Tech Lives: Warwick Davis

The Return of the Jedi's star Ewok chats to T3 about his new app

In an almost-new, semi-regular series, T3 interviews the stars about their lives, their tech and whatever it is they happen to be plugging and are hence available for interview...

This time out, it’s Warwick Davis, the inches-lacking star of Willow, Life’s Too Short with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and now his own app, which is free to buy, though you may find yourself making in-app purchases compulsively to the point where you have to sell all of your possessions except your iOS or Android device and go and live in a skip: it’s THAT good. Find out more about it here:

T3: So, what are you plugging?

WARWICK DAVIS: Pocket Warwick. It’s not a game that I’ve sort of been wheeled into, it’s actually something that I came up with about a year ago. As an actor I love acting and I also love gadgets and I was thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to be in a phone or in a gadget?’ Hence the idea of putting a character in a phone, who is actually in the device and he lives in there and that’s his environment and you take him with you everywhere. That was sort of the genesis of the idea.

T3: Like a sort of adult Tamagotchi?

WD: In a sense that’s kinda what it… that lifestyle part of it… there’s also a more Sims-like element to it as well that runs through. I’ve done over 80 photographs for it, hours and hours of recording of just little comments, noises and all sorts of things that randomly pop up at appropriate times during the game.

T3: Have you played things like Sims?

WD: I wouldn’t say I’m a hardened gamer, I’m a casual gamer more. But I have played Sims and I had a Tamagotchi – mine died straight away. So I knew about that but I also knew a lot about acting and the career of an actor which is what I wanted to feed into this game as well. You start as a Z-list celebrity and you want to become an A-list celeb and the process of doing that, as well at the same time maintaining a healthy and reasonable lifestyle while trying to earn money.

T3: Is it like Pokemon? Do you have to fight other actors in an arena?

WD: No you don’t, you’re not going up against anybody in particular. Often when you go to an audition you don’t know who you are auditioning against, you go in and you do your thing, but you know with Pocket Warwick you get a job offer through from your agent, you then prepare for the job in the way that he asks you to. He might say “You’ve got to wear your smart suit, you’ve got to read a book about thrillers and you’ve got to be in a reasonable kind of cleanliness and intelligence at that point.” So you’ll go in to fulfil those tasks in the time period and you’ll go back for the audition and fingers crossed you’ll get it and then earn the money that’s associated with it.

T3: What’s the gameplay mechanic for that?

WD: Basically you see your phone, you’ll go off to your “Warwick’s stuff” area; the stuff you already own or a shop built into the game. With the coins that you have at the beginning or with the coins you earn from jobs – the virtual money – you can buy the items you need for that job. You might’ve wasted your money on trivial things like a bigger TV set or a better sofa or other clothing when you should have bought gymnasium equipment, but you can play this game all the way through without spending any real money.

T3: Oh that was going to be my next question. But it does have in-app purchasing?

WD: You can buy coins you can buy the currency of the game if you want to, to bolster up your funds, but if you’re sensible and you don’t waste your money…

T3: If you budget carefully…

WD: You can go through… exactly… It’s hard to resist wearing the Groucho Marx mask with the nose and glasses etc. You need gym equipment. Like you start with a skipping rope and that can keep you reasonably fit, but it takes a bit longer But a running machine… It’s cool to have and you get fitter on that.

T3: But could you get a role where you don’t have to be fit and muscular?

WD: Oh yeah, if it’s like a drama you’re not going to need to be fit but if its an action film you need to get your fitness up, but it’s about maintaining those levels reasonably all the time, so when’s these jobs come in you’re not scrambling to the gym to get ready for it.

T3: What sort of virtual roles do you get offered?

WD: Well stuff that I’ve made up basically. So there’s 150 films that I’ve made up that don’t exist that

T3: Are they modelled on existing ones?

WD: Some of them are… But there’s stuff like ‘Skeletal Mass’ that doesn’t exist and I made up a synopsis about what that film could be about. I can’t remember what it is about now.

T3: What would be the synopsis?

WD: I can’t remember what Skeletal Mass was about now…

T3: That’s actually a pretty decent title, except people wouldn’t know how to pronounce it.

WD: *Different pronunciations of skeletal*

T3: It’s going to cause problems for cinema ticket sellers

WD: Some of these films, they should be movies… I’m like, “Why hasn’t that been made? That’s a brilliant name for a film!”

