David Rappaport – With the talent of Michael Dunn, but the tragedy of Herve Villechaize, the world lost British actor David Rappaport far too soon. Possibly one of the most talented little people actors of our time, Rappaport had an incredible career, which was cut short when he took his own life in the Hollywood hills in 1990.
Born in London, England in 1950, David Rappaport developed musical talent early in life and became an accomplished drummer and accordionist. Studying psychology at the University of Bristol, Rappaport made a living out of being a professional drummer, as well as started acting in student productions. After graduation Rapport worked as a teacher for a few years, but eventually decided to turn his attention to acting.
Rappaport’s first breakthroughs were in various BBC children’s programs, most notably Jigsaw in 1979 where he was paired up with future Doctor Who star Sylvester McCoy. Other children programs Rappaport appeared in included The Famous Five and Tiswas. Rappaport also became a regular player on Spike Milligan’s sketch comedy series Q5 during the early 1980’s. However, the one project that Rappaport turned down during this period of his career was the chance to be a part of the Star Wars franchise. Rappaport claimed that he did go out for a casting call, but while every little person in England was being cast as Jawas, Ewoks or Droids, Rappaport told Star Wars casting agents that “for no amount of money will I ever play a puppet or a robot.” However, Rapport would eventually play a robot on the long running British comedy The Goodies.
Rappaport finally caught the attention of American audiences when he was cast as dwarf leader Randall in 1981’s Time Bandits, staring Sean Connery, John Cleese and Shelly Duvall. Although a British production, the film was moderately successful in America. This lead to his next notable film role as Renaldo, the little person that befriends the Frankenstein monster, in the 1985 film The Bride. Shortly after Rappaport left England and set his sights on Hollywood, where he became a popular presence, making guest appearances in programs such as Hardcastle and McCormick, Hooperman and Mr. Belvedere.
Soon after his relocation to Hollywood, Rappaport landed the title role in the 1986 action/adventure series The Wizard. Rappaport played inventor Simon McKay who appears to be a toy maker, but was in fact an inventor who dedicates his life to creating devices to protect the future. Basically, McKay was a weapons specialist, but you couldn’t call him that on a family show. Anyhow, protected by the American government from enemy agents during the cold war obsessed 80’s, McKay was paired up with FBI agent Alex Jagger and the two went on a series of incredible misadventures. Rappaport played The Wizard with a combination of British intellectualism and child like innocence. The show was popular with critics and gained a fan following, but the mass audience wasn’t so hot on the concept and The Wizard only lasted one season. However, David Rappaport would become the first, and thus far only, midget to play the central character in a prime-time American TV series to date. Soon after The Wizard was canceled Rappaport made a series of appearances playing lawyer Hamilton Schuyler on the award winning courtroom drama LA Law. Although only a reoccurring character, his performance earned him an Emmy nomination in 1988.
Despite growing success in Hollywood, David Rappaport was victim of a depressive disorder. Although he was getting roles far more dignified then those of most actors his size, Rappaport still felt that he was not being taken seriously by the Hollywood community and was nothing but a novelty. On March 4th, 1990 Rappaport attempted to kill himself by locking himself in his garage with a vehicle running. However, police were notified by a neighbor and Rappaport was pulled out of the garage alive. After a brief time in hospital, as well as some therapy, Rappaport was released. Life seemed to be on an upswing afterwards for the small actor. Engaged to be married, and getting a regular gig voice acting on Ted Turner’s Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Rappaport began filming scenes for a guest spot on Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, on May 2nd, 1990 Rappaport failed to show up on the ST:TNG set. His manager filed a missing persons report with the LAPD. The next day Rappaport’s body was found in the bushes of Laurel Canyon Park with a suicide note. He had shot himself in the chest with a gun that he had purchased on fifteen days earlier.
