Little people have made great strides in terms of social acceptance in the past several years. There’s no question that society has become more accepting of people that come in all shapes and sizes in this day and age. But their celebration also has a lot to do with the fact that little people have been represented on-screen more recently. It is through the media that the public becomes acquainted with people it ordinarily wouldn’t, as the large and small screens offer a glimpse in other worlds and lifestyles.
When little people are given big roles on camera, it sends the message that they are just as good as anyone else. And it reinforces the notion that one doesn’t have to be a flawless beauty or a muscle bound man to make it in Hollywood. When the acting history of little people is examined, one finds that they have made an important – and interesting – contribution. They’ve played it cute, they’ve played it safe, and they’ve played it cool.
So come with us on a fun journey counting down 15 little people that had big roles on screen. You’ll see some small dreams and larger than life talent. In fact, we bet you didn’t know that there were so many famous little people who played integral roles in some of the most beloved works of our generation.
15. Mini-Me – Austin Powers Movies
Verne Troyer made little people cool again. Not since Warwick Davis gained stardom as Wicket the Ewok and as Willow did a little person so capture the minds of the public. Troyer’s breakout role was as Mini-Me, a miniature clone of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers franchise. At just 2’ 8” tall, Mini-Me stole the show by shrieking “Eeee,” giving the middle finger, and lip synching with Dr. Evil.
Troyer has appeared in numerous other films, such as Bubble Boy, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Love Guru. Unfortunately, he was unable to match the success of his Mini-Me role, and his personal life has overshadowed his professional one. He was shown struggling with alcohol on The Surreal Life, and even had a leaked s*x tape.
14. The Ewoks – Return of the Jedi
Who doesn’t love Ewoks? You either admire them for their skillful combat or think they are cute and cuddly. Either way, George Lucas was a genius to develop them. He had his heart set on a plant of Wookies, but scaled it down due to logistical issues. His new idea was even better – to have a race of little beings that could overcome larger ones in an effort to show that size doesn’t necessarily equal strength. Over 60 little people were hired to dress up as Ewoks, although only a few were given central roles like Wicket (Warwick Davis) and Chief Chirpa. Ewoks have a huge cult following to this day, and audiences are still clamoring for more. The big complaint about Return of the Jedi was that the Ewoks weren’t featured in it enough. They did appear in two made-for-TV movies, though.
13. Oompa-Loompas – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
The Oompa-Loompas from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory are some of the most memorable characters from the movie. In fact, they are arguably more memorable than many other Roald Dahl book characters like Miss Honeybee, Fantastic Mr. Fox and the Twits. The Oompa-Loompas have orange skin and green hair, and wear lederhosen-inspired pants. Aside from their notable appearance, they are most known for their songs. They sang cautionary tales, as well as nifty exit songs as each of the “bad” children” had to leave the factory.
The Oompa-Loompas were such a hit with audiences that the term “oompa-loompa” took on a life of its own. Although the term is often associated with derogatory connotations such as someone that has used too much self-tanner, oompa-loompas are also now thought to be descendants of angels. Dahl was a genius to think up such unique characters, and the little people that brought his concept to life should also be lauded for their acting prowess.
12. Willow – Willow
Warwick Davis caught George Lucas’s eye when he portrayed Wicket the Ewok in Return of the Jedi. Lucas thought Davis would be perfect for the movie Willow, a fantasy about a race of little people. The movie was released five years after the third installment in the Star Wars franchise. Lucas was insistent that it include little people because, he said, “A lot of my movies are about a little guy against the system, and this was just a more literal interpretation of that idea.”
The movie made a decent showing, and audiences fell in love with Warwick Davis all over again. His character Willow was a reluctant hero who managed to protect an innocent baby against a wicked queen. Willow faced many obstacles along his journey, but always stayed the course. In many ways, he reminds fans of Davis himself, who overcame health problems and the loss of a child.
11. Marcus – Bad Santa
Marcus (aka Santa’s Little Helper) is a conman in the movie Bad Santa. He works with Santa (Billy Bob Thornton) to rob stores on Christmas Eve. He’s memorable for his wise cracks as well as his safe-cracking. He easily poses as an elf around Christmas due to his diminutive size, which he uses to his advantage. The same can be said for the actor that plays Marcus, Tony Cox. He played the hand life dealt him, and came out on top.
