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Warwick Davis interview: from Star Wars to App Store

Warwick Davis is a geek culture icon. VG247's Dave Cook speaks with Davis to discuss his first game Pocket Warwick, and the relationship between studios and actors.

Game characters are becoming more realistic as development tech advances, leading the relationship between actors and developers to become more ingrained in the process.

Studios expect more from their leading stars, particularly when performance capture is involved. Bleeding edge titles such as Uncharted, The Last of Us, Enslaved and David Cage's Beyond all take acting in games to new heights.

One man who has been involved in both the gaming and movie industry for many years is geek culture icon Warwick Davis. Known for his roles in Star Wars, Harry Potter and most recently the Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant series Life's Too Short, Davis has experience in both fields.

His first game Pocket Warwick is heading to iOS on October 25th, and sees players helping Davis go from Z-list celebrity to global icon. It's essentially a tamagotchi management game, but with cutting humour and extensive dialogue from the actor.

We decided to interview Davis to get his take on how both sides of the actor-gaming relationship operate, and to learn more about his ace new game, as well as his irritating Kinect problem.

VG247: You've been working in the film industry for some time, can I ask what inspired you to get involved in game development, and what gamers can look forward to in Pocket Warwick?

Warwick Davis:Well, I'm always looking for new avenues to express my creativity within, and games and gadgets are something that I enjoy using and playing, especially my iPhone. I thought, 'wouldn't it be nice to combine me and what I enjoy' – my phone – and that's where the idea of having me living in the phone came from.

Hence, Pocket Warwick was born. I took the idea to an app development company called Official, who then in turn took it to a digital design company called Matmi, who are brilliant game developers and digital content creators.

They then started working on the game, and at that point I didn't know how much was involved in creating something like this. But I did define how the game should look, it uses all of my real facial expressions, which is animated on a 3D body.

”The food that you buy and feed to the character are foods that I enjoy – I mean, I’m finishing off a cheese sandwich right now [laughs]. You can buy that and give it to Warwick in the game as well.”

I went into a photo studio, they shot all of my expressions, and I spent hours in my office at home recording various sounds and bits of dialogue for the game, which is one of my favourite things to do. So eventually what you got was a game that really inherited my personality.

Kind of a little bit of my soul is in it. It's weird to play actually, because the game is so tuned into me, and after we release we'll be releasing updates to things that you can do in the game, and products available in the shop.

The items will have synergy with my career at the time, so if you see me wearing a particular costume, you will be able to go into the Pocket Warwick shop and buy an item of clothing or outfit that you've just seen me wearing.

That's a nice touch, and of course the game will be free initially. What is the microtransaction model within the store?

So yeah, essentially the game is a free download, but you can play the game without purchasing any additional coinage with real money, but if you do want to progress a bit quicker – get your hands on new outfits, a piece of furniture – then you can go ahead and make an in-app purchase.

I think it's important that people can play a game for free and enjoy it, or they can spend money if they wish to. I didn't want the user experience to be ruined by all that financial stuff. The game's as deep as you want it to be as well.

I'm a casual gamer, so I like to pick up a game, play it for a few minutes then put it down, but Pocket Warwick can be played on various different levels. You can just mess about and play with the character, take him to the gym or other things, or you can get more involved in the sim element of it.

What does that involve? Just how deep can it go?

Well, you can take him to auditions, earn money, try and increase your celebrity status, which starts at 'Z', all the way up to 'A', so you have to become an A-list celebrity ultimately. At which point you have access to much better film roles that pay much more money, royalties and so on.

So it's very in tune with me, my life, and reality. The food that you buy and feed to the character are foods that I enjoy – I mean, I'm finishing off a cheese sandwich right now [laughs]. You can buy that and give it to Warwick in the game as well.

What's interesting is that you're playing a digitsed version of yourself, and that is becoming more common these days - the idea of actors playing roles in games and looking like themselves on screen, rather than an avatar. Are you familiar with a game called Beyond: Two Souls?

No, I'm afraid not.

Well, in Beyond – which stars Ellen Page – the characters in the game all look like the actors portraying them, instead of playing someone else.

Like when someone does motion capture of a character, but it doesn't look like them?

”For actors, I mean, my career and the things I do have to evolve as technology evolves, so I think more and more actors will be involved in creating virtual versions of themselves that can be used in games. But that is also happening in films as well.”

Exactly yeah. Is that something you'd be keen on – full performance capture?

Yeah, and actually Pocket Warwick was the most immersed I've ever been in something like this. I've been involved in the Harry Potter games in the past, to which I've provided voice work. But I haven't done any motion capture actually, but I was in discussions recently about doing some for a game.

For actors, I mean, my career and the things I do have to evolve as technology evolves, so I think more and more actors will be involved in creating virtual versions of themselves that can be used in games. But that is also happening in films as well.

Thanks to technology like full performance capture, we've seen an increased volume of actors showing interest in games. Is being part of game development something you've wanted to do for some time?

Yeah, and it's lovely to be a fan of something and then to be a part of it. I started my career doing that. I was a fan of Star Wars and then I was able to be in Return of the Jedi when I was 11 years old. I think all through my career I've been looking for further opportunities like that.

