Created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, HBO’s new comedy series Life’s Too Short stars Warwick Davis as a fictionalized version of himself, a little person down on his luck, desperately trying to hustle his way back into the spotlight.
He runs a talent agency for fellow showbiz little people called Dwarves for Hire, taking the best roles for himself. He is constantly seeking advice from his old pals Gervais and Merchant, playing versions of themselves, in the hope that their A-list celebrity connections will aid his career.
Ricky, Stephen and Warwick spoke with the TV Critics during their tour about the series, which features cameos by Johnny Depp, Liam Neeson, Sting, Steve Carell and Helena Bonham Carter.
After Extras, you and Ricky said you’d told all the stories you were going to tell about people’s obsession with fame. What was it about this concept that made you feel you had more to say here?
Stephen: We often say things at the end of a series that we don’t really [mean], because we’re exhausted and we can’t think that we could ever go back to that subject.
Initially this came from Warwick’s own observations of his experience as being a little person. The fact is that he was in Willow, and he was in Return of the Jedi, you have a commodity there. You have Warwick’s own experience in the real world, as it were, but also his celebrity.
If we’re going to do something kind of truthful and honest, we end up using that aspect of Warwick that does exist, and so inevitably we are in the world again of show business.
Ricky: Even though we have returned to the subject of fame or celebrity, it’s not really. That’s a backdrop. It’s still about real people living their lives. It’s a fake documentary like The Office. It’s moved on. If The Office reflected those quaint docu-soaps of the ’90s where normal people were getting their 15 minutes, this is much more up-to-date.
Fame these days is much more aggressive. There’s no shame. You can’t exaggerate it. The one thing we found doing this, you can’t do something that’s so ridiculous that isn’t happening in Hollywood. It’s literally impossible, so that was fun.
Warwick, how many of your own personal experiences informed what happens in the show?
Warwick: A few of the things that happen in the show happened to me. And the things that hadn’t happened to me, that Ricky and Stephen wrote, I always wonder why they hadn’t happened to me. (he laughs)
They’ve managed to get inside of the head of a little person so well and so believably that I was thinking, it’s a scenario that should have happened by now, and I’m sure some of them will come back to haunt me.
Ricky: Well, I feel like a little person hanging around with Stephen for ten years, so that helped.
Do you have a wish list for any guest stars?
Warwick: I never could have envisioned that we would have the caliber of guest stars that we ended up getting. Ricky would text me, ‘Do you know who we just got? Johnny Depp.’ I couldn’t believe it.
It’s great that they wanted to be involved and they were all an absolute pleasure to work with, just terrific people who gave so much to their day on the show.
You’re playing yourself in this, but you’re really not.
Warwick: I treated the role as I would any other role that I’ve done in my career. He’s a character. Yeah, he shares my name and physicality and voice, but he is very much a character and that’s exactly the way I treated it.
How much fun will you make of your own body of work?
Warwick: I do talk about most of the work that I’ve done in the series. Particularly Willow comes up quite a lot. We did some stuff on Leprechaun and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But Willow would probably be the highlight as far as my career goes.
Ricky: One of the big gags in the series is that Warwick is not recognized because all his biggest roles, he’s had his face covered up. He’s an Ewok or he’s a robot, or he’s just a voice. And then he goes, ‘I was in Willow,’ and they go, ‘I’ve never seen Willow.’ So he doesn’t get any acclaim.
Stephen: We had to make Warwick a lot less successful in the show than he is in real life.
Ricky: And a lot more desperate as well.
For Ricky and Stephen, did you write a back story for your characters in this? Because Warwick comes into your office a lot, other people come in a lot, and you’re always just sitting behind the desk doing nothing?
Ricky: It’s meant to be Laurel and Hardy in bed. We’re always together. We’re always there. We’re doing vague film and TV stuff. The joke is everyone we’ve ever worked with can’t function without us, like we’re in charge of comedy. But really, it’s because we want to be in [the series]. It’s fun.
We’re a conduit for Warwick who’s, as we’ve said, less successful in this than he is in real life. He wouldn’t get to meet those people if he didn’t bump into them in our office. So it’s a surreal vehicle to get to meet Johnny Depp, Liam Neeson and Helena Bonham Carter.
Stephen: In our heads, it’s as though we’re about to say and write something, ‘Act One.’
Ricky: Exactly. Another masterpiece. The Office (licks imaginary tip of a pen and pretends to write something).