Tag Archives: George Lucas

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 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.

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.

Tim Rose – His Star Wars Story

Star Wars as a saga has numerous characters who have left lasting impressions on us, the fans. However, there are some you could show to non-Star Wars fans and they would likely recognise them due to the cult fame they achieve. One such character was portrayed by our guest, Tim Rose.

Tim was responsible for bringing Admiral Ackbar to life in Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Tim was also the puppeteer of the awesome Sy Snootles and Salacious Crumb in Return of the Jedi and fellow Mon Calamari, Shollan, in Rogue One. Basically, Tim has left an indelible mark on Star Wars history.

It’s a trap! I waited two paragraphs to write that – it was worth the wait. Yes, Ackbar is also responsible for a very famous internet meme, but as with all interviews on this site this story is about Tim, his journey and how he looks back on it all now. So, on we go to cover The Muppets, Guantanamo Bay torture techniques and disliking your writer’s choices of cosplay…

Welcome Tim!

Right so the long number on my card is…

I won’t start with that; I normally save it for the end! How are you keeping yourself busy during lockdown?

I haven’t really noticed any difference. About 17 years ago I had to move out of London or I’d have ended up in jail for a road rage incident. I moved out to the countryside and bought a Victorian hackney coach driver’s house. It’s got paths through leading to a barn where the old owners would keep the coach and horses, and that’s where I set up my workshop. Lockdown or not my commute is past the raspberries and up to the workshop.

Starting at the very beginning, what was your motivation to get into the Film and TV industry?

I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I started university, I’d enjoyed my art classes and I had done a bit of drawing and writing but I didn’t really know how to apply any of that. At university I started to go to drama classes, and I liked it, but I didn’t enjoy the applause at the end. Anyway, we started doing renaissance fairs and while doing the fairs I decided to do a Punch and Judy show.

I discovered that with puppetry I could sculpt; I could write scripts; I could draw and perform. I could do all the things that I loved without giving anything up, so from that point I stuck with the puppets. The main guy on our TV sets at the time was Jim Henson and The Muppets Show. I used to sit in front of the screen and work out how he was doing it. After a year or so when I left university, I managed to get a job with Jim, which is why I’m in England now because this is where Jim did all of his work.

I suppose there is no avoiding that Star Wars has been a massive part of your life, but when you first got into it how did you feel at that point in your career?

I’d been working with The Muppets and I already knew George Lucas because he was always coming around to see what Jim was up to. What I actually loved the most was starting from a design concept and carrying it on all the way through to performance with the actual creature that I’d built myself. The only two places to do that were The Muppets or Industrial Light & Magic or Lucasfilm. When I got a job at Lucasfilm, I was very happy because I’d worked at the two best places to do what I wanted to do.

Going straight to the two companies that were ideal for you is quite something! Is it something that came naturally to you?

Although I have a university degree, I got my job because of what my father taught me when I was playing on his workshop floor. My dad was into models and radio-controlled airplanes and so I always knew about building things from scratch.

I always joke that if you were to put a label on me, which in school they try to do, I would have been labelled dyslexic. When it came to being a designer, my brain shot off in five directions at once and I actually came up with a lot of really original ideas because I was putting things together in a way no one had ever thought of before. Was being dyslexic a problem or was it an asset? Ultimately, I think it was quite a good asset!

When I worked on The Muppets they were starting to develop the robot side of the puppets to make them more technical. It always amuses me that everyone knows the word animatronics, but do you know where the word came from? I do not. Jim was American but did all of his work in Britain and at the time the film industry was going through a bit of a nosedive, yet they didn’t want anyone coming in taking their jobs from abroad. Jim was told that what he needed to do was give them a job title that doesn’t exist in England, so they called us ‘Animatronics Designers’ and we didn’t displace anyone because no one had that title in the UK…because we made the name up! It was a title that needed to be made though.

What would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars, the one you look back on most fondly yourself?

