Warwick Davis’ career has spanned numerous decades with some of the most notable film franchises in the history of cinema. Everything from Star Wars to Harry Potter and every other iconic character in-between, Davis has carved our his place in history as one of the most recognizable faces in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres.
One of Davis’ more recent roles was the part of a scientist named, Lickspittle in Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil. CBM got a chance to have a chat with Mr. Davis about the role, and what drew him to it. He also touched on his work through out the Sci-Fi and Fantasy landscape, and how making the movies have changed over the years.
Your character, Lickspittle, is pretty important to the overall story of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil with doing the Queen’s bidding, was that pretty important when you were reading the for the role?
You know, what’s really lovely now of days, is that I’ll be sent a script with basically the question; would you like to play this character? So looking at it as I was reading the script, I was like, ‘oh this is quite an interesting character.’ He’s pretty important to the scheme of things here, and he has pretty interesting journey in why he’s doing what he’s doing. It’s not because he has any sort of evil streak in him, he’s doing it because…well I suppose it’s slightly selfish of him on his part, but it’s about survival really, and he is one of them. One of the types of creatures that he’s been charged with destroying. So I thought he was a very interesting character, and I’ve always enjoyed playing characters that are very unlike me, if you like. In this case with the prosthetic make-ups, and more that sort of thing. That’s what interested me, when you’re being completely transformed into somebody that’s nothing like you.
Speaking to the character development of the role, Lickspittle got a nice little redemption moment at the end of the movie, was that another thing that drew you to the role and made you say, ‘yeah let’s do this.’?
Yeah, I think that’s really important because otherwise if you look at the whole picture of the movie he’s the one that’s really developing this weapon of mass destruction. So I think it’s important that there is sort of this redemption for the character, otherwise it will leave the audience with a rather sour taste. So, yeah, that was important to me as well. I think he’s got a fascinating story. You kind of wonder why he was the one chosen for this. Why was he captured and forced into doing that? What kind of scientific prowess did he show off to begin with that attracted The Queen to using him in the first place? These are all questions that I, unfortunately, don’t know the answer to.
Well that leads me to my next question, there’s a pretty vast amount of chemistry speak using mythical flowers and ingredients, was that challenging to learn when you were memorizing the dialogue?
Yeah it was, I mean you have to get your head around the language of the particular project. It’s not unlike when you work on Star Wars or you do any of these kinds of high content fantasy films where you have to kind of immerse yourself in what it’s all about. I think for me one particularly important aspect was his environment. So Lickspittle’s, environment in the film is his laboratory that he’s been incarcerated in. It’s kind of a cross between a laboratory and a prison cell. So for me it was environment, and I became very familiar with it in early stages, even when they were still building the set. I was involved with making it, and it looked like it had been home to another chemist in the past, and that chemist in the past, perhaps, hadn’t been able to achieve the results The Queen desired, so he was dispatched, and Lickspittle was next in line. There was the little platform (he uses), because the bench isn’t low down, like it wasn’t made for him, and the devise that I use to get myself up to the bench was put in at a latter date. One thing that you don’t see in the movie is that he’s got a little bed underneath all of that where he would sleep. So he spends his entire time in that space, and for him it’s a matter of survival to develop this method for destroying the fairies, but you know that’s what’s going to keep him alive. What a conundrum to find yourself in, in life.
You mentioned the platform that you had to use to get around that they built for you since that lab wasn’t Lickspittle’s to begin with, was that you moving it around? Did someone move it for you? Because if it was you moving it around it looked like you had a terrific handle on it.
It took a lot of rehearsal and a lot of coordination with a bloke at the end of a radio, but it wasn’t quite as high-tech as you think. To make it go up and down, it was compressed air, and to make it go side to side it was a guy off set pulling a lever somewhere. Me pumping the handle had no effect on the actual platform, but we had to coordinate it because there was a slight delay in when they would put in the compressed air or when they released the compressed air to make it go up or down. Coordinating that with my pumping action, it took a bit of practice on their part and on my part to kind of make those two things go together, and to make it look like I was doing it. The moving back and forth, again, when I turn the handle nothing happened in reality, but then a guy would be, ‘okay cue.’ And there would be a slight delay before they could pull the lever to make it move. But we got there with it. It took a bit of practice, and there were times it took me off guard when I turned the handle and it would move, and I nearly toppled out of the platform. Seeing it back in the movie, I think it’s fairly convincing that I’m the one moving the platform. It’s something that would be useful for me at home in the kitchen. I’m normally balanced on a plastic stool to get to the counter top, but a platform like that would be really useful.