As a result of his sudden death, Rappaport’s scenes for ST:TNG had to be scrapped and actor Saul Rubinek was brought in to replace Rappaport. It should be noted that Rubinek was not a little person, proving that Rappaport had been brought onto Star Trek for his talent and not his height. Furthermore, his role on Captain Planet was taken over by Tim Currey, and Terry Gillian cancelled his plans to make a sequel to Time Bandits. Finally, in a stranger twist, the producers of Baywatch, who had worked on The Wizard, dedicated an episode of the program in David Rappaport’s memory. An odd tribute to a small man who never even appeared on the program.
Warwick Davis – Currently one of the world’s most prolific little people actors, Warwick Davis entered the world of show business purely by chance, but as a result of good fortune and pure charisma, has had one of the most successful careers in show business then any of his contemporaries by finding himself as part of some of Hollywood’s biggest film franchises.
When Warwick Davis’ grandmother heard a radio announcement looking for actors under four feet for a role in Return of the Jedi, which was being filmed nearby their home town of Surrey, England, she took her small eleven year old grandson for an audition. Cast amongst an army of little people as an Ewok, the experience was a dream come true for Davis who was a self proclaimed Star Wars fan. However, luck would smile upon the youngster further when R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker came down with the flu during filming. Baker was to play a double role as Wickett the Ewok, the small Ewok who befriends Princess Leia and brings the rebellion to the furry forest dwellers of Endor. With Baker unable to film his scenes, George Lucas chose Warwick Davis as the new Wickett based on the way that he handled himself in the Ewok costume. Although sneered at by many Star Wars fans due to their cuteness, the Ewoks became popular critters amongst the mass audience, and Warwick Davis proved to be popular with Lucas and the rest of the Star Wars cast. As a result, Lucas wrote a pair of Ewok films for television featuring Davis’ Wickett as the main character. Like them or not, Ewoks became one of the iconic creatures in the Star Wars franchise, with Davis’ Wickett as being the most famous Ewok of them all.
However, George Lucas believed that even bigger things were in store for Warwick Davis and in 1987 he and Ron Howard collaborated on a brand new fantasy film written with Davis in mind for the lead character. The film was Willow, the story of a dwarf who is put in charge of protecting a baby from an evil sorcerers. Co-starring Val Kilmer, Willow was Davis’ first chance to actually act and be recognized by an audience. The film was fairly successful and gained a widespread cult appeal, but in terms of box office receipts, was considered a flop and never developed into the franchise that Lucas had hoped it would. However, Willow remains to be Davis’ most recognized role, and beloved by fantasy fans and 80’s film buffs.
Davis’ next major role would be something completely different. Primarily known for his cute and heroic roles, Davis was cast as the villainous Leprechaun in the 1992 horror/comedy film Leprechaun. Terrorizing a young unknown Jennifer Aniston, the film wasn’t a box office success by any means, but it was popular enough to capture the imaginations of horror fans, spawning a series of sequels and imitations.
In the current century Davis has managed to stay active in film, but, once again, mainly prolific in franchise films. Although he did appear in a few “blink and you’ll miss him” cameos in George Lucas’ second Star Wars trilogy, Davis had far better roles ahead of him. In 2001 he made his debut in possibly what is his most notable current role when he played Professor Flitwick in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Warwick continued to play Flitwick in all of the sequels, and will reprise his role in this summer’s latest installment of the Potter film series. Davis also played Marvin the Paranoid Android in the 2005 big screen adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, although Alan Rickman provided the voice for the character. Most recently Davis was seen as Nikabrik, the malicious dwarf, in the latest installment of Disney’s Narnia series, Prince Caspian.
But Warwick Davis most unique contribution to the world of midget actors was the creation of Willow Personal Management in 1995 with fellow midget actor Peter Burroughs. Willow Management is a British talent agency dedicated to promoting the careers of performers under five feet high and over seven feet tall. Willow Management is more then a place to find actors when you need a midget or a giant. The agency is dedicated to finding roles that reach beyond the traditional roles that face small and large actors, and run by a staff who is more experienced with dealing with the needs of midget and giant actors then regular agencies that may view them as a novelty. Currently Willow Management represents over one hundred midget actors and five giants.
