FOR Ray Griffiths, appearing as Cheeky in the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre’s annual panto Snow White is an emotional return.
The short actor, who has appeared in movies like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and two of the Harry Potter films, is making his third visit to the Guildford venue – and met his wife there in the ’90s.
“My wife, Sarah, was front of house manager,” recalls Ray.
“We had a scene where I had to walk through the auditorium and she used to open the door for me.
“We got chatting… and we’ve been married for 12 years now.”
Ray is playing a dwarf in Snow White, a role he’s very used to. “I do panto every year and it’s usually Snow White, for obvious reasons,” he laughs.
“It’s a great way to spend Christmas and it’s a great excuse for getting out of things because you can say you’re too busy!”
He played an ironic Little John in Robin Hood for the past two years, adding: “It was nice to leave Snow White for a couple of years – but panto generally is a great experience.
“You get a reaction straight away. What other job do you get applauded at the end of the day for doing what you love?”
However, acting wasn’t Ray’s first job. He started working life as a landscape gardener in his native Yorkshire: “I never thought of acting at all,” he says.
“I was working for the council but they started getting rid of people. I ended up out of work and my uncle had an apartment in London and said come down and stay for a while.”
And it’s at that point that fate played its hand. “I was walking down the Kings Road and this guy on roller skates skated round me and said ‘How tall are you?’ I thought that was a bit personal but said 4ft 2in.
“He said ‘My name’s Jeremy Zimmerman and I’m casting for a film. Meet me tomorrow morning and you can be in it’. It turned out to be Willow – I did two weeks of filming and thought this isn’t a bad way to make money.”
Ray then enrolled in acting school and started to learned his trade. “I was a very different person back then, more shy and quiet and it was like doing an apprenticeship,” he says.
“I talked to other people and listened to other people and that’s how I learned my trade to the point where I’m now one of the best known short actors in the country.”
He says he doesn’t mind being cast for ‘short’ roles. “Of course, that’s what I am, a short actor,” he says.
“It’s nice when producers or directors call you up, not because it’s written in the script, but they just think it would be a good part for me. But I’m a jobbing actor. If the role needs a short person – I’m proud to play that. I’ve got a mortgage and a child to pay for.”
He’s currently living up to his character as Cheeky in Snow White and reveals: “It should be Happy but Disney owns the rights to the official Snow White story and it’s very expensive to get the copyright…”