I was just the right age that when the very first Star Wars movie came out, me and my buddies were teenagers. We would sit in the back of the cinema and pretend to fly X-Wings. We watched it over and over again. Two movies later, I’m saying good morning to Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, walking past the Millennium Falcon to go into my own spaceship – every day of it was fabulous. I don’t have a favourite story. I enjoyed the entire process from beginning to end.

That’s still a good answer! I think if I were in your shoes it would be hard to choose one story…

What is fabulous about movies that you’ve worked on is that when you watch a scene, you don’t just see that scene in front of you. Your mind can see the camera guy, the sound guy, the lighting guy, the boom operator and you know it brings back the memory of the whole situation and the experience, not just that bit of film footage. It’s a really nice special thing about being on movies.

You’ve featured in the original trilogy and the new trilogy. For you, was there a different feel when you returned as Admiral Ackbar?

Entirely different! I wasn’t alone but I was heavily involved in creating the original Admiral Ackbar. There were two versions of him. There was the full body suit and a hand puppet head. Servos hadn’t gotten small enough, and because we hadn’t fully utilized how to use them a lot of the full body suits had cable-controlled heads, which is what Ackbar’s head was. With a person in there it doesn’t leave a lot of room for the mechanics, so I built a second version which was a hand puppet where I puppeteer the mouth and that left room in the rest of the head for the eyes to move. It allowed you to have a more animated character.

In the new movies I’ve got my carbon fibre helmet on, I’ve got 38 servos around my head, all chirping like budgies, and I don’t have full control of the performance anymore. I was much more personally involved in the original one.

You of course were the puppeteer for Sy Snootles and Salacious Crumb also. Did you prefer the puppeteering side of it? Or does a character’s performance come through no matter how you are performing it?

I was at a convention in Australia. We had finished filming The Force Awakens but it hadn’t come out yet. I couldn’t talk about it even though everyone wanted to, so I decided to talk about what it’s like being in a full body suit costume. I realised what we put up with was not dissimilar to the torture techniques used at Guantanamo Bay, ha-ha. When you start sweating in there it’s a bit like waterboarding because the scrim in front of your face gets blocked with sweat; you get full-on sensory deprivation and your whole body goes over 100 degrees…

You are making it sound very appealing!

What’s enjoyable is creating the character and seeing what you’ve created. From that aspect, Salacious Crumb was much more enjoyable as he was just a hand puppet. I could put him on and just walk around and entertain the crew with him, ad-lib and joke.

Puppets introduce me to parts of myself I didn’t know existed. I’ve always considered myself to be quite a nice guy but Salacious was a right little bastard and when I had him on, I became a right little bastard too, ha-ha. I guess you, Mr Dressed-In-The-Carbon-Outfit, know the story with Harrison Ford? I do indeed. That took place when the carbonite scene was going on and so the second I saw you in that photo I thought, “That’s it I’m not doing this.” Ha-ha! I still react quite strongly to seeing any references to the carbonite scene.

I’ll make sure I don’t trigger any bad memories! Ackbar was voiced by Erik Bauersfeld, who sadly is no longer with us. When you are acting as a character with a different voice, do you work together much, or are they separate processes?

With Jim Henson, the two most crucial things for the life of any character were good eye focus and spot on mouth syncing. If you heard that character talking you had to believe those words were coming out of his mouth.

I found out from Mark Dobson, who did Salacious, and Erik, who did Ackbar, that neither of them were shown my performance when they did their voiceovers. When Ackbar says “It’s a trap!” his mouth isn’t in sync with the words even though when I did it, it was spot on.

Most people don’t notice. I was trying to sound like a man in his fifties but I obviously wasn’t at the time. It needed that final bit, the mature voice to sell the character. What I love about the puppet characters is not one of them is done by a single character; they are all a group effort to create something that’s better than the sum of the parts.

Do you look back on playing the character fondly now?

From a convention point of view, one of the big things for guys like David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) is they’ve always had to contend with that they weren’t the only guy to wear the costume. As time has gone on, at least I can say I was the only person to play Admiral Ackbar.

