Vraag een willekeurige fan wie zijn favoriete sequel trilogy personage is en de kans is groot dat het antwoord BB-8 zal luiden. Deze droid was zonder enige twijfel een van de opvallendste nieuwkomers in The Force Awakens en was direct een publiekslieveling. Het is dan ook niet verwonderlijk dat een interview met een van de personen die hem tot ‘leven’ brengt in de film hoog op mijn prioriteitenlijst stond! Twee weken geleden was het dan zover: na lang wachten kon ik niemand minder dan Brian Herring diverse vragen stellen. Brian is de puppeteer van BB-8 in zowel The Force Awakens als The Last Jedi en heeft daarnaast nog meer rollen op zich genomen, onder andere in Rogue One! In dit lange interview verteld hij alles over hoe hij als kind zijnde al geobsedeerd was door Star Wars, hoe de eerste ontmoeting met zijn idool Harrison Ford een aparte wending kreeg en nog veel meer…
Interview met Brian Herring
Hi Brian! What or who inspired you to work in the movie business?
I grew up in the theatre. My mother worked in wardrobe and I was always around shows as a kid. I wanted to be an actor and did a lot of community theatre then went into the business when I was about 18.
How did you get one of the best jobs in the galaxy: puppeteering BB-8.
I had been working as a puppeteer since joining a UK satire show called Spitting Image in 1993. Jobbing about for the BBC, The Jim Henson Company, ITV, commercials and a few movies. I’d worked on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus for Neal Scanlan, who won an Oscar for Babe and we’d got on well.
I had randomly called him about something else I was working on and after a couple of minutes chatting it came out that he was heading up the CFX department for the new Star Wars film. From there he hired me as the Puppeteer Consultant.
My job was to find performers, work with the designers and fabricators to find ways of getting people into strange yet performable positions within creature suits and make sure they could actually perform while they were in there.
I would also liaise between the CFX, Art and Construction departments to ensure the puppetry requirements were met for each scene and I also had to put an R&D team together to start developing some of the new creatures as quickly as possible. We started in August of 2013 working on early versions of the Happabore and the Luggabeast.
While that was going on designs for a little round droid called ‘Snow Globe’ started coming through from Christian Alzman at ILM. Jake Lunt Davies eventually realised the design that everyone now knows as BB-8.
At this point Josh Lee was working on ways to bring that design to life. JJ wanted a practical character on set and Josh came up with the idea of a puppet version. I did some early character studies with a 12 inch version and from there BB-8 became 7 different versions on screen. There’s a great panel online with Josh and Matt Denton at Celebration where they talk about the different droids.
During that process Josh was joined by Matt and Giles Hannagan and I roped in Dave Chapman to perform with me. It took months of R&D which culminated in a show and tell for JJ and Kathleen Kennedy in around March of 2014. Quite possibly the most stressful day of my life. It could have all gone digital in an instant. However, when JJ saw the character come to life in front of him he was over the moon. He then said something to me along the lines of “I love how you’re puppeteering it. Go read the script, you’re in the movie!”
When was your first encounter with the Star Wars phenomenon and what did you think of it?
I was 7 in ‘77. My Dad took me to see Star Wars, no episode number, no subtitle back then that I recall, and it blew my mind like everyone else. I was THAT kid. I had the curtains, the bed sheets, all the toys, which I still have, comics, the lot.
I even had a school report when I was about 9 that said something along the lines of;
“Brian’s obsession with Star Wars will lead him nowhere and he should concentrate on his academic work”.
It was a massive influence on me. The story, the myths and legends it was based on. I even knew the names of the effects guys. We only really had a few dedicated movie magazines, those fold-out poster magazines and the special collector’s editions back then. Little articles with behind the scenes pictures which were our only real access to that world unless they showed the Making of Star Wars at Christmas. This was all before video recorders too. If you missed it, you’d missed it!. I devoured that stuff. I recently cleared my loft and discovered so much of it. #HezzasLoft if you want to see some of what I found.
Are there things or mannerisms of BB-8 that were your idea? Did you have any input in creating the character?
BB-8’s character came from JJ and Lawrence Kasdan’s script. We had to find ways of making him play his part.