T3: “Why hasn’t my one-line synopsis for a game been made into a Hollywood film worth billions of dollars?” Have you played it all the way through?

WD: I’ve played it a lot because we’re just going into beta testing now, but no I’ve not played it all the way through. Me, being Warwick, I should be really good at it…

T3: Yeah, logically. Do you find that you are?

WD: It’s really a challenge, it really is a challenge.

T3: They do always say playing yourself is the hardest…

WD: I love playing myself though, but it is difficult. Yeah on my journey I was so intent on playing the game that I forgot to tell the driver to turn off the motorway, we ended up ten miles too far down. We had to go back because I was so involved in just enjoying it. What I love about it is that if you don’t want to go all in-depth, you can go and discover little things, you can just go and dip in. “Oh, I wonder what it does if I do that…” And you just discover these things.

T3: Was there anything in the game, about the way that you are presented that you vetoed or said can we have more of that?

WD: Yeah, I’m presented the way I want to be presented, because it was all coming from me, I have been a director of a film. There was nothing that I stopped and said, “No we can’t do that,” I was usually the one saying “Can’t we do that? Can you put this sound clip I just recorded at home?” I’d been in my office and I’d recorded a few clips and I’d send them in and say, “I want these expressions or these voices to go in.”

T3: So you were never, like, “No not the leprechaun…”

WD: I had to tip my hat to my own life and my own career and people are going to expect that there’s a leprechaun outfit. I’ve thrown in a frog outfit for good measure to keep the fans of my little frog video with Ricky [Gervais], so you can actually get a frog outfit. And then as the game matures through the coming months after its release there will be a link to things I really do, so if I appear in a programme wearing a costume, that costume will become available within the game so you can kind of make Pocket Warwick dress the same as the real Warwick… It’s just a bit of fun. My favourite part is the humour in it. It’s about having fun and entertaining people.

T3: Is this your first foray into the realms of tech?

WD: Technology is gadgets and stuff I like. I’ve worked on the Harry Potter computer games before doing the voices, I haven’t done any performance capture yet as such.

T3: You don’t have your own range of headphones.

WD: No I haven’t. That’d be good because Dr Dre’s got some. I could have my own range of tiny headphones that you sort of lose in your ear: “Where’s my Warwick headphones? They’re right in my brain.” It would have to be small things wouldn’t it? I did a review for the Gadget Show once of tiny projectors… Anything I do is usually mini stuff. If I ever see a mini gadget come out, I know the phone is going to ring

T3: “Oh, that’ll be another couple of grand.”

WD: Well it’s only channel 5 and the Gadget Show.

T3: Oh okay, about £3.50 then. On a semi-serious level; Does the size of technology raise issues for the smaller gentleman?

WD: Yeah I mean I think you want something that will fit in your pocket and my pockets are a little bit smaller than anyone else’s.

T3: Something like a tablet, is that….

WD: That ain’t going in your pocket is it?! Like a tablet for me is, “Great, I feel like I’m carrying around a 42-inch plasma.”

T3: Phones now, generally, are getting bigger. Is that an issue?

WD: What’s that phone, that looks ridiculous phone in someone’s hand…

T3: Some of the Samsung ones, like the Galaxy Note?

WD: It looks like Dom Joly… Yeah things are getting a bit bigger. I think it would be wrong to have a phone that was taller than me…

T3: But it’s only really the pocketability that’s an issue?

WD: Yeah, but stuff can be too small sometimes as well. Some camcorders are too small so they’re wobbly and you can’t keep a shot steady. I think some gadgets have a finite size range and if they get any smaller, there are not as useful. On the other hand, my new MacBook Pro is lighter than my old one and I really do feel the difference when I’m walking around with that and that is really good. Lighter is better, but bigger is not.

T3: What was the first gadget you ever bought or were given ?

WD: Erm…

T3: How old are you?

WD: 42

WD: The first gadget I remember, I can’t remember what it was called, it was a… It was red handheld game. On it had a screen across the middle but it was like red sort of lines that lit up, under a red screen. There were three tracks, and a little steering wheel in the bottom and a little lever that was the accelerator and you had to drive and you had to move between the lanes before the other dashes hit you. And that was it, that’s what I got, it was amazing. The cars didn’t look like cars, they looked like lines, like little minus signs going down the screen, and you were a bigger one going that way and you had to go left and right to not hit them using the little steering wheel.