That’s true, there can’t be many people who can claim they are the only character in those suits…

I said to fans at the time, they are going to want a younger guy who can do it not an old man who needs to go for a pee. That actually did happen in Rogue One…I was Shollan in that one. We had gone for six hours solid without a pause break, and my character held up his claw and said, “I’m sorry but the old man has to pee,” and at that point we got a break.

I have BB8 to thank for coming back as Ackbar. The person doing BB8 was Brian Herring and we first worked together on Spitting Image in the 80s. When they were doing The Force Awakens he was in charge of getting the performers for the characters and he kindly said, “Tim’s not dead yet, he should do Ackbar.” I was at a convention in Australia and he asked me to sign something so I could talk to him. It was an NDA from Disney and he asked if I wanted to be Ackbar again and I said, “Of course I do!”

The next thing I did was pump up the tyres on my bike because as I’ve already said…full body suits. At my age you could die in there, ha-ha!

I’ve seen you at a couple of conventions and you seem to still get a lot of joy from meeting the fans. Does it bother you to be known for Star Wars, or is it something that you still get enjoyment from?

It just shows what a good actor I am, ha-ha. That’s not true!

I hit my mid-life crisis…why didn’t I listen to my mother and become an architect instead of running away to the circus and all that. CG was coming in and work was getting less and less. It was really when I started doing the conventions and meeting all the people that we had quite an amazing long-term effect on that I fully appreciated that I hadn’t been wasting my time after all. I’ve gotten to go to so many parts of the world. I used to travel all over the world making the movies. Now I travel all over the world talking about them…

You can check out more of Tim’s stories on his official website as well as purchase official autographs by clicking this link.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Chris Parsons aka Bounty Hunter 4-LOM by clicking here. As well as portraying the Bounty Hunter, Chris also doubled for C-3PO!

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

Mark Austin – His Star Wars Story

Writing Star Wars Stories we often get to hear some terrific tales, definitely not ones you’d simply store away in the cargo hold. Mark Austin’s story of working in very successful commercials lead to a dream job working on the visual effects of the Star Wars Special Editions.

Mark continues to be successful working in film. He’s worked on a few other films you may have heard of such as Avengers Assemble, Oblivion, Thor: The Dark World and a whole lot more. Did I mention this wonderful journey involved one very cool acting role? Mark portrayed everyone’s favourite Bounty Hunter, Boba Fett (You haven’t got the title yet Din Djarin!)

Shall we just get on with the story? As you wish…

Great to speak to you, Mark. The majority of your credits are Visual Effects on some huge films and Star Wars is one of your earliest jobs, so tell us how all of it began for you?

I started off in commercials for five years. I used to make the Tetley Tea Bag commercials for the round bags in the UK and Ribena was the other big one up to the point where I went to America in 1994.

The company I was working for declared bankruptcy and I thought that was the best job I could ever get in the world. I was unemployed for the first time ever. Then I got the offer to head to America. I had never been out of a job before but a friend of mine told me they were looking for animators at ILM. I was a bit apprehensive because I thought that meant computer animation, which wasn’t my strong point, but they wanted traditional animators. Long story short I got an 18-month gig working on Casper and it was on the job for Casper that all the Star Wars stuff started.

Before Casper came out all this stuff with Boba Fett happened. Everyone thinks that it was when I was working on A New Hope Special Edition doing the animation and the effects. I had to go and ask for the day off and I did the blue screen shoot during Casper production. It all came about because of some summits at Skywalker Ranch where I jumped in the Boba Fett suit a few times and I became known as the guy who fit the suit that was on hand, and everything just worked out.

In the morning was the first shot walking on – get to your mark, make sure no one’s going to trouble your boss Jabba the Hutt – and the afternoon was a bit more complicated as I had to look at where Han Solo’s eye line would have been. They put some tape where he would have been on the Millennium Falcon ramp for me to focus on. For the final sweep end of shot I had to look like this [Mark looks diagonally] but the T-Visor on Boba’s helmet is looking straight on. No one said anything to me about that but George Lucas came down and picked the shot where the helmet is facing the camera. I thought well if he likes it then I like it!

