Greetings exalted ones, we’ve got something pretty big for you in this Star Wars story. We have here the journey of Dee Tails, a successful 90’s musician who toured with Janet Jackson and has since made the equally successful transition into the movie industry.
Dee was a huge hit with British R&B group MN8, most famous for their debut single “I’ve got a little something for you” but as we will learn he closed that chapter of his life and moved onto acting. Roles in Batman Begins and Captain Phillips led to four Star Wars films which basically puts Dee in the veteran category! Roles include Cratinus in The Force Awakens, K-OHN in Rogue One, Slowen Lo in The Last Jedi and Quay Tolsite in Solo and a whole lot more.
We talk a lot…really a lot…but this story is as explosive as sixty million credits worth of refined coaxium. I’m telling you; it’s going to be great. When have I ever steered you wrong?
Thanks for talking us through your Star Wars story Dee. How have you been keeping busy during this strange time?
I’ve been trying to keep my brain active. Before I was in Force Awakens, I started writing two book’s. I’ve never written a book before but felt I had to just to get it out of my system. I did it and it took three or four months for the first one and about a year for the second. I’ve also been writing a few scripts with friends, sci-fi, fantasy and things like that.
Last year I got into gaming, I did some motion capture as Cayde-6 in Destiny 2. It wasn’t until after doing the game that I realised how big it was! Fans were losing their minds over this character, so I thought if I’ve done it, I better find out what the game is about.
It would be wrong of me to not talk about MN8 as we look back on your career. Sadly, this is not a podcast (one day there will be one) so the dear readers will have to imagine your musical talents but how do you reflect now on that time in your life?
It’s strange, I don’t promote my band at all anymore. It feels like something I did in high school or part of a dream. It wasn’t one of those things that I thought would be forever and I saw it as a steppingstone to acting, as that’s what I’d trained in. I became a dancer, I danced for Gwen Guthrie (Dee sings “Ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but the rent”) and I found out that was a way of getting contracts and you needed those to get an equity card back then.
That just carried on while I was still in college, I then got an audition with MC Hammer and met the New Power Generation (backing band for Prince) but that came to nothing as Prince toured without them the following year and Hammer filed for bankruptcy. I then met a guy in a club (G-Man, lead vocals) who said he’d like me to meet someone who turned out to be KG (MN8 co-founder with G-Man) and it just went from one momentous thing to another.
This was an introduction to how the industry can turn; First Avenue (MN8’s former production company) didn’t want to manage us, they just wanted to focus on Eternal. Long after the fact, we heard Take That had wanted us on their tour throughout Europe and we didn’t know until it was too late. As First Avenue banked on Eternal, they ended up touring with Take That and that didn’t go so well, but out of the blue, Janet Jackson came to town and asked for us specifically…I’ve got goose bumps now. Her band, crew and dancers and everyone looked after us and we had a dream tour with her.
Later it came to our attention that our production company had been going to our label saying we need ten grand for this and twenty grand for that but we didn’t see any of it, which ran us into a huge debt, so we decided to call it a day. K got married to Laura Vasquez (Home and Away) and lives in Australia, T is continuing with his music right now and G moved to New York working with Def Jam.
From looking at your social media it seems music is still a huge part of your life; do you still have a lot of involvement in the music industry?
I knew what was good and bad about the music industry so I only wanted to be there as long as I could eventually step away. I have no interest in going back to music, I consider myself fully retired from that. Once it all ended I finally had that leverage I needed to get myself an acting agent. My current agent has been my biggest supporter who has helped me a lot over the years, bless her.
What made you switch to acting?
I’d always wanted to be in blockbusters as a kid and when you say that to anybody, they ask what your real job is going to be ha-ha! When I was ten, I was in Aladdin, everyone wanted to be the Genie and I was a big fan of comedy, so I put on the campest voice and it was so funny they let me play him. I also realised I had an ability to remember dialogue, I think that’s what made me feel like I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I went from doing Shakespeare to Panto and my first role was the Genie again, not camp this time!
I then played Tommy the Cat in Dick Whittington for Hiss and Boo, I got to physically emote cartoonishly for the first time which was very rewarding. I couldn’t wash the make-up off in between performances and so I was the last one to leave each day due to that. The guy in charge of the production was Ian Liston. In Empire Strikes Back he is the guy who releases the cable out the back of a snow speeder (Jenson) and before he passed away he gave me a signed picture and wished me all the best in the Star Wars universe when he heard about it. A guy called Brian Herring (one of the four BB-8 puppeteers) was also working on those productions and he put in a good word and that got me in the room.
Before we get to Star Wars, pretty decent first film to get with Batman Begins! What was the scale of that like and did playing a Gotham City police officer prepare you for working on Star Wars?