T3: Exactly like real driving, basically.

WD: Yes, it’s just like that on the motorway. There was that, then there was the Ingersol console with the paddles and the… *Bee-do-bip!*

T3: That again was really, very heavily line and square-based. So it was like Pong, but they couldn’t call it Pong for licensing reasons, so it was called like Super Tennis or Peng.

WD: Yeah there was that and then I had the Atari, a ZX81. My favourite computer growing up was an Amiga 500… and then the Amiga 1500 with Deluxe Paint and Speed Ball… they were amazing. Did you keep the Amiga for a long time? Some people were real hardcore fans of that.

WD: It was the only computer you could use with video and I started editing video when I was about 14. The synchronisation was correct for video, whereas any other computer didn’t want to work with video at all and that was what was good about Amiga. I could make titles and graphics and things with it, in a kind of primitive way.

T3: What was the last one you have, was it the 1500?

WD: 1500 was the one and I had the big hard drive plugged on the side.

T3: What is the coolest gadget you’ve bought for your house, recently?

WD: A Bang & Olufsen Beolit speaker dock. It’s like that big… It looks like an old Roberts radio.

T3: Oh, and slightly like a picnic hamper?

WD: Yeah and it’s got AirPlay in it. The sound from it is incredible, I mean absolutely incredible. I recently did An Idiot Abroad with Karl Pilkington. We travelled through China and I had that with me. There’s just some sanity in the hotel then, you’ve got nothing else. If it’s grim outside, grim in the room, put that on and everything just soothes away. It was lovely.

T3: Does it run on batteries?

WD: Yeah, 8 hours and I love that, that’s a good gadget that is. A Segway is my other thing. I love that. I take it to studios and use it to get around.

T3: Do they come in different sizes? Is it like a bespoke Segway?

WD: Mine’s an “Egway” because it’s sort of cut off and when they cut the handlebars down they lost the “S”. I can use a normal Segway, but it’s just that bit lower, that bit nicer. I’ve got a seat on mine as well. The techies on Harry Potter made me a seat for it. I think Segways are great, I feel like when I’m on it I’m on some sort of alien technology. People are always impressed when they see one. You can’t help it; it doesn’t make sense in your mind that it can stand up.

T3: What’s the coolest gadget you’ve bought for yourself, lately?

Voice in background (Olly): What about your Macbook?

WD: Yeah go for that, the new one.

T3: Which size did you go for?

WD: The 15-inch MacBook with the new Retina Display. That’s lovely; it’s light, it looks lovely. It’s that good, the display, that some apps look out of focus because they need updating for the new screen. I’m awful… I should wait till Christmas so my wife can buy me this stuff but I end up buying it then when it gets to Christmas she never knows what to buy me cos I’ve bought it all during the year.

T3: That’s the benefit of being an adult.

WD: It’s pretty naughty though, you go, “I’ll just get that, I deserve that, I need it.” You convince yourself that you need this thing

T3: Well working in the technology field, which you now are. You can’t very well not have a decent computer, and as a creative it has to be an Apple really.

WD: When you are in this business you’ve got to be able to do stuff with videos and files. You know I work in video editing as well and there the only way to go is with Apple stuff.

T3: There’ll probably be a new one out by xmas anyway. Do you have a favourite gadget of all time?

WD: Walkman’s are iconic aren’t they? I’ve still got mine: the very first Sony Walkman that came out. It’s a beautiful thing. It was blue and massive… The play button was hard to push in, but that was cool.

I got a Minidisc Walkman as well. They looked great when they came out, they didn’t last long though did they?!

T3: It’s what you’d call an interim technology – it had the misfortune of falling between tape and mp3

WD: The laser disc was an interim technology… I used to love my laser disc player, and I managed to get hold of the WOW disc from LucasFilm; it was what they used to demonstrate THX and surround sound, you couldn’t buy it, you had to be given it.

T3: You worked with George Lucas numerous times…

WD: I don’t think he literally went “Warwick, I’ve got this disc for you…”

T3: He doesn’t seem like that kind of guy.

WD: One thing I need to get, the next thing I want actually is a new projector, a cinema room. I’ve got one already but I’ve got to HD the whole thing

T3: You’re still in standard-def? Oh my God!