People always ask me “Why are you looking at the camera?” and the truth is you can’t see my eyes, but I’m not looking at the camera.

You’d been successful already by this point, made some great commercials, worked on Casper and now you are Boba Fett in the Special Edition. Did you feel like you’d made it at that point?

I was happy at the end of my career in commercials, a whole country knows my work and I thought I’d made it then. When I got to wear the actual suit for the summit I thought that was the highest it could get, then I wore it a second time and then for the blue screen shoot, and I’m constantly thinking it can’t get better than this. I went on to do visual effects on Avengers, X-Men: Days of Future Past happened, then Oblivion happened and it still goes up and up now that I work for Netflix. I could die right now and feel like I had more than my fair share of good fortune in my life.

I’ve read the Ronto and Jawa story on your website (enjoy finding it readers!). Is that a normal day in the life of someone in visual effects?

That whole snowball effect where an idea gets momentum is normal in visual effects. Most of the time it goes off course, you do the shot and it comes full circle. In that case it just went to the extreme and I don’t know how it ended up in the movie. I finished the job, left for Disney, but heard they were still changing stuff.

A normal day for someone in visual effects?

Personally, what would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars either in front of the camera or behind it?

The time I choked up, I did a shot for A New Hope and very quickly it became like I was just doing the background stuff. George Lucas had this scene he wanted adding in involving a Stormtrooper dismounting from a Dewback and the producer asked if we needed to shoot it with blue screen, but I said no, I can animate that.

I got the producer and I said you can be my stunt man, climb up this step ladder, hang off it and jump off and I’ll make it a Stormtrooper and a Dewback instead of you and a step ladder.

We showed that to Lucas and he asked “How did you get that footage? No way is that animated.” We said it was animated and he was really shocked. That was my crowning achievement.

I thought that your story may be something like that rather than playing Boba Fett. There are an awful lot more people who can say they wear Mandalorian armour now, but for yourself is that something you are quite happy to be known for?

Boba Fett was the one character I could relate to. When I watched the first Star Wars film I was obsessed with Stormtroopers, their uniform and all that. Then I saw The Empire Strikes Back and it was time for the Stormtroopers to move along and it was all about Boba Fett.

The whole reason I got picked to do the summits which lead to the movie part is that the guy who does the archives (Don Bies) knew I was the biggest Boba Fett nerd. His name for Star Wars nutters like me was “Squid Heads” and he said I was a Squid Head for Boba Fett.

With that came an obsession with Jeremy Bulloch, Dickey Beer, John Morton, Jason Wingreen and all the guys who played him. I never met any of them until 2015 where I did an interview with Aaron Proctor for the Boba Fett Fan Club and since then we’ve kept in contact. I was just talking to Daniel Logan [Boba Fett, Attack of the Clones] and Don Bies who ran the archives last week, too. Daniel Logan is terrible for calling at the worst time – he is calling me right now!

Boba Fett’s interesting as he’s got such limited screen time in the films, yet he maintains huge popularity. My brothers are huge fans. What do you make of the development of Boba Fett now and how he’s the catalyst for creating a show like The Mandalorian? How does he captivate so many people?

That’s the fascinating part; everyone’s stories on this are interesting. When Boba came along in 1979 before the film came out with the Palitoy mail-away figure offer, he was a big draw with all his gadgets and armour. The reason Boba doesn’t have much screen time was that this nobody character was stealing all the fandom. He was competing with the major heroes for popularity.

For me personally, I was a big spaghetti western fan. I loved The Man with No Name and the Trinity collection of films. I have always been a big fan of English knights in armour, Spartan helmets and all that stuff, so Boba Fett took all of that and put it together.

