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Friday, 31 May 2013

CLASSIC REVIEW: 'SIZE MATTERS NOT' BY WARWICK DAVIS


SIZE MATTERS NOT

THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE AND CAREER OF WARWICK DAVIS


An autobiography by Warwick Davis

Published by Aurum Press

Reviewed by Scott Weller

With a diverse range playing everything from a cute teddy bear helping to topple a deadly empire “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”, to being a kindly professor, and from being an unexpected hero in a fantasy of sword and sorcery, to bringing the world down around him as a miserable paranoid android, actor Warwick Davis has spent the last twenty seven years entertaining the world in all manner of mainstream film and TV blockbusters, plus some truly weird and wonderful cult projects, and often acting within a veritable cornucopia of guises and performances that have cemented his place in audience hearts and minds forever, and making him a firm fixture of the fantasy and science fiction universes. And all this undertaken for the sake of entertainment. Plus, he’s played E.T., too!! How’s that for the film-history books! And, even luckier, he managed to get his hands on Jennifer Anistons’ shapely legs long before Brad Pitt ever did! Extra kudos there, too!!

Beyond his many iconic on–screen roles, his unique small person size certainly hasn’t restrained or diminished his creativity and enthusiasm for his profession (which he kinda slipped into with the ease of Cinderella putting on her missing slipper), and his love of life and his family happily knows no bounds. So, it’s nice to report thatWarwick’s new autobiography, SIZE MATTERS NOT, is a warm distillation of the very best ingredients of the man, and is lively, intelligent and truly nostalgic to read. You will be much entertained.

It’s certainly very humorous, with lots of cheekiness and bad puns aplenty-you are so duly warned! SIZE MATTERS NOT doesn’t just generally please film fans with its anecdotes of many great films and TV shows which Warwick has been involved in, but its also a great showing of his triumph over both adversity and tragedy in his life-from the moment he was born (having both Talipas as a child, and the ultra rare condition, only later diagnosed in his life, of spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenital (try saying that one when you’re drunk!!)), Warwick has fought all the way with courage, tenacity and humour, and his hard work, persistence and love of life and work has paid off- with a nice dollop of luck thrown into the equation alongside him - which readers will enjoy discovering, appreciate and understand as the fruits of his successes continue within its pages.

And to think it all started with the help of his Nan!!

That’s right, beloved Nan Davis, she of the Haunted house (I kid you not!!) that Derek Acorah and Yvette Fielding should have investigated years ago for MOST HAUNTED, who heard a radio ad on LBC requiring small people to work on the third STAR WARS film. Warwick soon proved to be the right guy for the right job and, with a youthfulness that inspired the films cast and crew, was quickly whisked into the wonderful world of making movies!! His portrayal of the furry young Ewok warrior-to-be, Wicket W. Warwick, alongside the rest of his cuddly race, would soon prove irresistible on screen to both young children and families everywhere, as he and his Endorian buddies helped our heroic Rebels overthrow an Empire with their primitive, but highly effective weaponry. In many ways, Warwick and the Ewoks would overshadow Harrison Ford in the film, whether he liked it or not!!

Warwick and his JEDI alter-ego.

The making-of section devoted to Warwick’s initiation to STAR WARS/JEDI (of which he and millions of others had their fates intermixed at such an early age- the original STAR WARS being his first film memory as an always excited seven year old – and making him a true member of that illustrious original viewers club of the series!!), and the youngsters introduction to film-making in general, is well put together and very interesting in places - it’s fun to see how a lot of Wicket’s scenes were improvised by Davis and ended up on film, egged on by an enthusiastic George Lucas and Assistant Director David Tomblin- but ultimately there’s only a few little bits of new information here and there if you’re a true die-hard behind the scenes nut (like revealing to us exactly who Ewok actor Nicky Read was on the film- a fellow 11-year alongside Warwick on the set of JEDI), with so much having already been previously revealed about the Ewok filming in the last twenty five years.

I imagine that, being so young, Warwick probably wasn’t too aware, or was oblivious, of the kind of juicy behind the scenes things going on around him with regards to JEDI’s shooting, like the problems between Dave Prowse and LUCASFILM, and the top secret filming with Sebastian Shaw, or anything like that, until after the fact, and very little is talked about the films director, Richard Marquand, which is a bit of a shame. Annoyingly, the STAR WARS related text also has one big error that often sticks out like a thorn in this reviewer’s side: Lightsaber is still being spelt wrong in the publishing world (as “lightsabre”)-when will people get this right!!

Who's a lucky boy, eh?

