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Exclusief interview met Christian Alzmann (Concept Designer – The Force Awakens)

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Christian Alzmann

Op jonge leeftijd was Christian Alzmann al Star Wars fan: op de kleuterschool tekende hij Darth Vader met vingerverf! Nu, 40 jaar later, werkt hij bij Industrial Light & Magic als Senior Visual Effects Art Director. Voor The Force Awakens was hij een van de verantwoordelijken voor de algehele ‘looks’ van de film én ontwierp hij BB-8! Naast Star Wars puilt zijn CV uit van grote titels, Christian heeft namelijk ook aan titels als Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Pirates of the Caribbean en Star Trek Into Darkness meegewerkt.

Exclusief voor StarWarsAwakens.nl kon ik eind juni Christian interviewen over zijn Star Wars werk!

Interview met Christian Alzmann

Hi Mr. Alzmann, welcome at StarWarsAwakens! You have worked as a concept artist on The Force Awakens. I was wondering how you started working on that movie? I guess there was a meeting where you got descriptions from the director and producer of what they wanted and roughly what the story will be?

Usually it’s just like you stated. The director gives us a brief either in person, at meeting, or through an email. On Star Wars projects, because we are at Lucasfilm, directors have been very open about back stories and their point of view. Of course the more information we receive the better it is for us to design and illustrate their ideas. The Force Awakens in particular was unusual in that for the first few months we worked with the writers and production designer Rick Carter while waiting for the director to be named.

A lot of people (including me) love the designs of The Force Awakens because it has that old school Star Wars feel. What’s your secret? How did you and the other designers manage to achieve this?

Not a secret at all. We poured over the original trilogy art created by Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston. We worked really hard and went through a lot of trial and error to tap into and discover what their design philosophy was on the first films. Most of us were very familiar with Star Wars but it was still challenging to nail down the design elements of the Star Wars universe. I found it a bit like teaching myself how to speak a whole new language using only bits of existing text as a guide. The other tricky part was unifying the look. Everyone had their own definition of the Star Wars look and we had to pull those all together.

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You designed BB-8. JJ Abrams made a sketch of two circles and that was your starting point. How hard or easy was the BB-8 design process?

We knew there was going to be a little sidekick droid for Rey. We had tried a few different things before JJ did his post-it sketch. I had done an early design of a floating droid that had a very similar head to BB-8, but once he did the sketch it was quite clear he wanted a rolling droid. Since BB-8 didn’t have a name yet most of my early designs were titled Rolling Droid 1, 2, etcetera.

Once the shape was agreed upon it was a pretty smooth process and we started designing details. I did a few designs trying to figure out the look of the lower drive ball. For this I referenced different spherical shapes like soccer balls. I also tried to get a nice design for BB-8’s face by balancing naturally lovable faces with something much more abstract. The final BB-8 design touches were done by someone on the design team at Neil Scanlon’s group in the UK.

One of your creations for The Force Awakens didn’t make it to the film…but was picked up for Rebels. It looks like The Fifth Brother from the animated Rebels series. Can you tell more about this? How it wasn’t picked for the film but for the TV series instead?

I had worked pretty extensively on Kylo early on. At that early point we were calling him Jedi Killer. Among the many talented people present in our early design/story meetings was Dave Filoni, the director of The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, and we knew he was working on something new. He, like George Lucas had done in the past, would come to the art department and look through the unused concepts we had for designs that he could use. George had set it up long ago that nothing ever gets thrown out and that it might not be right for this movie or that scene but it might work for something in the future. Dave also based another character on Rebels named Ketsu Onyo on an unused pirate design I had created originally for The Force Awakens.

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You created (with Iain McCaig) awesome artwork for Harrison Ford/Han Solo. Long coat, beard…it has that Western vibe. Why wasn’t it picked for the film? I love it and think it was just perfect.

Iain and I had talked about older actors that still looked really heroic and Iain brought up Jeff Bridges in True Grit. This worked perfectly since we were going for a spaghetti western vibe with that particular piece of art.

In the end they didn’t go with that look for the film. Possibly because Han’s role was more of the wounded father and less of a gunslinger this time around.

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Of all the things you’ve created for The Force Awakens, what do you regard as your best work and biggest achievement?