When I did the blue screen shoot nobody really knew that I did it. People I worked with did, obviously, but even some of my family didn’t know. Last year I had a friend of my mum’s who asked me what my obsession with Boba Fett is and I hadn’t told her. I didn’t want to be that guy going around telling everyone I played him; I rely on my other friends to tell them.

How did the fan films, No Disintegrations, come about?

Aaron Proctor from the Fan Club was one of the first people to approach me. He did the digging and found out who I was. He was saying about this animated series he had with Boba Fett recording a personal log. He asked if I would be interested in doing a live action version which I agreed to so long as it’s not too serious. Boba Fett is a one sentence guy, you know!

We were originally going to do four and then we ended up making 22. We are thinking of doing a few more for a second series, maybe cater to The Mandalorian audience a bit.

I’ve had a trawl through your Twitter and despite the huge films you’ve worked on and working for Netflix now, Star Wars features heavily. Why is that?

Star Wars came at a time in my life when my life was a bit upside down. A lot was going on at home so I escaped into that galaxy and made it a safe haven. I owe George Lucas big time for that. I never got a chance to tell him as you don’t have the opportunity to say things like that.

I still identify with Rogue One and The Mandalorian as they are set in the same time period. I struggle with the other new films a bit. Stormtroopers for example, had they not changed it for the new movies I would have identified with them a lot more.

I passed up a huge opportunity on the prequels as Animation Director. Disney were making a lot of counter offers and I knew from my friends they were getting “Artistic Development” training and I was talking to ILM and explained I wanted to grow as an artist. I often wondered what would have happened had I not left but I didn’t feel I was strong enough at that point in time.

You mentioned you are working for Netflix now, so what’s next for you?

Netflix had the foresight to see Disney Plus coming so there are probably over 40 movies in development right now. I’m working on an animated movie…that’s about all I can say ha-ha!

Read more about Mark’s journey in cinema on his website here and enjoy finding his hidden Ronto and Jawa story! Check out the Boba Fett YouTube shorts “No Disintegrations” 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 the Star Wars story of everyone’s favourite medal bearer, Nick Joseph. Read more 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…

Keith De’Winter – His Star Wars Story

We meet again at last readers! We return for the next Rancor-size helping of knowledge from our galaxy far, far, away.

We started with a guest from the beginning of the Star Wars saga so it’s completely logical that we now jump to the final trilogy and a guest who is quite literally a Tour De’Force Awakens.

Our guest is a creature performer who has one of the most fabulous journeys into Star Wars that you may ever read. He’s been forever immortalised as an action figure for his role as Resistance technician Goss Toowers in The Force Awakens, and shamefully not made into an action figure for The Last Jedi roles as hotel-concierge-casino-dweller Terrib Igmusk and an Ahch-To’ Caretaker.

Welcome to the Star Wars story of Keith De’Winter! Sadly, Keith’s story relies on not spoiling much of it in this introduction but (Spoiler alert!) we should probably start with a super dee-duper dinosaur named Barney…

Keith, thanks so much for spending time with us, you said your journey into Star Wars is an unusual one, can you share it with us?

Well this is how I got involved in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this is my Directors Version! Do you remember Barney the Dinosaur? [Your interviewer excitedly nods] I got the gig to do a Barney the Dinosaur show in Saudi Arabia and completed the contract stage but unfortunately it hit problems and was cancelled.

That year went by and my agent asked me to do it again the following year and it turned out the choreographer for the show was Paul Kasey (Multiple Doctor Who and Star Wars roles) and I’m just in awe. I remember at one point he said to me in passing, “Well you know what it’s like to work on Doctor Who don’t you?” and I said “I’ve never worked on Doctor Who.” He complimented me saying I was really good and we moved on.

Anyway, I got home from that and time passed, my agent was based in Pinewood studios for a while and said casting had been in and they are interested in me to play a creature. She couldn’t tell me what film but asked me if I was interested, I quickly answered yes.

