Life's Too Short: Me, Johnny Depp and Ricky Gervais

Thursday 10 November 2011, 10:10

Warwick Davis Warwick Davis Actor

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Of all my career achievements, I am most proud of Life's Too Short.

I say this because I have a much closer connection with the series than any project I
have worked on before.

It was an idea that came from a conversation with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant whom I'd first worked with on Extras.

Helena Bonham Carter, Ricky Gervais, Warwick Davis, Stephen Merchant and Johnny Depp

Helena Bonham Carter, Ricky Gervais, Warwick Davis, Stephen Merchant and Johnny Depp

We talked about approaches I was getting from documentary producers wanting to follow me and my family.

This type of thing was not for me, but maybe it would be fun to manipulate my world as an actor and person, presenting a very different version of myself and my life.

And so, Life's Too Short was conceived - a faux documentary following a man obsessed with fame, a man whose career is on the slide, a man whose wife is divorcing him, a man who just happens to be short.

Filming the series was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but it was also the most fun.

For me, it was a chance to pay tribute to my comedy heroes and influences: Laurel and Hardy, Frank Spencer and Captain Mainwaring, who had all been childhood favourites.

Alan Partridge and David Brent set the standard in comedy characters.

Life's Too Short was my opportunity to enter their arena, to see if I had what it takes to stand shoulder to shoulder (in reality, shoulder to knee) with these legends of laughter.

But did I have what it takes? Ricky and Stephen seemed to think so, trusting me
with their seven brilliantly written scripts.

However, I knew that a bad performance could not be disguised by great dialogue or well realised comic situations.

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The trailer for Life's Too Short

I had to pull this off, there was too much at stake - Ricky and Stephen's reputation, the BBC's money and I knew expectations were very high.

As the start of shooting approached, I buried myself in the scripts. Every waking moment was spent learning.

I downloaded them all so wherever I was, I'd be able to study. In the car (not driving), walking, on the train, on the toilet - I was a man obsessed.

The first day of shooting was amazing. I was starring in my own sitcom for the
BBC, written by, directed by and co-starring Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Wow! This really is as good as it gets.

To shoot the seven half-hour episodes took eight weeks, and there was not a scene that I didn't appear in.

Each day presented new challenges, wonderful cameos from A-list stars and some lesser known, but equally talented performers. They were all a joy.

Johnny Depp came in on the last day of filming.

There was an air of anticipation before his arrival. Even Ricky and Stephen looked tense and slightly anxious.

I expected a quiet, reserved man who would want to shoot his scenes and leave, but when Johnny arrived it became clear that this wasn't the case.

He was very relaxed and down to earth, making time for photos with the crew and my kids who were there to meet Captain Jack.

Warwick Davis with Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp and Warwick Davis

The last shot of that day involved me sitting 'in' a toilet bowl while Johnny Depp described the scene into a dictaphone as if I was Rumpelstiltskin.

As the crew were setting up, Ricky was helping (actually stuffing) me into the toilet, as Johnny looked on.

It was at this point, I had an out-of-body experience.

In my mind's eye, I looked at the surreal scene - I'm hanging out, literally 'in' a toilet, with Ricky Gervais and Johnny Depp.

I pondered, does this mean my career is going well or not?

Some of most fun I had was doing the physical stuff, the slapstick. This was my nod to those childhood heroes of mine.

Fortunately, as a youngster, I had attended a theatre workshop one summer. I was taught stage fighting and acrobatics.

I knew how to take a hit and fall without getting hurt. I say without getting hurt, which was true at the age of 10, but at 41, falling out of a car or from a bookshelf take after take is not quite so painless.

So here we are, three years since its conception and Life's Too Short is finished.

What would my comedy heroes make of my efforts? Was that fall worthy of Oliver Hardy? Was that look to camera on par with David Brent?

I guess you'll be the judge of that.

Warwick Davis plays the lead role in Life's Too Short.

