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Alan Flyng – His Star Wars Story

Welcome back dear readers, this is an unexpected pleasure. We are honoured by your presence. It seems no two Star Wars stories are the same but once in a while we have the pleasure of speaking to someone who has a fantastic life story to tell.

Our guest is Alan Flyng who portrayed a Stormtrooper, Hoth Rebel and many more roles in Empire Strikes Back while also appearing as an Imperial Officer in Return of the Jedi. However, there is more to Alan than Star Wars, from his solo performance at Winston Churchill’s funeral to his eventual career in Costume and Wardrobe departments.

Trying to do the whole story justice is difficult but we shall do our best, we talk about said funeral, an incredibly difficult education, the road to losing the bridge deflector shield, getting Dudley Moore’s son out of jail and much more…

Thanks for joining us Alan and I’m really interested to hear your story. How have you been doing recently?

I’ve had a bout of poor health which has lasted me several years, but the last lot has been with me since the start of lockdown. I had cancer several years ago and I’ve had numerous procedures since then. I was working on a BBC period drama in the costume department and managed to get a crowd of 2,500 out at four in the morning including 130 principles; I went for my operation and got back in time to get them all out of their costumes. I have paid for rushing the operation that day ever since.

You are on the mend now right?

I am, I finally have a clean bill of health. One thing after another but I am under an all clear!

Great to hear! Let’s start by taking a look at your career, I’ve read that you sang at Winston Churchill’s funeral is that correct?

Yes, I was sent to Eton just before my tenth birthday. I was admitted on the quality of my voice and that meant that I was away from home for three years and I hated that. Just before I started my first school term a request came in for a soloist, that was my first job at St Paul’s Cathedral, it turned out to be Winston Churchill’s funeral. I’m facing the Queen, Charles De Gaulle and various other European leaders…I was absolutely shit scared, but a prodding finger gave me a push and I was off.

I was bullied at Eton mentally; being under 13 I was forced to wear a uniform, a top hat and all that. I never wore my top hat; they gave up trying to make me after I threw my third one off the bridge in Windsor. I was forced to sit another exam to go up into the adult’s section, I decided I was not going to do that. I wrote my name with a quill pen and then for eight hours I wrote nothing…

How did you move on from that type of education into the film industry?

I studied business at college and then went to work at North Thames Gas in the finance department…what a stupid place to put me ha-ha. I did two years of this horrendous job…but I met the love of my life.

I retrained as a tour guide, I ended up doing three-hour tours of London in multiple languages. When I wasn’t guiding, I was singing. We set up home and we were blissfully happy when a friend of ours at Central Casting said we could do odd days with her. I ended up on one shitty film after another, trying to stay in the background. I quickly learned that if you aren’t seen you have more chances of being recalled.

I had been inspired by an autobiography called “Shake the Stars Down” by Yolanda Donlan, you can get it very easily online. She appeared in Gone with the Wind and all of these amazing films but always as an extra and she learned all these tricks about how to keep herself off camera. Her face finally was on camera as she drove a wagon in a western film. She lost control of the horses and the director thought it was wonderful, John Wayne saved her, and it did wonders for her reputation, but it stopped her future background work. She became a bit of a comedy interview; she went her whole life doing it until she got a role in New York which resulted in her becoming the sort of Judi Dench of America. It all started with extra’s work, it’s a fantastically funny book.

I guess it was the extras work with Central Casting that lead to your work on Star Wars?

I did loads and loads of roles, including speaking parts, but I was uncredited for some and that was because I had more than one agent which I wasn’t supposed to have. I had long hair back then and I was young, good looking, modelling for Pierre Cardin so I had to keep my look because a hair cut would lose me that work. I would take jobs where I could keep my hair!

That’s how I ended up with Empire Strikes Back because I was already in continuity for three other films and I had to return looking the same as when I started. My agent said don’t worry you are going to be something called a Stormtrooper and wear a motorcycle helmet sort of thing. I only had two free days…six weeks later I was still in the damn thing! I went as a Stormtrooper and became a Snowtrooper, Hoth Rebel, Hoth Technician…I was doing all sorts.

In the meantime I was appearing in Annie, that carried on and I decided I wasn’t going anywhere with what I was doing, I really wanted to do something else and my families background was in tailoring. I applied to the union to join the costume branch to get work behind the camera. I got accepted and I did my tailoring exam, took over as chief pattern cutter.

Just getting into that work I got a call from a designer to work on his first major film, I said yes. The day before I was due to start shooting in Wales, I went into the production office at Elstree Studios to sign my contract. On my way out, Dave Tomblin was there smoking like a steam engine at the gates of the studio (during filming of Return of the Jedi), he was the first assistant director. He asked me to do him a favour and I told him I was on my way to Wales, he said it would only take an hour. Being the prime idiot that I am…I agreed.

This is for your role as an Imperial Officer?

Yes, they shoved me into a black jumpsuit which was quite funny as I made 30 of those for the designer. I squeezed into one of these, got the hat on and went out but the director took one look at me and said “No, no, no wrong uniform” so I went back and changed. I thought I was doing a favour at that moment, I got into the grey officer uniform which I recognized as a German motorbike uniform.

They pulled me out again and they just wanted one line, I was shown to the position and I thought this is easy what do they need me for! They re-lit and literally walked me around the set shouting this line, I said is this necessary…I’ve done jobs as a town crier before ha-ha.

I got it out of them that the actor supposed to be doing the line was sitting upstairs waiting for his uniform to be dried down and pressed so he could try again, I was wearing it. He had screwed up multiple times doing the line as he had a stutter! Anyway, I finally said my silly line, “Sir, we’ve lost our bridge deflector shields” and then I had to dive to one side. I did two rehearsals and then they called Ken Colley (Admiral Piett) in and I thought I knew him, and we are looking at each other but had no chance to talk. We did the scene and as soon as I was done, I had to go see George Lucas, sign a contract and say thanks. He gave me an envelope and said don’t open it until you get out on the street… it was an absolute fortune to me and apparently, I jumped in the air!

I got all the way to Wales (for the previously mentioned designer role), the producer there said they had a phone call about me from George Lucas. He wanted me to re-record the line…they said “I was under the impression I was getting a costume designer not a fucking actor!” I told them I did it as a favour. He took some time to settle down, but he said it’s just as well that you are here because I’ve told him to fuck off!

I got a phone call later in the day from the production office and the guy was roaring with laughter because George Lucas had been laughing that he had been told to fuck off because the person on the end of the phone didn’t believe he was George Lucas! Anyway, that was the start of my 47 films in costume department. Ken Colley, I remembered where I knew him from because I walked into the wardrobe on that first day in Wales and my assistant said the first fitting here and in walked Ken Colley. We did five films together after that.

How do you reflect on the Star Wars roles now?

To me it was all something of nothing. I hadn’t seen A New Hope, but I heard about all of the staffing problems. I saw it years later; everybody I knew on the film wasn’t sure if they were going to be able to finish it.

Alan (Background) in the Empire Carbonite scene

Return of the Jedi was my last time officially on camera, the problem with Star Wars is you say the same things to the same crowd (at conventions). I’ve never cared less, I’m shamelessly indiscreet I’ll tell all ha-ha! I understand it from the fans point of view but not the actors. Most of the actors even in principle parts only did a few days. I appeared in other films where I was there beginning to end.

What part of the acting experience do you look back on most fondly?

I did a Quatermass film running around near Pinewood studios chanting “MMRAH” and waving my arms around with a poncho on and stripes of makeup as one of the ‘Planet people’. It was chronically bad but I remember thinking, I am getting paid £130 a day for this ha-ha, send us off chanting again I couldn’t give a shit… “MMRAH”!

On American Werewolf in London, five in the morning we were on a street corner and two minibuses turned up. The first bus was a press pack, sound recorder, hair, and make-up and in the second we were just photobombing London, film a bit, jump back in. I had nothing to do except be in the main Trafalgar Square scene where he transforms into a wolf. We were supposed to keep our eyes out for the police as we weren’t supposed to be there! I had floppy hair in the rain, a policeman is walking up in character but there were two real policemen coming and I’m trying to alert the crew, but we got stopped and threatened with fines. The camera is rolling all this time and I’m at the back laughing while the wolf is changing, and it stayed in the film ha-ha!

You mentioned that following on from all of your acting roles you started working in costume departments and your family was skilled at that, was that a natural progression?

Yes it was, I wanted a change of career. I’d worked in the film industry for so long at that point and I felt I was ready to do it. You had to be the member of a union and belong to a specific branch and getting into those was incredibly difficult. That’s why I ended up at the National Theatre to do my City and Guilds exam, I had to apprentice myself to a tailor. I ended up with a guy who was head of cutting, I was with him for three weeks until he dropped dead of a heart attack. I immediately had to take over. I stayed long enough to get my ticket and I left to do Giro City with Glenda Jackson and Ken Colley in 1982.

I got to the end of the film and then was doing one after another back to back, I was abroad a lot as I spoke foreign languages. The longer I was in the business the bigger the films got and the bigger the wardrobes became. One of the biggest films I did was Hamlet with Mel Gibson and Ronin with Robert De Niro but I was more known for the period pieces. I got paid a fortune for those too, my bank manager loved it!