His resume might even be more impressive than that of Warwick Davis. He has worked steadily since the 80s. Some of the movies he has been featured in include Return of the Jedi, Spaceballs, Beetlejuice, Friday and Oz the Great and Powerful. Cox was inspired to try his hand at acting after being inspired by the legendary little person Billy Barty, who co-starred with Mickey Rooney and even Elvis.
10. Wee Man – Jackass Movies
Wee Man is the stage name of Jason Acuna, and he is best known for his work on the Jackass franchise. Some of Wee Man’s best stunts included kicking himself in the head, skating while dressed as an Oompa-Loompa and doing deep knee bends with Shaquille O’Neal on his back. And of course no one could forget when Preston would ask people to help him carry his grocery bags – only to give them the surprise of their lives when Wee Man jumped out.
The best thing about Wee Man was that he pretty much gave the world its first glimpse into what it was like to be a little person (remember, Jackass pre-dated shows like Little People, Big World). What was so cool about Wee Man was that he was just one of the guys. He proved this without a doubt when the Jackass crew got their sperm counts checked and his was the highest and Johnny Knoxville’s was the lowest! Go Wee Man!
9. Ma Petite – American Horror Story: Freak Show
For some reason we see male little people on screen more often than females. Ma Petite from American Horror Story: Freak Show is the exception. Played by Jyoti Amge, the Guinness Book of World Records credits her with being the smallest living woman, standing at just two feet tall. Ma Petite was part of the aging carnival show led by Elsa (Jessica Lange). Amge used a Hindi translator to help her with her acting as she is originally from India. Her role on the show was limited, as she was mainly shown being snuggled by Elsa, or being put into small enclosures like boxes or cages. Still, the show put her on the map. She is a big star all over the world now, and even appeared on India’s version of Big Brother. Amge is quoted as having said that she enjoys her celebrity – except when people treat her like a “baby” due to her size.
8. Webster Long – Webster
Remember TV’s Webster, played by Emmanuel Lewis? He was ABC’s answer to Arnold on Diff’rent Strokes, and was also a close personal friend of Michael Jackson. When he was on Webster, he stood approximately three and a half feet tall. He was a twelve year old portraying a six year old. The cause of his small stature is unknown, but it didn’t stop him from having big success. Aside from his sitcom, he appeared in numerous TV commercials including ones for Burger King, Colgate, Campbell’s Soup and Life Cereal. His appeal isn’t just limited to acting in America. Apparently he is a huge star in Japan, and made a hit record that was released in the country. He even has his own music label.
7. Bridget Powers – Adult Films
There is one other female little person that we just had to put on this list – Bridget Powers, aka “Bridget the Midget.” Born in Boise, Idaho, she was discovered in a Goth nightclub by a makeup artist, and the rest – as they say – is history. She made her first adult film in 1999, and by her own count has appeared in at least 60 more. Bridget has made quite a name for herself as she was often featured on The Howard Stern Show, as well as in mainstream films such as 8mm, S.W.A.T. and I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Nowadays, she makes her living as a stripper, and also has her own video on demand business. She is currently 35 years old, and is reported to have at least one child.
6. Arnold Jackson – Diff’rent Strokes
Diff’rent Strokes was an amazing TV show in its heyday, and for years after during its successful syndication. But when you think about it, the show was one big bomb ready to explode. Most of us grew up watching Diff’rent Strokes as children, and then were disillusioned when we realized that Gary Coleman was a teenager playing a ten year old. Then, he shocked us more when he sued his parents. Finally, he enraged us when he began to refuse to utter his catchphrase, “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”
And when the show ended, we even stopped hoping to be adopted by Mr. Drummond because all his “children” became messed up adults. Todd Bridges (Willis) was charged with attempted murder and Dana Plato committed suicide. To make matters worse, we still have nightmares about that “very special episode” where Gordon Jump played a molester.