You should have talked to the set designer to see if they could built your something.
I was going to take the one from Maleficent, but it’s a little too rustic for the décor in my kitchen unfortunately. One thing I thought was great was that Lickspittle had to use that as part of his environment, it was an extension of my character really. I got to know everything in that room, all the books, the jars and contraptions. I was presented with a load of different tools, if you like, and these tools were gathered by the props buyer, and I don’t know where they all came from or ever what most of them did, but I would look at them and say, ‘oh I like these tweezers,’ or, ‘oh I don’t know what this is,’ but I think that would be very useful. So I was able to choose all of the little tools that I would use, and create uses for them. So I would present to the director, ‘okay, I can do this with this and this with that, and maybe he uses this for the mixing.’ So that stuff sort of came from me which felt good because I have to be familiar with the tools and how to use them, and at the same time it’s a piece of fantasy so they kind of had to look other worldly as well which was really important.
Another thing that fascinated me about your character was his costume. The costume to me was sort of this wired mix of hazmat meets medieval mad-scientist. Speak a little bit about the costume, was it hard to get into, was it uncomfortable to wear, what did you think of it?
Hazmat is what we use to call it, the Hazmat suit, when I was in full Hazmat with the hood up and everything. It was really hard to get in to because they built it like it was actually going to protect me from anything coming at me, in a sense that there was no Velcro or easy way out. It was laced up, so it would take about 20 minutes to put this suit on, and they’d actually forgotten to give me an easy way to go to the bathroom as well. That was a really involved procedure. And when you’re on a film set that’s costing thousands of dollars a minute, you don’t want to be saying, ‘excuse me I got to go to the bathroom, I’ll be back in a half hour.’ I didn’t drink a lot of water on that movie so I was very careful (laughs). But I loved the costume and we had to think about things such as, Lickspittle has these rather wonderful ears, which were made in reality, but the ones you see in the movie are a CG extension. So we had to think, when the hood is up, where are the ears? So we had to make sure with the make-up that we sort of built in false ears underneath (the hood) so it looked like they were tucked away. One of my favorite parts of the costume was the kind of goggles that I wore, and the job that we did with the make-up. It’s quite subtle in the film, but I would be burning chemicals and have soot all over my face, but when the goggles are in their up position, you can see around my eyes is perfectly clean. So it’s that sort of attention to detail I think really helped in selling the character, and also the make-up as well. So I really loved the little eye goggles, and I also think when I was wearing them I didn’t have to wear the contact lenses, which I quite liked, because they can be quite brutal when you’re working in an environment that’s smoky and dusty.
You’ve been in a lot of fantasy and sci-fi stuff through out your career, starting with Star Wars and now here with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, how have you seen how these movies are made today compared how they were made all those years ago?
Yeah, I’ve seen an evolution. Return of the Jedi is kind of my first taste of movies, and especially in the Sci-Fi/fantasy genre, I wasn’t aware then that a lot was left to your imagination as a performer that the stuff that the audience was going to see wasn’t necessarily going to be there with you on set, at 11 years old I didn’t know that. There are these wizards in post production that actually put all of this stuff in. Then working through my career and going to things like Willow for example, technology had not quite moved into the digital era that we know now, so there were matte paintings and it was all done sort of optically, but none the less it was about using your imagination and imagining things are there that weren’t going to be there. With Episode I: The Phantom Menace, in the digital era, very few sets were being built in there entirety. You would look at one wall of the set, and the rest of the environment was in the computer using blue screen. And then going into things like Harry Potter, things kind of came full circle, because there were complete sets, The Great Hall actually exists as a 360 degree environment, and that makes it very easy because you’re able to be immersed in that world, and the same for Maleficent. My laboratory, the court yard of the castle, although it doesn’t extend to the degree it does in the movie. I was completely gobsmacked when I saw it. I was like, ‘this is huge,’ where it was on the back lots of Pinewood Studios. It was a reasonably big set, but it was surrounded by shipping containers covered in green screen. Yeah, we built full sets, but not to the scale that they were in the finished production. I think any actor working now in Sci-Fi or Fantasy has to have that child like imagination. They have to be able to visualized things, and as adults sometimes we loose that ability, but as an actor you have to be able to maintain that ability to see what you’re not seeing. And if you can maintain that as an actor, it makes the jobs of the post production wizards easier. Because putting something in after, if I’m not believing it’s there, the audience isn’t going to believe it’s there however wonderful it looks.
I would like to thank Mr. Davis for taking the time out to chat with me, and you can pick up your copy of Maelficent: Mistress of Evil on 4K, blu-ray and DVD TODAY!