Warwick Davis: Mr. Big

When your dad stars in two of the biggest film franchises of all time-Star Wars and Harry Potter-there are bound to be perks. For one, “my children [Annabelle, 13, and Harrison, 7] have got an unhealthy amount of wands,” says Warwick Davis, who appears in the Potter films as both Professor Flitwick and Griphook the goblin. And then there was Annabelle’s 13th birthday last March. With Davis on the set shooting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Annabelle was treated to a surprise celebration in the Great Hall of Hogwarts. “We finished the scene and they brought the cake out,” he recalls. “She was excited but embarrassed. It is quite a surreal experience seeing Alan Rickman, dressed as Snape, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to you.”

The extraordinary is nothing new for Davis, who scored a role as an Ewok in Return of the Jedi at age 11, after his grandmother heard a casting call on the radio. (Favorite memory: costar Carrie Fisher slipping him chocolate milk and cookies every time he took off the Ewok head.) Since then the 3’4″ British actor has gone on to appear in more than 20 films, including fan favorites such as 1986’s Labyrinth and 1988’s Willow. But Davis is most proud of his 19-year marriage to childhood sweetheart Samantha, 39-whom he met on the set of Labyrinth-and their life north of London with Annabelle and Harrison. “We try to do as much as we can together,” says Davis, 40. “We are very much a group of four.”

It’s a family bond Davis, who was born with an extremely rare type of dwarfism to average-size parents, almost didn’t get to experience. In 1991, Samantha (who stands 4’1″) gave birth to the couple’s first son, Lloyd. What doctors didn’t understand at the time was how Sam’s common form of dwarfism, achondroplasia, and Davis’ type-known by the acronym SED-could together create a lethal genetic combination. Born with severely underdeveloped lungs, Lloyd survived just nine days. “It’s one of those things that’s devastating and terrible and something you never really recover from,” says Davis. “At the same time, it teaches you a lot and kind of makes you stronger.”

Tragically, the couple lost a second son, George, who arrived stillborn just two years later. But they persevered in their quest to become parents. “When two people are in love, to have a child is a very natural progression,” Davis says, “even when the genetic odds are stacked against [it].” When Sam got pregnant for a third time, the couple worked closely with prenatal specialists and submitted themselves to extensive medical testing to help advance knowledge of Davis’ little-known condition. Born with SED, Annabelle was on life support for months before pulling through. “It was just like having Lloyd again-you expect the worst,” says Davis. Six years later came Harrison, who also has SED, and things were again “really touch-and-go,” he says. Says Sam of her husband: “We’ve been through a lot together. He’s like my right arm.”

Today the children are thriving, “and we want them to be as independent as possible,” says Davis. “My parents, being tall, brought me up to just get on with it. It sounds harsh, but it’s the right way to be.” When he’s not ferrying the kids around their hometown of Peterborough, Davis is gearing up for a new faux-documentary comedy series, Life’s Too Short, with Ricky Gervais. But despite his success, Davis says his kids are still unimpressed. “If I could get in Pirates of the Caribbean 4, I’d be a brilliant dad,” he says. “Having done Star Wars and Harry Potter is not quite enough. But if I get next to Johnny Depp, then I would have made it.”

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