Dave and I spent a couple of weeks with the puppets, working out what we could do with it. I’d done a screen test with an early version of BB-8 that Josh was pulling along on wheels and it had dawned on me then just how small he was. You had to crouch down to be next to him. It was like a toddler or a dog. I liked the idea of his personality being a cross between a tenacious child and a faithful Jack Russell.
So, armed with the knowledge of the script, Dave and I set out to find his vocabulary of movement. What he looked good doing. What it couldn’t do so well. How to make him look happy, sad, scared etc. Could it do stairs (it turns out it could, but that’s another story entirely). You don’t tend to get a lot of rehearsal on set, so we had to know our jobs and be ready for whatever was thrown at us on the day. Dave and I have been working together for a while now and we share a sense of humour. Our timing is often the same and that makes it easier for us to sync our performance.
We also worked on his ‘breathing’. When puppets stop moving they die. Although we were dealing with a droid I knew we had to give it characteristics that the audience could relate to. Star Wars has some of the most human machines in cinema and we knew BB-8 would have to stack up against C-3PO!
Neal Scanlan wanted BB-8 to be constantly moving. He had suggested a ‘ball hover’, to try to make it look like he was always correcting himself so as not to fall over. I found that by pushing the rods with my hips and moving the axle rod slightly I could make the puppet cycle without actually going anywhere. The more excited or upset BB-8 gets the faster I do it.
Can you tell something about the BB-8 puppet? For instance, what possibilities does the puppet have?
The puppet version of BB-8 is operated on a system of rods. I have control over the body movement and the head pitch and roll. Dave takes control of the yaw movement. Moving the head left and right to hit eye lines on camera. Together we have to make BB-8 hit his marks otherwise it looks really odd. Usually I would use a monitor, but because I’m running along behind the droid in a green suit there is nowhere to put one, so I have to rely on playback after the take or, more usually Dave, Neal and of course JJ to tell me if it looks OK.
With the rodded version I can get a lot of subtle movements from the character. Just by tensing my arms I can vibrate the handles and make his head shake. This gives the impression BB-8 is nervous or scared. I also do the voice for BB-8 on set. This really helps the actors relate to his as a character rather than a prop.
The rodded version is also the quickest version we have. If they want BB-8 to run for his life, it’s me pushing him. I can go across sand, mud, down slopes and up hills. There’s a video on the internet of me in blue Lycra running up the middle of the set at Greenham Common. Blue Lycra is not a good look.
What was the best moment you’ve had so far playing BB-8?
We were in Abu Dhabi shooting the scene where Finn and Rey escape from the TIE Fighters. They needed a reference pass for BB-8 running through the sand for a CGI shot. Then JJ asked me how fast I could run? I’d spent a lot of time with a personal trainer for the film so I knew I would be in good shape for the job, so I replied I could keep up with John and Daisy. Then next thing I knew, they were setting up the shot of BB-8 running through the sand. Dave was strapped to the camera buggy and we were off. That shot turned out to be the very first footage anyone ever saw of BB-8 in the teaser. Most people assumed it was digital, but it was me running like mad in the hot desert sand.
We also did many different versions of BB-8 peeping around the corner in the Millennium Falcon. I actually had a monitor for that and Roger Guyette, the second unit Director, was sitting in the cockpit with his monitor and he just kept laughing and getting us to do more. Fast ones, slow ones, the head leads, the body leads, just the head came out, only the eye. We must have done 20 different takes. I was so happy when that also made the trailer and became one of the brand new droid’s signature moves.
I always enjoy hearing about strange or funny things that happened on the set. Could you share some great stories?
Harrison Ford arrived at work for his first day on the Falcon set. I was standing in the cockpit corridor in my wonderful green nylon suit holding the droid’s rods and Han Solo walks up the ramp IN FULL COSTUME with his big hairy friend at his side. He looked me up and down and said “Who picked that look?” And then walked off!
Not exactly how you would imagine or want the first meeting with your idol to go, but there it is. He turned out to be everything you hope he would be. Professional, funny, generous and gloriously grumpy (entirely for effect)!
