Warwick Davis on Returning to the Galaxy Far, Far Away

We chat with the actor about his surprise reunion with director Ron Howard on ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story.’

Warwick Davis Solo
Lucasfilm

Few actors have as unique a perspective on the Star Wars franchise as Warwick Davis. He’s been there since nearly the beginning. Before falling ill, R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker was originally meant to play the heroic Wicket the Ewok in Return of the Jedi. Davis was twelve years old when re-cast in the part, and he has been a staple in the franchise ever since. He returned as multiple characters in The Phantom Menace and found his way into The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi. Frankly, at this point, you can’t do a Star Wars film without him. To contemplate such thoughts would be wrong.

Davis knew he was going to be a part of Solo: A Star Wars Story, but he didn’t know he would resurrect Episode I’s Weazel until working his way through the costuming decisions. He’s thrilled to see his character return, and even more excited to see what writers will do with him in the expanded universe. You might not know it given the amount of screen time his space pirate has in the film, but Davis seriously considered Weazel’s arc from The Phantom Menace to Solo. He went on a journey.

I was delighted to chat with Davis about Weazel’s return, as well as what it was like working with his old Willow director Ron Howard. We discuss the surprise filmmaker change-up from Phil Lord and Chris Miller to Howard, and how it affected his experience on set. And yes, we also talk the possibility of a Willow sequel.

Here is our conversation in full:

You’ve had a unique perspective on the Star Wars franchise, starting out in Return of the Jedi, and coming back for Phantom Menace, and now seeing the return of the franchise yet again so many years later. I’m kind of curious, what was it like in ’99 to be back on the Phantom Menace site, and how is it different from being on Solo: A Star Wars Story?

Well, I mean, yeah, it was interesting, wasn’t it, right? We saw Return of the Jedi, and then everybody thought that was it. Then, from the early ’90s there were loads of rumors about, there’s going to be more Star Wars, George wants to tell the early stories, the early part of the story. I was kind of excited then, because it would be great to get back in these films, if he does ever do them. I would constantly be pestering George. Every time I saw him, I’d be saying, “When you get ’round to doing these films, don’t forget me,” kind of thing. He came good on that when he did finally got ’round to doing them in 1997, I think it was, wasn’t it? I was given the part of Wald, which is the young Rodian character, who’s a friend of Anakin.

It’s interesting. While we were doing it, while we were actually shooting the film. He said, “You know I feel bad sort of putting you inside a rubber mask again, ’cause you’ve kind of moved beyond that, ’cause obviously we’ve done Willow since you were in Jedi.” I said, “Yeah, but it’s fun, I don’t mind doing it.” He said, “We’ll get you in somewhere else.” Then he put me as Weasel watching the pod race. Who, coincidentally, ended up looking like a little bit like Willow. I remember, George used to refer to that shot as the Willow shot, I think, they used to call it, because I looked so much like that character then.

So, that’s how that kind of came about. Then when it came to the newer films, and then, you know, Solo. I kind of become apart of these films again, because for one reason or another, I’d been put in each one, and it was a natural progression to become a part of Solo. Initially, as other characters. People think of me as Weasel in the film, because you see it’s me. Maybe it’s just having me reveal my actual face in the Star Wars movie once again connects the character that I played all those years ago in Phantom Menace. But there were other roles I was doing initially on the film, and then this was kind of an added thing, that we thought would be fun to have as part of Enfys Nest’s gang.

In that part, you don’t have a lot of screen time as this gang member to make an impact.

No.

What’s your strategy as an actor? How do you make that role work for you? How do you internalize it? Or do you?

Well, I definitely thought about it, ’cause Weasel in the Phantom Menace, we don’t really know much about him, but I knew at the time that he was a gambler. He’s hanging out with Watto, he’s a bit of a crook, and I imagine he was getting in with the wrong people. Beyond that, I’d like to think his life got a lot worse. Then something happened that was definitely a turning point, where he thought, “I need to start doing something good here.” Fighting for a cause, and that became joining Enfys Nest’s game and trying to do something that’s a little bit good in the galaxy, as opposed to just going down the spiral of gambling, and debt, and crime, and what have you.

What that was kind of what was going on in my mind anyway, at least when we got to Solo. Although you’d never know, it’s important as an actor that you actually establish these things, and then who knows, maybe somebody will fill that in with a comic book or a novel in the years to come, in the expanded universe. Kind of a reenactment. But I definitely did think all of that stuff through.

Well, that’s always exciting. When we see you at the end of Solo, immediately we want to start seeing spin-off stories, like you said comic books, novels, video games, whatever.

Yeah, yeah, I liked it the way he was, ’cause originally he was just going to be a member of the gang. He wasn’t Weasel. There was no name, and then it kind of, in trying to figure out what I was going to look like, he just started to look a lot like him. Then it was really great, and it worked. The timeline worked out perfectly and everything was exactly right for it to be the same guy. Fans enjoy these little links between the movies, and it just seemed a very natural thing to do, is to kind of have me as that character.

How did the transition from Lord and Miller to Ron Howard affect your experience on Solo?

