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?
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.