Twee maanden geleden sprak ik acteur Nick Kellington, die in Rogue One de rol van Bistan speelde (dit interview kun je hier lezen). Op het einde vroeg ik hem of ik hem in The Last Jedi weer zou zien waarop hij veelzeggend “who knows” antwoordde. Enkele weken geleden, een paar dagen na de release van The Last Jedi trilde mijn telefoon: ik had een bericht van Nick! Hij had me een foto gestuurd van een van de aliens die we in het casino op Canto Bight zagen met daarbij de mededeling dat dit Snook Uccorfay was, zijn personage in The Last Jedi! Uiteraard kon een tweede interview niet uitblijven… helemaal gericht op zijn The Last Jedi ervaringen!
Interview met Nick Kellington
Hi Nick, two months ago I asked you if you were in The Last Jedi. You couldn’t answer then but you can now! How did you get the specific part of your character Snook Uccorfay?
The year before we filmed The Last Jedi I had played the character of Bistan in Rogue One, so Neal Scanlan, the Special Creature Effects Supervisor, already knew me as a performer and fortunately he asked me back.
Originally I was being considered for another character on Canto Bight, the alien Dowager that is holding Space Gary (the tribute to Carrie Fisher’s dog). The idea was that there would be two performers working inside the Dowager, myself and Paul Warren who also plays Varmik in The Force Awakens. Between us we would puppeteer the Dowager’s left arm, her head and Space Gary.
Plans developed, as they often do, and somewhere along the line I was given the character of Snook Uccorfay instead. The Dowager would be puppeteered by Paul on his own which was a lucky escape for him as sometimes, when I’m working in these suits, I can radiate heat like a furnace.
At my first fitting for Snook, Neal described the character as a mixture of the British actors Terry Thomas and Brian Blessed to give me a starting point to work from. I took that to mean that Snook was a cad, a bounder and a bombastic randy bugger too! From that moment I knew that Snook Uccorfay was going to be a really fun character to play.
What can you tell about the suit?
The original concept for Snook Uccorfay was designed by Jake Lunt Davies. Some people have described Snook as mole-like. When I first saw him I thought he looked like a Space-Hippo.
I believe his hands were taken from the same mold as Unkar Plutt’s hands (Simon Pegg’s character in The Force Awakens) but they were then re-worked and given a different paint job. Upon seeing how short and stubby the fingers are, I made the decision that Snook probably couldn’t keep hold of his money and as we were in a casino he must be a terrible gambler. When performing a creature, I like to study the physical form of the creature suit for clues to imagine that character’s history or life.
Underneath Snook’s beautifully tailored tuxedo I’m wearing a body suit that gives Snook his portly shape. It is fabricated so that it strikes a balance between being light enough to wear and perform in for extended periods of time yet still strong enough to maintain the desired shape through a useful range of movement.
There is a lot of room inside Snook’s head and it’s not that tight fitting to my face, which is good. However this does come with its own drawbacks. Snook’s snout is long with animatronic servos at the end controlling the mouth and each individual nodule surrounding it. This means the headpiece very front heavy and strenuous on your neck. The forward/downward force is counter balanced by a bungee cord that runs from the top of my skullcap to the small of my back so at rest, Snook’s gaze is horizontal.
I see out of Snook’s nostrils that are quite far away from my face. Imagine having a long tube attached to your face and everything is black inside except for two very small holes at the far end of the tube. This limited vision and the audio instructions you receive on an earpiece from your facial puppeteer are pretty much all the information I have to perform and navigate my way around the set.
At this point I must give credit to the team that designed and made Snook Uccorfay. These artists, fabricators and engineers are the unsung heroes that make these creatures look as amazing as they do.
Snook’s designer was Jake Lunt Davies and his sculptor was Louis Wiltshire. The body suit fabricators were Alan Murphy, Caz Gladwin and Fiona Pollard. Hair was by Maria Cork’s Hair Department and his skin was painted by Goran Lundstrom. Giles Hannagan was the animatronics designer/engineer and Snook’s costume was by Michael Kaplan, Samantha Keeble and Gary Page.
So much care and consideration goes in to making these creatures and I am very fortunate to be given the opportunity to bring them to life.
What are the big differences (if there are any) between filming a Star Wars saga film and a Star Wars spin-off movie?
There was very little difference between the experience of filming a saga film and a spin-off movie. It’s all Star Wars, whether the film has an episode number or the words, “A Star Wars Story” in the title. For me, it’s just as exciting, just as fun. You’re still surrounded by cool alien creatures, on amazing sets, creating stories about a galaxy you love. Also, no matter what the title of the film, working in these creature suits is just as claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Ha ha! That never changes.
