Standing at four feet, seven inches tall, Santa Fe by way of London actor Hugh Elliot is used to last-minute phone calls around this time. They also tend to come during the holidays.
“Obviously that happens,” Elliot says in his deep, British baritone. “Fortunately, due to the hard work of people other than myself—people like Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones—things are changing.”
The change, the actor says, is a slow but welcome one.
“You know, 30 years ago, when you saw an African-American guy with a big Afro on a cop show, that was already radical. Now, he or she is the lieutenant on the show, the top actor, and nobody notices. So, it’s kind of like that.”
He continues, “There are less Little People than there are black people or one-legged lesbians, but it’s definitely progress.”
An accomplished film, stage and voice-over actor who’s worked with both A-list actors and “really obnoxious, full of themselves” B-listers, the thespian says he takes pigeonhole casting in stride. Last St. Patrick’s Day, for example, he played a leprechaun at the International Green Ideas Show in Albuquerque and was asked to hand out coin-shaped chocolates to children in attendance.
“It was fun. You just get into the character,” he says, without a hint of embarrassment. “I’m sort of over that now, at this point.”
Not so, Elliot says, in his younger days. One particularly painful experience was a school production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
“I hated it because it was stereotyped and it was BS,” he recalls. “But now, I’m a SAG actor, [and] they pay you very well. Everyone’s got their price,” he says with a laugh, adding that he’s “taking advantage of it; Little People are sort of in at the moment.”
According to Dennis Otsuka, president of the Little People of America’s “Chili Peppers” group (which includes all of New Mexico and El Paso, Texas), the chapter only has 30 active members. In contrast, he explains to SFR, “San Diego is probably three of four times larger than us,” making Elliot a minority within a minority.
That didn’t stop him from settling in Santa Fe. He came here on holiday in 1994 and, like many artists before him, never left.
“Santa Fe is lifestyle, not a career,” he points out.
Reminiscing about gigs where height did not play a factor—like playing the role of Dr. Einstein in a theater production of Arsenic and Old Lace three years ago—his face lights up. One print review, he recalls, referred to the casting decision as “brilliant.”
“My colleagues were pretty jealous of that, but what can you do?” he says.
It’s on a movie set, however, that Elliot feels the most at home.
“I tell you, it’s just the creative process,” he says. “It’s very expensive—a movie set, $30-$40,000 an hour—so nobody is sitting around doing nothing, and if they are, they look like they’re doing something. Everyone is focused on the goal.”
He recalls an old Hollywood saying that if you get to the set during daylight, you’re late, and if you leave it during daylight, it means you got fired.
Tinseltown, Elliot hopes, will be at the forefront of change.
“Once they see it as a problem, they’ll do something about it—like disability acts, or legislatively.”
Asked about his dream role, he pauses and quips: “I want to play Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”
“Keep at it,” he suggests to the younger generation of actors that don’t fit the leading role standard. “You’ve got to follow your dream; you’ve got to want it,” he says, with passion. “The key is not to feel sorry for yourself, and B, not to think you’re special. You are an actor whether you’re tall, short, fat, whatever.
Otherwise, get a real job.”
The sentiment, however, does not apply to his desire to portray the famed NBA all-time leading scorer, as Elliot is the first to admit that he’s not very good at basketball.
“They can do stuff with CGI now, but it’s not really likely,” he jokes.
Confident enough to disclose the anecdotes of his colorful career, the actor doesn’t hesitate to share one of the “hundreds more embarrassing for them than me stories.”
One of them involves a noted producer who attempted to recruit Elliot for his movie, which at the time was beginning to film in ABQ.
Elliot recalls a pre-meeting phone conversation.
“He said, ‘By the way, Hugh, I need to ask what’s the official term—I hope you don’t mind me asking—for you people?’”
“I said, ‘British,’ and hung up the phone. That was the end of that conversation.”