Exit Inverview: Danny Woodburn

The Abington native and Seinfeld alum stars in the superhero film Watchmen

Considering the nature of a typical Exit Interview, it was a relief to find that Danny Woodburn, who portrayed the diminutive Mickey Abbott on Seinfeld, isn’t as quick to anger as his character. In fact, the 44-year-old actor and Temple grad proved he has a great sense of humor (and a penchant for conducting interviews in the buff). The four-foot-one-inch Woodburn plays crime boss Big Figure in this month’s Watchmen, and checked in from Los Angeles to talk about the movie, his smackdown of Roger Ebert, and the word that might send him into a Mickey-esque rage.

I’m going to record this interview, so I just want to let you know, for legal reasons.
Okay. I’m going to take off my pants, and I need to alert people to that for legal reasons as well. I have no problem with that.

So where did you grow up? I went to Abington High School and grew up in North Hills. But we pronounced it “Nouf Hills,” so it didn’t sound quite as plush.

Did Temple’s theater program actually prepare you for your career, or was that just four years spent in a drunken, debauched haze? There was debauchery; I just didn’t need alcohol for it. Temple definitely gave me acting chops. Then when I graduated, I taught a youth group called Freedom Theatre in downtown Philly. I took that money, moved to L.A., and booked my first job, on an episode of Hunter. I played a thief who hid inside a club at the end of the night and cracked the safe. It had to be a floor safe, because that was the only way I could get to it [laughs].

There’s clearly an elephant in the room here, so let’s just address it head-on. What’s with your beard?
[Laughs] I had to wait a month for surgery in the early ’90s. So I thought, okay, I’m just going to sit here and not shave. After the surgery, I went back to L.A. and booked that Hunter episode. It became a good-luck thing. I would have said something else was the elephant in the room.

Seriously, though, you’ve been an advocate for the rights of short people. I try. I like to think that I’m making the right choices and presenting myself as a real person instead of a sight gag.

You set Roger Ebert straight after he called you a “midget” in a review, which you said is like using the n-word. When I read a review and they add, “On top of all this bad stuff, the show also features midgets,” it becomes an insult. You want to review the movie, good or bad—more power to you. But to say that’s a reason it’s bad, that irked me.

You also coined the phrase “midga,” and said of Ebert, “You my midga.” [Laughs] Amongst my friends, we have that exchange. Only a few of my friends are little people. I really don’t care for them—they’re a miserable group [laughs].
There’s really no good phrase that a height-enhanced guy can use without feeling like a jerk. “Little people” seems condescending, and “dwarf” sounds like you’re in Lord of the Rings. [Laughs] “Dwarf” is a correct medical term. I don’t feel it has the same negative impact as the m-word. When a comic makes a joke, it’s never “the dwarf.” It’s always “the midget.”

What about your role as Mickey on Seinfeld? Was that a life-changing event? The offers definitely started coming in. In 1993, I was selling cowboy boots in Studio City. After my first Seinfeld episode in 1994, I never had another day job.

Is there a secret to selling boots?
I’m sure there is, but I didn’t know it. And I did not look good in my suede bull’s-hide cowboy boots. [laughs] To say nothing about how often I was hit on. [in a Southern accent] “I like that little man in the boots. I’m gonna git me some’a that!”

Any memorable off-camera moments from the Seinfeld days? I think it was the first episode. Jerry said very innocently, “I heard there was a community where it was all just little people. Do you know of any community where it’s all little people and they all have small houses?” And I said “Not since Oz.” He started laughing at his own silliness, and it was one of those bonding things.

So did you know anything about Watchmen before you auditioned?
I was into comics in my late teens, but I never saw this one. The fans are going to see the comic pages come to life on-screen. It’s not guys wearing pajamas.
Will you be cool with Ebert if he reviews Watchmen and says, “Also starring is the excellent Danny Woodburn, my midga”? Definitely. If only he’d say that!