But, we’re still talking about the show 30 years after it ended. It was capable of evoking strong feelings from its audience, and that is a feat in itself. Its success was largely due to Coleman, who was quite the actor with all things considered. He’s proof that there are no small roles, just small actors. While technically not a little person, Coleman was small in stature due to a kidney disorder.
5. The Leprechaun – Leprechaun
Leprechauns are part of Irish folklore who were long considered to be mischievous little beings who were caretakers of pots of gold at the end of rainbows. But thanks to the movie Leprechaun, many people now have an unhealthy fear of “the little people.” Warwick Davis broke type when he played the leprechaun in the movie. The role called for the leprechaun to be evil, as he hunted down a family one by one as he thought they stole his gold. Davis is credited with bringing some comedy into the film. Although the movie was universally panned upon release, it became a cult classic which led to six sequels.
4. Tattoo – Fantasy Island
Tattoo from the show Fantasy Island stood only three feet, 11 inches tall. But he was a major player on the show. He was the loveable sidekick to Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban) who was the overseer of the mysterious island. The island was located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, and guests could live out their wildest fantasies – for a price. Tattoo had a catchphrase, “The plane! The plane!” It was something he shouted to alert Mr. Roarke of the arrival of guests. It was an unlikely catchphrase, but Tattoo delivered it brilliantly with his enthusiasm and French accent. Tattoo was an interesting guy off-camera, as he could be difficult to work with and was reported to have a habit of propositioning women.
The actor that played Tattoo’s real name is Herve Villechaize. His father was a surgeon, and attempted to seek treatment for his son’s “dwarfism” by sending him to several institutions. Villechaize was often bullied in school due to his condition, but found solace in painting and acting. His acting resume includes work in a James Bond movie, as well as Airplane II: A Sequel. Despite his success, it was reported that he suffered from depression due to the pain of his health problems and attempted suicide multiple times. He finally succeeded in ending his own life in 1993.
3. Mickey Abbott – Seinfeld
Mickey Abbott from Seinfeld appeared in several episodes of the iconic show. He met Kramer while the two were working as stand-ins on a soap opera. The two of them had some great times, including double dating, acting as ill patients to train med students, and working alongside one another in Santa’s Village. Mickey led an interesting life. Although he wasn’t a series regular, he did have a developed backstory. His father was a dentist, he’d been divorced many times, and he had two kids in college.
In real life, the actor that plays Mickey is named Danny Woodburn, and his resume is impressive. On television, he landed roles on Baywatch, Murder, She Wrote and iCarly. He’s also acted in movies including Jingle All The Way, Employee of the Month and Mirror, Mirror.
2. Tyrion Lannister – Game of Thrones
The biggest little person on the planet right now is Peter Dinklage, known for his role as Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Lannister is acutely aware of his status as a little person, and often refers to it. He has said that he is considered to be a “bastard” just like Jon Snow. To make matters worse, Lannister’s mother died while giving birth to him, so he has been blamed for her demise. His family’s wealth and status essentially saved him from a near-certain death, as Lannister has remarked that if he were a commoner, his family would have left him in the woods to die. However, Lannister doesn’t have many shortcomings aside from his love of drink and ladies of the night. His wit and intellect are above and beyond that of his siblings. What is most impressive about Lannister’s character is Dinklage’s portrayal. He has range, confidence and can be self-deprecating. That is more than can be said for most people – large or small.
1. The Munchkins – The Wizard of Oz
No list about little people in show business would be complete without including the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz. MGM hired 124 little people to play them, but even that wasn’t enough to fill Munchkinland. The studio had to hire at least a dozen children to fill in. The Munchkins have long been a fan favorite, from the Lollipop Guild members to the Lullaby League. They were so popular that they were even granted their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. What remains in the backs of everyone’s minds, though, is the Tinseltown lore about the Munchkins. The claim that a little person committed suicide on set has been debunked, but rumors still run rampant about their giant parties which were filled with booze, loose women and knives.
In the credits of The Wizard of Oz, they were simply billed as “The Munchkins.” No doubt this was symptomatic of the times. However, researchers have compiled mountains of information on their real identities and even interviewed over thirty living Munchkins. Now, only one Munchkin is still with us. His name is Jerry Maren (96), and he was in the Lollipop Guild.