Fantastic that you were involved in Santa Claus – The Movie by the way, superb film! My childhood thanks you for that…

Yes!  I was called by a guy called Pat, lovely old fella. His sidekick was called Minnie, they said they wanted me to do some bits and pieces. When I started they said, “We’ve got 112 dwarves or short people” and I said, “OK…what do you mean short people?”. They explained the principle actor, Dudley Moore is four foot eight so they are shorter than him, we looked at each other… let’s just say there were some stories about this in Hollywood. There were 112 of them…and they also said that Dudley Moore wanted me to be his personal dresser. How can I do that? Ha-ha! Dudley Moore was absolutely wonderful; we became good friends. I was his personal makeup artist, a witness at his last wedding and I got his son out of jail ha-ha! He and I spent weekends in Paris together, so that he could avoid UK tax! I enjoyed that side of the business immensely.

Quite a story Alan! What’s next for you?

I have nothing on the cards, the last thing I did was make a brass crown for a film. One day, I’ll get around to writing all of this up and I’ll be another Yolanda Donlan to shake the stars down!

With that, we end a thoroughly enjoyable interview! Alan accepts autograph requests for £15 (plus postage) on photographs of him as a Stormtrooper and Imperial Officer, you can check those out by clicking here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Check out the Star Wars story of Richard Cunningham who appeared as an Imperial Officer also in Rogue One 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.

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.

Dee Tails – His Star Wars Story

Greetings exalted ones, we’ve got something pretty big for you in this Star Wars story. We have here the journey of Dee Tails, a successful 90’s musician who toured with Janet Jackson and has since made the equally successful transition into the movie industry.

Dee was a huge hit with British R&B group MN8, most famous for their debut single “I’ve got a little something for you” but as we will learn he closed that chapter of his life and moved onto acting. Roles in Batman Begins and Captain Phillips led to four Star Wars films which basically puts Dee in the veteran category! Roles include Cratinus in The Force Awakens, K-OHN in Rogue One, Slowen Lo in The Last Jedi and Quay Tolsite in Solo and a whole lot more.

We talk a lot…really a lot…but this story is as explosive as sixty million credits worth of refined coaxium. I’m telling you; it’s going to be great. When have I ever steered you wrong?

Thanks for talking us through your Star Wars story Dee. How have you been keeping busy during this strange time?

I’ve been trying to keep my brain active. Before I was in Force Awakens, I started writing two book’s. I’ve never written a book before but felt I had to just to get it out of my system. I did it and it took three or four months for the first one and about a year for the second. I’ve also been writing a few scripts with friends, sci-fi, fantasy and things like that.

Last year I got into gaming, I did some motion capture as Cayde-6 in Destiny 2. It wasn’t until after doing the game that I realised how big it was! Fans were losing their minds over this character, so I thought if I’ve done it, I better find out what the game is about.

It would be wrong of me to not talk about MN8 as we look back on your career. Sadly, this is not a podcast (one day there will be one) so the dear readers will have to imagine your musical talents but how do you reflect now on that time in your life?

It’s strange, I don’t promote my band at all anymore. It feels like something I did in high school or part of a dream. It wasn’t one of those things that I thought would be forever and I saw it as a steppingstone to acting, as that’s what I’d trained in. I became a dancer, I danced for Gwen Guthrie (Dee sings “Ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but the rent”) and I found out that was a way of getting contracts and you needed those to get an equity card back then.

That just carried on while I was still in college, I then got an audition with MC Hammer and met the New Power Generation (backing band for Prince) but that came to nothing as Prince toured without them the following year and Hammer filed for bankruptcy. I then met a guy in a club (G-Man, lead vocals) who said he’d like me to meet someone who turned out to be KG (MN8 co-founder with G-Man) and it just went from one momentous thing to another.

This was an introduction to how the industry can turn; First Avenue (MN8’s former production company) didn’t want to manage us, they just wanted to focus on Eternal. Long after the fact, we heard Take That had wanted us on their tour throughout Europe and we didn’t know until it was too late. As First Avenue banked on Eternal, they ended up touring with Take That and that didn’t go so well, but out of the blue, Janet Jackson came to town and asked for us specifically…I’ve got goose bumps now. Her band, crew and dancers and everyone looked after us and we had a dream tour with her.

Later it came to our attention that our production company had been going to our label saying we need ten grand for this and twenty grand for that but we didn’t see any of it, which ran us into a huge debt, so we decided to call it a day. K got married to Laura Vasquez (Home and Away) and lives in Australia, T is continuing with his music right now and G moved to New York working with Def Jam.

From looking at your social media it seems music is still a huge part of your life; do you still have a lot of involvement in the music industry?

I knew what was good and bad about the music industry so I only wanted to be there as long as I could eventually step away. I have no interest in going back to music, I consider myself fully retired from that. Once it all ended I finally had that leverage I needed to get myself an acting agent. My current agent has been my biggest supporter who has helped me a lot over the years, bless her.

What made you switch to acting?

I’d always wanted to be in blockbusters as a kid and when you say that to anybody, they ask what your real job is going to be ha-ha! When I was ten, I was in Aladdin, everyone wanted to be the Genie and I was a big fan of comedy, so I put on the campest voice and it was so funny they let me play him. I also realised I had an ability to remember dialogue, I think that’s what made me feel like I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I went from doing Shakespeare to Panto and my first role was the Genie again, not camp this time!

I then played Tommy the Cat in Dick Whittington for Hiss and Boo, I got to physically emote cartoonishly for the first time which was very rewarding. I couldn’t wash the make-up off in between performances and so I was the last one to leave each day due to that. The guy in charge of the production was Ian Liston. In Empire Strikes Back he is the guy who releases the cable out the back of a snow speeder (Jenson) and before he passed away he gave me a signed picture and wished me all the best in the Star Wars universe when he heard about it. A guy called Brian Herring (one of the four BB-8 puppeteers) was also working on those productions and he put in a good word and that got me in the room.

Before we get to Star Wars, pretty decent first film to get with Batman Begins! What was the scale of that like and did playing a Gotham City police officer prepare you for working on Star Wars?

If you want to put me into a creature costume or make me a droid, I can do that, I have the little body mass to do that, but if you want me to look like an imposing police officer I might struggle there ha-ha…they had to pad me out so much and put a bullet proof vest underneath my jacket to fill me out! I only did two films doing character support and Batman Begins was the first one. It was the first time I had even heard of character support. Character support consisted of actors being mixed into scenes with extras in case the director needed any added dialogue to be delivered within the scene.

Batman Begins brought back something so momentous. I remember walking through the doors of one of the huge airship hangars at Cardington Airfield and the huge Gotham City buildings were inside there. I remember hearing a big boom and turning to see the Batmobile. Dude…I was ready to call it a day there, it was just awesome. In between the takes me and another actor named Andy would just walk around almost like we were on patrol. I also got to see Gary Oldman act, and watching what he was doing before shooting…it was like a free masterclass. I thought if I don’t enjoy this, I don’t know what I would do. I did enjoy it, I loved it.

We better skip onto why we are here…four Star Wars films! That pretty much makes you a veteran…how did you get your first role?

I thought they are going to be seeing hundreds of people, the chances of them looking at me thinking they have something for me was very small, but I then I got a call to go to Pinewood Studios and see Neal Scanlan, where I’m then introduced to Tom Bell, Nathan Plant and Paul Warren who I would end up working with. I thought it was going to be an interview or a casting…I went straight to fittings.

I remember trying to walk past R2-D2, I literally froze. I’m also trying not to look around the room too much, even though I’d just signed an non-disclosure agreement. I grew up watching the behind the scenes stuff so being on that set, I felt like I was somehow in the right place.

Normally, I would ask if you were already a fan, but I think I can say for certain that you are! What’s your best memory from working on those films?

It has to be one for each film. Neal Scanlan said he wanted to find something for me, so they paired me up with Tom Bell (Prashee). We had our own language and Tom’s role was to set me off laughing and giggling about something. We also realised that if we tilted our heads it would change the expression of our characters, Tom was really good at doing that. We also had kneepads that were shoes because they wanted us to look a little weird in stature. In the Force Awakens our impact on set and behind the scenes, is what I remember. JJ was also given one of my heads which is special too!

Rogue One started as me potentially playing K-2SO, I was aware of the scenes and I signed all the contracts but the role was changed to a CGI character with Alan Tudyk doing the voice, I was happy to step back from that as just being a part of the process was incredible. On set the kids that were running about in Jeddha…somehow me and the kids all ended up in the same spot, the kids were loving the droid I was playing (K-OHN) and asking me questions. It was all being shot guerrilla style and we just finished a break so the kids came running over to see again and me being me and the Droid, reacted being very happy to see them and that’s the bit that was filmed for the movie, it was a very sincere moment to end up in the film.

