What do we say to the God of Death? We’ll figure it out, we’ll use Force! Wait, that’s not how the Force works…
You are not reading wrongly folks, we have ourselves a real crossover in this Star Wars Story as we are joined by Syrio Forel, Jedi to Arya Stark, the Padawan in Game of Thrones, and part of the Maz Kanata scene in The Force Awakens that jumps us straight into a whole new bunch of weird and wonderful characters in the sequel trilogy.
Miltos Yerolemou shot to fame in Game of Thrones Season 1 as master swordfighter Syrio Forel before joining Star Wars for a part that was sadly cut down quite a lot, but awesome nonetheless. Miltos joins us to go through his Star Wars Story as we chat through talking to droids, being wowed by animatronics and yes of course, Mr Syrio Forel because we shouldn’t forget, the First Sword of Braavos does not run!
Welcome Miltos, delighted to speak to you! I am keen to talk to you about Star Wars obviously but there’s a show you were involved in that it would be silly of me to not talk about. Are you happy about the legendary status Syrio Forel has achieved with Game of Thrones fans?
Always much better to play people cooler than yourself! There’s no doubt about it that the people who taught Arya Stark are the ones who are influential to her story, being there right at the beginning feels really good.
We had no idea what that show was going to be when we were filming that first season. We knew HBO was making it and that had such a fantastic reputation to make really good work, but most of us in that first season hadn’t read the books yet so I went to Waterstones to buy it ahead of my audition as I wanted to take it seriously. My first introduction to seeing how big it may be was seeing it was number one in the fantasy and science fiction section.
It was such a long audition process and I think they kind of saw every actor in the UK! Of course, as an actor you feel proud. A lot of the time you do a lot of stuff that no one will end up caring about but suddenly when you do something that excites people, you see its lasting legacy and its effect on the fans; that makes you feel very proud.
Game of Thrones almost has as many fan theories as Star Wars and there’s a lot regarding the fact that you aren’t even dead. So Miltos, let’s clear it up, are you dead?
I’m pretty sure I’m dead, as dead as the dead characters in Star Wars! I always talk about Syrio in an over-blown way. I see him like Obi-Wan Kenobi in that he started the protagonist’s story off and they carry on following the path that you set them out on.
The ambiguity of what happened with Syrio Forel was really deliberate. I spoke to George R.R. Martin about it and the echo of the teaching where she says the lines over and over again in the books, that teaching is very similar to Obi Wan and his lasting presence with Luke Skywalker.
Well that sets us up to talk about Star Wars quite well! Following Game of Thrones, along came a part in The Force Awakens. How did that happen for you?
Nina Gold was casting it and she did the casting for Game of Thrones. I was in America at the time touring Midsummer Night’s Dream and my agent called up and said Nina had sent my tape off to J.J. Abrams because he was looking for character actors to play space pirates.
I didn’t really audition to be honest, but it was two weeks at Pinewood – that was all I knew. It was done under incredible secrecy, sitting in a trailer with your name and a made-up character name, no scripts and going having your costume fitting. Initially it was exciting but after a couple of weeks it was so frustrating and you are thinking, “What on earth am I going to be doing?” and no one told you until you showed up to do your shooting.
When you get to see the design of your character that is just the best day. You’ve been sat with this idea of being involved in something without knowing anything about it and then you know what you are going to look like at the very least. You are looked at like a mannequin, this character has orange plasters on his fingers and across his nose, and he’s got this tube going up his nose, and I remember being told, “We don’t have to do the tube up the nose,” and I said, “Are you kidding? That’s the best thing about the design!”
Your character was called “Bar Patron” which is very unusual in Star Wars to not get a complicated alien name; he should have a name! Did he get one?
They probably saw the rushes and wondered who the hell I was! I’m not sure why he never got a name to be honest.
You probably remember a really big monster (Grummgar). A gangster kind of dude who was an animatronic creation and the whole scene was supposed to be that I would have a fight with him; I was going to ask for my money and he was going to have a go at me.
In the end we ran out of time to do it and it never got shot the way J.J. wanted to shoot it. There’s a very brief scene of me trying to have an argument with him as Finn (John Boyega) is leaving, and that’s the only bit we got of it. We were running out of time and of course we weren’t the principal part of the story at that point. J.J. wanted us involved and we were not supposed to be extras, we were supposed to be there playing characters, so he was really frustrated that we ran out of time.
That scene needs to turn up in The Mandalorian or Obi Wan or something! What would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars?
J.J. told me he wanted me to stand in front of this gangster and I hadn’t seen this animatronic monster before. J.J. said, “You say something and he says something…in fact he’s not going to say anything at all because we are going to dub it later.” There are three guys inside operating it so we didn’t rehearse it.
I hadn’t even seen it move I just thought it was going to be still but then “Action” is called and it starts picking up a glass of brandy to drink it and gargling away. I’m staring at it going, “Oh my god, that’s amazing!” and then I hear “Cut, cut, cut…you are supposed to be having an argument can you do something quite demonstrative” and I said, “I just hadn’t seen it before, that’s amazing,” to which he says, “Yeah, yeah yeah…I know, let’s do it again.” It was all so rushed!
Every time the animatronic paused and it was time to start it would just start moving again. It was one of those ridiculous moments where you realise why acting is difficult with monsters.
It was really great being on set. You’ve got people inside tiny droids, practical animatronics, the whole bar was built with hundreds of people in there. I couldn’t tell what droids had people in them…I just felt like a child, not believing any of these amazing creations.
At one point I was having a conversation with a droid thinking there was someone inside it, the guys behind were operating it and making it respond to me and completely hoodwinked me!
That kind of explains why Bar Patrons get so mad about Droids in Star Wars! Are you a Star Wars fan yourself?
Yeah, me and my partner Holly are huge fans of Star Wars. She’s been to Star Wars Celebration and met Carrie Fisher dressed as Hoth Leia. She has the most beautiful photo of them together. On the sad day when Carrie Fisher died someone from the BBC found the photo of them together and she ended up going on BBC Radio Four to talk about it with Anthony Daniels; that’s her claim to fame now.
Clearly you need Star Trek, maybe Walking Dead or Westworld on your CV, but you aren’t far short of being an ultimate convention all-rounder! As an actor in Game of Thrones and Star Wars do you get drawn to that genre easily or does it make you want to diversify?
I really like science fiction. I got really excited as there was a part on Foundations on Apple TV and I went up for that but sadly it didn’t go anywhere and I was so gutted, I really wanted to walk round a studio pretending I was in space.
I just want to work with really cool people, directors and writers who I really admire. I like the variety and being challenged to something outside of my comfort zone.
Where can fans meet you next or what can they see you in next?
I’ve got a cool part coming up in the sequel to The Hitman’s Bodyguard with Samuel L. Jackson where I play an Italian Mafiosi who gets his henchmen to try and kill him, but as you can imagine it doesn’t go according to plan.
Working with Samuel L. Jackson I feel like I can retire now…being called a “Motherf***er” by him, that’s a bucket list item ticked off! That’s out this year if the cinemas open again!
A pleasure to hear from Miltos, it was great to hear his stories! All Star Wars Stories will not be ending with Mace Windu swearing at them, I’m afraid that’s not something we can guarantee, but we do look forward to seeing Miltos when the cinemas open up to us again.
Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.
Did you enjoy reading this interview? Thinking of what to read next? Yoda, you seek Yoda! Nick Maley shared his Star Wars story with us on creating some of the weird and wonderful characters in the films, including our little green friend. Read more by clicking here.