Along with Lee Towersey (who, with Oliver Steeples built and performed R2-D2 for TFA and latterly Rogue One), I drove the First Order Mouse Droids. On the first big shooting day on the Star Destroyer there were some 40 or more Stormtroopers and lots of other supporting artists dressed as Officers and Technicians. The Stormtroopers can’t see very well in those helmets and we had to weave the little remote control droids in and out of them and not get kicked across the set.
I had already tripped the trooper escorting Oscar Isaac across the hangar, so I was on the back foot a little. In the afternoon, we shot the scene where Finn is marching Poe across the deck and they suddenly make a run for it. The Stormtroopers had changed their timing which meant my droid was late. I could see it was going to be a disaster and I was once again in Oscar’s way, but if I turned I would have hit something else. However, rather than stop he jumped over it and sprinted up the stairs to the fighter. That take is in the movie!
Though not particularly funny, one day that really sticks in my mind was the day we shot the scene between BB-8, C-3PO and R2-D2. It was quite technical. I was very conscious about keeping out of Anthony Daniels’ way. He has little vision in that head and can hardly hear. I was doing BB-8’s dialogue live with a classic character and he was playing the scene and talking to and about R2. It suddenly struck me that it was like being invited to join in with Laurel & Hardy! Many of those moments were not lost on me.
BB-8 is possibly the most popular character of the sequels and maybe even the most popular Star Wars droid overall, which is something you deserve credit for. What do you think the reason of his popularity is?
Firstly, it’s important to note that I’m part of a very big team. There were so many people that brought BB-8 to the screen. From design, through engineering, animatronics, paint finishing, CGI and sound, BB-8 is every tool in the box.
The design comes into play massively. The puppets themselves have been so well thought out and executed that they allow for a great deal of expression. Most of R2-D2’s acting is done in the sound edit, but BB-8 can be instantly expressive. As a puppeteer that’s a real gift and I get to sink my teeth into bringing him to life.
It’s honestly a dream come true. I love performing BB-8.
The secret of his success though? I think it’s lots of things. He’s very cute, small and feisty. He’s funny, he appeals to a wide audience and I think they’ve used him well within the story. Just enough to leave you wanting more.
There are hundreds of BB-8 collectibles and toys. Which ones do you have and which one is your favorite? Mine is the LEGO fig and the Sphero!
It seems like I’ve got all of them! It got a little out of hand for a while, but after massive counselling and help from my lady love I’ve reigned it in now. I really like the unique things. Whenever I go to a convention now I always go to Artist Alley and pick up the different artists impressions of him. I love the fact that really talented people take time to render him in so many different ways. It’s strange seeing so many products with BB-8 on. He was our secret for so long and now he belongs to the fans.
You started doing conventions. What are your experiences meeting the fans and what was the funniest thing that happened at a con?
I went along to Star Wars Celebration Europe in 2007. One of the crowd. Bought a ticket. Had a ball. I went back in 2016 on stage in front of 4,000 or so people. It was a very different experience.
Since then I’ve been going along to conventions all over the world and I love it. Star Wars fans are awesome. As we make these movies it sometimes becomes just a job. Long hours in uncomfortable circumstances and it’s very easy to forget how much what we’re doing means to people. I’ve been given a very unique opportunity to be on the inside AND I get to go and speak to the people it means so much to and believe me, they are not afraid to tell me what they think! Good or bad. I try to take that enthusiasm back to Pinewood with me.
The cosplayers are amazing too. Such talent and creativity. I had an entire family dressed as Rey show up to the table once. Mum, two daughters and Dad. Brilliant! There are also the BB-8 costumes. All shapes, sizes and styles. Each one with a slightly different twist.
I once saw a little girl, she couldn’t have been more than 4, dressed as Rey and she was attacking a 6 foot guy dressed as Kylo Ren with her lightsaber. He was just humouring her and letting her get her strikes in. I’m assuming he was her Dad, but you never know at these things!
There is even a guy who dresses as ME! Full green suit pushing a homemade BB-8!
There was a guy from South America who presented me with an action figure of me in the green suit. He’d adapted the BB-8 to have rods and made a whole backing card and blister pack for it. Unfortunately he wanted it signed and I didn’t get to keep it. I tried to buy it but he was having none of it.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know some of the members of the 501st Legion of which Dave and I were made honorary members in 2016, the Rebel Legion and the Droid Builders. They all do great work and they all have their own Star Wars stories. How Star Wars got them through a difficult time, or how it introduced them to their husband or wife or how it inspired them. I totally understand that because it inspired me. I do wonder if there’s a little 7 year old out there seeing the behind the scenes footage thinking “Maybe I can do that!”