I had done a lot of paintings of Luke at the beginning of the project. I am really happy with the amount of emotion I was able to get into those paintings. But, I’d have to say it’s probably the little task I was asked to do, almost on the side, of designing that little rolling sidekick droid. Who knew?

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Suppose you could go back in time and re-design a character or starship from the original trilogy. Which one would you choose, why would you choose that one and how would you change the design? It can be anything, from Darth Vader to the Falcon!

I tried to come up with something here but I couldn’t even dare. It would be a house of cards. Take one design out and the whole thing falls. It’s all too embedded in my childhood as being the right thing, it is Star Wars.

Maybe there are very small details I might change in the fabrication of the designs. Things like the chain that holds Vader’s cape around his neck or the store bought white cowboy boots on the stormtroopers or when Obi-Wan’s lightsaber looks like it shorts out during his fight with Vader on the Death Star. Mostly things that won’t really improve the quality of the film but I can easily defend any design choice made on the early films. They were all very brave and unique.

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Concept_Art_CA-Stormtrooper_04-680x1002

We have the same childhood hero: Ralph McQuarrie! What makes his art so great according to you and in which ways has his art influenced you?

Everything he designed felt new and felt believable. He had the ability to show a human moment through what felt like the lens of a camera. His high level of technical ability allowed him to not only make film concepts but also matte paintings and book cover illustrations. All of that made for a really diverse and amazing career. Also he designed Darth Vader! Ralph was a master.

Another childhood hero of you is Syd Mead. He and Ralph McQuarrie are legendary artists. Has the fact that their art is so great and almost perfect ever made you insecure? Or did it inspire you to become better and better?

I would say both. Most artists are insecure. When I started on The Force Awakens I was pretty nervous. It’s a very big set of shoes to fill and I was doing it in the shadow of artists that are my heroes and along side some of the best contemporary artists. It was humbling and overwhelming but when you’re given a job, all you can do is work your hardest and let the art and the work inspire you.

I think in a lot of ways the insecurity can lead you to becoming a better artist. It can become the fuel that ignites some of your best work.

Those are very encouraging and inspiring words…and a great end to this interview. Thank you very much for your time and help!

SWIsmallbannerStar Wars Interviews – ‘Mem-Wars’ from a galaxy far, far away…

Geboren toen de opnames van A New Hope van start gingen. George Lucas cultist en aanhanger van Legends (1976-2012). Voormalig assistent van Anthony Daniels. Auteur van de 'Star Wars Interviews' boekenreeks waarvoor hij 175+ cast en crewleden interviewde. Trots op zijn vermeldingen in de credits van de boeken The Making of Return of the Jedi, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor, The Star Wars Historical Sourcebook, The Star Wars Archives en Star Wars Icons: Han Solo.

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Interviews

Exclusief interview met John Mogridge (Snowspeeder pilot)

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Vechten tegen de Imperials op Hoth, Han Solo naar de Carbon freeze leiden én The Emperor onthalen op de Death Star. Brits acteur John Mogridge deed het allemaal. In The Empire Strikes Back is hij namelijk te zien als Snowspeeder piloot en Stormtrooper terwijl hij in Return of the Jedi een Death Star Gunner speelde.

Speciaal voor mijn eigen site StarWarsInterviews.com deed John Mogridge het volgende interview waarin hij terugblikt op zijn Star Wars tijd. Zoals gebruikelijk is het interview ook hier te lezen: op StarWarsAwakens.nl!

Interview met John Mogridge

How did you started your career in the movie business?

I joined the F.A.A. (Film Artistes Association) and the Central casting agency in November 1978. The Empire Strikes Back was my second film. You got work by phoning the agents and asking if there were any work “Calls”. They’d say Empire Strikes Back, Elstree studios, 8AM. That’s how I got my first day on The Empire Strikes Back. That was March 1979.

Can you tell how you got cast as a Snowspeeder pilot and snowtrooper for The Empire Strikes Back?