Maybe it also felt similar because I was working with the same core Creature Effects (CFX) team. It was lovely to see so many familiar faces from Rogue One and I also got to know some of the CFX team from The Force Awakens that I had not met previously, which was cool for me as I am very much a fan of that film.
Actually, when I think about it, there was one big difference on The Last Jedi and that was getting to see Mark Hamill on set. That never happened for me on Rogue One.
We were stood around in a group, waiting for the order to get into costume when Mark Hamill just came up and started chatting to a couple of the puppeteers with us. They had already been working together in Ireland filming some of the Ahch-To sequences. Of course, everyone was very relaxed and professional but there was a small voice inside my head screaming, “HELLO LUKE SKYWALKER! YOU’RE MY HERO!” but that’s normal, right? It would be weirder if my inner-child wasn’t thinking that.
As Luke did not appear in the Canto Bight scenes I think Mark had just come down to see what was going on (although I’ve since read that he did voice one of the casino characters). Later that day I remember him walking around the set on his own whilst we were filming, no entourage or anything, just taking in the creatures, picking up and examining tiny props and seeming genuinely interested in everything. I thought that was very cool of him.
All of your scenes are in the casino on Canto Bight, with a lot of aliens… how did the filming of these scenes go?
There were indeed a lot of aliens on Canto Bight. The CFX team had been asked to create even more characters than what had appeared in Maz Kanata’s castle in The Force Awakens, which they did with incredible results.
In theory, shooting the Canto Bight sequences was the most glamorous filming experience I’d ever had. The decadent casino set could have come straight out of a Bond movie (in fact it was built on the 007 Stage at Pinewood) and we were surrounded by hundreds of immaculately dressed SA’s many of which, both male and female, looked like absolutely stunning fashion models.
However, the reality of performing inside a creature suit on Canto Bight was more like going to a high-class party and accidentally getting locked in a cupboard. You’d get flashes of colour through the keyhole and it sounded like everyone outside was having fun. Meanwhile, you were trapped in the dark and it was slowly getting hotter and hotter.
I did enjoy the experience though. This was, in part, because of working with Snook’s main facial puppeteer Patrick Comerford. He would be operating Snooks facial expressions from a vantage point off camera next to a monitor. I could hear Patrick’s voice through my earpiece and although I couldn’t speak back because there was no microphone in my creature suit, through a combination of hand signals from me and yes/no questions from him we were able to have a very basic dialogue across a busy set.
In some of the shots where I’d be traveling in between gambling tables and up and down steps, Patrick would be telling me when to turn left, turn right or stop to avoid other creature performers who were also on the move and equally as visually impaired as I was. He’d tell me when we were on camera and would perform a character voice for Snook as he remotely puppeteered my face to whisper amorous advances to a beautiful female alien named Derla Pidys whom I was accompanying (played by Latesha Wilson). All the time I would respond to his words with my physical performance.
In between takes we’d find ways of amusing ourselves. Patrick would put on different voices and make up conversations Snook would be having with an SA who just happened to be stood next to me. Sometimes he’d even sing daft songs to make me dance. I would react to him and play along physically, not only because it made us laugh and took my mind off the physical restrictions of the costume, but also I think we were subconsciously developing a shortcut to performance between us. It felt like we were getting to know each other’s rhythms and how the other performed. Patrick could experiment with different facial expressions to try on the next take and I could practice improvising movement instinctively, reacting to whatever Patrick fed me until it felt instant and natural.
On a production where you get very little rehearsal and you never know what you’re going to be asked to do next, whatever exploration time you can get is invaluable. Maybe all the other creature performers and puppeteers also do this in between takes, I don’t know, I’ve never asked, but we found it worked for us.
Filming on Canto Bight was tough at times too. Often we’d get shots quickly but due to some complex camera moves and the sheer number of performers on set, at other times you’d have to do quite a few takes. I remember being in the middle of a crowd scene for about two hours one time with a broken bungee cord. This meant that Snook’s head constantly wanted to drop forward. After two hours my neck was in agony but until we got the all clear from the First AD, my dresser couldn’t come on set to fix it or give me water or blow fresh air in to my costume with a fan. You just had to keep going. That was a long day, but even then, with Patrick, I remember we laughed a lot.
How would you describe the way Rian Johnson directed this movie?
Unfortunately I was not directed by Rian Johnson personally so I cannot answer this from first-hand experience. Although, I did get to watch him work from a far and he seemed not only incredibly thoughtful and engrossed but also really happy on set.
If you’re asking me from a more general perspective about the movie, I think Rian should not only be commended for the story he told but also how he told that story.
May we edge into spoiler-ish territory here? Surely no one will have found their way to this interview without having seen The Last Jedi already. I will try to keep my points vague just in case but if you’ve watched the movie, you’ll know what I’m referring to.
