Tag Archives: Neil Scanlan

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.

Keith De’Winter – His Star Wars Story

We meet again at last readers! Following on from our first Star Wars story with Andrew Lawden from The Phantom Menace, 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 for now but fear not, your writer has the deepest commitment and the most serious mind and won’t keep you waiting long. Until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.