For The Last Jedi it was going to Dubrovnik in Croatia. I played Slowen Lo mainly but when we were shooting the other scenes, I was Brother Letrun Pay and that involved a head I could not see out of. I was also Lexo Sooger in the sauna with Warwick Davis and Kiran Shah, all of that stuff, working in a suit I can’t see out of, it felt like a tiny little family unit with puppeteers and crew all helping each other to bring these creatures to life even though we were abroad.

In Solo I was Quay Tolsite and the suit was heavy, but the costume generally was excellent. I could see, I could breathe, and I got it really early on that Quay’s scene was going to move at a fast pace. I also found out Quay was a Pyke whose species I knew from the Clone Wars animation series and I worked with the late Andrew Jack on creating the language. I enjoyed the movements and gestures but there was this one thing they asked me to do…they said put the key in the door and then the doors close, I am thinking…I know how those doors close, it got to that scene and just as it closes I give a little look as I turned the key, I really enjoyed that moment.

It seems looking at the four roles that you got increasingly more screen time. Going from just being happy to be seen to having all of this screen time…it must have been great to have a bigger role in Solo?

It was great to do something where no one has known what I have done before. In panto it was always “Dee Tails from MN8”. When I was in Star Wars, I didn’t tell anyone about my background, I just wanted to be assessed on my ability.

Quay was given to me late on, I had finished work on Regineer Teed (part of Enfys Nest’s gang) and they told me they were taking me to Spain. Neal said I had someone else to play and had to speak to Andrew Jack to sort out the language. It slowly starts to sink in that I am on Kessel and I am in charge of this base, I almost lost my poo-doo ha-ha. I was being directed by Ron Howard…you couldn’t write this, it’s absolutely beautiful.

And you are an action figure too…

You had to drop that in ha.

You’ve made it in Star Wars if you get an action figure…

Look at it this way, I feel like I have really achieved something. Quay Tolsite is not an easy figure to get and I’m delighted about that, I’m rare ha-ha!

I assume you’ve got one?

I’ve got two! I played with the original toys, I had the sticker books, the cards and basically everything.

I have a golden rule, no opinions about which films are better in my interviews. But…Solo is a great film, a seriously great film, so are we making Solo 2 happen?

I’ll put it to you like this, I hung out with my good buddy Chris Bartlett (Zero in The Mandalorian). For him to go on and become part of this too…I don’t think anyone deserves it more. I said to him one of the best possible untold Star Wars stories is that of Ahsoka Tano, it’s incredible. He said, it is all owned by Disney now so…you never know. To answer your question…Solo, it is all owned by Disney so…you never know ha.

That’s enough to keep me going! What’s next up for you?

I’m still waiting on the next thing. I am doing some self-tapes at the moment, but fingers crossed they are not done with me just yet in the galaxy far far away!

Thanks to Dee for joining us! We’ll be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter any future roles Dee has, hopefully one will be back in the Star Wars universe!

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Dee’s fellow creature performer, Paul Warren who portrayed Varmik in The Force Awakens 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.

Richard Stride- His Star Wars Story

Hello there! Death Star sized appreciation for you coming back for another Star Wars story. Our guest today is a man of many talents, he’s many Clone Troopers, he’s Poggle the Lesser and he’s the double for Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi among many other roles in the Star Wars prequels.

Richard Stride appeared in blockbusters like Gladiator and First Knight before moving onto Star Wars, he worked on Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith putting his professionally trained sword skills to good use before successfully setting up his own theatre. He also designed the Death Star (technically), so don’t mess with him, I certainly wouldn’t…

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

I think for most people it’s been a time for reflection and finding out what you want to do and that sort of thing, I’ve been doing a lot of workshops online, writing, making connections with industry people and apart from that I’ve been turning the garden into what looks like something out of Hampton Court Palace…

I hear that’s a common hobby now! I understand you run a theatre, is that right?

That’s right, I took a burnt out, derelict building which had literally nothing in it and renovated it. I was artistic director there for 20 years but just before lockdown in early April I left to pursue acting and concentrate on myself, the theatre is now run by a trust.

How has lockdown affected the theatre industry?

The pandemic had a big impact on theatre and its employees obviously as they are all closed. There is a good thing with the way I designed that theatre specifically; we didn’t have rows of seats, we had cabaret style tables which means that to a degree people were socially distanced anyway! Hopefully, they’ll take the bull by the horns and get open as soon as possible.

How did you get started with your acting career?

I had an interest during school and then I joined a local drama group. Out of drama school I went straight into a Hollywood movie called First Knight. I found myself going from pretty much one job to the next which was fantastic. I did a lot of film work, some TV and a bit of stage work. I thought I wanted to do more stage work and more Shakespeare particularly so that’s when I started up the theatre.

I saw you were in Gladiator which must have been epic to work on, but I do have a soft spot for First Knight as I was really into Arthurian legends as a kid. When I saw those films on your IMDB I did wonder how do films of that size help to prepare you for future roles?

First Knight was great as I did lots of sword fighting and I am a trained sword fighter, so it was great to do something I was highly skilled at. Different skills are really important in becoming an actor and for finding your way into the industry, they help you to find your niche and that allows you to get a foot in the industry.

We should probably get to the point of why we are here! You had an interesting time in Star Wars Episodes Two and Three with a variety of different roles, can you talk us through them?

I was a double (for Ewan McGregor) so they would do a lot of over the shoulder shots and we looked very similar, incredibly so actually. We wore the same hair piece and you could literally not tell the difference sometimes. Samuel L Jackson particularly confused us a lot, calling me Ewan and then seeing him shocked when an English accent came out of my mouth.

I was also Poggle the Lesser, I was various Clone Troopers and I stood in for a lot of characters. I stood in for Yoda even though I am six-foot-tall, they had a puppet and I did the lines! I was also the droid walking up to the opera house in Revenge of the Sith, there were lots of different things going on and it was brilliant, I loved it.

It’s interesting because on the other trilogies it seems a lot of the actors and performers had a small amount of time working on the films, but it sounds like you had a lot of involvement…

Yeah it was literally weeks. There was the odd day where I didn’t do much and others where you are working constantly. It’s tough sometimes because if you are there for twelve hours you are probably reading a good book for ten of those hours but they kept calling me up to do different things.

It was lovely to be really helpful and have a part in the history of it all, watching and observing others. What makes acting interesting is the learning side of it, if you stop learning you get bored!

How did the role originally come about?

I sent my showreel off to George Lucas and got the call to go to Elstree Studios at very short notice! I made it to the audition thankfully and there was this guy walking along and I said, “I’ve got an audition for Star Wars do you know where I should go?” He said he would take me, it turned out to be Rick McCallum the producer! He didn’t let on that he would be auditioning me which was classic. After the audition it went quickly, and I was told I’d got the role. I started the day not hearing anything and ended the day a part of Star Wars…

What was your fondest memory of working on Star Wars?

There were a lot of iconic moments. They rarely played the music but one day the Darth Vader music was playing when I was sat reading a book. I see gradually rising in front of me, Darth Vader in the scene at the end of Revenge of the Sith. As a child I watched these films endlessly, so it was a moment I loved.

I met a chap who I assumed was a crew member and we were just chatting, I asked what his role on the film was and he said “I’m C-3PO”, I said you don’t do the voice do you? “I’m C-3PO human cyborg relations” he blurted out literally a foot away from me. He (Anthony Daniels) showed me all the parts of the costume on a table nearby that was amazing too.

Was there a different skill set in your opinion working on the prequels compared to the original trilogy and the sequel trilogy?

It was all very new technology at the time. I think the type of camera they had on Attack of the Clones was the first time it was ever used in history. It was a whole different set of rules for filmmaking. I guess thinking about it there were probably a lot less actors as we were all doing multiple roles. Quite often you are stood in a blue box and had to imagine everything around you. I was in a battle scene holding a gun but the gun didn’t even fire, there’s no sound and you’ve got 60 people watching you and you are thinking, “I must look like a right tit.”

What I did was close my eyes for a few seconds and just picture that world around me, the sounds and everything else. It’s hard because clearly, you’ve got no threat around you and you are supposed to try and imagine all this stuff going on. There’s one scene in Attack of the Clones where I was all nine characters in the shot, a fan came up with the photo for me to sign, I asked where he would like me to sign and he said on whichever one is me which is a bit hard when you are all of them ha-ha.

George Lucas said something interesting once about this, he said one day they won’t even need to costume people, actors will just be in a blue suit. I think what was used was very ground-breaking, but it was in its infancy. Some of it was just too clean and I think they now are moving towards a combination of the real stuff and the green screen so that will probably work better in the future.

It must have been nice to have such involvement and have a named character too as Poggle the Lesser who has his own action figure and all that with you being a big fan too!

Yes it’s all been very useful, we had builders in the other day and the builder was saying something they were not too happy about and I said, “You do realise I invented the Death Star” it’s always a useful thing to say ha-ha!

Do you enjoy the conventions side of it?

What’s lovely is telling the stories about the experiences, reliving all that and keeping it fresh in your mind. People get so excited about the smallest nugget of information, it’s like you made their year!

You’ve already mentioned you sort of moved away from the theatre and you are trying to get your acting career going again so what’s up next for you?

