Deborah Carrington, who broke into Hollywood by answering an ad for dwarf actors, and later performed stunt work and costume-specific roles in Hollywood blockbusters and campy horror movies, died on March 23 at her parents’ home in Pleasanton, California. She was 58.
Her sister, Kathy Ellis, said that the cause had not been determined but that Carrington had dealt with health problems over the past year.
Audiences might best remember Carrington, whose stage name was Debbie Lee Carrington, for her violent performance as Thumbelina, the 3-foot, 10-inch pink-clad prostitute in the 1990 sci-fi action film “Total Recall.” The movie told the story of a construction worker in the future who visits a colonized Mars.
During a mob scene, Thumbelina stabs one of the movie’s villains with a bowie knife before jumping on a table and mowing down the police with a machine gun.
Beyond her infamous shoot-em-up scene, Carrington played various costume-specific roles — suited performances that completely obscure the actor — in film and television. Such roles included Idee, one half of the Geex in the Disney short “Captain EO,” starring Michael Jackson; and the Alien Father in the original “Men in Black.”
She also performed as a stunt double — often for child actors and dolls that had come to life — in films like “Titanic” and the “Child’s Play” slasher film series.
“She was incredibly tough in the suits,” said Kirk R. Thatcher, who worked with her on a couple of Star Wars films, including “Return of the Jedi.” “She could do anything. She was a great body actor, like a mime.”
Deborah Lee Carrington was born on Dec. 14, 1959, in San Jose, California, to Fred Carrington, an insurance manager, and the former Marlene Langen, an elementary school teacher. As a child Carrington visited the hospital for regular checkups related to her dwarfism, and they inspired her to pursue studies in early childhood development at the University of California, Davis.
While in college, Carrington’s life changed after she answered a casting advertisement in a newsletter published by Little People of America, a nonprofit support group. The ad was for the 1981 movie “Under the Rainbow,” which was loosely based on the dwarfs who auditioned to be the Munchkins in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.”
The production was looking for dwarfs as extras, and after Carrington landed a part, she took time off from her studies at UC Davis to work on the production. She later returned to finish her degree.
A subsequent costumed role as an Ewok in the 1983 Star Wars sequel “Return of the Jedi” launched her decadeslong career in film and television, which included a variety costumed parts in films like the Star Wars spinoffs and as ducks in “Howard the Duck.” She was also the voice of Valerie Vomit in the 1987 cult-classic “The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.”
Carrington said she had faced prejudicial attitudes as a dwarf during her time in Hollywood. In an interview with the trade publication Back Stage West, she recalled once being overheated in a costume and a director telling her, “I know you guys have different body temperatures than us tall people.”
She tried to support dwarfs in Hollywood, insisting that they received credit for their work, since many costume-specific parts often went uncredited. She would also confront writers and directors about clichéd and cheap jokes about her height.
By the 1990s, Carrington began to push back against being typecast in costume-only roles. On television, she played character roles like Tiny Avenger on “In Living Color,” Tammy in “Seinfeld,” and Doreen in “The Drew Carey Show.”
More recently, she played an elf in the 3-D computer-animated Christmas musical “The Polar Express” (2004) and the friend Tina Marie in Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” (2016).
In addition to her acting work, Carrington was an advocate for animal rights, worked with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and walked dogs in her spare time.
In addition to her sister, she is survived by her parents and a brother, Robert.
“She played the gamut, from action to horror films to commercials,” Gregg Sargeant, a filmmaker who first worked with Carrington on “Total Recall” and who had cast her for his forthcoming film “Escape From Paradise.” “She was about everything you’d dream of in an actress.”