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Exclusief interview met Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca)

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Begin van het jaar sprak ik op deze site de wens uit om in 2017 een grote naam te mogen interviewen. Elf maanden later kwam deze wens uit.

Op 18 november was de meer dan 2 meter lange Finse ex-basketballer Joonas Suotamo te gast op Dutch Comic Con in Utrecht. Star Wars fans kennen hem als Chewbacca, een rol die hij in The Force Awakens en The Last Jedi nog deelde met de oorspronkelijke Chewbacca-acteur Peter Mayhew, maar vanaf Solo: A Star Wars Story voortaan helemaal zelf voor zijn rekening neemt. Letterlijk én figuurlijk dus een grote naam!

Vorige week zaterdag was het dan zover en kon ik de uiterst vriendelijke Joonas alles vragen wat ik ooit over Chewbacca wilde weten…

Interview met Joonas Suotamo

How did a basketball player from Finland become a Wookiee in a Galaxy Far Far Away?

I was made aware of the casting process and the fact they were looking for someone to play Chewbacca by a Facebook post. At the time I didn’t think I would get it. But time went by and three months later they called me because they had learned through the basketball association of Finland that I was tall, had blue eyes and they became interested and that is how it happened. I had to audition then and got the part.

When was your first encounter with the Star Wars saga?

That was a VHS tape back in the nineties… or maybe even earlier… I was very young.

What did you think of the movies?

I loved it. I thought it was an essential thing, I took it for granted. I mean, in the sense that it was in my world. It was there before I was born. I appreciated and respected it and I think that paid off in the end.

What did you think of Chewbacca?

Chewbacca was that tall hairy guy walking behind everybody in the scenes. I must say I wanted to be Luke Skywalker when I was little because of my blonde hair. But then when I got taller than almost everybody by 2 feet I realized I couldn’t be Luke Skywalker basically.

You were destined to play Chewbacca.

Exactly. But all of that came much later.

You worked with Peter Mayhew on two movies. What advice or instructions did he gave you regarding playing Chewbacca and taking over the role.

He said “don’t be so skinny”. I was very skinny (laughs). So that was a good advice. He also told me how he approaches playing Chewie and what he pays attention to in situations and interesting stuff like that. That was really helpful and confirming my own assumptions that I made by watching him work so it was very good to meet him before we started filming

In The Force Awakens most of Chewbacca’s scenes had Harrison Ford as Han Solo in it as well. How was it to work with such a famous well-known actor?

A little bit scary at first but once you got to work with him more you realize he just wants to do his best like we all do and it was very easy to focus on the work when he was around because he is such a professional. He just comes on set, leaves his life behind him in the trailer and wants to do the scene. It’s a straight to business kind of approach which I like when we’re making films.

The most iconic scene of The Force Awakens is the one where Solo and Chewbacca enter the Falcon. I believe that was you and not Peter Mayhew in the suit, right?

(Laughs)

I can tell because of your eyes. Chewbacca’s eyes in that scene are yours. What do you think of the enormous positive reactions this scene received from the fans when it appeared in the trailer?

I was watching the reaction videos of people watching that trailer and it was insane to see how people reacted. Half of it was seeing Harrison Ford and the other half was seeing Chewie.

You couldn’t tell anyone back then it was you in the suit. Was that frustrating?

I learned to accept it you know. I can’t really tell about who played Chewbacca in which scene. I mean, I could, but it’s out of respect for Peter and I don’t want to get into it. I am still grateful I got to be a part of all this.

How was the main cast of The Force Awakens , Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, to work with?

They were just amazing. The only thing is that since they’re both from London they talk so fast sometimes! It can be hard to follow them!

What do you regard as the best moment you’ve had playing Chewbacca so far?

We just finished shooting this film (Solo: A Star Wars Story) that I can’t talk to you about at all (laughs). There were some good moments there!

Ok, I will have to skip the next five questions then!

(Laughs) There were some great moments there. Well, I got to say, doing interactions with the Porgs in The Last Jedi was very interesting. I can’t wait to see those.

Have you seen The Last Jedi?

I haven’t seen it.

But you know how it will end?

Yeah, I read the script.

Ok… I won’t ask anything about the ending.

(Laughs) I wouldn’t say anything!

What was the weirdest thing that happened on the set of The Force Awakens?

Harrison is such a presence that anything he said was always funny. He liked the fact that he was back playing Han Solo and if he said something everyone would be listening and it was very energetic and I really liked that. What was weird seeing was him almost getting killed in the incident where the door landed on his foot. I was there when it happened and I thought he was dead. Luckily he wasn’t!

Well, he is Han Solo… and Indiana Jones!

(Laughs)

Regarding Han Solo: in the Han Solo spinoff movie you play alongside Alden Ehrenreich who is taking over the role. What do you think of his portrayal as Solo?

Well, no one has seen any footage yet, but I can tell you everyone will be pleasantly surprised with his performance and with the direction of that movie, storywise.

A couple of months ago the Solo movie got a new director: Ron Howard. A good move?

Ron Howard is a great and legendary director. He’s old-school. For instance, I did this scene where I had to walk for the sixteenth time. He noticed from the way I was walking I was a bit tired, so he came up to me and said I should relax and take a breath. My career has just started and I have already worked with so many great directors.

After this trilogy has ended will we see you as Chewbacca or another character in a new Star Wars movie or TV series?

I hope so. I also want to explore other roles in other movies.

A new Star Wars trilogy was recently announced…

Yes, but it’s way too early to say anything about it. I haven’t been contacted about that yet.

Well, I hope they will! Thanks for the interview and I can’t wait to see Chewbacca again in The Last Jedi and in Solo: A Star Wars Story!


Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews – ‘Mem-Wars’ from a galaxy far, far away…

Star Wars Interviews

Geboren toen de opnames van A New Hope van start gingen. Voormalig assistent van Anthony Daniels. Auteur van de 'Star Wars Interviews' boekenreeks waarvoor hij 180+ 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 Nick Stanner (Stunt performer – The Mandalorian)

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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!


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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Jake Cannavale (Toro Calican)

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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.


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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Richard Stride (Poggle)

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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.


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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Paul Brooke (Rancor Keeper)

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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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