Tag Archives: Chewbacca

Paul Warren – His Star Wars Story

“I like that Wookie,” to quote Maz Kanata, as she pines for good old Chewie. But here’s a question, would Maz have been so keen on our favourite walking carpet if he had followed his original design?

In The Force Awakens we are introduced to a creature named Varmik, a Hassk thug brought to life by our guest, Paul Warren. Varmik is an interesting character as was he was based on 1975 Chewbacca concept art by Ralph McQuarrie.  The legendary status of McQuarrie’s design and illustration work was a motivator for director JJ Abrams to bring Varmik to life in the movie.

Impressive character back story aside, we are here to learn about Paul’s Star Wars story. It’s the usual stuff, doubling as Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix, playing a skinny Captain America, Zombie in World War Z, young Magneto in X-Men: First-Class…

Okay, so it’s not the usual stuff…it’s a great story and one that’s bound to carry Paul on to even bigger things. Anything else? No? Let’s get into it…

Thanks for talking us through your Star Wars story, Paul. How are you keeping at the moment?

Hello! Well, all my work for the year has been cancelled due to corona virus, so it’s been incredibly difficult, as it has been for many people. Having your income and industry wiped out overnight is very surreal.

It’s very stressful for all at the moment! For someone with your experience, in your position how do you de-risk in your career and make sure there are other sources of income?

It’s a good question. As jobbing actors we would normally do other work between film jobs in tough times. Something like bar work or sometimes maybe a signing convention somewhere in the world. That is obviously not an option now. I’m still trying to figure it out, but yes, it’s very tough times for all.

We should get onto some lighter topics… You got into film initially by appearing in Children of Men, which is a seriously underrated film by the way, and doubling for Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter. How did that take you all the way into the Star Wars galaxy?

Children of Men turned out to be a very gruelling yet incredible experience. It was my first film and I had no idea that the very long and cold shooting days were unusually tougher than most films. It was a very technical film, which required everyone to be on their game. It was pretty intense on set, but Alfonso Cuaron is a master filmmaker, so being able to watch him direct everyday was a free film class in itself.

I was on the film for a few months, networking and getting to know people in the industry. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was creating opportunities for my future career. One job just seemed to lead to the next and before I knew it, I was given mostly creature work. The more I did the more I was getting known for it.

And looking at your journey into Star Wars, I noticed you’ve got a very interesting credit to your name. You were also “Skinny Steve Rogers” in Captain America: The First Avenger, is that right? That must have been quite an unusual role to get!

I was one of them, yes. It was very cool to be a small part of a very big visual effect.

The main double was Leander Deeny. I was skinny Steve in the pre-production VFX tests. I was also on set as a visual reference for the recruitment scene, along with Leander, who was the body double for the remainder of the film.

Due to The Force Awakens being the triumphant return of Star Wars, there was obviously a lot of excitement for those involved. Were you a fan of the films yourself growing up?

I was around four when the original film came out. I’ve been a fan of Star Wars pretty much my whole life, so when I got the call to go in and talk with the creature department on The Force Awakens, I almost lost my mind ha-ha!

I get a buzz from the stories hearing about how actors and performers discovered what roles they were going to get in the film, and I can only imagine what that feels like. How did you find out who your character was going to be?

I had no idea who I was playing until Neal Scanlan (Star Wars CFX supervisor) pulled out a Ralph McQuarrie book and was showing me the cantina alien painting from 1975. I’m a massive fan of McQuarrie’s work and I had that picture on my wall at home!  Neal explained that JJ Abrams really loved it and wanted to bring the character to life in the film. So that’s what we did on the day; we tried to bring the painting to life in that steady cam shot into Maz’s castle.

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

The day I was shooting my Varmik movement for the steady cam shot was the day Mark Hamill and Kenny Baker were on set to watch. That was very exciting and nerve-racking! At one-point Mark came over to chat. He was just as lovely as you would hope, and he loves all the alien stuff. He would visit often to geek out. We spoke about how the animatronic head worked, how I was providing the movement and a puppeteer was operating the facial expressions remotely. He was genuinely fascinated by how it all worked.

Mark came to the creature department on the The Last Jedi, too. There is a scene in the documentary ‘The Director and the Jedi’ on the Blu-ray where Peter, one of our creature performer pals, is apologising to Mark for not knowing it was him (Mark Hamill portrayed tiny casino drunk, Dobbu Scay, in The Last Jedi). What you don’t see is that shortly before that, Mark was talking with Peter and I just off the set. Peter hadn’t even realised it was Mark the whole time as he was inside his creature costume and could hardly see or hear a thing! He couldn’t believe it after when I told him it was Mark Hamill. 