At the time I knew it was Star Wars as that was the only big film about to go into Production but that was it. I got taken to Pinewood after a few months’ wait and I was in this reception area surrounded by all these posters and I’m still wondering what the audition is going to be! I’m sat there and I hear a recognisable voice, Simon Pegg (Unkar Plutt in The Force Awakens) is walking by and I’m trying to be dead cool about it, eventually I’m taken through to the creature department.

Brian (Herring, BB-8 puppeteer) asks if I have ever had a head cast done before, I said no and before I know it I’ve got Nivea cream all over my face, they are putting all this gunk all over me and they say if anything is uncomfortable thumbs down otherwise thumbs up and I thought to myself, this thumb is never going down!

I then met Luke Fisher, a talented concept designer who shows me all these drawings, he explained this creature was someone who fuelled the Millennium Falcon and X-Wings and I’m thinking “this is great, but I don’t know what he’s showing me all this for!” and I still don’t know what this audition is going to be but I really want this! I then have more pictures done where I’m holding a mask of this creature that Luke had shown me, Goss, then Brian comes to me and takes me to see Neil Scanlan.

“That creature” in action fixing up an X-Wing

Just before we got in the lift Brian turns to me and says, “Welcome to Star Wars”.

“Am I playing that creature?” I said and he replied “When you come recommended of course we want you on board” and it turns out from the Barney the Dinosaur role, Paul Kasey had recommended me, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I went upstairs and I see people putting hair into Chewbacca’s costume, I see a box with a droid in it that they tell me is “the next big thing” and they tell me they will be in touch for fittings and I went to my car, sat down and I screamed my head off I think.

Were you a fan of Star Wars before all this then?

Absolutely massive fan, Han Solo was my hero and I went to see Star Wars with my mates when we were kids and we didn’t know much about it at the time but we came out of it and we played Star Wars, each of us as different characters.

As everyone knows now George Lucas originally said it was going to be a nine-film story and to be sat here having been in it is just amazing, I still pinch myself.

An amazing journey especially with the passion you have! I know that you’ve been successful, otherwise I wouldn’t be sat here, but listening to you the whole time you were telling that story I was thinking, “I hope he gets the job at the end!” I’m glad you did! From your perspective, what is your best story from working on Star Wars?

I got to not just meet Carrie Fisher but my first day on set was filming with Carrie and my last day was with her too. It’s great how much of it was practical sets and not computerised, there’s obviously some green screen but to have practical sets was amazing. Carrie Fisher’s at one end playing her part and I’m in the background programming a droid.

Behind the scenes look at the Ahch-To’ Caretakers

Anyway, during rehearsals Neil (Scanlan) told us we had a special guest watching us and I thought to myself it didn’t really matter, I couldn’t see anything out of Goss’s head! It was Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), I could hear him, but I couldn’t see him and when my head was taken off Anthony was looking straight at me. He came over, shook my hand and said, “That was marvellous!” C-3PO said I was marvellous…

On our first day of rehearsing we were told that Harrison Ford had broken his leg and so we had to delay certain scenes. We obviously had a bit of a break due to Harrison’s injury so when we came back a couple of months later it was to shoot the external sets, as Harrison was there too, and that’s when I saw the Millennium Falcon for the first time and that was a spectacle to see. My job was repairs on the aircraft, the first appearance of Goss Toowers is when the Millennium Falcon lands, and I have a little fuel canister to refuel it.

During my breaks from filming I could watch via a monitor and headset. I had the beauty of watching the others perform and it was lovely seeing Carrie and Harrison together, the chemistry they had it was amazing. I will always revert to The Force Awakens when I think about Star Wars, playing a character that’s now very dear to me, plus I’ve made so many wonderful friends.

What a brilliant story! Important matters now though Keith as we need to discuss action figure versions of you. Goss Toowers is an action figure, does that excite you and how many of those do you own?

It’s amazing, I’ve got a whole bedroom full of them! No, it’s hard to get hold of them now, I picked up four of them that I have at home. I have one that is dear to me that my daughter bought for me and she also gave me the Lego figure which you couldn’t get unless you bought the Poe Dameron set, those are special.

