different characters you play in the film?
Davis: Absolutely. Well, the first is this guy here who’s missing his mustache and glasses at the moment. This is Professor Flitwick whom I’ve played since movie three onwards. And he’s basically kind of the same character he’s always been, although you don’t see so much of his kind of lighter side in this, the comic side that we’re used to seeing in this character. There’s some serious action in this one. I do get to wave my wand in anger a little bit in this one, so that’s really…I’m not just conducting a choir with it. I actually get to dispatch some death eaters and stuff so it’s all very exciting.
And in complete contrast, really, is his Griphook who, he’s very deceitful, you know, you just don’t know whether to trust him. He’s as close to sort of villainous character that, I suppose, I’ve got in these films; definitely sort of the darkest end of the scale for me. But really great, because he is very, very different to this character, looks very different, talks very different. And I had to make…I had to hope he was the opposite end because when you play two characters in the same film, you’ve got to make sure that you don’t want people to go, “Hang on a minute. There’s something here.” So it’s a complete physical change, not only the look but the way I stand, the way I walk, everything about me had to be different.
But it’s just so nice that David has the faith and trust in me to be able to pull it off and play some interesting scenes. But my connection with Griphook goes way back to the first film in which I did the voice for Griphook. But I kind of… It was funny, because now when I look at it, I sort of snicker at myself, but we were able to overcome that. But in a way, I kind of gave the first Griphook a voice sort of suited that style of that film and also the size of the character at times. So his voice was like, “We want key please. Vault 365.” You know, it was very much up there. But when it came to this one it just wasn’t going to be quite right for him so, you know, maybe we’ll have a chance to go back in the likes of George Lucas and tinker with it later on and kind of sort out the continuity in that, perhaps.
I was just going to ask, is it difficult as an actor to sort of play two parts in one movie?
Davis: I haven’t found it difficult. It’s quite weird when I’ll be one day as this character and the following day I’ll be the other character. That’s very …it’s not necessarily difficult, it’s just kind of quite strange, you know, for me.
Is it hard for one character doesn’t fall into the other when you’re…
Davis: No, I’ve never, because for a start, the makeups feel very different when I wear them, you know, and not only…the other one, the Griphook’s much heavier. He’s got bigger ears and nose. And they’re made of silicon, so silicon’s a quite dense product. Anyway, and I have black contact lenses and dentures which, you know, are very difficult to talk in. So I got to certainly know when I’m Grip Hook. You know what I’m saying. This is a much…although it’s still full face and head prosthetic, it’s much going to be much easier and more pleasant to wear.
And you’re involved in that scene quite a lot.
Talk about how massive it is or sort of what’s involved.
Davis: Well, the scene’s a very important part. Griphook has been persuaded to help Harry break into Gringotts on the understanding he gets to Gryffindor at the end of it. And it was, I mean, a huge scene in many different ways. I mean, first they had to reconstruct Gringotts bank here as a set, when in the first movie it was a location in Central London. So that was the first undertaking. It was a huge set. And then we had to fill it with goblins and there were 60 goblins in the scene.
I have another connection with them because I represent them as an agent as well. So that was really nice of the film to kind of put trust in us as a company to say, “Will you find this, you know, 60 people?” And it sounds quite easy because we represent well over that number of actors under five feet. But because they had specific height requirements they wanted and also, you know, to actually deal with wearing prosthetic make up, sitting in the makeup chair for three or four hours, you know, and then working for a day, you know, it’s not the easiest thing to do. So you had to make sure everybody was kind of up to the challenge of doing that. Everybody rose to the challenge admirably and were brilliant, you know, through and through professional and all had a really fantastic time and did brilliantly.
And the scene just looks amazing. You know, you’ve got the marvelous set as is that the production department designers do such a wonderful job on. And then you fill it with the creations of Nick Dougman’s makeup effects department, sitting and bringing it to life. And it just was tremendous. And it was weird for that, because as Griphook in that scene, I’m actually under the invisible cloak. So it was one of those days I didn’t have to be in makeup. I had to be there but I didn’t have to be in makeup. We just shot my part of that scene a couple of days ago with them when we were kind of peeking out, you know, and trying to get through in the cloak there.
But yeah, it was a huge scene and one of the biggest to make up – prosthetic makeup jobs in this country for many years if not ever, I believe. There was some sort of record set. I couldn’t quote what it was, but yeah. So it was pretty impressive and will be really interesting scene, because not only have we got the actual upstairs of Gringotts, we’ve yet to shoot all the vault scenes that take place underneath. We shot the scenes for the cart and the actual sort of goblin cart that goes down to the vaults. And again, that’s slightly different and more dramatic than the first film – it’s slightly enhanced version.
There’s a big prank involved.
Davis: There will be, yes. I’ve yet to see that. So, yes, it’s really quite exciting and that’s the thing about these films. You either get surrounded with everything, as in the Great Hall where you’ve come from, you know, and that’s an amazing set, isn’t it? It’s all three dimensional, all encompassing, and when you’re in there, there’s nothing left to the imagination. You’re in the environment.