How did you feel personally playing Varmik in that scene?

A little bit of everything, actually. Mainly I’m focused on trying to give the director what he wants, to deliver a performance that fits his vision. That’s what my job is essentially. That said, I was smiling a lot inside the creature head throughout most of the shoot.

Varmik must have been a cool character to be given for a fan of the films. He’s based on the original Chewbacca designs and, the crowning glory, he has his own action figure. Do you feel close to the character now?

Varmik was very cool to portray. I had a copy of the 1976 production image it’s based on signed by Ralph McQuarrie on my wall before I worked on Stars Wars. It’s almost as if it was meant to be…

It might sound silly to some people, but one of the things that I feel is a major accomplishment as a creature performer is playing a character that was made into a toy. There is an action figure and a Funko pop currently. I love all that stuff.

Does Star Wars top the other roles you’ve had to date?

It’s definitely going to be a tough one to beat.

When you got called back for The Last Jedi to be a Dowager alien, did returning have a different feel or the same levels of excitement?

I was honoured and flattered that I was asked back to portray another character. It was a slightly different challenge for me this time. I was inside the large creature in my normal clothes, puppeteering her head and movement from the inside.

Daisy Beattie remote puppeteered the creature’s pet pug ‘Gary’ from behind the set with Chris Clarke, who was remote operating the dowager’s face. It was hard work, but a lot of fun working as a team to bring her to life. Meeting Rian Johnson was also a highlight. He’s a lovely guy and a brilliant director.

How do you feel about your experience so far with the Star Wars galaxy and the appreciation you get from Star Wars fans?

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to quite a lot of comic cons. Overall everyone has been so nice. I love travelling around the world and chatting with people about the films. The ones that don’t like The Last Jedi have no problem telling you that, ha-ha! I think The Last Jedi is a masterpiece. I think it’s a beautiful and brilliant film and deserves more love…

Couldn’t agree more, and thanks, Paul, for your time talking to us. 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 Star Wars story of fellow creature performer, Keith De’Winter who featured with Paul as Goss Toowers in The Force Awakens, by clicking here.

Nick Joseph – His Star Wars Story

Rise of Skywalker is here for us amid the lockdown and wraps up the “Skywalker Saga”. It’s fitting then that we have an interview from the film that started it all, A New Hope.

In Rise of Skywalker (Spoiler Alert) our favourite Wookie, Chewbacca, gets a medal to correct one of the biggest issues in the very first film in which he doesn’t get one for his part in the Rebel victory. Nick Joseph, our guest today, is not the reason for that although he did have the role of handling the medals…maybe one was dropped? Maybe someone casually stole one? Is it because Wookies already stand out in a crowd? This is not a website to answer such questions.

However, Their Star Wars Stories does wish to tell the tales of the people involved in the franchise and in that respect, Nick Joseph is indeed the Medal Bearer we are looking for…

Thanks for talking to us, Nick. I’ve been reading up about you and your story after Star Wars is quite interesting, but let’s start at the beginning first. How did you get involved in A New Hope?

My agent at the time contacted me and said would I be interested in a cheap movie called Star Wars, it’s just a two-day shoot, so I said yes, naturally. I went along to interview for the character of the Medal Bearer in Mayfair, London and it was a really quick process. I got the part two days later.

What happened was we did all of the shots in the first couple of days and they called me back for doing the close ups. It was just a two-day job as a start but I kept being called back for more shooting. Looking back it’s funny, at the time when I was hired I didn’t know who George Lucas or Gary Kurtz were and look how well they did.

Since that your character “The Medal Bearer” also got given the name of Major Arhul Hextrophon and was part of one of the most famous scenes in Star Wars. How was it being a part of that?

I feel that I am very fortunate to have got that small part looking back at it all now, and the answer to your next question will go into detail on a very funny behind the scenes story of that scene. The character has had a lot of his own stories now and some fans even made a small movie about him where he is only one of three people to have found Master Yoda due to his role as a historian.

I have a regret about my time on the film, I wished that I had the contract instead of the buyout as payment. They offered us a contract which was a percentage of the movie sales or £600 and I took £600, which was a lot of money back then. I have never ever done that since.