I’ve got two films pencilled in, one is a small part playing a drug dealer which will be fun and the other is a period film and that’s a bigger role, they may get postponed a bit but hopefully it will all be OK.

Thanks to Richard for joining us! We’ll be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter any future roles Richard has, hopefully one will be back in the Star Wars universe!

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? Lightsaber wielders must be your thing so check out our interview with Andrew Lawden who stood in as Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace. Read more by clicking here.

Andrea Wickman-Miller – Her Star Wars Story

Utinni! It’s time for your next Star Wars story readers and we have a great guest for you once again, Andrea Wickman-Miller. Andrea featured as a fan favourite of the worldwide Star Wars audience; she was a Jawa!

The diminutive cape wearers made scavenging cool long before Rey came along and featured early in A New Hope as we were slowly introduced to the wide variety of creatures that Star Wars would treat us to. Admittedly, Andrea has grown a lot since portraying a Jawa although it was hard not to as she was a kid at the time! Now a gym owner, Andrea takes us through her life now, skipping school to be a Jawa and a headless R2-D2…

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

I own a gym in San Francisco that has been closed since March 14 due to Covid-19, so we had to switch to doing online training quickly. It was like building a new business in a couple of days! We have just recently been allowed to start training some clients outside as well, which has been great. I also have three kids ages 12, 14 and 16 and so I can honestly say I have never been busier!

What kind of work are you involved in these days?

I own the gym with my husband. I’ve been in the fitness industry for most of my life and always planned on opening my own gym. I was lucky enough to do this five years ago, up until now, we have been very successful. We are hoping to be able to weather this Covid-19 storm we are currently in.  I usually do a couple of conventions a year, but unfortunately this has also been put on hold for the time being.

I think you’ve told this story a fair few times, how did you become a Jawa as a kid?

I was living in Death Valley from the age of four until I was nine. When I was in second grade, seven years old, we had a strange request from a group making a film. They asked the school if it would be alright if they used eight kids in their movie and the school agreed. Remember this was late 70’s and I’m sure that they thought this would be a great experience for the kids. Boy were they right!

A few people working for the film showed up to school and measured several kids for height. I happened to be the right height that they were looking for, so I was one of the lucky ones to be chosen.

We were paid for two days of work, we received $25 in cash. Our first day we were taken to a hotel room to be sized for our costumes. The second day, we were taken out to the filming location which is very close to Artists Palette (Death Valley, USA). We carried R2-D2 up a hill several times, it was exciting and tiring!

Jawa’s at seven years old! How are your school reunions now?

I keep in touch with several friends from Death Valley on Facebook, but I left when I was nine, so no school reunions with this group unfortunately. I am now really good friends with another fellow Jawa actor, Tim Donaldson, we have done all of our conventions together. We are trying to get all of the Jawas together, but that has been challenging, as some of them can’t be found!

That sounds like a challenge! What would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars? The one that you remember most fondly.

My fondest memory is the excitement of being picked and getting out of school! I remember how excited and nervous I was about putting on the Jawa outfit, I was afraid of the glowing eyes! One of the funniest memories now, is at one point when we were carrying R2-D2 his head fell off!

How was it wearing that costume in that heat? I assume carrying R2-D2 won’t have helped!

Luckily, this all took place in January of 1977, when the weather can get quite cold.

Going a bit deeper into how it affects you now. Why do you think there is so much interest even now so many years on?

Watching A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi in the movie theater is something that I will never forget. The fact that I can vividly remember watching A New Hope at the age of eight speaks volumes. The films were so different from anything I had ever seen. The lovable R2-D2 and the strength and beauty of Princess Leia and the overall excitement and intensity of this “space film” is every girls dream!

I have asked a lot of people involved in Star Wars this question as a collector of Star Wars merchandise myself. Do you wonder “why do people want my autograph”? 

Several years ago, when a collector reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in doing a signing for their group, I was really sceptical. I could not wrap my head around why someone would want my autograph. Now that I have been doing this for a couple of years, I totally get it. It’s a deep love for a movie and wanting to have a piece of it is exciting and fun.

Finally, you mentioned you attend a couple of conventions a year, how do you find attending them?

I have only done a few conventions and had a blast doing them. My first one I was very nervous, like who would want my autograph? Will I be sitting at an empty table? I was pleasantly surprised to find that many people were interested not just in the autograph but my story as well. I have met so many wonderful people through conventions that all have one thing in common, we all love Star Wars.

Thanks to Andrea for joining us! Check out the gym Andrea now owns by clicking here and you can find her on Twitter and Instagram with the great username @hotjawa.

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? Why not check out the story of Jack Klaff who also featured in Star Wars – A New Hope as X-Wing pilot Red Four, click here for more!

David M Santana – His Star Wars Story

Welcome back dear readers, sadly it’s time for us to bow to the First Order, with our new guest David M. Santana! As we know, the First Order rose from the dark side, but David did not.

David appears in three Star Wars films as a key First Order Stormtrooper in Force Awakens, a Stormtrooper Commander in The Last Jedi and clearly they don’t check with HR within the First Order because in between that he was a Scarif Rebel in Rogue One.

David isn’t just a Star Wars actor; he’s featured in 2015 blockbuster Everest and seems to have got his big break now with roles in upcoming TV shows that we will talk about. We discuss his career so far, the strange lack of Spanish speaking roles and David gives us a guide of how not to approach Harrison Ford…

Thank you for talking us through your story David. Lockdown has been very difficult for actors so how have you been dealing with it?

Just before it happened, I was working in Morocco on a new TV Series called Glow and Darkness with Jane Seymour and Denise Richards and ten days after I got back, lockdown! Right before that I moved into a new place, so I was surrounded by boxes and empty cabinets. Inside of my house it was like Christmas because I was opening boxes and finding figures that I hadn’t seen in the last ten years. I have also been refreshing my acting skills and doing some online classes, even before our interview I was doing a webinar.

A good way to keep busy then, what got you into acting?

I’ve been surrounded by movies since I was a kid. My grandfather was a massive movie posters collector and he watched a lot of movies. I used to recreate a lot of scenes from the movies I watched like Conan, Terminator and Beverly Hills Cop.

Here in the Canary Islands I should explain the film business has not been so big in the past but recently due to changes in taxes there are a lot of big productions here like Wonder Woman 1984, The Witcher, Solo and more. In the past I didn’t find much acting work here, so I studied Translation and Interpreting and as soon as I finished that I started studying Drama in London at the Identity School of Acting.

You seem like you had a lot of roles in shorts and then, boom, Force Awakens comes along. Is that how it went?

Yes, to be honest. I was studying in London and I met a girl from the Canary Islands, she gave me a card and said they were looking for extras and stand ins for the movies business. I thought it would be good to know how a blockbuster works from the inside, so I submitted my CV and the very first movie I got was Everest working as an Italian climber. After that, a company called We Got Pop got me the role in Force Awakens as a Stormtrooper.

All that while you were still studying?

That’s right and it’s funny because on set we met John Boyega (Finn) and he told me and some friends that he got the role after studying at the Identity School of Acting. He said it’s really good to express yourself and so I studied there for three years thanks to his recommendation and it helped me a lot as an actor.

You were with him in the first scene, right?

Yes, I was directed by JJ Abrams in the scene where we are in a circle and when the cameras travels onto Finn, I’m the Stormtrooper on his right.

I was so excited that day, I was a huge fan of JJ’s work especially Lost and Star Trek. He was wearing his Star Trek – Into Darkness sweater which was cool and he asked if I prefer being called Dave or David, I said I have no problem he can call me whatever he wants ha-ha. We filmed in six or seven takes, I saw JJ every day and it was really cool to get some personal direction from him.

A fun story, I also used to work in Forbidden Planet (Comic and collectibles chain store). I was attending my classes one day and I went by to say hi to everyone and my colleagues were talking and they said “Your boss is downstairs”, I thought that was weird because my boss is their boss but they explained it was JJ. I went downstairs, he was reading a book and I briefly introduced myself, explained I was a Stormtrooper and he relaxed a bit. He was reading a book of Star Wars art!

Very cool! What’s your best personal memory from the three Star Wars films you were in?

I never thought a Star Wars fan like me would be able to be a part of these films. The best memory as a collector of figures was meeting Han Solo. Han Solo is my favourite character in the history of cinema ever. I met him at Maz Kanata’s castle and got to shake his hand. Here is the thing, I didn’t shake Harrison Ford’s hand, I shook Han Solo’s hand…

I had my helmet off; the whole set and location is there and they created everything to scale. I see a meter from me is Han Solo waiting for action to be called. I looked at him, I said to myself “Be professional, we are here to work” but the kid inside of me was talking back. I thought to myself, don’t look at him, and as soon as I thought that I looked at him about 50 times! On the 51st time he looked at me and said, “Are you alright son?”, I took my glove off and introduced myself and he said he was glad to meet me and saw me enjoying it and that he would see me around.

I turned back to my colleagues…do you remember when you get a girlfriend in high school at 12 or 13 and all of your friends give you hugs, it was the same as that. It’s a memory that will stand out to me until my last days on earth.