The much vaunted rare photos linked to the film’s making, and other parts of Warwick’s life and career, are good, and there are some nice behind the scenes shots (loved the Carrie/Warwick images, and the one with Mark Hamill on set)- with many pics specially chosen from sources including the LUCASFILM archives- though some are represented a tad too small or under-reproduced (more colour inside would have been a nice bonus, even if it would have meant a price increase), where they could have been better laid out by the books obviously talented design team (applause, though, for the opening collage of images showing Warwick’s different moods-a fun way to launch the book and show the spirit of his autobiography in general).

Linked to JEDI there’s also a nice section about the RETURN OF THE EWOK/ Warwick Davis film project that was being made at the same time in 1982, but there’s still not enough detail about its behind the scenes making or enough on Warwick’s friendship/filming memories with good friend David Tomblin, though the reproduction of screen grabs from this occasionally seen at conventions short film, as part of the nostalgic colour section, are fun to have. With JEDI and EWOK, it looks like Warwick, being a child, was able to get away with absolute murder on set, and must have been a refreshing and innocent change of pace for cast and crew to have enjoyed working with on the top-secret filming, both at ELSTREE STUDIOS and at the US location filming.

On location in California, our iconic STAR WARS heroes say goodbye to Warwick in RETURN OF THE EWOK.

Warwick’s deserved rise to further success as Wicket the Ewok would continue a few years later in the spin-off TV movies, CARAVAN OF COURAGE and THE BATTLE OF ENDOR, and that too gets a brief mention, where he notes their popularity and cult status with fans of all ages. There’s also a great sequence where he talks about dressing up as Wicket for George Lucas’s adopted daughter Amanda’s fourth birthday, which is an amusing sequence to read (and with a great accompanying B/W pic to boot!). Warwick’s continuing friendship with George Lucas ever since JEDI is something to be proud of, and the STAR WARS creator provides an equally pleasing view of their friendship in a nicely written foreword to the book.

Thanks to Lucas, the emergence of the fantasy film genre with, and since, the release of the original STAR WARS saga would soon prove to be a great source of enjoyment and financial income forWarwick, as all manner of film and TV projects burst forth in the proceeding chapters requiring his unique talents. After JEDI, he recalls on-set life acting with David Bowie on Jim Henson’s LABYRINTH and, outside of performing, briefly acting as a production runner on WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, before deciding life in front of the camera, rather than behind it, was more preferred.

Then comes WILLOW- Warwick’s first lead role in a film, and at just seventeen years old, acting in a project specially conceived by Lucas for him to star, and in which he shows a maturity as an actor beyond his years in this cult hit directed by Ron Howard. This is a terrific, highly detailed section of the book, and it’s nice to read about how strong a friendship Davis has shared with fellow actor Val Kilmer, both on set and off, and has continued since the original filming (there’s a lovely, albeit brief, reunion between them at the end of the book). Kilmer was almost like a sword and sorcery version of Han Solo in the movie as Madmartigan, and was most impressive. This project was a lot to put on Warwick shoulders, so it’s no wonder that Ron Howard was also looking/testing for older actors in the demanding role, but Davis ultimately pulls the task off very well and on screen pretty much makes it look like the easiest thing in the world to achieve. It may not be a classic film, but WILLOW has survived the test of time and been enjoyed by families due to the vitality and conviction of its lead stars within the fantasy framework.

Another of the books best behind the scenes chapters involvesWarwick’s experiences, invited by David Tomblin, visiting the last day of shooting on to the set of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, where he’s accompanied by his best friend, Daniel (whom Davis regularly describes as an “idiot!!”- in a lovable way of course!!). The camaraderie of Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Steven Spielberg is nicely re-visited.

Big head, big powers!

STAR WARS and WILLOW may be the most recognized ofWarwick’s work, but how could we not mention the equally fine, detailed sections of the cult phenomenon of his six bizarre but priceless LEPRECHAUN films (LEPRECHAUN IN DA HOOD!! Now, THAT’S a title!!). These sections are clearly some of the most enjoyable parts of the book, and the info on how these much loved B-movies came to fruition and spanned six films (yes folks, SIX films!! So far!!) is very amusing, with Warwick clearly enjoying the diverse low budget filming experiences.

Having been dormant for a long time, despite continued merchandise success, STAR WARS was ready to return to cinemas once again, bursting forth like an active volcano with Lucas’s phone call to arms to Warwick, telling him to be ready, in 1997, and its here that his love of Chocolate Digestives comes in handy for his survival against food poisoning during location filming in Tunisia for EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE. This section is another strong point of the book, and has some nice tales I hadn’t heard before, plus some great bits of BTS info I wasn’t previously aware of. He played four characters in the film (Yoda (for a brief walking scene), Anakin’s friend, the Rodian named Wald, a grimy extra on the Mos Espa location set (later called Greaser), and a pod racing spectator (nicknamed an older Willow by the production team). Warwick’s return to the STAR WARS universe is obviously one of his most pleasant, and continually nostalgic, jobs, and to see in the birth of a new Prequel trilogy must have been great for him to have been involved with.

