Richard Cunningham – His Star Wars Story

Welcome back readers and you are just in time, because unfortunately we have ourselves an imperial entanglement today. He’s a hard man to find but talking to a someone of Richard Cunningham’s talents is certainly something to look forward to.

Rogue One’s General Ramda is also known for his appearances in the Golden Globe winning Dancing on the Edge as well as Stan Lee’s Lucky Man and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows among many other roles.

We are here to run through his career to date and his role as a General on the Scarif base where the Empire helpfully gave the Rebellion a fighting chance. We talk about Ben Mendelsohn’s shouting abilities, not being particularly comfortable around Darth Vader, making films during lockdown and Richard gives me challenging words to put into the writing.

This interview is dedicated by Richard to his friend Andrew Jack, a dialect coach who worked with over 200 actors in his career as well as on the Star Wars films. Andrew died from COVID-19 on 31st March 2020 at the age of 76.

Thanks for talking us through your Star Wars story Richard, how have you been keeping busy through lockdown?

Unfortunately, lockdown has paralysed the industry. There have been things coming through, I’ve been doing some Zoom castings which is very strange in your own front room. I’ve been exercising both physically and with glasses of wine though ha-ha!

Taking a look at your career, in the mid 90’s you started in theatre in the fair city of Manchester and then you transitioned into TV and Film is that right?

Quite early on in my career I was in Manchester, but I left drama school in 1990 so strangely this is my thirty years in the business. I started in Colchester and I ended up in a Manchester production called Ravings Dreaming’s directed by Sue Sutton Mayo which was quite an unusual piece with a very close cast.

What drew you into acting?

It’s a very difficult question actually; I was quite a shy child, so I felt nervous to act. A friend of mine called Tim Hincks saw me performing and told me I completely change when I am on stage and that gave me the confidence to move forward. That and playing with Muppets through curtains ha-ha!

What have been your career highlights to date?

Ravings Dreaming’s happened at the right time and I enjoyed that but for my TV career the opportunities didn’t arrive for me quickly. If I was lucky, I would get an audition for television every six months, you try too hard and put too much focus on it so it’s tricky.

There was a casting director called Andy Morgan who put a lot of faith in me and eventually I got cast as a waiter in Law and Order UK and again in the same show as Barry Flowers who was a florist, a clever joke. I had a line in Sherlock and got a few credits on the board before I was approached by Andy Pryor to work on Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge for the BBC which was a big opportunity. I had seven scenes in episode one, I went in not knowing the lines particularly well for the first casting, but it went well and I got a recall. Poliakoff wanted to meet me and he said I was “absolutely striking” for this role and weirdly it became something that put me on the map in television.

As soon as it was released, I was getting calls from Nina Gold who I’ve now done several jobs for. It was fantastic, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Goodman, Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Head, Matthew Goode…it’s just a really posh cast.

Another character I play in a film called Breakdown is a psychotic hitman. I got shot three times in that film, eventually I die getting shot through the eye! Then obviously Rogue One came along…

Yes, we probably should discuss Rogue One at some point! You played General Ramda, how did that role come about?

It wasn’t a normal casting; I was sent this information about a ‘Gareth Edwards Project’ and we weren’t supposed to know what it was. My agent kind of had a feeling but we had to go without knowing what we were going for. I went to a studio in Twickenham, they gave me a sample script to go away and learn and then put on tape. Ten days later we got an email we didn’t understand either, it was so secretive, but it was the offer.

I’ve got it here actually…he was described as ‘Scarif Security Officer #1’. When I got onto the set, on my trailer was the name of my character and it said ‘General Ramada’ and I thought that was a bit weird…isn’t that a hotel chain ha-ha! It was actually ‘General Ramda’.

I was suddenly sent the script through this very secretive software and there were quite a lot of lines, I thought it would be another game changer for me. Whoever suspects they are going to be in a Star Wars movie? It doesn’t happen to many people. I thought I was going to be a bigger character, but I was cut out a lot but fortunately I am still in it because I know so many people who were cut completely.

Have you been interested in Star Wars yourself?