I guess these roles get you out on the signings circuit throughout the world?

I never thought I would get these opportunities. In February 2016 I did my first one and as a fan I was treated so well, like an A-Lister. My colleague and I, Sandeep Mohan are known as the ‘Nope troopers’. Do you remember when the two Stormtroopers are walking down a corridor and Kylo Ren is smashing up a room, those two Stormtroopers are me and Sandeep. Thanks to that scene we have been to Japan where there is even a ‘Nope Café’ open there named after that part of the film!

Since Star Wars your other roles have been picking up so what direction are you trying to go in now?

I’m working on the show I told you about and I finished a movie recently called Vampus Horror Tales, a creep show kind of movie. I’m doing a casting for a DC Comic based TV series and I am hopeful for that! In this lockdown I’ve done more castings than the last 12 months, it’s been crazy. I’m a Spanish actor living in Spain but most of my castings have been in English, next week I am doing my first one in Spanish for a year, how curious is that?

When you mention you worked as a background artist you get told not mention it on a CV because it’s considered a different career which I understand completely but for me Star Wars has opened a lot of doors. When I mention it, people are interested and then you can discuss the other work you’ve done, it helps to get people’s curiosity. If I didn’t do those films, I am not sure if I would get the opportunities I get now.

David in Marvel’s Doctor Strange

Are you more comfortable with Spanish speaking roles?

I’m Spanish but being from the Canary Islands we have an accent compared to mainland Spain. I prefer English roles, it sounds weird, but I get a lot of castings looking for people like me.

You’ve said that it’s helpful to be known for the Star Wars films and you’ve kind of highlighted that it’s provided you a springboard to other roles, does that bother you?

To be honest, if what catches their eye is Star Wars, that’s fine and I’m happy with that. I’ve got their attention and I can get inside the room where the magic will happen. Hopefully, soon I will be also known for Peacemaker on Netflix and Glow and Darkness. But if it’s Star Wars that people are interested in as a start then I am more than happy.

Thanks to David for joining us! In the absence of conventions David can be contacted to autographs 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.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out another Force Awakens story featuring creature performer Keith De’Winter. Keith featured as Goss Toowers in The Force Awakens, click here for more!

Tim Dry – His Star Wars Story

Greetings exalted ones, once again we are heading out the Dune Sea! Jabba the Hutt didn’t just like scum in his palace, he liked his music too. Max Rebo and his band entertained him regularly in between the odd Rancor butchering…

However, within his menagerie of monsters you would be shocked to find a pair of actual musicians chilling out in the corner. This brings us to our guest, Tim Dry. Tim played J’Quille in Return of the Jedi and also a Mon Calamari officer but he was more well known for popularising the robotic mime movement of the 1980’s with Tik and Tok. Along with his Yak Face playing counterpart, Sean Crawford, he played Wembley with Gary Numan and supported Duran Duran among many other impressive musical achievements.

Today we talk about his music background, how he ended up in Star Wars, a very heavy costume and if playing in front of Her Majesty The Queen (yes the Queen is making an appearance in a Star Wars story) is as intimidating as Jabba the Hutt…

Great to speak with you Tim and I’m excited to hear your Star Wars story! You are a man of many talents being an actor, photographic artist, musician, writer and a pioneer of robotic mime so what would you say you are most famous for?

I’d say that I’m equally famous for having two character roles in Return of the Jedi and also for having been a part of that whole New Romantic music and fashion scene in London in the early 1980s as a robotic mime, making electro pop music and hanging out with cool people who were fashion designers, DJs, musicians, and artists in the new clubs like Blitz, Le Kilt, Club For Heroes and Camden Palace. My other works as a writer and a photographic artist do get me some very nice compliments and some meagre funds but nothing resonates in quite the same way as the first two. As long as I’m constantly creative and do my best to entertain people in whatever ways I can I’m happy.

Tell us about your early career and how you got started…

I was taught mime by a wonderful teacher named Desmond Jones. I started going to his classes in London in 1976 and I became obsessed with this almost unknown art form. About six months later I became a member of his mime company and we were doing shows in colleges and small theatres around London. From 1980, I was also part of a multi-media group called Shock and we mixed dance, mime, music and theatre together in a way that no one had really seen before. Barbie Wilde (Hellraiser-Hellbound) was my partner at the time and she was in Shock as well. We met Sean (Crawford) at a mime class one evening and asked him to join the group.

Fast forward a couple of years and Sean and I were working as the robotic duo Tik and Tok after Shock split up. The robot movement that we created became very popular. It was a very exciting time! Shock recorded two singles which were big on club dancefloors, they were produced by the hip London DJ Rusty Egan (Founder of New Romantic Nightclub, Blitz) and Richard James Burgess (co-founder of synthpop band, Landscape). I started writing some songs with Richard before Shock split up.

How did all of that result in Return of the Jedi?

One day in early January 1982 we were contacted by Desmond our mime teacher who said that he’d been approached by the production team on the new Star Wars movie because they were looking for mimes to play alien creatures. The reason being that as trained performers in physical theatre we could bring life and character to a costume. There were about 20 of us auditioning in front of Desmond and the co-producer, Robert Watts. We were told to just do some ‘Alien acting’ which we did.

About a week later Desmond phoned and said that both Sean and myself had been chosen along with seven other mimes to be in the movie which was wonderful. We drove up to Elstree studios a few days later to be fitted for costumes. I was given this fearsome character who was then only known as Tooth Face (J’Quille) and Sean was to play Yak Face and we proceeded to take our places on the incredible set that was Jabba the Hutt’s palace.

We did about three weeks in the palace and then a few days on his sail barge which was filmed on the back lot at Elstree, the exteriors of the barge were all filmed in the desert in the States, watching Jabba get killed by Princess Leia. Very exciting!

We had another week playing Mon Calamari Officers on the flight deck of Admiral Ackbar’s rebel ship, wearing nice light costumes, after our really heavy and hot previous outfits it was nice to actually see where we were going! With the money we earned from our work on the film we bought a couple of synths, a drum machine, FX units and a four track Portastudio so we could create our own music for our live Tik and Tok work.

Personally, what would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars?

The whole experience of being on a film set for the first time was pretty mind-blowing. The scale of it all and the attention to detail was unbelievable. There were so many people on the Jabba’s palace and sail barge sets that we could hardly move and so some of the action we should have been doing was unfortunately shelved. You had the camera crew, big cameras, performers, extras, stunt people plus the enormous heat from the lights and the smoke machines going it was very claustrophobic. But it was great fun for us to see Leia in her famous bikini climbing over Jabba and strangling him with her chain and Oola dancing before she went in the pit!

I did approach Harrison Ford, who was seated in a canvas chair on set reading his script in-between set ups, I asked him for his autograph as my then girlfriend was a big fan. He raised his head and saw this guy with long dyed black hair, wearing a sweaty white t-shirt and these huge furry trousers held up by elastic which were the bottom half of my costume. He looked momentarily disconcerted then smiled and graciously signed my bit of paper. To my horror, later that afternoon I realized that I’d actually managed to lose it somehow on my way back to the dressing room. I didn’t dare go back and ask him for another and I didn’t dare tell my girlfriend what had happened. I just said that he was really occupied with his script…sorry!

The scenes with Jabba the Hutt are iconic now and it being the third film I would guess at that point the menagerie of monsters was almost a normal thing but how was it for you?

We were told early on that it was a kind of conscious recreation of the New Hope cantina by the designers and production team, so we knew what to expect. I have to say that the creatures in Jedi were much more involved and weirder than those in the first movie. Because of the confines of the costume and poor visibility there was no way to get an overview until we saw the finished movie. I remember feeling sorry for the Gamorrean guard who took a tumble down the steps and also the poor guy who got hurled into the Rancor pit.

Was J’Quille as heavy as he looked?

Quite simply yes! I had three layers on and the fibreglass head was very heavy. They had to take it off between each take so I could get some air. The wardrobe girls would blow cold air from hairdryers down my neck. Some of the performers did actually pass out on set on day one before someone noticed what was happening. J’Quille was a heavy dude in every sense and not someone you’d pick a bar fight with!

I have to address this as I have a thing for action figures, Yak Face is an extremely valuable older figure and J’Quille I believe has been hard done by although he’s got a newer one, may I start a “Justice for J’Quille” movement? 

Yes, please do! His time will come!

What’s more intimidating; playing at Wembley, playing in front of the Queen or working for Jabba the Hutt?

Working for Jabba was a doddle! Playing Wembley wasn’t that intimidating really as because of the stage lights and the distance from the thousands of fans you couldn’t really see beyond the first few rows. Playing in front of The Queen was pretty nerve-wracking as it was done live in front of not only her and Prince Phillip but also in front of 14,000,000 people watching at home. We’d already done a show that night with Gary Numan on his Warriors tour out of London and a limo picked us up and drove us to the stage door of the Theatre Royal.

Yourself and Sean are on the convention scene together a lot, how do you feel about attending conventions?