In 2011, with tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Warwick Davis teamed up with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to play a nasty and arrogant version of himself in a seven part mockumentary series produced for the BBC called Life’s Too Short. Featuring high profile guests stars such as Johnny Depp, Liam Neeson, Helena Bonham Carter and Sting, Life’s Too Short managed to create a strong fan following and has been followed up by a number of holiday specials.
Beyond the sound stage and his agency, Warwick Davis has become a popular autograph show and science fiction convention guest, and appears regularly around the world to meet fans. From the forests of Endor to the halls of Hogwarts, Warwick Davis has managed to create his own little niche in film history, and in films that will be cherished by generations to come..
Michael J. Anderson – Although his acting career hasn’t been as long nor as varied as many performers, Michael J. Anderson gave one of television’s most iconic, not to mention creepiest, performances of the 1990’s when he played the mysterious backward speaking “dancing midget” in David Lynch’s cult TV series Twin Peaks. Yet, Anderson proves to be an intense figure that has lived a life just as strange as any of David Lynch’s characters.
Born with osteogensis imperfecta Michael J. Anderson spent most of his childhood confined to a wheelchair and only after a number of operations, was finally able to walk in his late teens. With his new found freedom Anderson traveled America after high school where he lived in his car and sang for meals and gas money in pubs and bars. Yet, soon growing road weary, Anderson entered the University of Colorado where he studied microbiology and philosophy. This lead to a job at NASA where Anderson where he worked as a computer specialist.
In 1984, while he was working at NASA, Anderson was approached by a film student named Norris J. Chumley who asked to do a documentary on his life. The short thirty minute film, called Little Mike, won a silver medal at the International Film and Television Awards. His experience in front of the camera appealed to Anderson, and weary of his work at NASA, Anderson quit his job and went to New York City to study acting.
The majority of Anderson’s early film and television credits are primarily in forgettable productions where he played the usual type of little people roles. However, at the end of the 80’s Anderson met eccentric film maker David Lynch. Attracted to Anderson’s eerie looks and jerky movements, due to his childhood bone condition, Lynch sought to create an iconic and memorable role for the struggling actor. The part would be “The Man From Another Place” on Twin Peaks. However, exciting Lynch even greater was the fact that he discovered that Anderson had the unique ability to speak backwards! Having Anderson record his lines backwards, Lynch had his lines played back forwards, creating an eerie dialect for the small actor. Dressing him in a three piece red suit, and placing him in a room of red curtains, Anderson appeared in Agent Dale Cooper’s dreams, giving him cryptic clues to the identity of Laura Palmer’s murder before getting up and giving his most memorable performance by doing a strange dance to Angelo Badlamanti’s haunting jazz score. Anderson’s performance was one of the strangest ever seen on prime-time network television and stuck with audiences. Anderson would only make another three appearances on Twin Peaks, as well as a larger appearance in the film prequel Fire Walk With Me. However, his character would become one of the most iconic figures on the program.
After Twin Peaks Anderson made a number of television appearances on programs such as The X-Files, Pickett Fences and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He also got a multi-episode gig playing mysterious double agent Peter Zorin in the soap opera Port Charles. Yet David Lynch wasn’t quite finished with Anderson yet, and cast him as a full figure character Mr. Rouge in his 2001 Academy Award nominated film Muholland Drive. Working with a prosthetic body in a wheelchair, Anderson’s head was put on top of the body, giving him the appearance of a full sized man.
Soon after Muholland Drive, Anderson was cast as Samson, the carnival manager in HBO’s critically acclaimed series Carnivale. Loved by critics and gaining a huge fan following, Carnivale offered Anderson his first real chance to do some serious acting in a prolific series. Yet, despite a massive fan following, mass critical praise and fifteen Emmy nominations, in which the series won five awards, Canivale was cancelled after only two seasons. However, the series provided Anderson with a second memorable character, and gave the audience a far better look at this otherwise mysterious figure.
These days Anderson has remained quite quit in the acting business. His last production was a series of guest spots playing a leprechaun on Charmed in 2006. He frequently shows up at autograph shows and horror conventions, but continues to dance through the nightmare of cult television and film fans for eternity.