I was a fan of The Office, so I was hugely excited to be in an episode of Extras with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, and then from that came Life's Too Short. I was a big fan of the podcasts with Karl Pilkington and then I got asked to do Life's Too Short specials with Karl for Sky.

So it's this weird thing where I enjoy something I kind of get to do it, and that was the same with Pocket Warwick. I like gadgets and games, and so I'm now inside your phone, or your iPad. So yeah, it's been a great process.

Beyond: Two Souls blurs the lines between films and gaming further.

I saw a brilliant quote from you at the 2012 Develop conference that said, 'games are as rewarding as Shakespeare'. Can you shed some more insight on that for us?

What I was saying there is that game acting and development both require a level of performance and commitment. You know, I think some people would look at games and kind of brush them off as being quite simplistic, but after working on Pocket Warwick, providing the facial expressions, as well as the hours and hours of voice recording I've done, that's not true.

You give a bit of yourself to the process, and that's what you do if you do Shakespeare – you invest yourself in it. It's quite draining, and that sounds weird, but developing this game has been eight months of work,.

I haven't been sat in front of the computer programming it, but all of the films in the game, and something like 250 job offers include things like charity events, supermarket appearances, through to films. These all have to be created and written – from the synopses to the film titles – so there's a huge amount of work involved.

I think that a lot of people forget that most games require a colossal amount of work from all parties.

The development team – and there is a lot of complex AI running behind this game – hired a university physics professor to get he game physics right. It's hugely challenging and demanding, but studios like Matmi like to push themselves.

”Just look at what the games industry has done for Hollywood. They’ve provided amazing opportunities to make films, and there have been various occasions where Hollywood has taken a game and created a film of it, and vice-versa.”

In a way I've pushed them to the limit, because me having this idea, phoning them up and saying 'It'd be great if Pocket Warwick could do this' creates another week of work for them, for something that was just a simple idea.

There's no greater pleasure than having an idea, and then seeing an update in the test version a week later that allows Pocket Warwick to do that new thing that I thought of. That's really cool.

We've seen other actors crossing the bridge between games and movies. Andy Serkis won awards for his portrayal of Gollum in Lord of the Rings, and now he works with game studios like Ninja Theory on the same performance capture techniques. Do you think we're far from game actors who use those techniques being awarded and recognised in the same manner?

I don't see why it's really any different. If you give a great performance in a game, I think it should be rewarded in the same way as a performance in a film or a TV show certainly. The two things are getting much, much closer together, and who knows?

Maybe in the future we could be interacting with our mobile devices while at the cinema to interact with what we're seeing? I think as users, we could maybe even determine what happens in a film one day. So say more people want to see a character go a certain way in a film, they'll be able to actually instigate that. I think that would be brilliant.

The Last of Us is another game that merges with Hollywood film techniques and acting methods.

Yet there is still a stigma from people working in other medium when looking at games.

We say that, but just look at what the games industry has done for Hollywood. They've provided amazing opportunities to make films, and there have been various occasions where Hollywood has taken a game and created a film of it, and vice-versa.

I think they will continue to work closer and closer together, and eventually hit a point where they will become one thing, such as the freedom to watch and manipulate a film in the way that you choose to.

Both mediums do lend a lot to each other, but few good movie games exist. What do you think the trick is to nailing a video game adaptation?

Yeah, I think you don't need to be totally true to the game, or vice versa. You have to be faithful to it, but within the confines of that medium. So with a film of a game, you don't do it word for word. It's sort of like the adaptations of the Harry Potter films from the novels.

The screenplays were written for film, and often elements differed greatly, because they worked better in filmic sense, where there literary work works better as a book. So you have to adapt, and I think that's what Hollywood has to do and vice-versa.

You play a game of a film, and sometimes there are different things you can do and the plot is slightly different, making it better as far as gameplay goes. I think there is artistic license in anything like that.

That – of course – makes perfect sense, and we see a lot more of that in games set before the movie and so on. Can I just ask finally, what your favourite and most inspirational games have been over the years?

I'm a big fan of driving simulations, that sort of game. I don't have a lot of time for gaming and it's a shame, because I see gaming as a treat, especially on my consoles at home. Gaming on my phone – which is why I developed Pocket Warwick – that's what I can do on the train, in the car, or whenever I have two minutes spare.

Playing on my PS3 is if I've replied to those 20 emails or written those letters, I can go and play as a treat. So yeah, I dive into driving games, and Driver 2 is one I've enjoyed a lot back in the day. The Wii is fun with the family, we get that out and whack things about with it.

Have you see the Wii U yet?

I haven't yet but I do have a Kinect – one of the ones that looks like R2D2 – but the problem I find is that it doesn't connect with me,. It can't even see me. I'm too small for it, and so I have to turn the lights up and I find that if I jump around on my sofa it starts to work then.

About the Author

Dave Cook avatar

Dave Cook


Living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Writing a game called Jettison and a book called Seventh Circle. Loves spicy food.

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