Tag Archives: Kenny Baker

Stephen Costantino – His Star Wars Story

Greetings, exalted ones! We can’t spend too much time nodding to each other waiting for something to happen this time around. We better get talking to our guest who has a story that makes even Princess Leia’s powerful friends jealous.

Stephen Costantino, musician extraordinaire and accidentally-famous Gamorrean Guard, is joining us because Blues Harvest told us he plays a mean guitar, but also because he’s got a wonderful story about getting into Return of the Jedi.

Normally Their Star Wars Stories focusses on the fond memories of being on the movie itself, but Stephen’s story is how he got there. It’s one you better read otherwise the Sarlaac awaits, and Stephen knows all about being in there…

Hi, Stephen, and thanks for joining us. You are a lucky one at the moment as your passion is something you can do right at home. How are you keeping busy?

I’m in a recording studio just going at it, five days straight now. It’s kind of cool as I can do a lot online, too. I was in Las Vegas doing my last show and everything was shutting down as I was leaving. It was very surreal, I must say.

I do believe you are the first person I am interviewing for the website who has already been mentioned in a story. Any messages for your friends Blues Harvest?

Love those guys, I can’t wait to go on air with them again. Those guys are my boys, so talented and they make me feel so at home and welcome in the UK.

We should get into your Star Wars journey because it’s excellent. How did you end up in Return of the Jedi?

I met Corey though my Sensei as we were both martial artists. Corey is obviously Billy Dee Williams’ (Lando Calrissian) son and they lived together at the time this was all going on. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gone to his house.

I had always respected Billy Dee from things like ‘Brian’s Song’, ‘Lady Sings’ the ‘Blues and Mahogany’. I was a fan of his as an overall artist. Corey and I started playing together in the garage there; we were really open and had a lot of influences on our music. It was magic, we lived for it every day.

One day we were working on material and we were at a high point creativity-wise. Billy had come in and said to Corey, “Do you want to come stand in for me?” Corey asked where, and it was in Yuma, Arizona, for Return of the Jedi. Corey was a little hesitant; he knows it’s not as glamourous as people think and it’s a lot of work. Corey said we were at a high point and had some doubts, but Billy said, “Why don’t you bring your guitars along, maybe perform a bit on the set?”

Next thing I know we are in Yuma. It’s a Sunday which was a day off for everyone. In the back of the hotel they had these cottages for the cast and crew and everybody is hanging by the pool. That was the first time I met Peter Mayhew coming out of a four-foot hot tub, towering over me. Mark Hamill came along; he made me feel really welcome. Then we started going out to the set and that was a lot of long, hot days, and out there the sand was like an ocean because of the winds.

There were a lot of hours just hanging around which was incredible. I got to hang out with Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Carrie Fisher and Stuart Freeborn, who had an indelible effect on me. It was magnificent seeing how that workforce was put together, building this city and tearing it down.

By the third or fourth day, Billy invited us along to dinner with producer Howard Kazanjian, and I said to Howard, “If I’m out there, put me to work, I’ll do anything.” The next day they brought us in and by that point Corey was doing some background stuff and they made me a Gamorrean Guard. We had some pictures taken of Corey and I with the masks off, and that was put away.

The costume was all latex but there were marks on the floor they said, “Follow that, Luke’s gonna kill you and you are going in the Sarlaac pit for a thousand years.”

I have really great memories and I didn’t talk about it much in the past because I just thought I was another guard; there are a lot of guards in different scenes. About 10 years ago, those pictures resurfaced and the guys at Burnley Star Wars Fan Fun Day found out I was the guy behind the mask who got killed by Luke and they asked if I’d ever signed autographs. I said, “I didn’t know I could,” so they sent a lot of stuff over from England – and I’ve got nice handwriting, being a writer – and that’s how it became known that I played the guard. Pretty amazing journey!

Brilliant story, Stephen! In terms of the whole experience, what else do you remember fondly from working on Jedi?

One night there was a blackout in all the rooms so we lit a bunch of candles. Corey had a bass and I had a guitar and we just played a bunch of music for everyone – that was incredible.

The relationships with people like Stuart and Kenny Baker…Kenny had some incredible stories to tell. He had a Rolls or a Bentley and of course the steering’s on the other side. He called the hotels up but when he got to a hotel he’d get out really quickly and they could have sworn someone pulled up. He was hysterical he had such a sense of humour.

This was the first question I thought up for you as I’ve been wondering this since I was a kid… Were those Gamorrean Guard costumes as hot as they look in the desert? They don’t look very tailor-made for heat…

Oh god…yes. When they took the top of the costume off Corey would have to hold me up, I was like humpty dumpty! You couldn’t sit down and they had to put a blow dryer in my mouth for air – it’s safe to say it wasn’t the most comfortable.

For yourself, I know Star Wars had a lasting impact on you and you are obviously a big fan. Being a Gamorrean Guard has led to the name of your music label, and I believe you have a tattoo of your logo?

I was at Celebration 2015 and they had a tattoo alley who were all approved by Lucasfilm and Disney to be there. I told my girl, “I want a tattoo but I want him playing the guitar.” I didn’t have time on the day, so the guy agreed to come round my place before he left the next morning and he did a tattoo of my logo until 2am – I love it.

You are more well-known for music, so how would you describe your music for those who haven’t heard it?

I’m from New Jersey so in the 70’s I went to see Led Zeppelin a few times, King Crimson, Miles Davis, and there weren’t too many boundaries for music. I’m from Hoboken, same place as Frank Sinatra, so we are a big Sinatra family. You add that with rock music like Jeff Beck and the British Invasion; a lot of influences there.

People say I sound like Pink Floyd or Peter Gabriel, and I’ll take that, but I’ve got a little of everything. I love jazz, too. I don’t know hip-hop that well, but being from the east coast, that’s the genesis of it. I started working with Brett Mazur in that game and I started to get pretty hot in that because they liked my old-school style of playing and they could sample it. I was also in a band called ‘The Cronies’ with Billy Wirth from the film Lost Boys, we wrote together.

Music plays such a huge part in Star Wars, in your opinion does any film franchise manage the musical side better?

Music’s a huge part of my life. I was into soundtracks before I was involved in Star Wars. As far as synchronicity is concerned, John Williams…you know he crossed over into some big movies like Indiana Jones and that’s pretty amazing. He does it in a classic way that you don’t hear often. I love the Tangerine Dream soundtrack from the movie Thief which James Caan stars in, Scorsese and the way they use source music.

My last question for you is also music-related, as it’s so important to you. You mentioned that pesky Luke Skywalker sees you off into the Sarlaac pit. What song would you like to dub over that scene if you could?

I thought ‘Starship Trooper’ or ‘Your Move’ by Yes, but me going into the pit probably something that tells a story I think it has to be ’30 Days in the Hole’ by Humble Pie.

On that musical note, we thank Stephen for his time and look forward to catching more of his music in the future. Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

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.