We both love doing them. We’ve been all round the world now pretty much since 2003 and that’s a real thrill. We get to hang out together again and be naughty schoolboys! We love meeting and chatting to all the fans that come to the events, hanging out with fellow performers, having a few drinkies and some laughs. We also get to make a nice amount of cash which is always needed!

Because of COVID-19 everything has been on hold this year. Hopefully, things will settle down safely and we’ll be able to be out and about next year with our photos and our Sharpie pens.

It still amazes me that my modest contribution to a movie made 38 years ago still resonates with people of all ages from every country. Nowadays we get three generations of Star Wars fans coming along to see us and that really is incredible. I don’t think any other movie franchise has the same breadth of adulation and it really does make me proud to see all those happy faces. I shall be eternally grateful to Desmond, my mime teacher, for allowing all this to come to pass because of the skills that he imparted to me and his students all those years ago.

With that, Tim departs to his first virtual convention. In the absence of physical conventions, you can contact Tim for autographs via Facebook here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of fellow creature performer, Paul Warren who portrayed Varmik in The Force Awakens 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.

Jack Klaff – His Star Wars Story

Dear readers, you are back! A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one…

We’ve had a good run of Star Wars heavy stories thus far but on occasion the discussion can veer off into more of the theory behind the big hit of 1977. That’s what we have here today with our guest, Jack Klaff.

Jack is a stage and screen actor with performances ranging from bad guy Apostis in James Bond to starring opposite Richard Gere in King David to Rawdon Crawley in a TV adaptation of Vanity Fair but today we talk his role as X-Wing pilot Red Four…or do we?

The explosive (pun intended) part was short but Jack’s got a lot to say about the success of the film and we ponder some of the burning questions related to Star Wars. For example, what is the correct amount of times to have watched Star Wars? Or is it Stan Wars? How do we describe the films best? What’s a Space Opera? All this and more lies ahead of you and we hope you enjoy the read…

Thanks for joining us Jack, how have you been keeping busy through lockdown?

I have been keeping busy in a variety of ways. I have a new agent who is very proactive, two films are coming up one of which is dealing with politics in the 1970’s and another I can’t say too much about but still to be getting offers is great. I’ve also been writing; I’ve done an online Samuel Beckett play with a great South African actor called John Kani (most recently King T’Chaka in Marvel’s Black Panther) and on balance I really can’t complain. My wife and daughter are here, my son isn’t far away and I have a granddaughter so we are all busy and happy.

Great to hear! From an acting point of view, the arts have been in the news a lot recently due to the pandemic. What has this period put into the spotlight from your perspective?

It’s put in the spotlight the fact that writers, actors, dancers, performers and musicians really do depend on live performances. We have a neighbour who is a cellist and she’s been working consistently all of her life. I went around to drop off a loaf of bread the other day and she wasn’t there, she popped round to apologize because she had been working in a restaurant. I have another friend, I have done three productions at least with this guy, he’s done theatre at every level and he last designed something for the London Palladium which is a jewel in the crown of British theatre. He’s now moving up the hierarchy of Asda Park Royal.

That is where we are now, freelancers doing those kinds of jobs and don’t forget there are people who work at the box office, critics and others who depend on the live experience who are not earning…

It’s great that people have adapted and things are beginning to return to normal, for now at least. Your screen acting experience happened quite early, were you drawn into performing at a younger age?

I grew up in South Africa and I did a tiny bit of screen work there. I have always flirted a bit with movies, I was often told I was ugly actually…

I did a Law and Economics degree but went to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre school and I was taken into the Bristol Old Vic Company there but after a year I had no prospects. One day in June 1976 I was told to go Elstree Studios and be in this film. There was no audition and my agent thought it was called ‘Stan Wars’ due to a misprint.

Jack opposite Richard Gere in King David (1985)

I hung around for two days, the actual filming was me being blown up, shaken about and George Lucas saying good job and that was it. I had no idea until 1977 that this was going to be one of the biggest movies of all time and that people were repeatedly seeing it. People were telling me they had seen it eighty times and I thought that was a lot until an interview I did two weeks ago where they said, “Eighty are you kidding me, I saw it eighty times just in July 77”.

I went to the Royal Shakespeare company after that and while I was there it was the release of Star Wars and everyone made a fuss of it. People would come up to me after a show and say, “Oh Mr Klaff we really loved that Shakespeare…were you in Star Wars?!” and slowly but surely, I saw what the fuss was about. I took myself to see it around that time. Please don’t tell anyone except for your readers, I have never seen it since.

I’ll tell you one other thing just so you understand, I’m a professional writer and I got involved in storytelling in the 1990’s. I got some gigs teaching in very posh American Universities teaching storytelling and it’s wonderful whenever the students know that I was in Star Wars because they really pay attention!

I can tell them that the background of it comes from a book called ‘Hero of a Thousand Faces’ by Joseph Campbell and how influenced George Lucas was by the notion of a mythology, comparative myths and which myths go deep into our culture and psyche. That is one of the reasons why Star Wars has such a hold on people, it goes deep into the basic needs that people have for great stories.

In the context of the rest of your career, the Star Wars gig sounds pretty straight forward, just going in and sitting down, getting blown up…

It was simple yes. You alluded to the balance of work while we have been talking; I’ve earned well through film, television and writing and that pays for the next project that you get on with.

One of the things that fascinates me so much is what do professional actors such as yourself think about it now. You do all these other roles, acclaimed theatre performances and then five or ten seconds in Star Wars is what people want to discuss, including myself! Does that bother you?

Well no, the point is that it’s not all people want to talk to me about, but a substantial number of calls do come in. I’ll be honest, every now again I have exploited it…

A guy got in touch with me in the early noughties and asked if I had ever done any conventions and I rather arrogantly said I hadn’t and he said well there’s one in Coventry if you want to come along. They mentioned some nice people would be there, they didn’t push the boat out they just treated us really nicely. I met a friend of mine there called Angus MacInnes (Jon Vander/Gold Leader, Episode IV), Angus is an ex-restauranteur actually and we talked about restaurants and life. Anyway, when I was in Coventry, there was a queue! I spoke to my wife and kids and said I might do them from time to time. I don’t earn a fortune from it, but I sign and I have a good time. I earned really well in Dallas and New York in the past and that keeps things ticking over while I’m doing other things.

I don’t think that’s exploiting it though, there is a market for it. I do it myself, I have several autographs behind where I’m sitting right now. Star Wars capitalized on an audience that wanted or needed something like that at the time. It wasn’t that different it was just an opera set in space with the romance and the larger than life characters…

I’ve never heard that before, an opera set in space…well done you it’s the first time I’ve heard that! Sorry go on…

Do you think the original film was just something George Lucas got right at the time or do you think it could be replicated with another film?

There’s many prongs to this but one I already mentioned was that he really studied myths, he went straight for the traditional mythical structure. He followed Joseph Campbell and the comparative notion of it. When you go deep into an understanding of how myths operate it’s not just the Greek myths but the myths that are part of the culture of peoples around the world.

Each myth has the notion that someone’s in an ordinary world, a call comes, there is a resistance to the call, there is a mentor, a persuasion to get the person to come over the threshold. Once you have that then you are grabbing people, it’s something that goes deep inside us. It just so happens that George Lucas really followed the instructions. I’m not saying he did it by numbers, but he almost did and when you do that you are able to go deep inside people.

Harrison Ford is a marvellous actor, he has a lot of things that go with what makes a good screen actor, he is very contained and so on and most importantly in his case he has tremendous wit. Carrie Fisher was a wonderful person, very witty, I thought her hair was a bit ridiculous at the time, but it’s grown on people. Mark Hamill is a very good protagonist in mythical terms because off screen he was energetic, a very nice person but when he’s in the film you project onto him a lot of wishes desires and so on. So, you’ve got your protagonist, you’ve got your friend, you’ve got your mentor, your really serious villain and that’s a major thing. It’s religious and it has something of the western and opera in it. At the time it had state of the art technology, there was an excitement to it. The combination of the narrative and the depth of what people go for, what they want to hear in music, around the campfire, in movies, that’s very deep and a very solid narrative structure.

George Lucas was young and hungry and understood how he could catch the zeitgeist, in addition to that Alec Guinness always had the magic touch, he was in the news as the most popular actor at the time which I find fascinating. We are talking about an actor in the same era as James Dean and Marlon Brando. There was something about him as an actor, he was always involved in a great number of big hits. He was one of the most famous actors in the world in the 1950’s and then you have this incredible figure of Darth Vader voiced by James Earl Jones plus, puppets! You had this kind of opera meets western meets The Muppets.

Jack (left) in a cover shoot to promote Vanity Fair

That’s a good way of putting it! Finally, back to yourself, I guess your theatre work outweighs your work on screen, how do you reflect on that now?

Yes that’s right. I have done some arty movies and some not, I had a wonderful role with Richard Gere in King David. I can’t tell you how many TV jobs I’ve had…some have been virtually leading roles like Vanity Fair for example. I don’t want to sound defensive; I know I’m not a household name but I’ve done a fair amount of good television work.