I’ve always wanted to ask, are you gifted the figures, or do you need to go and purchase yourself as yourself?

I’m sick and tired of the gifts I get sent! No sadly I had to get them myself, I don’t expect that to be honest.

Terrib Igmusk, we haven’t mentioned him very much but he’s the character you play in The Last Jedi and seems to not have an action figure! Should we start a campaign for that?

No, he doesn’t, I think you need to start the campaign right now! The male Ahch-To’ Caretakers I played don’t have a figure either actually. There’s a POP figure but that’s a female but fans still want you to sign them, but my ‘Salty Old Seadog’ isn’t available, maybe one day…

Terrib Igmusk, contemplating his lack of action figure between takes

Challenge accepted; your campaign is coming! What are your hopes for the future in this galaxy far, far away?

I would love to be a part of any Star Wars projects coming up obviously. The Mandalorian looks beautifully shot. I’d love to be a part of anything and you have to make sure that you don’t take it personally if you don’t get called up. I didn’t get the opportunity to be in Rise of Skywalker but there was a focus on the core characters in that film. Anyway, I get enjoyment from watching my Star Wars friends in these things now too!

On that wonderful note, we say goodbye to Keith 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, Katy Kartwheel who performed as Rio in Solo: A Star Wars Story by clicking here.

Andrew Lawden – His Star Wars Story

Greetings exalted ones and thanks for reading our very first Star Wars story. The whole idea for this came from a Comic Con where I met Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and wished I could have chatted to him about a few of his best stories, feel free to read more on that by clicking here.

A great idea kid, some may say, but I won’t get cocky…where better to start than right at the beginning of the Star Wars film saga, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

Our first story is from a Naboo Royal Guard but more famously he has a place in history as part of one of the best lightsaber fights in Star Wars, the “Duel of Fates”, where he stood in for Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn against Ray Park’s Darth Maul. Spoiler alert, he fought the Maul and the Maul won (but then Obi Wan won so it’s all fine), our first guest is Andrew Lawden.

Andrew has numerous stage and screen roles to his name including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Ghostbusters 2 and most recently in Batman’s butler prequel Pennyworth but with Star Wars he has been able to forge an interesting side business known as “Jedi Fight Academy” where he trains future Jedi in their lightsaber skills at conventions and some more left field events.

Frankly, there’s a lot to get through, so what say we dive right in with the man himself! Andrew, thanks for agreeing to tell us your Star Wars stories, let’s start by just going through your personal involvement in the Star Wars franchise…

My involvement in Star Wars all came from working on Episode 1 and recently we celebrated 20 years since it was released. I was originally cast as a Naboo Royal Guard having sent a very cheeky letter to the casting people where I was enquiring about being a young Darth Vader, it being the prequel trilogy. They got back to me and said, “Yes he is a young man but we are starting off playing him as a child” but they said they would like to see me anyway.

After the interview process they originally offered me one of the Jedi Council members, an alien and I said no because at the time I didn’t want to spend 2 or 3 hours of the day in makeup. Back then creature acting wasn’t as revered as a skill or form of acting as it is now so they offered me a role as a Royal Guard but after a couple of days on set I was asked to be a stand in double for Qui-Gon Jinn, I ended up doing more as a stand in for Liam (Neeson) than the role I was originally hired for.

Naboo Royal Guard are neglected heroes of the original trilogy and don’t really pop up in other films, we were only really around for two or three weeks of filming and the battle scenes were done with very few actors and green screen. The great thing of all though was that I got to work with (George) Lucas.

The bit where Ewan McGregor has the speech over Qui-Gon’s body as he’s dying, the reverse shot when Darth Maul kills Qui Gon, both of those are me. Those were interesting scenes to shoot, they took about three hours and I wasn’t allowed to move once I was down so I had people from make-up and hair and various people feeding me bottles of water but that’s the job, a very underrated job but a fulfilling job!