I loved the Rashomon film reference, the re-telling of a specific event depending on a characters perspective in time. It’s quite meta in how it refers to the influence of Akira Kurosawa’s films on the Original Trilogy. It’s brilliant because it works effectively as a plot device within the film and also draws upon the history of cinema and signposts where, in part, this wonderful space opera we enjoy came from. It shows us that Rian’s direction is rich and multi-layered.
Also, at another point towards the end of the film, and I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, Rian chooses to play with the audience in a way I can’t remember being done before in a Star Wars movie. We are used to being “in on the joke” whenever a Jedi uses their powers but this was the first time I’d ever felt that I, an audience member, had been mind tricked and I loved it! For the more observant there are clues as to what is really going on but I’ll admit, on my first viewing of the film I was totally duped.
These are just a couple of examples of how Rian took what we already know about the Star Wars universe and re-focused our view of how these stories can be told. The Last Jedi is jam packed with surprises, which is no mean feat considering we’ve been following these stories for around 40 years. It gives me hope for the stories yet to be told. In short, I would describe the way Rian Johnson directed this movie as bold and beautiful.
There were two main characters on the casino set; Finn and Rose, and there was also a cameo of well-known actor Justin Theroux as the Master Codebreaker. Did you get to interact with one of them or did you see them perform ‘live’?
When John Boyega first came onto set, I (or Snook) did almost walk into him. I turned to find a brown jacket right in front of Snook’s nostrils. I looked up and there was Finn. He’s taller than I imagined (or maybe I’m just shorter than I think). I was quite surprised because I wasn’t expecting to see him so all I did was give him a little wave. Yeah, ice cool, I know.
In the film, when Finn and Rose enter the casino Snook is gambling on the table directly behind them. I couldn’t see what they were doing as I was trying to wrangle my props and interact with the characters next to me but later on I did get to watch John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran perform live. They looked like they were having a whale of a time. They had such great chemistry on set.
I didn’t see Justin Theroux but I did have one other encounter I’d like to share. I was told this later by CFX stalwarts Tim Rose and Phill Woodfine. I was in Snook at the time and so couldn’t see what was going on around me.
Phill was puppeteering my/Snook’s face and we were working with another creature Pemmin Brunce, the casino’s bouncer. Pemmin was being played by the actor Cavin Cornwall and being puppeteered by Mark Jefferis. Although we were deep in the crowd, between the four of us we had quickly devised a sequence where a slightly drunken Snook had offended Pemmin who then proceeded to man handle Snook towards the exit.
Cavin was totally blind in his suit but with audio guidance from our puppeteers, we made it look as if Pemmin was carrying Snook by the scruff of his neck across the casino with Snook’s little legs thrashing around underneath him. Apparently it looked very funny. Now Anthony Daniels was also on set that day, not in costume but working instead as a movement consultant for the many Protocol Droid performers in the casino. Tim Rose, who was puppeteering next to Phill called Anthony Daniels over to watch what we were all doing for a while.
“That’s fantastic!” said Anthony Daniels, “Does the director know you’re doing this? I must let him know.” And off he went.
I don’t know if word did get to Rian Johnson and obviously our improvised scene didn’t make it into the film but that doesn’t matter to me. For that brief period, I was in a creature suit, on a Star Wars film set, entertaining C-3PO who, through the Original Trilogy, had partly inspired me into becoming a creature performer and eventually working in Star Wars myself. There’s something cyclical about that and it makes me smile.
The Last Jedi is without a doubt the most talked about Star Wars movie ever. While a lot of fans love it… there are also negative reactions to the story, more then there have ever been, especially online. What is your own opinion about the movie?
I loved The Last Jedi. It sounds corny but I was thrilled, I was moved and I was entertained. It makes me happy to watch it and I am proud to have been part of making it.
The risks Rian Johnson took worked for me but I can understand that they might not have worked for everyone and that’s ok too.
It has been pointed out that The Empire Strikes Back also received a lot of criticism when it was first released and look at how beloved that movie is now. I think it will be really interesting to see how The Last Jedi is regarded in, say, five years time perhaps, once the dust has settled.
One comment that has stuck with me as a result of all the heated debates about The Last Jedi is from stand-up comedian and Star Wars podcaster Steele Saunders. He tweeted,
“Love a Star Wars film like a child. Hate a Star Wars film like an adult.”
I like that because I think the sentiment goes way beyond Star Wars.
You did an interview for the website last year… now you’re doing it again because you were in The Last Jedi… will you do it again later this year when Solo: A Star Wars Story is released AND in 2020 after Episode IX? I think you know what I mean with this…
If I’m lucky enough to appear in another Star Wars film, I’d love to do another interview. My wife’s eyes start to glaze over if I talk about Star Wars for more than five hours at a time so I have to get my geekiness out somehow!
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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