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Little People With Big Roles

Top Dwarf Actors Resist Santa’s
Helper Roles, Fight for Better Careers

By Buck Wolf

Feb. 26, 2002 --   There comes a day in every dwarf actor's life when it's time to put down the elf suit.

The call goes out every Christmas for little people to play Santa's helpers. That's steady work, an actor's best friend. But for dwarf performers it's a mixed blessing.

"I'm looking for parts that let me develop my craft," said Danny Woodburn, 37, who regularly appeared on Seinfeld as Kramer's hot-headed pal Mickey. He'll next be seen in the Robin Williams comedy Death to Smoochy.

In the early days of his career, Woodburn appeared as a dancing druid in a 1992 Spinal Tap reunion show. "I'll only play an elf now if it's a real guy who puts on an elf suit to make money," he said.

These days, Hollywood has a high demand for little people. With the success of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, scads of fantasy films are in development. It was a major blow when average-sized actors were cast as Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Still, many dwarfs are sending out their resumes — hoping to be the next Mini-Me.

Yeah, Baby! Verne's a Star

Verne Troyer was one of 50 dwarfs in the Harry Potter movie, and he's back this summer as Mini-Me in the third Austin Powers flick. He's being heavily promoted in the coming attractions — confirming his big box-office appeal.

"What you are seeing is a little person who has stepped forward as a major selling point to a big film," said Phil Fondacaro, a 3-foot, 6-inch Hollywood veteran. "And if that's rare, we have to hope we'll see it again and again."

Troyer's screen time has been expanded in the new film. He'll also play a second role in the film — a swinging Mini-Austin who's chased by rabid fans like a dwarf Elvis. That's not the meaty role some little people are yearning for, but Troyer's making headway.

'I Was a Furry Ewok'

Fondacaro, 43, recalls his own work in the Star Wars series.

"Back in the day, I was an Ewok — and that was something," he said. "You're putting on a furry suit and prosthetics — and nobody knows who you are."