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

There’s too many good things that happened! There was a very funny scene we shot one day where there is an attack in the palace and we did this long shot where Qui-Gon and Obi Wan go through this door and Queen Amidala follows with a couple of Naboo soldiers. We’d shot this scene a week previously where I was one of the soldiers following the Queen but there was a pick up shot where I was Qui-Gon so the funniest thing is in the real scene I enter and then I end up chasing myself through this door! Star Wars is full of weird stuff like that!

I was on and off the film for around 18 months and we were still shooting bits up until March 1999. There was a ceremonial scene that they did at the end of the film where they didn’t have the right amount of people for the shot, obviously a lot of CGI but they needed real people. It was the only time I changed costume in the film, I’d spent most of my time in the purple suit and jacket, blue breast plate and peaked cap like Captain Panaka but they wanted me in the brown and mustard yellow outfit with the peaked cap. The resulting line-up was hilarious, you’ve got the third Assistant Director, make up and dressers because they didn’t have enough people so you can imagine how funny it was standing next to the person who dressed you on and off for 18 months.

Was there a particular person be it actor/production/crew who created a big impression on you?

Qui-Gon GIN! Make it a thing Andrew

Apart from George (Lucas) of course, he loves and adores this world, the amount of detail in his head is phenomenal but there’s loads of it, literally loads of it! I’ll just go get some water [Andrew shows his water], lovely midichlorian free water! In fact I’m experimenting, you have an exclusive this is JEDI GIN, I just bought a gin making kit and thought I’d give it a go as a laugh so I thought I’d experiment with blue food colouring [Andrew shows his blue gin] and a friend of mine said I should experiment with green and call it Qui-Gon Gin!

Back to the question, there was this really good Assistant Director on it called Nick Hextall-Smith who went onto do the Indiana Jones chronicles, he handled a lot of the second unit stuff and a lot of the stuff I was doing. It was interesting to flick between the two of them.

Does working on Star Wars make you want to continue working in that genre or branch out more?

I have gone off and done lots of theatre, TV, film but I would love the chance to come back into Star Wars somehow. I was hoping I would get used in the new films, but I haven’t as yet. In the world of Star Wars they kind of know what you do, going forward they have things like The Mandalorian and Obi Wan and I’d like to get involved in those if possible as well as the animation and games.

I see you have Pennyworth going on, that must be an interesting project what is that like to work on?

That’s out now, I’ve seen it. It was all shot in the UK but American funded so there’s some time differences in when you can watch it. As it stands the new scripts are being written and they are looking to cast this year, they may have to wait for shooting. I didn’t get killed! I play Alfred Pennyworth’s Sergeant Major in flashback sequences so it would be very easy for me to come back. My impression was that the flashbacks were great for explaining Alfred’s life and why he does what he does. It’s very dark, grim and brutal, certainly not family viewing.

You run “Jedi Fight Academy” so to finish up would you say that is part of the lasting effect Star Wars has had on you?

I was at an event in Germany where a guy was in cosplay as Darth Maul with his double-bladed lightsaber and he knew the fight’s choreography. The organizers asked if they could film that part, I could remember a bit of it and we did it and it ended up on YouTube and other events asked if that would be something I could do.

There was nobody who had been part of a Star Wars film before, teaching classes. It works out at a 30-minute class where I can teach people the basics that we were shown from the film and that became the first version of the fight academy. I became a two in one guest in that respect, last year alone I’ve done it in Portugal, America and all over the UK and even been into large businesses and done this as a team building exercise, parties, weddings and it’s kind of grown just because I am the only Star Wars actor teaching this class.

I don’t see it as a business as such, [Andrew shows off various lightsabers] it’s one of those lovely things that came about by accident and took off.

With a wave of a lightsaber, we bid our first guest Andrew a farewell but check back soon as we’ll have more Star Wars stories, don’t forget to share your thoughts on this with us and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Another interview awaits you with Miltos Yerolemou famed for his swordsmanship in Game of Thrones as Syrio Forel and for a short part in The Force Awakens. Read more by clicking here.