I wasn’t a massive fan; it may have been something to do with when I grew up. I grew up in the seventies, so I was into horror and Peter Cushing was a bit of an idol of mine also Christopher Lee both of whom went onto roles in Star Wars. Rogue One as a film, most people say it’s in their top three. It goes back to the original, that’s why they kept it so secret. It was called ‘Los Alamos’ as a code name so that nothing was leaked, it was exciting to be a part of that.

It’s quite an interesting role because you are portrayed as rather relaxed in the role on Scarif, was the role intended to be played in that way?

On set you just play the character but the relationship I had with Ben Mendelsohn’s character (Director Krennic) was one of…well he shouts at me quite a lot ha-ha. Ramda is slightly downtrodden, he’s well to do but not very bright. He rather liked the climate on Scarif and they are quite well protected under that shield! There was a cut hologram scene of me reporting to Krennic, shall I quote these lines?

Yes absolutely!

“Sir, we have a fire fight on landing pad 13-20 and an unauthorized access of the data vault but it’s gone into lockdown, whoever it is in there can’t get out” and then Krennic shouts at me of course…“It is vital that no information leaves that vault, do you understand?” (Richard shouts in his best Krennic voice) “On penalty of death!” and he swipes at me but I’m a hologram, I still react to him, he walks at me and I sort of cower away. So that relationship is there.

Funnily enough my first day on set was with Ben and we were doing the scene with the hologram and getting his eye-line, he goes from that into a scene with Darth Vader. My first day was with Darth Vader (Spencer Wilding in the costume) squeaking around in leathers. He’s a very tall, imposing character and when he appears…I was quaking in my boots. One of the most iconic villains in cinema history and it’s your first day on set. Gareth Edwards admitted he was nervous about it, some actors had tears in their eyes due to the nerves. There was a duty to perform and create something that honours the previous films.

Spencer has a piece on our site actually and talking to him about it was very interesting because it seemed very much like the character plays you rather than you playing a character when you act as someone like Darth Vader. For Ben and yourself that must have been very strange to have him there…

You’ve got this huge, imposing character…the funny thing was he was looking quite nasty, but he took his helmet off and flashed me this big grin ha-ha.

What do you look back on most fondly having been in that role?

Working with Ben Mendelsohn, he is a lovely guy and a very driven actor. There is a lot of me running around after him in all these cut scenes, I was just trying not to trip over his cloak! One of the major things was shooting the hologram scene because I wanted to dedicate all of that to Andrew Jack (pictured below) who was the dialect coach. Andrew sadly died due to the coronavirus, he had been my tutor back at LAMDA in 1987 and we met again on this Star Wars set.

A lot of my lines were about shields, the shield this and the shield that but I have a bit of a twang in my voice so I was saying shiewld and Andrew would say to me Richard you are saying shiewld not shield…I don’t know how you are going to type this up ha-ha (I did my best). Him being there, he was really supportive so I would like to dedicate it to Andrew Jack. He was a lovely guy, a really calming influence.

You have a few more film roles in the works but I notice you have done a lovely film on Zoom called Indefinitely, could you tell us a bit about that?

The blurb is…whether you are in the same group or on the same video call connected with your loved ones, lockdown is far from easy. It’s about this couple called Tilly and Vic who have some news to share with their relatives. It’s quite a small cast; Harriet Thorpe, Martin Trenaman, Daisy Waterstone, Fanta Barrie and myself, produced by Black Box Media in support of CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). It’s only 10 minutes and it’s quite funny and raises awareness for CALM. We were all on Zoom in our own homes, we shot it five or six times and it was quite a lot of fun to do.

There’s another short I wanted to mention called Tick Tick Tick, it’s just been selected for the Norwich Film Festival with a cast including Anton Lesser (Game of Thrones) and Anton Saunders, directed by Liam White and Larry Katang, so look out for that too.

Where can we look out for you next?

I have a movie coming out in 2021 called Eight for Silver with Boyd Holbrook and Alistair Petrie who was in Rogue One of course and Kelly Reilly. It’s about a beast that’s killing people and I play a Vicar in that. I only have a couple of bits in it, but one scene is with Alastair. I’m not doing too bad; I am lucky to I have a few things coming up.

We thank Richard for his time and check us out on social media for updates on Richard’s future roles. You can watch Richard in Indefinitely for free by clicking here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? If more of the Empire is your thing then why not check out the Star Wars story of Darth Vader himself, Spencer Wilding. Read more by clicking here.

Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

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