With the birth of the STAR WARS saga comes the quick succession birth of the STAR WARS conventions, of which Warwick has been a loyal participant/guest for many years, so it’s surprising that he doesn’t talk about his experiences on them very much. Perhaps he wants to keep his distance from us “geeks”!! Or he’s saving those experiences for another book?

Surprisingly, after WARS, it is the HARRY POTTER section of the book that, apart from his initial casting and work in the first film, seems to have few anecdotes, especially as he has been in all of the films to a more or less degree, though his affection for Michael Gambon’s wicked humour and storytelling clearly shows (I also loved Warwick’s earlier description of another acting legend, the ex-DOCTOR WHO, Tom Baker (whom he worked with on the BBC TV versions of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA)-check the book to find out what he says).

Beyond all previous make-up applications and body suits that he’s worn and been used to, it will be everyone’s favourite depressive robot, Marvin the Paranoid android, for the movie version of Douglas Adams’ book THE HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, that proves to Warwick’s toughest acting gig to date, driving him almost to the point of mental and physical exhaustion within its restricting confines, and its obviously a part he was glad to see the back of, despite his love of the cast, the director, and the finally released film. Further strains take place with his adventures in Tic-land for PRINCE CASPIAN, but the book enters happier climes as it takes us up to the birth of his most recent child, Harrison, and his TV work, including a memorable role in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s UK comedy series EXTRAS, and the start of a great relationship between the trio, and their getting together to make a pilot episode of Davis’s newly created comedy series format- LIFE’S TOO SHORT (think CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, but smaller!), which we hope will make its way to a full series.

As well as digestives, there’s also a memorable section on his life as a master of ceremonies at the annual Stilton Cheese Rolling Championship in Peterborough. Now that he has revealed his indulgence in cheddar, Warwick is likely to be inundated with it by fans at conventions!! He’s also diversified himself into the realms of television presenting, show organizing (look out for the section of the HALF MONTY!!-don’t trust him to book your venues!!), and handling the reins as a producer and film-maker extraordinaire (something that goes back to his teenage roots- there’s a funny section on the home made movies he made as a kid. I liked the one of the early VCR that eats people!). There’s also his innovative WILLOW casting agency for small and tall people that he has with his business partner Peter Burroughs (father of his wife, Sam), which Davis has made a well-deserved success from many “why didn’t anyone think of this before?” types of idea linked to being small.

The book comes full circle with another STAR WARS high, asWarwick recalls the fun and nostalgia of it all with his recent home Jacuzzi encounter with lovable UK TV presenter Justin Lee Collins for the reasonably successful BRING BACK STAR WARS TV show interview/reunion.

Warwick’s telling of his life-story may show a little bit of occasional ego (and if you’re going to be working in the film and TV business you’ve certainly got to have it to survive) but its certainly nothing belligerent-his willpower to succeed positively in life is balanced with a lot of charm and humility. With the help of a very grounded family and older sister growing up, Warwick has got his head firmly on his shoulders about life, is fun loving but also highly disciplined with himself, especially related to his career, which, to his credit, he has run the crest of the wave of good fortune with and survived intact to prosper – his is a self evolver to be proud of, and he’s a fine provider for his family.

Beyond the clearly enjoyed film work, life as a short person is clearly not without its difficulties, especially in his day-to-day dealings with the general public (he and his family are very popular with Irish and Japanese tourists, who all want to touch them for luck!!), and whilst I’m sure it must be terribly frustrating, Davis observations on life as a short person are surprisingly upbeat and I never got the feeling at all that he’s bitter about his life. In many ways, being little has opened up some wonderful doors at the right times and places, and with the right kind of people you want as friends. At 40, Warwick’s done more so far in his life than many of us will ever achieve in a lifetime. With his varied life experiences, you can see why the aforementioned Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant want to turn his life into a TV series. It should be quite a ground-breaking and hilarious show, which, like SIZE MATTERS NOT, will show Warwick’s clear candidness in his writing, alongside his vital sense of humour, honesty and courageousness, and a personal integrity at work and at play that’s much to be admired.

SIZE MATTERS NOT is certainly a fine mirror of the man named Warwick Davis, and a very enjoyable biography. As the book concludes, it’s obvious that there’s still so much more to come from him. He’s definitely a person who is high and mighty, where size matters not. The future has never looked brighter, and I wish him the best of success!


AFICIONADO RATING: This is a large book for a man whose enthusiasm and love of life transcends all size!! With Warwick it’s never been a case of how he’ll adjust to the world, it’s rather how the world will adjust to Warwick!

And, to follow Warwick’s advice for surviving life: “Always make sure your nuts are tight!” 8.5 out of 10

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