I’ve been collecting signed movie posters and Star Wars memorabilia for years, so when someone brings me a Force Awakens poster that Mark, Harrison, Anthony or Carrie have already signed and they want my signature on it, I know that’s a big deal. I’m hugely flattered and I don’t take that for granted.
In Rogue One you puppeteered SE-2. Which other droids and creatures did you puppeteer? Can you tell something about your work on this movie?
I was a little less involved in Rogue One. Although there were creatures in the movie, they were mostly background players. Appearing briefly here and there with some notable exceptions like Raddus and Pao.
The first thing I worked on was Bor Gullet. There was at least a dozen of us on that. I originally worked with Dave on the main tentacles, then towards the end of the shoot I ran the eyes. I also worked on a new version of 2-1B the medical droid that originally appeared in The Empire Strikes Back. He was in Saw Gerrera’s hide out. I don’t think he made the cut, but it’s in the visual directory.
SE-2 was shot on location in Iceland. That was myself on the head and body, with Dave Chapman and Patrick Comerford on arms and Matt Denton on the animatronics. This was a bunraku (rod) puppet built by Pete Hawkins. We waited in the rain in that spectacular landscape for a couple of days for the weather, then shot the whole thing in two set ups and three takes! Then ILM removed us all from the shot as they do with me and BB-8. That was the second time I had performed the first droid in the film.
As well as SE-2 I did various creature heads during the principal photography. Mon Calamari officers, Oolin Musters, Leevan Tenza and a few others. A lot of the stuff I shot was later superseded by the reshoots. Making Rogue One was a completely different process from The Force Awakens. Very much a hand-held, guerrilla style shoot which resulted in a totally different type of Star Wars movie.
It was recently announced that Rian Johnson will develop a brand-new trilogy. How would you describe the way he handled The Last Jedi and what do you think of the decision to have him create a new trilogy?
Rian is great. I was a fan of Looper but I didn’t really know what to expect. JJ was a tough act to follow, but Rian came in to an established cast and crew and led the way forward. He’s great fun, he enjoys a laugh but gets his shots. He has an amazing eye and he LOVES Star Wars. You could pass the monitors in video village while they were setting up a shot and it would look like a Star Wars movie. Epic. Even with no action. His take on The Last Jedi is familiar yet totally new.
The fact that Lucasfilm and Disney have picked him to do three more movies speaks volumes for his work on The Last Jedi. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do with a blank canvas.
My final question: next month is the release of The Last Jedi. Will we see Brian Herring puppeteer droids or creatures in Solo, Episode IX and beyond?
Well Solo has wrapped. Ron Howard tweeted a picture from the set that I was in, so that cat is out of the bag. I’m really looking forward to seeing it. The script is brilliant and I say that as a very fussy Star Wars fan.
As far as the future is concerned, I’ll gladly stay ‘Up the Galaxy’ for as long as they’ll have me. There are more movies coming, new worlds with many new alien characters and droids to discover. I hope to have a hand in as many of them as I can.
I hope so too! Many thanks for your time!
Wil je Brian volgen op social media? Dat kan!
Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews – ‘Mem-Wars’ from a galaxy far, far away…
Exclusief interview met Nick Stanner (Stunt performer – The Mandalorian)
Wat zou Star Wars zijn zonder goede stuntlui? Iemand moet de stormtrooper zijn die door een vlammenwerper in rook opgaat of van een rots af valt!
In The Mandalorian ging stuntman Nick Stanner meer dan 30 keer ‘dood’ en was hij als diverse personages te zien. Van Mandalorian tot stormtrooper! Onlangs interviewde ik hem voor StarWarsInterviews.com en zoals altijd is het ook hier te lezen!
How did your journey in movies start? How and why did you become a stuntman?
Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska I was not around film at all. I grew up competing in Gymnastics for my parents’ club all the way through college. I was always flipping off something and in eighth grade I remember watching a movie, not sure which one, but I mentioned I wanted to “do that” as I pointed at the screen. My mom asked if I wanted to be an actor, and I said, “No, I wanna do the cool stuff!” Mom said Oh a stuntman?! I said yeah, and went back to being an eighth grader. Fast forward to after college, I was looking for a new apartment in Lincoln Nebraska where I went to collegians was telling my mom and she said, “I thought you said you wanted to go be a stuntman! When are you going to do that?” The second I heard my mom say that and I knew she supported me no matter where I was, I decided to leave. I headed to Florida to get involved with the live stunt shows at the theme parks like Indiana Jones at Disney, Sindbad at Universal and many others in the Orlando area. Once I got into some of those shows I started to meet people in the film industry.
How did you manage to get hired for The Mandalorian TV series?
One of my best friends that I met at the very first show I did when I moved to Florida was Ryan Watson, the Stunt and Fight Coordinator for The Mandalorian now. We have known each other since 1999. He is one of the best in the industry for fights and creative camera work.
Which characters did you play as a stuntman? The Mandalorian himself?
I played a mandalorian, but not THE Mandalorian. The Mandalorian stunt double is Lateef Crowder. He is amazing with movement. I played numerous characters. I died 32 times in the first eighth episodes, many as a stormtrooper. I did all the high falls so any time someone falls from a roof, that’s me. You can count at least four in the final battle in episode 1. 3 falls in one circle of the gun and one when IG-11 shoots me before they walk in the door. That’s a couple examples, but I am all over the place. I also was the green face guy with Carl Weathers and speeder bike trooper.
You just mentioned that you ‘died’ 32 times. What was your favorite death scene?
Each death was unique. My favorite is high falls, which is why I get to do them all, but being torched by mandos flame thrower as a stormtrooper.
Which of these characters was your favorite?
They are all fun to play, but there is nothing like being a jet pack mandalorian flying on wires. Kids dream come true!
Did you meet the Mandalorian himself, Pedro Pascal? How was he to work with?
I met everyone and worked with the whole cast! It’s an amazing crew with no lack of talent and everyone is very down to earth. Being there every day, I had a chance to get to know everyone pretty well. Pedro is a jokester so we got along great. I’m a big comedy fan so I enjoyed Bill Burr.
Did any weird or funny things happen on or off the set?
There were a few funny moments on set. Lots of laughs all around really but when it was time to work playtime was over. Off the set there was plenty of laughs and good times. When you’re working 10-14-hour days it takes the whole crew to keep everyone in good moods and in the film biz there is no shortage of laughs.
What is your favorite anecdote regarding the production of The Mandalorian?
My fave laughs, not sure of anecdote, was when Bill burr would mess with the crew. He has such quick wit and had the entire crew laughing!
Were you a Star Wars fan before you got cast?
I was a so-so Star Wars fan. I liked the movies, mainly the first 3, and saw them pretty young. Being involved has brought me a little deeper into the world but I would not consider myself a diehard fan.
The question I have to ask every stuntman: what is the most dangerous stunt you’ve ever done?
Most dangerous stunt would be getting hit by car in Death Sentence with Kevin Bacon, or a 9-story high fall while being lit on fire, but it could be being hung underneath a helicopter by 75 feet of cable and flown over Los Angeles! Hard to pick just one, they are all super fun to me!
Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews
Exclusief interview met Jake Cannavale (Toro Calican)
In aflevering 5 van The Mandalorian maakten we kennis met de jonge premiejager Toro Calican, gespeeld door Jake Cannavale. Speciaal voor zustersite StarWarsInterviews.com beantwoordde hij kort enkele vragen!
How did you get cast for The Mandalorian and were you a Star Wars fan?
They asked my agent if I would like to be in it. And I’m a massive fan and always will be.
How did the shooting of your scenes (most of them with Pedro Pascal) go?
They went very well. There was not a single difficult person to work with on that entire set. In my so far very short career that’s already not something I take lightly. Pedro Pascal was awesome! Mad love to Pedro.
You were directed by Dave Filoni, who many fans see as George Lucas’ heir. What is your opinion of him?
Other than the fact that he genuinely loves The Phantom Menace I have literally nothing bad to say about Dave. He’s the man. I loved working with him as an actor, and I have nothing but faith in him as a fan.