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

Something that may be of interest is that during the medal scene someone farted and not just a small one but so loud that we all cracked up. We had to restart shooting that scene five times because we all cracked every time the doors opened for Han, Luke and Chewie to walk down.

My best memories are working with Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, we had a few funny moments filming that scene. I was speaking to Mark, Mark started smiling, the next thing Carrie threw water over me saying she got her own back because I had mentioned she looked like a throwback from Victorian times. Carrie was a great girl, very funny, witty but you would never turn your back on her as you didn’t know what was coming next.

Oddly, you are not the first interview on this site to say that Carrie Fisher messed with you! Personally, you went on to have a few roles in Doctor Who. Were you drawn to Sci-Fi roles at the time?

I did have a few roles in Doctor Who, with Tom Baker in “The Leisure Hive”, Peter Davison in “Black Orchid” and “Terminus” and with Colin Baker in “The Mark of the Rani”. Tom is the only Doctor I haven’t done a convention with, actually.

I wouldn’t say I was drawn to Sci-Fi but I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I look back at the acting work I did very fondly, and Star Wars and Doctor Who were definitely my biggest roles, but for me Star Wars will always be most important. I just like to do comic cons and conventions now. I was supposed to be in Guatemala actually and had 26 planned throughout the course of this year.

Not exactly a bad couple of acting jobs to say that you had there, Nick, you should be very proud of those roles. I want to go back to what I mentioned at the start…due to the size of your role you lost touch with the Star Wars community. Apparently, you were tracked down by Star Wars and Empire producer Gary Kurtz. What is the story there?

Yes I didn’t know a great deal about the convention scene linked to Star Wars until Gary got in touch and asked if I would like to attend “Empire Day” at Elstree Studios, which is a reunion event for those who worked on it. I went along with very few expectations and oh boy there were so many fans there interested in me, I was so surprised! I must have signed 1,000 photos that day and that was the start of me really loving this convention scene. All I can say is thank you to the Star Wars fans for their enthusiasm and passion.

As the event finished, I saw Gary and I said to him, “How on earth did you find me?” and before he could answer I said, “Well thank you, I’ve loved doing it”.

You are a big hit on the convention scene. How do you feel about attending events like that?

I feel very honoured to be invited to Comic Cons, conventions and private signings. I have travelled the world from the USA to Australia and many countries in between. As you know all events have been cancelled at the moment, which is a huge shame, so I hope we are doing them again in 2021.

Why do you think fans like meeting you?

Fans know exactly what you’ve done better than you know what you’ve done yourself! I love it, you can have a good laugh and a joke with people. I get people contacting me asking where I may be next to purchase autographs and things like that. Fans are the people who keep inviting you; it’s like a big Star Wars family and it’s wonderful.

I saw you have reproduction New Hope medals when you attend conventions. They must be popular?

Just this month I’ve sent them to China and Russia. They are reproductions of the actual medals. A good story related to that; I have a friend called Matt who lives in Brisbane with his family, he went on holiday to Florida to see a friend of his who used to work for Lucasfilm. They were talking and Matt mentioned me and my role. His friend Tony said he knew of me and gave Matt the actual Medal of Yavin given to Han Solo in A New Hope to pass onto me, which is really lovely.

With the unfortunate circumstances that we are in, do you have any updates for fans?

I have nothing in the book now because due to the virus they are all cancelled or delayed. I can’t wait to meet fans again as I enjoy it so much, but anyone interested can get a hold of me on Facebook or my signing shop in the meantime. I’m always happy to hear from the Star Wars community.

Contact Nick directly on Facebook here and in the absence of conventions you can check out his online autograph store here where you can buy a replica “Medal of Yavin”.

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 Star Wars story of Kenneth Coombs, an incredibly experienced actor who had a role as an Imperial Officer in Return of the Jedi. Read more by clicking here.

Nick Maley – His Star Wars Story

I’ve been waiting for you readers; we meet again at last. Star Wars Stories are a wonderful thing with each mention of a character’s name, actions and of course their quotes, but aside from that the saga brings with it visual escapism into worlds that we can only imagine.

Mos Eisley Space Port is a prime example of that. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, as a wise Jedi once said. The creatures were otherworldly but also at the same time had something a little humanoid about them – ever wondered why?

Well who better to ask than Nick Maley, creature creator extraordinaire with some serious heavyweight films to his credit, including not only A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back but Superman and Highlander, too. Nick was part of the team who created the characters of Mos Eisley including Greedo and Ponda Baba, The Wampa, Tauntauns and a certain diminutive green character who is quite famous too. We will get to that.