Then there’s some other scenes, as I’m sure will happen in the vault and happened when we were driving the cart, where it’s all in the mind, then, you know. You’re in green screen and you’re looking at animatics and you’re having to kind of piece it together in your head, because those scenes are only as real, I think, as the actors who are actually performing in them. Like, if they’re believing in it, then the audience will also believe in it. Do you know what I’m saying? So if we aren’t reacting correctly to the size of the dragon, for example, it’s not going to work. So I really work very hard in making sure that I get all the information I can and just give it enough of a reaction, you know, to whatever I might be seeing.
Do you find that more challenging?
Davis: Well, it’s something I’ve grown up doing. You know, since I was eleven, I’ve been working on Star Wars movies and all of these, you know, special effects. That’s my genre, you know– sci-fi, horror, all of that. So all of it involve sort of make believe, you know, and imagining things that are there that aren’t, so I’ve got quite used to doing it.
But it can be quite difficult. I remember one particularly challenging day I had on Star Wars Episode 1. And that really was taking film making to a sort of minimalist level, you know. They sometimes didn’t even build a set, you know, they just – that’s going to be there and it was literally a blue screen studio. And one day George says, “Well, we need you to be leading this creature around.” So I said, “OK.” It’s a big dinosaur sort of creature and I said, “OK. So do I have like the reins, you know, where they get hooked onto some sort of blue pole?” you know. He said, “Well, can you just imagine that you’re jumping out and grabbing the reins and then you lead him off?” So I was literally stood in the middle of a blue studio and then jumping up at imaginary reins, grabbing them and then having to pull this creature along, you know. And then seeing the movie, I was like, “Oh, that actually works.” But it was going back to my days of drama school for that, my improvisations, imagining what this was all like.
When you’re doing Flitwick and Griphook, the makeup and prosthetics, is there a major difference, time-wise, between the two of them?
Davis: The Griphook’s slightly longer, but not terribly. We just got the addition of the lenses which take a couple of minutes, and then the teeth are literally popped in just before we do a take. It’s hard to leave those in because they’re so sharp. If you bite – they’re literally needle sharp teeth, so you have to be very careful of your tongue if you’re talking. I’ve often bit my tongue when I’m talking in a scene.
So you’ve been in all of them?
Davis: All of them. Yes. It’s quite exciting. It’s quite exciting, yeah. I’m a lifer. [laughs] I know, I’ve sort of got the full set in there which is…and it was never as sort of a done thing from the offset. You’re so thrilled to be involved in the first film, in which I did two parts as well, didn’t I? Three if you count the voice. But then after that, it was never sort of each time they were planning to do another film, you were never quite sure whether you were going to be in it or not, because the script adaptation sometimes, you know, were quite different to the books. Huge sections would be left, and so I was always like really worried every time that…
The most worrying time was on the third one when Flitwick wasn’t in the script. And I was like, “Aww. Seemed like this is the one I’m not going to be doing.” And then David Heyman actually phoned me at home and said, “Well, you’ve seen you’re not in the script and we’re really sorry that you’re not.” I was like, “Yeah, well, I know, but that’s fine. No worries.” He said, “We’d really like you to be part of it. Would you consider doing another character?” I said, “Of course. No problem.” I should have said, “Yeah, well, I’ll think about it.” [laughing]
But no, I said yeah. So we came up with this sort of new look character for a conductor. And then when it came to doing the fourth film, Michael Newell was presented with two pictures. “Which would you like, Warrick, to be in this film?” And he pointed to this guy, so that’s how he became Flitwick. That’s how the change occurred. Which is, I would love a more sort of dramatic story than that, because that’s the question I’m always asked by fans is, “Why the different…why the look change?” and stuff. But this character, for me, he’s quite different to the older Flitwick. You know the old one was really…he reminded me a lot of my school teachers. You know, he’s quite old…I love old school teachers, teaching Latin and science and things. So I kind of based him on all of those.
What was your reaction…could you talk about when you got the 7th book? Like did you get it on opening day? Could you talk about you getting it and also your reaction to reading it?
Davis: Well, I don’t actually go and get the books on opening day. I don’t do that. The way I do the books was in audio book version, I’m afraid, because for me it was just, it’s the easiest way. I’m not a great fiction reader, so therefore to be able to have the story read to me when I’m travelling and things like that, between doing other work that I do was the right way to go. It’s always quite exciting when you kind of hear the revelations and the kind of the path that your character’s taking. It’s unique when you make a film of a novel you see. Normally the first time you read about your character is in a script. But you kind of almost get this sort of premonition, this forewarning of what might be happening.