Did any weird or funny things happen on or off the set?
During me and Ming’s fight scene, Dave told her stunt double -whose name is also Ming- to actually kinda beat me up…it looked fantastic.
What is the best memory you have regarding The Mandalorian?
Probably knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that I can pull off a blue leather outfit.
Besides acting you’re also a musician in a band called Vixen Maw. How would you describe the music you make and who are your musical influences?
Vixen Maw is an experimental grindcore band. I would describe us as the musical equivalent of getting lobotomized by an unlicensed brain surgeon with Parkinson’s disease and medical fetishism. I don’t like to speak on behalf of my band members (or anyone, as a general rule) but I can say we are all pretty eclectic in terms of our musical tastes, with extreme music being the anchor, or epicenter, so to speak. So our influences are pretty all over the place. I will say that we are currently writing a new album from our own respective quarantine spots and some of the bands I’ve been listening to for inspiration include Chepang, Bandit, Narayama, Vulva Essers, Cloud Rat, Botch, Wormrot, Coke Bust, Gulch, and Bryan Adams.
You’re almost 25 years old. Where do you see yourself in 10 years and what are your career goals?
In ten years I see myself hopefully having had enough memorable screen time to be sampled in some kids shitty grindcore band that his parents are sick of hearing rehearse from their garage. Also I would genuinely love to be writing for a living. Theater, film and animated television.
Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews
Exclusief interview met Richard Stride (Poggle)
Door de jaren heen is er de meest grappige en bizarre Star Wars trivia in boeken en op internet verschenen, maar wat de geur(!) van de Death Star plannen was -tot vandaag!- goed bewaard gebleven!
In een interview met zustersite StarWarsInterviews.com deelt Richard Stride (die aan Attack of the Clones en Revenge of the Sith meewerkte) een leuke anecdote.
How did you get started in the movie business and how did you get the parts of Poggle and a Clone Trooper in Star Wars?
I went to drama school at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts and in 1993 I graduated and went straight into a Hollywood movie called First Knight. I actually was originally cast as Obi-Wan’s double for the films Episode II and III. However, I gained many extra characters along the way.
How did you play Poggle?
I was in motion capture suit and had a great scene with the late Christopher Lee. When filming the scene with Christopher Lee, with the Death Star plans, I made a remark to the props guy that how clever even the smallest props where in design and craftsmanship in even the Death Star Plans. He started to laugh which was strange and when I asked him what was so funny he told me they had forgot to make them and he had to dash out the day before and went to Halfords and it actually was a car air freshener. So I told Christopher Lee when handing over the Death Star plans it was something to freshen the whole Galaxy with.
Can you share some of your memories regarding the time you worked on both movies?
I loved it. I spent all my time on set and didn’t really go to the green room as it was so much more interesting to watch other peoples scenes etc. It was lovely to be part of a big family on set and chat to so many interesting people.
How did George Lucas direct you?
He is a very visual director and has a very clear idea of what he is after. You have to put your trust fully in a director as they can see everything, and that’s what I did.
Did they give you any memorabilia after the movie was finished?
I was given a T-shirt and a signed call sheet on the last day of filming and a personal thankyou of George Lucas.
When was your first encounter with the Star Wars phenomena?
I saw it as a child on TV and loved it. I watch it over and over again.
What are your thoughts on the two Star Wars movies you were in?
I liked them and they are great movies to keep returning to as you learn something new each time.
What do you regard as the highlight of your career so far?
I loved doing Star Wars, but also Shakespeare in Love, and playing Hamlet for the stage.
Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews
Exclusief interview met Paul Brooke (Rancor Keeper)
Het is een van de meest bekende scenes uit Return of the Jedi: de scene waarin we een huilende Rancor keeper zien met op de achtergrond de zojuist door Luke verslagen mega monster. Afgelopen december was de Britse acteur Paul Brooke die deze rol vertolkte te gast op de EchoBase conventie in Utrecht. Uiteraard sprak ik hem voor mijn site StarWarsInterviews.com over de wellicht meest bekende seconden uit zijn leven én kwam ook een van de meest bekende acteurs allertijden ter sprake. Volgens traditie is het interview ook hier te lezen.