It didn’t affect me particularly. It made my work on the film last a lot longer because of course, there were certain sequences that we would revisit once again, things that we’d done, or things that we needed to find more action for, or what have you. So, there was definitely some overlap going on as far as myself as a performer went. I remember finding out that Ron was stepping in, and I was very excited to have him on board. ‘Cause our relationship with Willow, we’d kept that going, we’d always been in touch for various reasons throughout the years, and we always said we would love to work together again. But who knew that it would be in a Star Wars movie?

I remember Ron’s first day directing me, and I distinctly remember him, the first time he said action. It was as if we were still doing Willow. He said it in the same way, and it just brought all the memories back about making that film. Yeah, we have a lot of fun doing it. We reminisce quite a lot as well.

Well, of course, that begs the question, or the fantasy, of Willow Part II. So many of us fanatics want to see that world again.

Well, thank you. I’m glad to hear that. I mean, a lot of people do. I’m always amazed and surprised. It’s funny, I think it was near the premiere for Episode I, I think it was Episode I, might not have been, Episode II or III, but I remember talking with George, and Ron was there. I remember telling them both, I said, “You know guys I get letters …” This was before social media, I get letters all the time, people saying they wanted to see more Willow. George’s like, “Yeah, that’d be a good idea. Although I think we’d have to recast, ’cause you’re getting a bit old (Laughter).

Just a bit of humor. I kind of laughed off, hoping he wasn’t serious, but people now, with the advent of social media, constantly are saying, “We want more Willow, we love Willow, we want more Willow.” So, it was something we have talked about. Jonathan Kasdan, who was the screenwriter on Solo, said to me, Willow is one of the reasons he got into screenwriting. He was a huge fan of that film. When Ron came on to Solo, he was really excited about it. He inspired me, even more, to want to write something to do with Willow. Very keen to do that. So, various conversations were had.

I remember, one day, it was a really exciting day, actually, ’cause they were filming on the Falcon set and George came to visit, and I was on second unit, and they called me in, “Oh, George is here, you want to come and say hello, he wants to see you.” So, I went over there and just from standing with George the excitement came back. We were all talking about Willow and the potential for making some more Willow. I was like, “Wow this is an incredible group of people, a group of people that could actually make this happen.” So, who knows, it’s an exciting time. If it could ever happen, now is the time.

Yeah, it definitely seems like everyone’s favorite franchise or characters are coming back. There’s now an unmatched hunger for sci-fi/fantasy.

Well, people like familiarity, don’t they? We love to experience new series and new ideas, but when you got something like Willow where it’s an established world and we know some of the characters, we know the environments now, but we haven’t really explored them particularly thoroughly. I think that’s when movies and TV series can do their very best. When they can delve into part of a world that we understand and know, but there’s so much more still to discover. If there was ever the potential to do something with Willow, it would be now. For me, just as an actor, selfishly, there is so much that you are familiar with, but could be so much more interesting now. Personally, I feel like I am more experienced as an actor now, but also the character himself has aged, and has got so much more depth, and there’s more to kind of work with there now. I think I’m an accomplished sorcerer by now. Old Madmartigan with Elora, she’s grown up, but was she the right person to help restore peace for the entire area or not. All of these things need to be answered.

I don’t want to end this conversation without talking about one of my favorite programs of yours, Life’s Too Short. I just adored that show. If we’re talking about coming back, I’d love to see that show return.

Thank you very much, a lot of people would as well. It’s really nice of you to say. I mean, Ricky Gervais, he does things until … He doesn’t want to ever overkill anything. He always leaves you wanting more. I mean, he did it with The Office, he did it with Extras, did it with Life’s Too Short. There’s this kind of idea that you want to see more, but then I think it makes it more special that there wasn’t too much of it. You know what I mean?

Sure. I guess, but I want more, dang it.

It was fun being that version of me. A version of me that kind of said things that I wouldn’t normally say personally. I suppose there are bits of me in him, but I know I would never be quite that obnoxious. I think I am slightly more at ease with my current level of notoriety. Were that I was a little more desperate for recognition than I am. But it was great fun.

It was very challenging. Comedy is one of the hardest genres to work in. Drama is much easier. Comedy just takes a lot more thought. It’s more of a serious business than drama. It sounds ridiculous, you think we’d be having laughter every minute on set, but … Yeah, there is a lot of laughter. I mean, often Ricky would be sitting there, actually laughing out loud, forgetting that he was on set, thinking he was watching it on TV. In the end, you sort learn to ignore him laughing, and just carry on with the scene. Yeah, it was really fun.

One particular memory that kind of links us back nicely to Star Wars, was when I had Liam Neeson on set for his cameo in one of the episodes. Yeah, we both spoke about Phantom Menace at the beginning of the day. I thought he was one of the highlights, to me, of all the cameos. He was absolutely brilliant. For most people you know that particular scene with him wanting him to do stand up comedy is one of the more memorable scenes in the whole series, I think.


Solo: A Star Wars Story is now available on DVD and Blu-ray as well as Digital HD and VOD.

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Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.