Tag Archives: Obi-Wan Kenobi

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.

This is not the scene from Toy Story…

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.