Nick it’s a real pleasure and as you know I’ve been really keen to talk to you and share your story. Before we get started though it seems you have an alias, do we go for Nick or “That Yoda Guy”?

“That Yoda Guy” is something that came about many years ago when I was first in the Caribbean and even though this doesn’t sound like something you would do, I accidentally ended up with an art gallery!

Boats are kind of a small space when you live on them so my wife Gloria and I took on a little house and it had this funny building out the back which I used as a little studio where I started painting. Eventually a local prestigious hotel asked me to do an art exhibit around the pool for a day. I went and did this event and thought to myself, it may pay for a few Pina Colada’s, and the hotel offered me a space in the lobby to put a full-time gallery. That lead to opening up a gallery adjacent to  the island’s cruise ship dock as it had been made into a duty free zone and someone from the ships told me they do talks about things to do in the local area, saying give me some photos and we can talk about you.

The tourists get off the ship and they can’t remember the name Nick Maley so they were asking “Where’s that Yoda guy?” So to help the tourists we put up a big sign that said “That Yoda Guy” Island Arts and it’s stuck ever since.

For the actors I have spoken to this is an easy question but for yourself this is massive! Let’s try and talk the readers through your involvement in Star Wars special effects and make up…

You know I don’t remember the names of half these characters and the funny thing is they didn’t have these names when we were making them, they were called “Ugly #1 through #5” and things like that. Greedo didn’t even have a name, he was just described as “Alien”. There were five of those, they were called “The Martians” and one of them got picked to be the alien that gets shot. I made Greedo’s tasselled mohawk, and all the worts were made individually because we were sticking them onto a character that had been made for a Birds Eye pea commercial and trying to stop it looking like the alien from that.

I made eyes for most characters in the principle photography on that first shoot. They weren’t going to trust me with anything major as I was the new kid on the block but I got to be involved in little bits on characters. We went off and did Superman and Superman II, did a job for Gene Roddenberry, and then we went back to Star Wars; by that time I was a solid part of the crew.

To look more at the list you worked on, it includes a lot of the Mos Eisley Cantina, The Wampa and Tauntauns. You also contributed to Chewbacca, Snaggletooth, Dr Evazan, Mynocks and Ugnaughts and many more. Initially describing such creatures and physically making them must be pretty tough. What kind of guidance do you get initially on what you are creating? 

We had very little time for the Mos Eisley Cantina; you can’t really measure that time by today’s standards. Stuart Freeborn (Makeup Supervisor), his ideas were very terrestrial so he would say, “Let’s have a character that’s like a crocodile or a bat.” I think the idea of anything off the wall didn’t really register in his imagination. George (Lucas) came in with a drawing he had done in the airport, basically an oval sideways with lots of eyes on it and said, “I thought we could make something like that!” and of course we did, he was looking for out-of-this-world stuff.

Ponda Baba was about the most unearth like one that we did (by Chris Tucker who went on to do Elephant Man). Ponda’s hand was ultimately not used which is a good story. Basically, I made a sucker hand for this character we called “Fly”; these sucker hands got passed around including onto Ponda. You know the story, he has the argument in the scene and his arm gets cut off…I made the arm and they didn’t want it to look like Obi Wan cut it off for no reason, so they put a pistol in his hand so it was implied Obi Wan was going to get shot. They realised this huge sucker hand couldn’t hold a pistol so when they got back to the States they shot it again with a different hand that was hairy, but in all the wide shots he has sucker hands until his arm gets cut off and reveals a hairy hand.

Nick (in the noisy sweater) in 1976 with other make-up techs (left to right) Chris Tucker, Graham Freeborn, Kay freeborn and (sitting) Sylvia Croft

What are your thoughts on being in the team that designed Yoda?

If I could have made only one thing, the backup Yoda that I made for Empire Strikes Back would have to be it because I’ve been living on it ever since. The movies where I was head of department, I wouldn’t have got had it not been for that. Stuart was the mastermind behind all the creatures on Star Wars and he deserves the title of ‘Yoda’s Creator’, also Wendy Midener, she was very influential as she fabricated the bodies, she sculpted the hands, the feet, and Dave Barclay worked on the lip extension too; they are all “Yoda guys”.

