Tag Archives: JJ Abrams

Paul Warren – His Star Wars Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you feel personally playing Varmik in that scene?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Couldn’t agree more, and thanks, Paul, for your time talking to us. Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

Miltos Yerolemou – His Star Wars Story

What do we say to the God of Death? We’ll figure it out, we’ll use Force! Wait, that’s not how the Force works…

You are not reading wrongly folks, we have ourselves a real crossover in this Star Wars Story as we are joined by Syrio Forel, Jedi to Arya Stark, the Padawan in Game of Thrones, and part of the Maz Kanata scene in The Force Awakens that jumps us straight into a whole new bunch of weird and wonderful characters in the sequel trilogy.

Miltos Yerolemou shot to fame in Game of Thrones Season 1 as master swordfighter Syrio Forel before joining Star Wars for a part that was sadly cut down quite a lot, but awesome nonetheless. Miltos joins us to go through his Star Wars Story as we chat through talking to droids, being wowed by animatronics and yes of course, Mr Syrio Forel because we shouldn’t forget, the First Sword of Braavos does not run!

Welcome Miltos, delighted to speak to you! I am keen to talk to you about Star Wars obviously but there’s a show you were involved in that it would be silly of me to not talk about. Are you happy about the legendary status Syrio Forel has achieved with Game of Thrones fans?

Always much better to play people cooler than yourself! There’s no doubt about it that the people who taught Arya Stark are the ones who are influential to her story, being there right at the beginning feels really good.

We had no idea what that show was going to be when we were filming that first season. We knew HBO was making it and that had such a fantastic reputation to make really good work, but most of us in that first season hadn’t read the books yet so I went to Waterstones to buy it ahead of my audition as I wanted to take it seriously. My first introduction to seeing how big it may be was seeing it was number one in the fantasy and science fiction section.

It was such a long audition process and I think they kind of saw every actor in the UK! Of course, as an actor you feel proud. A lot of the time you do a lot of stuff that no one will end up caring about but suddenly when you do something that excites people, you see its lasting legacy and its effect on the fans; that makes you feel very proud.

Miltos, alive in Star Wars, not so alive in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones almost has as many fan theories as Star Wars and there’s a lot regarding the fact that you aren’t even dead. So Miltos, let’s clear it up, are you dead?

I’m pretty sure I’m dead, as dead as the dead characters in Star Wars! I always talk about Syrio in an over-blown way. I see him like Obi-Wan Kenobi in that he started the protagonist’s story off and they carry on following the path that you set them out on.

The ambiguity of what happened with Syrio Forel was really deliberate. I spoke to George R.R. Martin about it and the echo of the teaching where she says the lines over and over again in the books, that teaching is very similar to Obi Wan and his lasting presence with Luke Skywalker.

Well that sets us up to talk about Star Wars quite well! Following Game of Thrones, along came a part in The Force Awakens. How did that happen for you?

Nina Gold was casting it and she did the casting for Game of Thrones. I was in America at the time touring Midsummer Night’s Dream and my agent called up and said Nina had sent my tape off to J.J. Abrams because he was looking for character actors to play space pirates.

I didn’t really audition to be honest, but it was two weeks at Pinewood – that was all I knew. It was done under incredible secrecy, sitting in a trailer with your name and a made-up character name, no scripts and going having your costume fitting. Initially it was exciting but after a couple of weeks it was so frustrating and you are thinking, “What on earth am I going to be doing?” and no one told you until you showed up to do your shooting.

When you get to see the design of your character that is just the best day. You’ve been sat with this idea of being involved in something without knowing anything about it and then you know what you are going to look like at the very least. You are looked at like a mannequin, this character has orange plasters on his fingers and across his nose, and he’s got this tube going up his nose, and I remember being told, “We don’t have to do the tube up the nose,” and I said, “Are you kidding? That’s the best thing about the design!”

Your character was called “Bar Patron” which is very unusual in Star Wars to not get a complicated alien name; he should have a name! Did he get one?

They probably saw the rushes and wondered who the hell I was! I’m not sure why he never got a name to be honest.

You probably remember a really big monster (Grummgar). A gangster kind of dude who was an animatronic creation and the whole scene was supposed to be that I would have a fight with him; I was going to ask for my money and he was going to have a go at me.

In the end we ran out of time to do it and it never got shot the way J.J. wanted to shoot it. There’s a very brief scene of me trying to have an argument with him as Finn (John Boyega) is leaving, and that’s the only bit we got of it. We were running out of time and of course we weren’t the principal part of the story at that point. J.J. wanted us involved and we were not supposed to be extras, we were supposed to be there playing characters, so he was really frustrated that we ran out of time.

That scene needs to turn up in The Mandalorian or Obi Wan or something! What would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars?

J.J. told me he wanted me to stand in front of this gangster and I hadn’t seen this animatronic monster before. J.J. said, “You say something and he says something…in fact he’s not going to say anything at all because we are going to dub it later.” There are three guys inside operating it so we didn’t rehearse it.

I hadn’t even seen it move I just thought it was going to be still but then “Action” is called and it starts picking up a glass of brandy to drink it and gargling away. I’m staring at it going, “Oh my god, that’s amazing!” and then I hear “Cut, cut, cut…you are supposed to be having an argument can you do something quite demonstrative” and I said, “I just hadn’t seen it before, that’s amazing,” to which he says, “Yeah, yeah yeah…I know, let’s do it again.” It was all so rushed!

Every time the animatronic paused and it was time to start it would just start moving again. It was one of those ridiculous moments where you realise why acting is difficult with monsters.

Miltos vs Grummgar, the fight we never knew we needed

It was really great being on set. You’ve got people inside tiny droids, practical animatronics, the whole bar was built with hundreds of people in there. I couldn’t tell what droids had people in them…I just felt like a child, not believing any of these amazing creations.

At one point I was having a conversation with a droid thinking there was someone inside it, the guys behind were operating it and making it respond to me and completely hoodwinked me!

That kind of explains why Bar Patrons get so mad about Droids in Star Wars! Are you a Star Wars fan yourself?

Yeah, me and my partner Holly are huge fans of Star Wars. She’s been to Star Wars Celebration and met Carrie Fisher dressed as Hoth Leia. She has the most beautiful photo of them together. On the sad day when Carrie Fisher died someone from the BBC found the photo of them together and she ended up going on BBC Radio Four to talk about it with Anthony Daniels; that’s her claim to fame now.

Clearly you need Star Trek, maybe Walking Dead or Westworld on your CV, but you aren’t far short of being an ultimate convention all-rounder! As an actor in Game of Thrones and Star Wars do you get drawn to that genre easily or does it make you want to diversify?

I really like science fiction. I got really excited as there was a part on Foundations on Apple TV and I went up for that but sadly it didn’t go anywhere and I was so gutted, I really wanted to walk round a studio pretending I was in space.

I just want to work with really cool people, directors and writers who I really admire. I like the variety and being challenged to something outside of my comfort zone.

Where can fans meet you next or what can they see you in next?

I’ve got a cool part coming up in the sequel to The Hitman’s Bodyguard with Samuel L. Jackson where I play an Italian Mafiosi who gets his henchmen to try and kill him, but as you can imagine it doesn’t go according to plan.

Working with Samuel L. Jackson I feel like I can retire now…being called a “Motherf***er” by him, that’s a bucket list item ticked off! That’s out this year if the cinemas open again!

A pleasure to hear from Miltos, it was great to hear his stories! All Star Wars Stories will not be ending with Mace Windu swearing at them, I’m afraid that’s not something we can guarantee, but we do look forward to seeing Miltos when the cinemas open up to us again.

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