Life's Too Short starts on BBC Two on Thursday, 10 November at 9.30pm.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

To read a post by the writer of Life's Too Short, Ricky Gervais, please visit the BBC Comedy Blog.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Really looking forward to this. Hope it lives up to expectations and reasonably confident that it will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I love Warwick Davis and will definitely be watching this programme.
    Having read Warwick's book “Size Matters Not” it’ll be good to see how much this comedy mirrors his real life experiences albeit with tongue in cheek exaggeration/manipulation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Like Laura888 I read his autobiography, which is just brilliant, and when I heard about this I thought it would be amazing. With 15 mins to go I hope it lives up to my expectations - I'm sure it will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I have my fingers crossed this is going to grow on me but on the first viewing I was sadly disappointed.
    The main problem for me was believability. I struggled to believe the situations and characters. Warwick was the most believable. Scenes with him and other less familiar actors worked well but when he finally met Ricky and Stephen it fell apart. Ricky and Stephen together 'interviewing' Carl is a familiar sight and the banter and humour is side splitting funny. In this program they scripted themselves opposite Warwick and the difference was obvious. Ricky can act shifty glances in one of his characters but he doesn't do it that way in real life (if you've watched him as often and as eagerly as I have you will know what I mean) so when he shot glances of disbelief my own suspension of disbelief crumbled.
    Also, I can believe a celeb on the set of a film having banter with an 'unknown' extra but I'm sure if one walked into Ricky and Stephen's office the whole thing would pan out differently. If Ricky and Stephen had been playing big shot Hollywood producers (and let's face it, with Ricky's new slimmed down body, he could easily have been playing someone else) I could have believed the scene with Neeson but as it was everyone knows the real Ricky would react differently.
    I will watch all episodes and try very hard to re-suspend my disbelief in the hope I can find the humour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I watched the first episode last night. Brilliant in every way, especially the dialogue with Liam Neeson. Mr Davis, if you're reading your blog posts - great comedy. And I would have had that out-of-body experience in the loo too. Am looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Loved last night's episode, the self-depreciation was brilliant and classic British humour. Liam Neeson was brilliant, oh and yes, I did watch Willow with the kids 20 odd years ago, we kept it on VHS for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Just wanted to say I watched the first episode last night and enjoyed it very much indeed. The scene with a wonderfully intimidating Liam Neeson was a joy. Well done Warwick, and thank you Auntie Beeb for commissioning this wonderful comedy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    A fantastic first episode that immediately recreated the feel of Extras and The Office; those silences and underplayed one-liners produced that superb, gut pulling comedy. I await next Wednesday's offering. Someone recently asked me what I knew about Dwarfs, I replied 'Very Little'. Boom boom!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Liam Neilson's scene reduced me to tears.
    Warwick Davis is just great. He's played some superb parts in otherwise awful films. The guys also got a brain, and a lifetimes experience of prejudice, this won't be the last comedy he does.
    The character he plays is a bit worrying, mainly due to the Narcissism and he low regard for people who don't matter. It's made palatable by superb comedy either side of what would otherwise be chilling scenes.
    It's not lazy comedy, a lot of work must go into making it work. There's slapstick like Mr Davis dealing with doors, and clever scenes, my favorite this week Liam Neeson
    doing comedy. Had me in tears, a serious actor, well known for his heroic roles telling an awful joke to an embarrassed and unappreciative audience. Still making me smile two days later.
    Anyway love it as comedy, love it as social commentary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Many of us in a circle of friends had agreed we wouldn't watch this production and are pleased that viewing figures are relatively low and likely to get lower.

    Gervais's recent attempts at humour thro' the deliberate mocking of particularly vulnerable members of society reinforce/confirm widespread perceptions of traits of real nastiness and insecurity in his personality. Traits that fail to impress and should be kept inside his own head. If for no other reason than that the show itself deserves failure of its own.

