Ricky Gervais: His ladder of success

Warwick Davis, center, stars alongside Stephen Merchant, left, and Ricky Gervais in “Life’s Too Short,” premiering Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.

After getting his start at age 11 in “Return of the Jedi” — as mischievous Ewok, Wicket — Warwick Davis has become  the most famous short actor in film and television, with a résumé that includes “Willow,” the “Leprechaun” films and the “Harry Potter” series, in which he’s played two different roles. Now Davis, who also runs a talent agency catering to actors under 5 feet tall, lampoons himself with the help of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in “Life’s Too Short.” In the comedy, Davis stars as a fictionalized version of himself alongside Gervais, Merchant and an all-star cast of cameos. And in case there’s any worry the jokes are at Davis’ expense, he came up with the title of the show himself.

With “Life’s Too Short,” you get a chance to put your own name and face out there, without so much makeup or prosthetics.

Oh absolutely, yeah. It’s basically me, and I’m performing comedy, which is something I’ve always longed to do. So yeah, a real great opportunity. And you couldn’t get two better comedy director-writer-performers than Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. It’s a great opportunity for me.

You have some great cameos on the show, including Johnny Depp.

Yeah, we had a cameo from Johnny, which was … a unique experience. He had so much time for everybody — so much time for the production, but also for the people who were there who just enjoyed his work. My kids were there that day just to meet Captain Jack, and he gave them some beads from his hair that he wears as Captain Jack.

Like Depp, you’ve been in franchise films — like “Star Wars.” You were just a kid then.

I was 11 years old — 30 years ago. I’m celebrating 30 years in the business. At that point, I didn’t know it was going to become a career. It was just, like, “This is cool. I get to miss school and battle Storm­troopers, throw rocks at them. Hang out with Carrie Fisher.”

Are there any franchises you feel like you missed out on?
I have been lucky, haven’t I? What would I have wanted to be in? I mean, “Lord of the Rings” — I auditioned for it, but then they decided to shrink average-sized actors. John Rhys-Davies played the character I was going to play, and he was actually worried about being assaulted by little people for stealing the part.

Do you find that when people approach you with projects, they’re worried about how offensive something might be?
  
I’ve never been approached with something where I feel, “No way, that would be hugely offensive.” With Ricky and Stephen, they always look at subjects that are taboo, but the way they look at them is brilliant. You know, you’ve got somebody with cerebral palsy in “Extras,” but we’re not laughing at that character. I felt confident going into “Life’s Too Short” that we were going to make people think and maybe shock, but at the same time, certainly, I always knew where the line was.


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