I arrived on my first day and the 2nd assistant director, Steve Lanning, gave me my daily salary voucher (we call it a Chit) with the title “Rebel” on it. I was a rebel for a while. Then they wanted snowspeeder pilots and he gave me that job. I did that until the end of May or the beginning of June. Then I was given the Snowtrooper role. That was only for a short time and finished my on and off run on The Empire Strikes Back as a stormtrooper in the carbon freezing chamber and Bespin cloud city scenes.

John Mogridge en Alan Austen als de twee Stormtroopers die Han naar de Carbon freeze begeleiden.

Three years later I got the call for Revenge of the Jedi as it was called at the time. I only played an Imperial gunner on that film in the Emperor’s arrival scene.

Did you see the first Star Wars movie before you got cast? What did you think of it?

I took my brother to see the original Star Wars film and really enjoyed it. I was lucky enough to get the autographs of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Dave Prowse for him when I worked on The Empire Strikes Back.

You’re one of the Snowspeeder pilots in the scene where Carrie Fisher gives the pilots instructions. What are the other scenes in which we can see you?

Some memorable scenes. The carbon freezing chamber seemed very high and a bit sinister compared to the bright and shiny cloud city set. I did a lot of filming with the second unit being directed by John Barry. Sadly, he was taken ill one day and died the next. A lot of people were upset by that. He was a nice man.

What do you recall of the shooting of your scenes?

A funny scene… there’s a picture on the internet where a snowtrooper is seen falling over as they enter Hoth. I was on that scene. I tripped but didn’t fall and it seems so did many others. It didn’t get in the film. Irvin Kershner took a long time to build a scene and the photo of me in the briefing scene standing around looking bored took ages to set up. He did do a great job.

John Modgride (recht van regisseur Irvin Kershner) op de Echo Base set.

Your Rebel pilot character got a name many years ago: Habeer Zignian. When and how did you find out and what was your reaction?

My character having been given a name was a complete and pleasant surprise. Although I only found out in 2018.

What is the best memory you have regarding Star Wars in general?

I am really proud to have been a very minor part in a great series of films. It changed my life. I met and I’m still in contact with so many friends like Alan Austen, Peter Ross, Chris Parsons (editor’s note: all three men played various parts in the original trilogy) and so many more who I wouldn’t have known without Facebook and the world wide family of Star Wars fans.


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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Bruce Logan (ILM)

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Vraag een willekeurige Star Wars fan wie in A New Hope de Death Star vernietigde en de kans is groter dan een Gorax dat het antwoord Luke Skywalker is. Fout! Het was namelijk ILM’er Bruce Logan die verantwoordelijk was voor het letterlijk opblazen van het Death Star model in 1976. Dit was slechts een van de vele special effects waar Logan voor verantwoordelijk was in A New Hope.

Speciaal voor mijn eigen site StarWarsInterviews.com deed Bruce Logan het volgende interview waarin hij terugblikt op eind jaren 70; de begintijd van Star Wars. Zoals gebruikelijk is het interview ook hier te lezen: op StarWarsAwakens.nl!

Interview met Bruce Logan

In the mid 70’s you joined ILM to work on Star Wars. How did you get this job?

I had met with George and Gary at the beginning of the production when they were interviewing visual effects people. George got back from shooting the live action in England, and because the signature (very hi-tech at the time) motion control effects system was being constructed not a frame of film had been shot. Panicked, he called me up to head up a second unit effects unit to shoot puppeteers in black suits “flying” miniature spaceships on black rods. Not surprisingly this did not work out very well. So my unit moved on to do some of the signature explosions in the show.

Why didn’t you return to work on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi?

After Star Wars came out, George moved ILM north to San Rafael to avoid Hollywood and all the “rules” that when with it. Half of ILM moved with him and the other half stayed in the same building and broke off to form Apogee (editor’s note: a VFX company).

What do you recall of your meetings with George Lucas?

I found George to be very organized, the man knew exactly what he wanted but not always how to get it. He gave me marching orders and then left me alone to figure out how to do it. I’m not sure that I even watched dailies with him as my unit was at another location across town. He must have liked what he saw because our unit moved to bigger and bigger stages and we shot bigger and bigger explosions.

You’re one of the first crewmembers of ILM in the 70’s. What was it like working there back then in Van Nuys?