    Still, plenty of other shows to watch.................... :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Fantastic first episode. Warwick Davis is truly excellent, and plays his part perfectly - great comic timing. Warwick's portrayal of his pompous character comes across as well worthy of comparison with Alan Partridge and David Brent.

    I also agree with other comments - the Liam Neeson scene was insprired.

    I didn't watch a huge amount of the Extras series, but found it a bit of a let-down after The Office. This is definitely a return to form for the scriptwriting pair, and showcases both the talent they hire, and their ability to get the best out of their cast.

    I can appreciate what @cleanlang is trying to say, but think that (s)he should look a little more carefully at what is being said, to whom and by whom. It all rings bells of the gut reaction to 'Short People' by Randy Newman. A shame.

    I have no doubt that word will get out, and the audience for this series will increase episode by episode. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I wish Gervais and Merchant had risked doing something different with this show. As ist is, in "Life's Too Short" Warwick Davis is simply a miniature David Brent. ´

    I think another series of "The Office" or "Extras" would have been more of a challenge for Gervais and Merchant and, as a result, cleverer and funnier than this rehash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    This series is offensive with its numerous height jokes. What next a series about a disabled man with lots of wheelchair jokes ? This series only a short step away from the old racist comedies. There isn't any qualitative difference it's just poking fun at the physical attributes of people who are different from the majority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I agree with msg 13. They could have just called Warwick Davis's character 'Diddy David Brent'.

    I am getting the impression that RG and SM are a one trick pony.

    ( I like Warwick Davis and I especially liked him in Willow. )

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Absolutely dreadful! OH and I started watching it with high expectations after all the hype but we switched off half way through. Warwick is lovely but Gervais is so smug and I found his comments extremely worrying. And yes I do like comedy but not this sort. I won't be bothering to watch next weeks even more cringe worthy offering!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Warwick, ignore the negatives and concentrate on the positives! I loved the show, especially your "interview" pieces. You are the cog that makes the show work! I'd like to say that before Liam Neeson etc. Appeared if you didn't know it was a comedy show you may have thought it was a "real" documentary like Ghostwatch which scared the bejesus out of me at the time

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    As I was away last week I watched the first episode on iplayer. One of the funniest shows for a long time, just loved it. The 'behind the scenes' was even funnier. Keep it up and well done to all the team involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I am disappointed, wanted to be the first to say it, but I loved Willow. Its a great and under-rated kids movie.

    Loved this series, had to turn it off during the wedding scene as it was far to painful. And must agree, Liam Neeson was great.
    Do not see the comparisons with Brent at all. Brent was a Boorish, incredibly insecure guy, and who generally was unpleasant. Warwick was playing an established actor, who therefore had been a sucess, who was then on a the rocky road to obscurity.

    Also comments on the height-based jokes are frankly silly. HE IS SHORT. I do not think its offensive to him that I see that; I make no assumptions due to this, like he is stupid, works down a mine, sings "hi ho" or sits on peoples knee when conducting an interview. It is these assumptions that are the source of prejudice. And if Warwick is comfortable using his stature for physical comedy, not sure why others should be offended. John Cleese made great comedic use of his stature, as did John Candy, Oliver and Hardy and "Mr Bean". What would probably be offensive for people to go to such lengths to ignore the fact that he is short that the story line becomes offensive.

    I think short people (actually I am so confused to the politically correct fshionable term, so please forgive me) live their life in a world full of natural comedy and tragedy. Imagine the world designed specifically for people almost double your height. I think Merchant/Gervais have done a great job of avoiding the pitfalls of this kind of drama.

    Also, it really does show Warwick as a great actor. Just shame about the Ewoks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    i love Lifes Too Short. it's the first time in ages i have watched something and laughed out loud. Warwick is so funny. and Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are geniuses. Johnny Depp was great and Liam Neeson were so funny too. brilliant. and all the haters of Ricky should just not watch, he is a comedy genius.


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