People like me go from job to job, I have a literary agent, a script agent, an acting agent, I kind of have a booking agent for my solo work and I’m a self-starter so in any given week I don’t think you’d believe what I go through. There’s not a single role where I asked for it!

When you get to my age, I do a lot of solo work, I’m a storyteller but if you were to ask me to look back on my life’s achievements Star Wars would be part of it as it hit the zeitgeist. I’ve written quite a number of things that I am proud of too, but it isn’t over until it’s over and I hope that my future projects are what I’m proud of.

With that, we end a very interesting call as Jack heads to birthday celebrations. In the absence of conventions, you can contact Jack for autographs via Facebook here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of creature creator Nick Maley by clicking here. Nick was responsible for many of the Mos Eisley Cantina characters, The Wampa and Tauntauns as well as Chewbacca, Snaggletooth, Dr Evazan, Mynocks, Ugnaughts and a a character you may have heard of named Yoda.

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

Mike Quinn – His Star Wars Story

Greetings once again, exalted ones. We have a pretty good reading on who we are speaking to this time around and it’s another Star Wars legend, Mike Quinn. Mike brought life to one of our favourite characters, the wonderful Nien Nunb, but in addition he worked on a list of characters so long that even he loses track himself sometimes.

Little known fact, he worked on every trilogy as he was an animator on Attack of the Clones adding to his reappearance as Nien in the sequel trilogy. Mike’s got a great story to tell, one of determination and a love for what he does so, let’s get right to it…

Really happy to be speaking with you, Mike. You’ve been in some truly great films as a puppeteer, actor and an animator so before we talk about Star Wars, which is obviously why we are here, how did you end up in that field?

My sister was in the business as a child; she sang, played piano and was in a few pantomimes. She was winning talent competitions and things like that. It wasn’t really my plan initially. I had glove puppets, hand puppets and marionettes as a kid. My first experience with performing was when I was eight. I had a few magic tricks and illusions and a Punch and Judy style puppet booth so I would go to the park and do a few magic tricks and finish up with a puppet show that I’d written.

I was still a kid at that point and I wasn’t that good. I was shy and what I was doing was under-rehearsed. When I was about 12 or so The Muppets show came along and hit big in the UK; I became an obsessive original Muppet fan! I wanted to know what these things were and how they worked. I spent my pocket money trying to construct puppets and I would practice the moves in front of a mirror. I was the first boy in school to take needlework – they weren’t that pleased about it – but I got to make puppets in school. Then came the premiere of The Muppet Movie which I bought tickets to go see in Leicester Square.

I decided this is what I had to do with my life. I grew up in Enfield, London, and I would regularly visit the Muppets tapings and bribe my way into the studios. I tracked the crew down in Hertfordshire where they were filming in a village; the Muppets were landing in a pond with Robert Morley. I gave Jim a “Please can I have a job” letter and I think it was his birthday that day so he thought it was a card but sure enough I got a call from the Executive Producer, David Lazer, asking me if I wanted to do a bit of puppetry on the film.

I was initially a background puppeteer, but I was doing big stuff pretty quick, assisting Jim with Kermit and Rowlf the Dog and doubling up in wide shots. That’s kind of how it all happened…with will, determination and a bit of luck.

Is your path into Star Wars somewhat similar to the other puppeteers and performers who made their way into the films? It seems like that group was quite close?

Almost the same yes…I never really auditioned which was quite good. We rolled from The Great Muppet Caper to The Dark Crystal and they sort of dovetailed.

The next picture coming in was “Revenge of the Jedi”. Towards the end of 1981, Robert Watts took on a lot of us with the right experience because we were trained up as Animatronic performers already. It was a quick chat and I ended up assisting Tim Rose with Sy Snootles and Admiral Ackbar. Next, I found myself working the puppet closeup for Ree-Yees and everything sort of flowed from there really.

If my counting is correct you have been involved in five Star Wars films to date is that right?

I think that’s about right if you count Attack of the Clones!

I saw you did animation on Attack of the Clones…

I was a character animator on Attack of the Clones, so technically that puts me into all three trilogies. I’m in good company there with Warwick Davis, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels. A lot of people don’t know that I do animation at all; it’s another way of bringing something to life and an extension of being a puppeteer.

I think a lot of people will think your role was limited to Nien Nunb but you were behind or part of a lot of well-loved characters within Star Wars…

I was a huge fan of Frank Oz’s Yoda in Empire Strikes Back and I worked with him on The Great Muppet Caper with Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and a little in Dark Crystal too. He pulled me in to help on Yoda and because I was small I fit in well. I also did a baby Ewok, assisted with Jabba the Hutt…to be honest I forget them all now!

Before I go into much more detail, what story do you remember most fondly from working on the Star Wars films?

Well broadly speaking, being a fan of the first two films just walking onto those sets and seeing the next stage in these films. Being on Dagobah I could sneak onto Luke’s ship and look around, seeing the actors in their new costumes, watching Han come out of carbon freeze, seeing the Falcon. I was 17, it was my third movie so the excitement and the wonder is what comes to mind.

To be co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon was amazing; it wasn’t really planned. I just have a lot of joy and gratitude about it all. I was there to work and do the best that I could and enjoy it all. Anything I did on my first three films set me up for life in terms of puppetry technique. Where else is better to get training for that in such a short space of time?

It must have been amazing. You are one of just a handful of people to pilot the Millennium Falcon and for a person of your age that must have been unreal?

It was crazy and a bit abstract for sure because it was such a big thing. Going back onto it for Rise of Skywalker (working on Boolio) when he hands the data down to Finn and of course I was in the final scene of The Last Jedi…it feels like an old friend!

It’s really interesting that you were so young actually. A lot of the people I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to from the original trilogy seem to reflect that at the time it was just another job. Their recollection of Empire and Jedi especially is very different to yours. Yours is more in line with the sequel trilogy actors and performers I have spoken to in that you’ve got a feeling of wonder and excitement about it…

You know what, that hasn’t changed for me either – I haven’t become cynical or tired about it. When I walked onto the set in the new movies, I didn’t want it to end! I enjoy being around these brilliant, creative, wonderful people. These films will be seen long after I’m gone, and I don’t take that for granted.

Throughout your career who created the biggest impression on you?

It would have to be Jim Henson as far as my whole career goes. He gave me chances, mentored me and were it not for Jim I wouldn’t be here now doing what I do.

I was reading about Kipsang Rotich (voice of Nien Nunb) and how the producers wanted him back. Star Was must be full of great little stories like that. Did you meet and work together, or have you never had the chance?

I shot my scenes for Return of the Jedi and we knew there were going to be alien voices, so we used to just lay down a guide voice in English. When we finished the film, I had a chat with Ben Burtt about Nien Nunb’s voice and Kipsang was an intern at Skywalker Ranch at the time, Ben got him to do it.

They found him again a month before the release of The Force Awakens and got him to record some lines. They used him in the Disney rides, too. He was working as a teacher in Kenya when they tracked him down! I was hoping that at one of the Star Wars Celebrations we would be able to do a first-time dual appearance. I thought it would be cool to meet him for the first time on a stage.

Were you expecting the call about the new films?

I engineered it to be honest, but I suspect they would have contacted me anyway. I thought they will probably bring back Nien Nunb and I wanted it to be me, so I built a little web page about that. I was working with Thomas Dolby (Singer of ‘She Blinded me with Science’) andwe had just done a music video together. He was a close friend of JJ Abrams who facilitated a few things on his recent album and Thomas made sure that JJ had received my communication. So not a surprise, but a relief!

It must have been fantastic bringing back all of the original actors as much as they could for the sequel trilogy?

They didn’t have to do that; they could have got sound-a-likes or used anyone inside the costumes but J.J. (Abrams) and Kathleen (Kennedy) wanted to keep that continuity. It’s a nice addition for the fans, too!

What’s next on the horizon for you?

We’ve got the new Muppets series ‘Muppets Now’ which we did late last year for Disney+. There’s not been much in terms of new production for obvious reasons, and we would have been shooting the third season of ‘Kidding’ with Jim Carrey during this. I’m using this time to write and develop new stuff; I want more people to come into the Secrets of Puppetry training course, too. I took a lot of what I learned and created online workshops so I hope we can get some new blood in there!

To finish, one of my curiosity questions was not Star Wars related. How does Kermit the Frog do a Ted Talk? I saw you had assisted Steve Whitmire puppeteering him for that…

Oh, you saw that? That was amazing, my goodness. It was all about preparing to do a speech properly, he sat on a stool so he didn’t get tired standing up all the time and he had a drink so he wouldn’t get thirsty so that’s how Kermit the Frog does a Ted Talk…professionally anyway, ha-ha!

As well as his successful career in film and TV, Mike runs an online puppetry course called ‘Secrets of Puppetry’ for those aspiring to get into the field or with any level of interest. It’s the first ever of its kind and starts from the very beginning with the basics all the way into learning the top skills. Presently, Mike has a 60% discount on the Academy so joining the classes costs just $78.80 (just over £60) for lifetime access! If you are interested, click here to read more.