As I was not part of the main unit, I did very little work on Valjean. However, as I was friends with almost everyone there and because they had a full machine shop, I spent many weeks there with my full race Mini Cooper machining parts and fabricating equipment. So, I got to experience the entire production process without really being involved.

Which shots/scenes were you responsible for? And are there good anecdotes you can share regarding creating them?

My claim to fame is that I blew up the Death Star. When I think back to the first day of our unit, I remember Joe Viskocil, our powder genius who constructed all the miniature bombs, I realize we were just a bunch of unsupervised kids running the orphanage. Joe came in the first morning and there was a huge explosion and a cloud of smoke coming out of the little room on wheels that was used to load film. Luckily there was only a loss of hair and a rash on Joe’s arms. It was an interesting way to start. But it never really got any better as the explosions got bigger and better, I remember running around the stage wiping burning napalm from my arms after one of our larger explosions. Later, looking at pictures of our shoot, I see that our only fire protection was a single hand held fire extinguishers. Ahh! simpler days.

What was the hardest effect to create while working on A New Hope?

Although I was not involved, I would say the Landspeeder was one of the hardest. In a non-CG world getting rid of the wheels putting in heat ripples and suspending it in shot where we didn’t see the whole craft.

However, the construction and first extensive use of motion control is obviously the most significant innovation of the movie.

Which effect from A New Hope are you most proud of?

Blowing up the Death Star, who wouldn’t be?

© Bruce Logan

Today CGI has largely taken over and there are less practical effects. Is this –in your opinion- a good or a bad thing?

My favorite Visual Effects are when they based on live-action elements and then enhanced with CG. Whether based on miniature or full scale live-action, I like the organic feel of these kind of shots. Shot which are entirely CG still have an uncanny valley feel to them, even with the unbelievable advances in CG effects.

I read that you knew about Joseph Campbell before work on Star Wars started and you were happy George Lucas got a spiritual message out. Do you think that’s something modern Star Wars lacks after George left in 2012?

I think the Joseph Campbell influence fell away almost immediately. Any discussion of the “Force” became more about superhero (Jedi) powers and less about an elemental interconnectedness of all beings and all things. But the whole franchise is based on “A New Hope” and as such this philosophy unavoidably underlies everything. Thanks Joseph.

My final question: You blew up the Death Star, not Luke Skywalker. I guess you should have gotten that medal?

Yes. But what I don’t talk about so much is that, I also blew up Alderaan. I guess all that loss of innocent life, cancels out any medal I might be entitled to for the Death Star.


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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Katie Purvis

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Katie Purvis behoort tot een select groepje acteurs die op zéér jonge leeftijd al in de Original Trilogy te zien waren: in 1982 was ze pas 15 jaar toen ze geselecteerd werd om een Ewok te spelen in Return of the Jedi. Ondanks haar leeftijd was ze al behoorlijk bekend met de Star Wars familie aangezien haar vader Jack Purvis in A New Hope (hoofd Jawa) en The Empire Strikes Back (Ugnaught) te zien was en al jaren een duo vormde met Kenny “R2-D2” Baker.

Speciaal voor StarWarsInterviews.com en StarWarsAwakens.nl deed Katie het volgende interview waarin ze terugkijkt naar begin jaren 80, ingaat op de impact van haar vaders carrière, treurt om een mislukte ontmoeting met Harrison Ford én een unieke anekdote heeft over een zieke Ewok!

Interview met Katie Purvis

How did you get started in the movie business?

My dad Jack Purvis was working on Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits movie where he played Wally, one of the six Bandits. One summer’s day he took me with him to the film set when they were filming the iconic Titanic scene. The story goes one of the little guys, Tiny Ross, had broken his arm when he fell whilst on horseback in a previously filmed scene, so Terry asked my dad if I would suit up and be Tinys stand-in for the shoot. So I was taken to costume and make up and transformed from a 14-year-old schoolgirl into Vermin the Time Bandit. That was how I got started in the film business!

And how did you get cast for Return of the Jedi?