Verne Troyer – Part Harry Earles, part Herve Villechaize, Verne Troyer has become one of the most identifiable little people actors in the current pop culture scene, not to mention, at 2’8”, the smallest man ever to appear on film. However, due to his roles and his public antics, Troyer has become one of the more controversial figures in the current little people community, diminishing the respect that groups like the LPA have tried to create for their community, and gaining mass appeal by doing it. But, as Verne Troyer has explained countless amounts of time in interviews, that he’s just a guy with a sense of humor who is out having a good time.
Born in Sturgis Michigan, former Taco Bell employee Verne Troyer entered show business as a stunt man for the 1994 comedy flop Baby’s Day Out. A virtual reworking of Harry Earles’ That’s My Baby, Verne Troyer was actually the stunt double for the baby, who gets into tons of dangerous trouble at the expense of its kidnappers. Troyer continued to work as a stunt double, primarily in family films, until he made his acting debut playing Pinocchio in a trashy forgettable 1996 horror film called Pinocchio’s Revenge. Troyer would continue to make stock little people appearances such as an alien in Men in Black and a “midget wrestler” in My Giant.
But Troyer became a house hold name when he was cast alongside Mike Myers as playing Dr. Evil’s vicious, yet precocious, clone sidekick Mini-Me in 1999’s hit comedy Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Although playing the part mute, the chemistry between Myers and Troyer was pure comedic magic, and Mini-Me added an element to the film that the first movie lacked. Mini-Me became an instant hit with viewers, and Troyer was not only propelled into instant fame, but reprised his role in the sequel Goldmember.
Instantly recognizable, Troyer became a popular figure on the pop culture scene, and was cast in small parts in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Bubble Boy. He also played Napoleon Bonapart in a reoccurring role on the short lived Bruce Campbell series Jack of All Trades and made appearances on Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Boston Public.
However, with little acting training, Troyer became known more as a novelty then an actor. Realizing this, Troyer dedicated himself to being a “celebrity” instead of an actor, becoming a popular figure by appearing as himself in various commercials, talk shows and reality series. But by appearing as a contestant on England’s Celebrity Big Brother, a member of The Surreal Life and a frequent guest on Hollywood Squares and The Howard Stern Show, another side to Verne Troyer began to emerge. Noted for his drunkenness, vulgarity and for urinating on the carpet during his appearance on The Surreal Life, Troyer was also the victim of a sex tape scandal in 2008. When tabloid network TMZ got a hold of a private sex tape made by Troyer and his former model girlfriend Ranae Shrider, Kevin Blatt, who was responsible for the Paris Hilton sex tape fiasco, made an attempt to sell the tape to a distributor. However, Troyer filed a law suite on TMZ, Blatt and an on-line DVD rental company that was making the video available. Yet, the publicity from the scandal furthered the seedy reputation of the popular midget. However, Troyer used the scandal to his advantage, appearing in programs such as The Girls Next Door and using his supposed perversions as a part of his public persona.
In 2007 Troyer was as prolific as ever, teaming up with Myers once again as Toronto Maple Leafs manager Coach Punch Cherkov in The Love Guru. However, Troyer began to receive criticisms from some sources for allowing his size to be the brutt of sight gags and Myers’ jokes. Yet, Troyer dismissed the criticisms, saying that it is all just in fun. Troyer also participated in a strange six part reality series called Welcome to Sweden where he and film giant Richard Kiel, most famous for playing Jaws in the James Bond films, as well as Michael Dunn’s assistant Voltaire on The Wild Wild West, toured Sweden together. Unfortunately, the program has yet to air. Troyer’s next film, The Imagination of Dr. Parnassus had him appear alongside heavy hitters as Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Ferrell and the late Heath Ledger. An adventure/fantasy, The Imagination of Dr. Parnassus finally gave Troyer the chance to act instead of being a sight gag, temporarily silencing his critics and allowing him to reinvent himself once again. Love him or hate him, Troyer is a unique member of the pop culture community, and although he may be small in size, he is big in presence.