You can also contact Mike for autographs in the absence of conventions by clicking here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Jabba the Hutt puppeteer Toby Philpott by clicking here. Toby had a life of travel and performance before a role in The Dark Crystal lead to him working on the great Jabba the Hutt.

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

TOBY PHILPOTT – HIS STAR WARS STORY

The illustrious Jabba bids you welcome and will gladly tell you his Star Wars story. That’s right, exalted ones, it’s time for a new tale as we delve back into puppetry with everyone’s favourite giant-slug-mobster, Jabba the Hutt!

If you appreciate Jabba the Hutt then you are the right kind of scum for our guest, Toby Philpott. Toby had the honour of puppeteering the main body of Jabba with the equally honourable Dave Barclay. Together Dave and Toby were quite literally Jabba’s right- and left-hand men but as Toby will tell us later, the Jabba Team in its entirety would be the size of a rugby team!

Jabba was a huge character in more ways than one and pivotal in bringing the main characters of the original trilogy back together. From Toby we find that learning to juggle results in jobs on Star Wars, what being inside Jabba was physically like and that you could (probably) get away with hitting Carrie Fisher in the face with a giant tongue…

Thanks for talking us through your Star Wars story, Toby. I’m really excited to hear more about you and your experiences. How are you keeping busy at the moment?

My life hasn’t changed a lot. I’ve been retired more than five years and we moved to the country a year ago which is great for the dogs. Toby’s dogs introduce themselves in the lovely garden setting. I got my first proper job at the age of 51 after being self-employed for 30 plus years and that’s what I retired from. I don’t work in showbiz anymore, but I do go to conventions. I’m missing going to a few different cities, meeting up with friends old and new and having those little adventures.

I’ve read a fantastic list of things you were involved in before The Dark Crystal and Return of the Jedi. Have you always been drawn to performing?

My parents were both teachers and performers, so it was in my family. My mum thought I was going to be an academic but I fell into performing once I dropped out of that. I wanted to be self-employed because to me adults did something that they loved; they didn’t wear a suit and work nine to five.

It all started because I went travelling with a French girlfriend. We were living in a squat in Paris selling jewellery that her friend had made. Then we hitchhiked around America for 18 months and that’s where I learned to juggle. I was living in the town of Bolinas, California and joined a group of what you would probably call hippies. We used to get into concerts for free doing a bit of clowning and juggling. I got a taste for the benefits of performing.

We went to Mexico after that where jewellery wasn’t of much interest, but they loved the performing we were doing and I slowly evolved a street show. When I got back to the UK it was winter in London. I started doing a few classes and a few shows in Covent Garden and Portobello Road, then I was doing kids’ parties and I became a court jester at medieval banquets. I was drawn to performing in that it gave me the freedom to travel and learn anything that might fit into a show.

Sounds like quite an adventure! How did all this end up with you puppeteering Jabba the Hutt?

I fell into the film business. I was training to be a mime when my teacher called me up and asked if I had looked at a trade magazine called “The Stage”. They wanted people to do big creatures for this movie which turned out to be The Dark Crystal. There were not many people ready-made to do big creatures and so they didn’t really know what they wanted. The advert asked for dancers, mimes, acrobats, clowns and people like that.

The audition started with 200 people and it wasn’t a standard one where you stand up and do your thing. Jim Henson and Frank Oz put us in a room 20 at a time with a few gloves, heads, and stuff like that and got us to improvise. If nothing else I thought we were getting a workshop in puppetry from Jim Henson and Frank Oz so I took it kind of lightly. They got us down to the ten they were going to use, and they said four of us would start immediately while they were in pre-production. We were playing aliens who didn’t look like human beings and working in very uncomfortable positions. Some needed three or four people which was unusual; they had moving eyes, ears and so on.

Working together in puppetry you need to synchronize your body movements. The main trick with a puppet is to lose yourself in the puppet. Jim was a magician; Kermit the Frog is basically a sock with two half ping pong balls, and yet, he is alive. People naturally talk to the puppet and not the human being. You don’t have to coach that, and that belief is part of what brings the puppet to life, but also the puppeteer putting in their energy through the puppet.

The way I got the job on Jedi, I didn’t apply for it and I didn’t know it was Star Wars. I got called in by a producer who asked if I would like to do a big creature on their movie and I found out many years later that Dave Barclay got me the job inside Jabba the Hutt.

When you got the Return of the Jedi opportunity was there excitement there? I know you’ve mentioned to me you were not a fan as such…

It’s not that I am not a fan, I just hadn’t seen the first two films at that point. I had heard of them, of course, so the first thing I had to do was find a cinema showing them as a double bill. I came out impressed that I was going to be in the third one and started telling my friends.

The most exciting part was that we were the main character in the scenes and I had never felt before that my movement was so crucial to the scene. Jabba has around 20 minutes of screen time and it revolves around him. We had quite a lot of close ups; Dave was doing the right hand and the mouth with the dialogue in English and I am moving the head around and my arm is inside the tongue as well as moving his left hand. He’s left-handed because the right hand is over the body so I got quite a lot of moves. I got to hit C-3PO, eat the frog, smoke the pipe, grab Bib Fortuna…and they were shot close up on a set of about 100 people on it – no pressure!

One of the reasons I say Jabba is so important is that he draws all the main characters back into one place and then he is killed off because his work is done. Talking to fans at conventions, people love Jabba. He’s bad but not necessarily evil; he’s kind of a pirate comedy villain and not really in the overall battle of good and evil. He’s fun!

That’s true, despite the fact he is essentially a giant slug, he fits the typical characteristics of an Italian mobster!

There’s a bad guy in ‘The Maltese Falcon’ who is a fat jolly soul played by Sydney Greenstreet (Kasper Gutman) and he’s a delightful, mischievous villain. I saw Jabba like that.

They started off humanoid with Jabba then went very sluggish and settled on the appearance he ended up with; there were quite a lot of versions. When Dave Barclay and I first saw him, he already looked great before we started moving him around. When we brought him to life, we tried to give him as much glee as possible because inside he’s so many layers of fibreglass, airbags and rubber. Dave and I were diving around in there to get him to move – quite the experience!

What would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars?

Normally on set you can talk to the other actors but obviously in our role we couldn’t do that. We missed a lot of experiences; I never saw Carrie Fisher in the bikini for example even though she filmed with us.

This is a story I never heard the end of…when Han Solo comes out of the carbonite and the Gamorrean Guards bring Leia over, Jabba sort of wiggles his tongue at her and the tongue really was disgusting. The first take I did it cautiously but I heard over the headphones to push out the tongue further, so I checked they had told Carrie I was going to do it. It seems they didn’t, because they wanted a natural reaction from her. Between takes the guys who made Jabba put this gunk all over the tongue, some mixture of Swarfega and KY Jelly, it was like drool. On the second take I pushed it right out and they said OK do it again but not so much. When I came out, I asked what was wrong with the second take and they said, “Oh, you stuck the tongue in her ear and licked her face”. I never got to ask Carrie Fisher about it; I didn’t know what I had done so someone could have been winding me up…

Is that frustrating? The fact that you will never know if you attacked Carrie Fisher with a tongue…

Yeah, it slows it down to say that it may not have happened. Pranks on films are very common! They said if you want to see what we did yesterday and watch it back you can learn stuff. In Star Wars I didn’t get to see the rushes so I will never know, that’s why it’s my favourite story. If anyone knows the truth about that part of film, write in!

We shall put out an appeal for it!

Well I’ve asked a lot of people at conventions! Carrie Fisher always had a big group of people around her, apart from that she may have reacted angrily to me anyway, ha-ha.

Does it take a lot of endurance to play a part like Jabba the Hutt? I imagine there’s a side to it that’s quite mentally draining…

Yes, it’s physically much harder than you think and with Jabba we were in our street clothes and we weren’t wearing him, we were basically sitting in a little tiny cave. It was normally the two of us flinging ourselves around. Keeping your energy level up through a ten-hour day is just tiring and being ready to go at a moment’s notice.

If you don’t believe me, stick your arm in the air and hold it there for 10 minutes. All the blood will rush down…and then try to move a big head around!

You’ve moved away from the film industry now and you summarised your experience with, “I was just a street juggler who got lucky.” Do you look back on your time in film fondly now?

I tried very hard to not take a steady job. In the last five years there’s been more interest in the other films, especially Labyrinth since Bowie died, and Dark Crystal because of the Netflix show.

Films had been a few lucky years of my life. In 1999 I heard that people were interested in meeting me, 20 years after I’d done the work, but if you got signatures for the whole Jabba crew it would be a rugby team! It was Jabba who got me out and about in the convention circuit so I accept the fact that Star Wars is what impresses people, and I’m proud of Jabba and the team I worked with on that.

With that we that we thank Toby for his time and let him get back to his very excited dogs! You can read more about Toby’s experiences in film at his website by clicking here as well as order autographed items in the absence of conventions.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Admiral Ackbar himself, Tim Rose by clicking here. Tim worked with The Muppets and Jim Henson before his career defining role as Ackbar while also portraying numerous other characters including the mischievous Salacious Crumb.

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