WD: I was sort of resisting, I was like. “Who needs that? With DVD it’s amazing,” Then I saw a Blu-ray and I couldn’t see DVD the same way. Then the same happened with TV and now I go in the cinema room and I watch a DVD and I feel like something is wrong with my eyes, so I want to take the next step up. Another cool thing I did get recently is a Bose Soundbar with a wireless sub; just pop that on any telly and you’ve got amazing sound from it

T3: Yep, soundbars are good. Good all-in-one solution

WD: If you go to the Bose showroom, ask to go in their theatre. You sit in there and they do a little show for you and there’s speakers everywhere. As it goes on they gradually take the speakers away until there’s no speakers, but it still sounds like surround sound.

T3: I’ve actually had that demonstration, you’ve reminded me now. The only problem was the guy was that the guy giving the demonstration kept saying “flim” when he meant “film”. I think you are the only person I’ve ever met who has a laser disc player.

WD: Really?! I had two and sold one recently for a lot of money.

T3: People do collect them, they are quite premium, because they are quite well made.

WD: And it can play NTSC and PAL. The quality of the actual films depended where it was taken from; a lot of them were just taken from poor quality tape, so it reminded me of VHS because it was that bad. As laser disc, like DVDs, matured as a format, they got better. I’d say the latest laser discs were as good as DVDs were at the start.

T3: Okay, so you said you are not a hardcore gamer, but which games console is best?

WD: What, now? PS3 is my preferred, but we have all of them now. PS3 I like for numerous reasons: it’s always got the games that I want to play on it. I don’t get on with Xbox at all, my kids do better than me. Wii is a good middle ground for everyone, even my wife gets involved with the Wii.

T3: What would you say is the one you’ve played the most in your life?

WD: That would be a toss up between PlayStation 2 and Atari 2600. The one with the wooden top that looked like it was from the 70s, that got a lot of play that did

T3: iPhone or Android?

WD: *No hesitation* iPhone.

T3: It seems famous people do tend to prefer iPhone.

WD: I’m a bit of an Apple disciple though, I sort of converted to it about six years ago. I was very PC and Apple always looked nice but I thought, “Nothing will work, I won’t be able to do anything anymore,” and then I was going off to film in New Zealand and my wife said, “Why don’t you get a Mac now and take it with you?” I bought the Mac but took my PC as well because I thought, “I don’t want to throw all my eggs in one basket and not be able to use it.” And then once I got there, I opened the Mac and never looked back. It was just easier and it worked. Because I was constantly…with PCs back then, it may be different now, I was productive, but you spent half your time fixing the machine and getting it working.

T3: If you could make any gadget what would it be?

WD: A hoverboard. It could just kind of go up a little bit to reach stuff or to be able to move around on that same device, kind of like a Segway without wheels.

T3: You can make a hoverboard and somebody has, but it requires everywhere you go to have magnets in the floor, because it is based on magnetic repulsion.

WD: Okay, we’re kind of on the way then. Cars that drive themselves, I want that. I want that before I die. I love driving but there are a lot of times when I need to do work and if I haven’t got a driver then I can’t do it. So I want to start the journey do a bit of a drive then think, “Oh I’ve got to do that email.” Then the steering wheel slides out of the way and the car drives itself.

T3: The hoverboard would be awesome. All we need is magnets in the floor, everywhere you go. Is that too much to ask?

WD: You could have your floor magnetised, it might have health implications though

T3: Generally magnets are considered to be very good for you.

WD: What in the floor sucking your feet down all the time.

T3: You’re not made of metal.

WD: No, that is true. Although I do always set off metal detectors at airports and I don’t know why. I don’t have any implants or anything.

T3: People have like minerals and metals in their body, I suppose you’ve just got more of them.

WD: They were groping me and everything. They just shrug their shoulders in the end

T3: Is there any area of technology you’d like to switch off?

WD: Sometimes I wish email didn’t exist because it doesn’t take much to send off an email and fill up your inbox and I get a LOT of email. And that few words is simple but it takes ages for me to have to come back with a response. Whereas in the olden days we had to write a letter, type, post it etc. It takes a little more thought and there’s a filtering that goes on within that world.

T3: There’s a kind of editing process

WD: People would go, “It’s not worth writing a letter to him about that’ and you don’t bother, so that in itself eases all of it. You can send emails willy-nilly, no one is talking to each other and if that counts as a technology let’s get rid of that.