But then that can lead to disappointment sometimes. You go, “Oh, that’s really cool. “Then you read the script and go, “Oh, I don’t get to do that bit that was really good” or whatever. And then sometimes you get to go, “Oh wow. In the book I wasn’t there but look, I’m there now.” Do you know what I mean? So there’s pros and cons to it, I suppose, you know. I think, as pieces of literature, it’s just amazing achievement, and I think it’s nice these last films are done as two part, this last story, because it is…it probably could have been done with some of the others, to be honest. But I think it’s going to do it justice and make sure it has a great sort of finale.
Can you talk about sort of…you’ve been in all of the films. Can you talk about the journey coming to an end, what it feels like to see this finally being wrapped up?
Davis: Well, it’s…I mean when anyone, people like yourself remind me of it, I realize yes, we are kind of near the end now. You sort of take it for granted when you’ve been working on something for so long – nearly 10 years now coming to these studios and doing this. It’s almost like a proper job in a way, you know, that I’ll go to. Yeah, the thought of not being asked to come back here and not sitting in that makeup chair with all the friends that I have there that do the makeup now and seeing all the friends I have in the cast, you know. It’s going to be really weird and sad. And you know, I’m not saying I used to take it for granted that I’d be coming back each time, but I suppose in the back of your mind, you kind of do. And then now that it isn’t going to happen anymore, it will be sad.
But what a great legacy that we can all leave is the fact that we’ve produced eight amazing films which hopefully do full justice to the pieces of literature that came before them. And always in the forefront of my mind whenever I’m doing anything on these films, really, are the audience that are out there, the people that have read these books and are passionate about them, and the fact that I’m entrusted with portraying that character that they’ve read about and they’ve imagined on screen, you know, something like Grip Hook. People have all got their thoughts and ideas about how he should sound, how he should talk, how he should look, how he should move, how he should act.
And so I try to kind of get as close to where I think he is, but at the same time trying to kind of go partway to where I…you just find that middle ground, you know. So, yeah, it’s a very hard thing to do because people’s imaginations are wonderful things and everybody’s different, so, you know. But it’s lovely to read that people actually have read the books since the films have been out and actually then visualize your character in the book now, which is really…that’s quite nice – that sort of feeling.
Davis: He hasn’t asked me yet, but I’ll be dropping lots of hints, I assure you. I assure you I will most definitely be dropping hints. We’re still in touch. I just finished writing my autobiography and George has written a lovely forward for the book for me – really amazing. I mean I didn’t know he thought of me like that. It’s really, really nice. I thought he was a great person to write that, because he’s responsible for me being here, in a way. If it hadn’t been for him and giving me all the little lucky breaks he has along the way, then my career wouldn’t be what it was.
When’s the book coming out?
Davis: Comes out April 15th in the U.K. and this summer in the U.S.
What’s it called?
Davis: It’s called “Size Matters Not”. [laughing]
You had mentioned getting the opportunity to portray the character based on fans and what they think.
Do you have a most memorable experience, person to person, with a fan?
Davis: Oh my goodness. I mean, just, Harry Potter fans are very different to Star Wars fans in a sense. I mean they’re still very passionate about it, but there’s something a little bit more gentle about them, a little bit more kind of elegant, I suppose. So I’ve had some lovely more sort of conversational type events. I was in Orlando a few years ago, working a shoot for Walt Disney World and a person that came to the event said, “Oh, we have kind of a Harry Potter club that we do at Border’s Bookstore” and wondered if I’d go along. I was like, “What the heck. Why don’t I just go along?” And so there’s about 30 of the members there and I went in and I read some of the book and then we just talked about the movies and stuff. And it was just a really nice evening.
There were children aged from sort of from 6 to 60, you know. I mean, the age range was huge, and they were all dressed up and just passionate about the books and the films as well. They seemed to love them in equal measure. It’s not like, “I don’t read the books. I only watch the films.” So that was really nice. They tend to be very, very, you know…they’ve always got a wand with them as well, you know, like a light saber to a Star Wars fan. The wand, you got to…you know, if you see a wand you know that they’re a fan of Harry Potter. They often tell me things about my character I didn’t know. That’s what’s funny is while we were shooting to be the complete experts on all things Harry Potter, well, I’m far from that. And they’ll often tell me some sort of revelationary information and I’ll be like, “Really?” When Flitwick’s birthday is, for example, and things that I wouldn’t know. It’s all nice.
I know you’ve got to go.
I want to know if you’ve been able to take home any souvenirs from the set?
Davis: No, I wish. My daughter was given a Gringotts galleon from the first film. She has one of those. But at the end of all this, I’d very much like my wand, because I have a wand from Willow on the wall in my living room in a frame. And I would love to have a Flitwick wand to go along with that.
That would be great
Davis: Drop the hint then. [laughing]
Thank you very much.
Davis: I think everybody would want their wand. You speak to the other actors.
Yeah, it’d be kind of cool. Is the Segway yours or is that studio’s?
Davis: That’s mine. Yeah. I bought it in America last year because…I don’t know why I bought it? It was one of those impulse moments, you know. It was like a friend of mine had one and I was like “I gotta have one of those things.”
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