Again, I consider myself very privileged in how I got cast in Return of the Jedi. This was due to my dad already having been in A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. My dad’s agent asked me if I would be interested in being on the movie to play a teddy bear character a few months before. They were looking for around 50 short people to play Ewoks! As I was only 15 years old, I had to speak to my school to ask permission. At the time, I was taking my Mock O Levels exams, so I did have a bit of study leave during the filming days. So the production gave me a schedule and together with my head teacher we worked my exams around that. This meant I would be filming for two days and then sitting in an exam hall the next! Needless to say this made it very hard to excel at academics, when all I could think about was what was going on in the Ewok Village!

What do you recall of the filming of your scenes for the Return of the Jedi?

The whole 2-week experience was so exciting for me a teenager. I had already met Mark Hamill back in 1976 whilst my dad was working on A New Hope, as he had been to our house for tea, when my dad Jack and his partner Kenny Baker had been working in Cabaret in the evening after a day’s shooting. Dad brought Mark home before taking him out with them to watch their show. Mark was really kind to my brothers and I.
So when I met him again on Return of the Jedi it was just like meeting one of my dad’s friends. I didn’t really get introduced to the other cast members, as it can be really busy on set and my dad being so humble didn’t want to disturb them as he said they would be preparing for their scenes. This was a little disappointing as I had had a schoolgirl crush on Mr. Ford. First day on set my dad and I were standing in our Ewok costumes feeling all fat and furry when Harrison came past and greeted my dad! I was so nervous as I thought finally I am going to get the chance to meet my hero! Unfortunately not to be. Dad and Harrison had a chat and to my dismay my dad didn’t even introduce me and Harrison walked off into his position to begin the day’s scene! I won’t tell you how I expressed my disappointment to my dad about him being responsible for me not meeting my schoolgirl crush!

Did any strange, remarkable or funny things happen on the set?

I’m sure it’s well documented that the Ewok costumes were very uncomfortable and made you very hot and the eyes kept misting up. Kenny Bakers wife, Eileen, when I informed her that I was feeling unwell one afternoon, assisted by lifting her arm up and shouting ‘CUT’ when I told her “I think I’m going to be sick!”
At once the makeup lady rushed onto set and ripped my Ewok head off allowing me to upchuck my lunch! All I remember hearing was the guy from the Electric department shouting “Don’t be sick in my electric box!”

Return of the Jedi was directed by Richard Marquand, while George Lucas produced it. How were both men to work with?

Being young I didn’t really appreciate the fact that I was working alongside such greats as Richard Marquand and George Lucas, again because my dad been there from the start in 1976 so there was a great camaraderie amongst them all. To be honest I was so nervous I just did as I was asked. I think I speak for most of us who played Ewoks, it was the first time we’d met so many other Little People and all been together, so that was more exciting than working with these iconic film directors! It’s only now that I realize how blessed I was to have been part of those movies! And so wish I had taken photos and got autographs.

After Star Wars you starred in some of my favorite 80’s movies: Labyrinth, Willow and Legend. What fond memories do you have of those productions?

I loved working on the films that followed, Legend, Labyrinth and Willow, although Labyrinth was my favorite. Again for me it was about coming of age, I was now 18 and had past my driving test, although I didn’t have my own car My mum let me borrow hers. It was a red mini, which I felt so cool driving! This meant no longer did I have to drive to the studios with my dad, after all how uncool was that! We filmed Labyrinth in the summer months so we had a holding area just outside the Stage where the set had been built. There everyone would hang out, make up people, props and costume, actors and puppeteers! It was great time to be 18 and driving your mums Red Mini! I felt so grown up having just left school!

Your father Jack Purvis has played a lot of parts in the original trilogy, including popular characters like Teebo, the lead Jawa and an Ugnaught. How do look back at his Star Wars legacy?

Star Wars has been part of my family’s life since I was 10 years old. Even now I only have to hear the Star Wars music and I not only get goose bumps but I immediately am taken back in time to so many parts of my life growing up. From school summer fetes that my dad and Kenny Baker opened as guest celebrities The Minitones in the late 70’s to summer shows in Torquay where Jack and Kenny were appearing and where the showgirls would perform a show stopping number with lightsabers to the Star Wars theme tune whilst a prop R2 would spin around. My brothers and I would be watching from the wings most nights. Inevitably one of the showgirls’ lightsabers would break in two as she thrust it too hard and ended up missing someone in the audience. The crowd used love this part of the show, I suppose because Star Wars meant so much to everyone. I know it changed Kenny and Jacks lives, and ours too as our families were able to move to bigger houses in nicer areas. They became well respected as not just musical cabaret act but actors from a successful movie. The movie opened up other opportunities for them that they may never have had had it not been for their small roles in that low budget movie.