While Stu was working on the prototype they wanted a walking Yoda for the shot way off in the distance. Then they wanted a radio controlled Yoda so I worked with radio control specialists Ron Hone and Dennis Lowe and fitted skins and final assembly on that for the one in Luke’s backpack and a backup for the main puppet.

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

The department was in crisis, as was the movie itself, when the main puppet had some hiccups, so they left Yoda as the last thing to be filmed. You’ll see there’s a lot of shots where Luke’s talking but there’s no Yoda in the foreground because Yoda is out being repaired, so Luke’s talking to a stick!

Myself and one of the trainees stayed for three days and three nights building the backup Yoda from bits that were lying around. I sent Bob down to the bicycle shop to buy brake cables, we didn’t have time to order anything; this was just a matter of putting together whatever we could. We worked 60 hours in those three days. I took the puppet down to Wendy who was one of the puppeteers by that time and we were too tired to drive home so we went in the storeroom, laid down and went to sleep. We slept for about 23 hours!

They finished the day’s filming and went through the night; it was seven in the morning and they have rushes (raw footage shooting) at eight in the morning. Normally I wasn’t important enough to go look at the rushes but I knew they were using the puppet we built, so Bob and I slipped into the viewing theatre and there were only five of us in there; George Lucas, the cinematographer and the first assistant, then a couple of rows back there was me and Bob the assistant.

The scene that put chills down my spine was seeing the Yoda we built with his head in the box, throwing stuff over his shoulder. For me, I’d struggled for thirteen years to get into the business, to get enough work, and every job you give 100% to because you don’t know if that little job will be the one that makes a difference to you. In that viewing room, in that moment, I knew that would be the moment that people wouldn’t forget.

That is a story that will take some beating Nick, truly wonderful. Were there any characters where you thought, I’m not sure how this one is going to work?

The truth of the matter is when you start out with a script for any film, you often don’t know how you are going to pull off what is needed. On Highlander we kept on saying, when a head gets cut off you see “The Quickening”, but as an effects guy you read it and you think, what is that? I said to Russell Mulcahy, what is this? He said I don’t know we have to make it up. I pulled in a friend of mine and we put some story boards together and each night Russell would come by and we would explain what we had.

We were going to see this five times, so we wanted to make the drama build in the movie. The first time you see it in the underground car park you don’t actually see what’s going on – I designed it so you see it reflecting in hubcaps and the underneath of cars. The second time we did it so that you see shadows on a wall. To my mind it was all a little Hitchcockian. Each one of those on film was exactly to my storyboards.

Obviously, Star Wars has enabled you to do some great things but now you are on a Caribbean island, Sint Maarten running the “That Yoda Guy” exhibit, what made you come up with that?

As I got older I started to think about how one could retain the memories of the people I worked with while they were still young enough to remember what they did, so I came up with this idea to build a museum that at the same time was a non-profit foundation that would encourage young and old people to follow their dreams, be all they can be and live extraordinary lives.

People would come to see me just as much to talk about Star Wars as to buy a piece of art. Often I’m asked, “How did you get started?” when of course the real question is, “How can they get started,” and so I found I was explaining things over a long period and I discovered through what I was saying that I do have a philosophy on being successful in life.

I’ve faced a lot of negativity when I was trying to get into movies and dealing with effects, and when you try and do something exceptional or something different you will find that people always want to encourage you to get a proper job and do something more normal. When people visit, I was trying to encourage them, give them faith in themselves and help them understand it’s a lot of work. If you want to be lazy then you better set off and get a normal job, as I say in my book, you can’t live an extraordinary life by being normal. All your heroes are abnormal people because normal people accept life and be the same as everyone else, the standards of normality.

Two of the people who worked on Rogue One came through the museum and I gave them advice on how to get connected and how to separate themselves from that crowd. Once you are in, then how do you fit in? When you are around a group of unusual people, you need to be the exceptional one in that group.

Nick’s book, “The Do or Do Not Outlook: 77 Steps to Living an Extraordinary Life” is available online. If you are in the UK you can check it out here and here.

Should you ever find yourself in the small nation of Sint Maarten in the South Caribbean you’ll find yourself with a pretty big Star Wars surprise…if you are interested in visiting the “Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit” you can check out more information on the official website by clicking here

More Star Wars Stories are on the way but until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Thinking of what to read next? Argh! Stormtroopers! Check out our Star Wars story with Alan Austen who portrayed a number of characters in Empire Strikes Back. Read more by clicking here.

This is not the scene from Toy Story…