How did you get cast for Return of the Jedi?
I was touring India with a play for the British Council and my manager had trouble getting in touch with me because we were moving around from city to city. When we got to Calcutta, there was a message in the hotel waiting which said, “I’ve accepted two days filming for you the week you get home”. You have nothing to do. But we both made the money. Which made me laugh at the time and hadn’t really made me laugh ever since because I feel like I’m privileged to be even in a small role, the smallest role I ever played in front of a camera in a lucky career where I’ve rarely stopped working. But how lucky I was to be part of this extraordinary franchise.
What was your initial feeling when you got the part? Star Wars was very popular and this much anticipated movie promised to be big; it had the biggest budget of all three.
I wouldn’t have known that from my two mornings. But having said that, I’ve appreciated it, to be honest, more over time than I did at the time. For the reason that I’ve given you. Because I was nice and busy, I was lucky with work, and I was normally playing much better parts. But then the fact that people remember after all these years and that I get mail every week shows that even if it’s a small part, if it works, which is not just tied to the actor, of course it’s down to the script and everything. But if it works, it can make an impact that people will stick with. I’ve had the most extraordinary stories from people over the years of not only of their enjoyment, but of the passing on their enjoyment to their children and even grandchildren, which is rather touching. Probably if I’ve been offered the part and I was at home because I had loads of work where I had more to do, I would probably have turned it down and I would have regretted it like mad with hindsight.
Did you see the other two movies?
I think I’ve seen them both. I’ve certainly seen Star Wars. I was amazed and surprised that a very intellectual British theatre director, a famous guy at the time called William Gaskell, who I worked with at Royal Court Theatre, a pioneering theatre in London and who was rather up-market in all sorts of respect. I was doing a play with him before I got offered Return of the Jedi and he came out with the fact that he was a huge Star Wars fan. At the time I hadn’t seen the film and I didn’t think I thought, well Sci-Fi not particularly my scene. But then when Gaskell said, but it’s wonderful, it’s absolutely wonderful. You have to see it. So, I did and I was hooked like all the millions of others over the years.
What do you remember about the filming of your scenes?
The main thing I remember is how short it was. I did the little bit with Mark Hamill and then the following morning it was just me on a rostrum in front of a blue screen. No Rancor and nobody except for me being given directions by Richard Marquand, the director. Raising my head a little, turning the right a little up a little more. Now you’re looking at the Rancor, which of course I wasn’t, because the Rancor wasn’t there. And then on the cue having to burst into tears. That was my experience from the acting point of view. I mean, that in itself is not easy because normally you have other actors or even if the Rancor had been there in some shape or form you can respond to that. Responding to thin air is not always easy.
Did you know then what the Rancor looked like?
No, not at all.
The first time was when I saw the film and the first time I was actually WITH the Rancor was two years ago in Kentucky when this guy who built a huge Rancor for thousands of dollars and who takes it round the conventions, making money from people to be photographed with the Rancor. He said my model is up, would you pop up when you have a break, have some photos taken? I said “of course!”, and it was stunning.
Can you share any remarkable, unique, strange or funny things that happened?
I think the strangest is what I’ve already told you because it was so brief. I didn’t get to know any of the other actors. So, I said hello and shook hands with Mark Hamill. There were no personal stories. The strangest thing I think was the only time at that that I had to do something which was apparently responding to a creature that wasn’t there. But I’ve had other strange experiences in films and television. Maybe the strangest acting during a scene with Marlon Brando in an anti-apartheid film called Dry White Season, where although he was there and huge at the time. He was one of the only actors who made me feel small. It was really delightful, but he didn’t learn his lines. So, after you’d said you’re lying to him, you waited for ages while the woman upstairs told him through an earpiece what to do next, so there was a silence. You heard this in the background and then he’d come at you one hundred miles an hour force of his personality. You’d come in on cue. Then another long gap while upstairs the line was going into his ear. That’s difficult because you can’t suspend disbelief. It becomes a like an acting exercise because normally the response of the of the people helps you to act well, and if you’re not getting it straight back, there’s nothing to believe. So, when he speaks, you can respond to that but by then you’re out of the action for a period while the woman is telling him what to do. But I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I mean, heavens, having acted with Marlon Brando, hero of my youth.