Peter Dinklage – Undoubtedly the most prolific midget star of the current century, Peter Dinklage is possibly the first little person superstar of film and, without a doubt, the most celebrated. Praised by critics worldwide for both his comic timing and his ability to play in serious dramas, Dinklage has beat all the odds, opening the doorways of respect like few actor before him has done before, and further advancing the serious treatment of midget actors in film.
Entering acting as a way to battle his own anger issues he had as a teenager in regards to his size, Dinklage graduated from Vermont’s Bennington College with a degree in drama and like most good actors Peter Dinklage developed his acting career on the New York Stage, appearing both on and off Broadway. Dinklage’s first film appearance was in an independent film called Living in Oblivion, but he made his first major breakthrough when he was cast as the lead in Thomas McCarthy’s 2005 independent film The Station Agent.
A popular film festival release, The Station Agent was adored by critics and won dozens of major awards. Dinklage played the role of Finbar McBride, a lonely and bitter little person who inherits a train station and moves to a small community and eventually is able to find acceptance and friendship via a chip truck vendor and a widowed artist. Drawing from his own bitterness and unhappiness that he experienced growing up as a child, Dinklage’s powerful performance gained the attention of critics and film makers world wide, once again reminding them that midgets are more then novelty actors. The same year Dinklage, in a totally different type of role, made a scene stealing appearance as Michael Finch, an angry children’s book author who beats up Will Ferrell in the holiday comedy Elf. Proving that he could do both drama and comedy Dinklage quickly became a sought out figure in the film community, and quickly, just as Michael Dunn before him, Dinklage began to receive parts originally intended for full sized actors based on his acting talent, and not his size.
Primarily appearing in independent films for the next number of years, Dinklage got a regular TV gig when he was cast in a CBS science fiction series called Threshold. However, as a result of major TV network’s inability to actually allow a TV series to develop an audience before they cancel it, Threshold only lasted thirteen episodes. However, Threshold’s cancellation opened up Dinklage’s schedule to allow him to do a series of notable appearances on the critically acclaimed program Nip/Tuck, introducing him to an even broader audience.
Following Nip/Tuck, Dinklage continued his prolific rise to fame by co-starring in a variety of hit films including Death at a Funeral, Underdog and Prince Caspian. But, in 2011 Dinklage found his role of a lifetime when he took the part of Tyrion Lannister in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Based on George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, Dinklage became the breakout star of a large eclectic cast. In the role of Tyrion Lannister, Dinklage has had the opportunity to show his entire range of abilities, from high drama to comedic timing to even being involved in action sequences. As a result, in 2012 Peter Dinklage won both an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe for the role, becoming the first little person in entertainment history to be awarded any major honors by the Hollywood system. When Game of Thrones’ initial lead Sean Bean was killed off within eleven episodes, Peter Dinklage was promoted to being billed first amongst the cast and took over as the central lead of the show. As fandom has spread wild for Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage has not only become somewhat of a sex symbol, a status never before given to a little person in Hollywood, but he will be getting his own action figure in 2014.
His achievements in Game of Thrones has made Peter Dinklage one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood. With nearly a dozen projects completed or in post-production at the time of this writing, Dinklage is set up to star in The Angriest Man in Brooklyn alongside Robin WIlliams and Mila Kunis and, in possibly his most anticipated role, as villainous Bolivar Trask, the creator of The Sentinels, in the next installment of the X-Men franchise X-Men: Days of Future Past. Originally reported that he was going to play Alpha Flight mutant Puck in the film, it should be noted that in the comic books, Bolivar Trask is not a little person and Dinklage has won the role for his acting ability and not his height. Peter Dinklage has opened doors for little people actors like no other has done before.
Thus ends our look at the history of Hollywood’s fifteen most famous little people. From Harry Earles to Peter Dinklage, little people are an important part of not only the pop culture journey, but the world community, that are and do everything. For more information on the subject of little people and their issues and lifestyle, make sure to check out the Little People of America’s web-site at http://www.lpaonline.org/mc/page.do.