What would you regard as your best memory of all the movies you were in. Is there a special moment you’ll cherish forever?

I have been to places I never would have got to go to, had it not been for Star Wars and the love of the Star Wars community.

What are you doing these days? Are you still in the acting business?

Nowadays I no longer act as unfortunately as a result of back surgery I can no longer walk unaided. However, I have three children who would love to appear in any future Star Wars movies, so if there is any casting agents out there reading this were waiting to hear! That would make them the third generation of Purvis family to appear in the franchise. They have already been told by Mr. Mark Hamill himself, to call him Grampa!
So nowadays I am honored to be asked to appear at conventions and related Sci-Fi events.
The Star Wars community, along with some awesome people and actors have helped raise money for many charity events, which I am humbled to say has changed people’s lives. I can truly say I have met some very kind and warm-hearted people, whom I never would have met had it not been for Star Wars and its legacy.
And this is what is so incredible about the Star Wars Story!

Met grote dank aan Casper Fijlstra voor het mogelijk maken van dit interview!


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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Lesleh Donaldson (Kea Moll)

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Lesleh Donaldson

In september 1985 verscheen de eerste aflevering van Droids op de Amerikaanse TV; een 13-delige animatieserie over de droids van Star Wars: C-3PO (opnieuw met de stem van Anthony Daniels) en R2-D2. Op Boba Fett en een cameo van de Max Rebo band na waren alle overige personages nieuwe creaties.

Zo ook Kea Moll, die in de eerste vier episodes te zien was. Haar stem werd ingesproken door de Amerikaanse actrice Lesleh Donaldson die ook aan de andere animatieserie, Ewoks, haar stem verleende.

Interview met Lesleh Donaldson

How did you get started in the entertainment business and what got you started as a voice actor?

I started out as a child model and after doing my first commercial at 11 I just progressed from commercials to tv to movies then voice acting.

For the Droids and Ewoks series you voiced characters various characters including the heroine Kea Moll.
How did you get your parts for these series assigned?

I auditioned. To be honest I have no memory of Ewoks probably because I was one of many voices and it held no memory for me, as for Droids I replaced an actress whose voice they decided they didn’t like so they cast me and rerecorded my voice.

I played Kea Moll and like I said I have no memory of what I played in Ewoks probably various background voices; it was a paycheck sorry to be so off the cuff but I speak the truth.

What did an average day working on Droids/Ewoks look like?

I did what they asked, I guess my voice was well suited for Kea, again no memory of Ewoks. I came from a commercial voice background so not really an animated voice actor. You go into the Studio you record your voice and you leave it took no time at all. Also, I was starring in a hit play then so my mind was on that!

Kea Moll: inspiratiebron voor Rey?

When you joined the Droids/Ewoks cast the Star Wars movies were the most successful movies ever. Had you seen the movies and what did you think of them?

I LOVED the first three Star Wars movies and had a huge crush on Mark Hamill so I was excited to meet Anthony Daniels. I took roles that they cast me in so there was no thinking about whether I wanted to be a part of it or not, I wanted to work.

How do you look back at the fact that you are part of the ‘Star Wars Universe’?

I don’t think I’m part of that Universe partly because it was animation and not the movie!

Besides Star Wars you done several other things like the movie Running with Michael Douglas. What do you regard as the highlight of your career?

The highlight of my career was in the 80’s when I had a career.

What would you give as an advice to someone who is reading this interview and wants to become a (voice) actor as well?

Like I said I’m not really a voice actor I got lucky because I had the right tone in my voice that producers liked back then but I would say that if you like doing character voices keep practicing and then make a tape and send it out because you never know!

What are you doing right now? Can you tell something about your current projects?

I’m currently still acting and I’ve written two scripts which are out being considered about to embark on a biopic of George Hislop a Canadian gay icon of the 70’s and 80’s.


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