In fact, it was filmed in Zimbabwe because they wouldn’t allow at the time an anti-apartheid film to be filmed in South Africa. And I had two scenes there, one with Donald Sutherland and one with Brando. After I had done the scene with Sutherland they said, you can’t go home yet because we don’t know if Marlon Brando is coming or not. They said you don’t have to stay in the capital. You can go sightseeing, you can go to Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba and all these fabulous places but phone in every evening and we’ll let you know. So after about 10 days or something, I phoned in and they said, he’s not coming so you’re on the next plane back to London. I came back alone and they mounted his scenes, I think, at Pinewood, if I remember right. He was just in court scenes, so as isolated section of the film, he played an attorney. Then we filmed those couple of months later or something like that just outside London. When I first met him and introduced him, I said, I’m so grateful to you for not coming to Zimbabwe because I had this fabulous holiday at the film company’s expense. Now here I am at Pinewood being paid all over again for the same job. The great Marlon said to me “Glad to be of service”.
You have done a lot in your career but most people will always remember you for your role in Star Wars. How do you feel about this?
That’s part of the course with the acting game. The greatest thing for the actors of my level, basically a supporting actor, occasionally played leading part but mainly a supporting actor. The main thing is to keep working and you balance a part of which you have a lot to do a film or TV series with something where you don’t, or occasionally you do it just because it pays the bills.
I feel no negativity whatsoever about playing a tiny part and the fact that it has been clearly so focal for so many people is a bonus. You know it’s funny and genuinely touching when people get in touch with me and say “I saw this when I was six and I’ve been a fan ever since”. But I had so little to do. You know if you went to make a cup of tea you’d miss me and they say it doesn’t matter and they’ll always remember that moment. That is quite heartwarming. It’s great to hear.
Earlier this year a Star Wars fan film was released which features your character as a kid. It’s a prequel, an origin story where we see how he meets the Rancor. Have you seen it?
I haven’t seen it. I didn’t know is existed.
I was asked at some point, but after I retired, if I would be up in one of these later films for doing another scene. But I’d retired by then and I thought it was pushing it One of the things you have to remember as an actor is to remain reasonably match fit. You know you have to be up for it. The element of tension in front of a camera or on stage that you can still do your best. I felt having already given it up for a few years. Going back to it would probably not be a good idea.
For which movie was that?
I don’t remember. I’m afraid because I wiped it immediately. All I know is I’ve been retired for 10 years and it was during that 10 years. It was just an inquiry it might not even have come up with a job but I think it might have done because they were moving into this other area and they were I think they wanted to have a bit of a prequel for the Rancor keeper. Maybe they did it with somebody else and I haven’t seen that film that’s possible but I didn’t think that they did it.
The short film I was referring to isn’t official. It’s a fan film. Do you keep up with Star Wars? The new movies, TV series?
I haven’t seen anything of the stuff on television but I think I’ve seen all the films at least once but not the newest one. But I will do because my son will make sure that I do.
You have attended conventions, signing photos and other memorabilia. What is your general feeling to signing things and meeting fans?
Well I haven’t done a lot. I did one, for a different organization. I did one years ago maybe twenty years ago or more which had a bit to do with Star Wars, a bit with James Bond and other productions that I’ve been in. I was offered to attend conventions occasionally but I was always working so I never felt I needed to do it. I thought whatever my current project was I was lucky enough to be doing that. That was what I should be concentrating on. Now being quite a long time retired Zack got in touch with me nearly two years ago and suggested doing one in Kentucky. I thought what the hell. I went and did it and it was thoroughly enjoyable and the three days were packed with people. Then I did one for him ten days ago in Telford. So this is really only my third.
Looking back at Return of the Jedi, what are your feelings towards it?
What can I say. From an acting point of view it wasn’t hugely stretching. But, when I look back I think I’m really lucky to have been part of this legend. I feel that particularly because of the reaction of people and the fact that this very tiny bit of the film is remembered by so many people and think of it fondly. I really like that and probably they think about that much more about that than they do about television or films where I’ve had a lot to do.
I saw the movie in 1983, I was seven at the time, and I still remember you!
(Laughs) Extraordinary. Thank you!
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