If you want to put me into a creature costume or make me a droid, I can do that, I have the little body mass to do that, but if you want me to look like an imposing police officer I might struggle there ha-ha…they had to pad me out so much and put a bullet proof vest underneath my jacket to fill me out! I only did two films doing character support and Batman Begins was the first one. It was the first time I had even heard of character support. Character support consisted of actors being mixed into scenes with extras in case the director needed any added dialogue to be delivered within the scene.
Batman Begins brought back something so momentous. I remember walking through the doors of one of the huge airship hangars at Cardington Airfield and the huge Gotham City buildings were inside there. I remember hearing a big boom and turning to see the Batmobile. Dude…I was ready to call it a day there, it was just awesome. In between the takes me and another actor named Andy would just walk around almost like we were on patrol. I also got to see Gary Oldman act, and watching what he was doing before shooting…it was like a free masterclass. I thought if I don’t enjoy this, I don’t know what I would do. I did enjoy it, I loved it.
We better skip onto why we are here…four Star Wars films! That pretty much makes you a veteran…how did you get your first role?
I thought they are going to be seeing hundreds of people, the chances of them looking at me thinking they have something for me was very small, but I then I got a call to go to Pinewood Studios and see Neal Scanlan, where I’m then introduced to Tom Bell, Nathan Plant and Paul Warren who I would end up working with. I thought it was going to be an interview or a casting…I went straight to fittings.
I remember trying to walk past R2-D2, I literally froze. I’m also trying not to look around the room too much, even though I’d just signed an non-disclosure agreement. I grew up watching the behind the scenes stuff so being on that set, I felt like I was somehow in the right place.
Normally, I would ask if you were already a fan, but I think I can say for certain that you are! What’s your best memory from working on those films?
It has to be one for each film. Neal Scanlan said he wanted to find something for me, so they paired me up with Tom Bell (Prashee). We had our own language and Tom’s role was to set me off laughing and giggling about something. We also realised that if we tilted our heads it would change the expression of our characters, Tom was really good at doing that. We also had kneepads that were shoes because they wanted us to look a little weird in stature. In the Force Awakens our impact on set and behind the scenes, is what I remember. JJ was also given one of my heads which is special too!
Rogue One started as me potentially playing K-2SO, I was aware of the scenes and I signed all the contracts but the role was changed to a CGI character with Alan Tudyk doing the voice, I was happy to step back from that as just being a part of the process was incredible. On set the kids that were running about in Jeddha…somehow me and the kids all ended up in the same spot, the kids were loving the droid I was playing (K-OHN) and asking me questions. It was all being shot guerrilla style and we just finished a break so the kids came running over to see again and me being me and the Droid, reacted being very happy to see them and that’s the bit that was filmed for the movie, it was a very sincere moment to end up in the film.
For The Last Jedi it was going to Dubrovnik in Croatia. I played Slowen Lo mainly but when we were shooting the other scenes, I was Brother Letrun Pay and that involved a head I could not see out of. I was also Lexo Sooger in the sauna with Warwick Davis and Kiran Shah, all of that stuff, working in a suit I can’t see out of, it felt like a tiny little family unit with puppeteers and crew all helping each other to bring these creatures to life even though we were abroad.
In Solo I was Quay Tolsite and the suit was heavy, but the costume generally was excellent. I could see, I could breathe, and I got it really early on that Quay’s scene was going to move at a fast pace. I also found out Quay was a Pyke whose species I knew from the Clone Wars animation series and I worked with the late Andrew Jack on creating the language. I enjoyed the movements and gestures but there was this one thing they asked me to do…they said put the key in the door and then the doors close, I am thinking…I know how those doors close, it got to that scene and just as it closes I give a little look as I turned the key, I really enjoyed that moment.
It seems looking at the four roles that you got increasingly more screen time. Going from just being happy to be seen to having all of this screen time…it must have been great to have a bigger role in Solo?
It was great to do something where no one has known what I have done before. In panto it was always “Dee Tails from MN8”. When I was in Star Wars, I didn’t tell anyone about my background, I just wanted to be assessed on my ability.
Quay was given to me late on, I had finished work on Regineer Teed (part of Enfys Nest’s gang) and they told me they were taking me to Spain. Neal said I had someone else to play and had to speak to Andrew Jack to sort out the language. It slowly starts to sink in that I am on Kessel and I am in charge of this base, I almost lost my poo-doo ha-ha. I was being directed by Ron Howard…you couldn’t write this, it’s absolutely beautiful.
And you are an action figure too…
You had to drop that in ha.
You’ve made it in Star Wars if you get an action figure…
Look at it this way, I feel like I have really achieved something. Quay Tolsite is not an easy figure to get and I’m delighted about that, I’m rare ha-ha!
I assume you’ve got one?
I’ve got two! I played with the original toys, I had the sticker books, the cards and basically everything.
I have a golden rule, no opinions about which films are better in my interviews. But…Solo is a great film, a seriously great film, so are we making Solo 2 happen?
I’ll put it to you like this, I hung out with my good buddy Chris Bartlett (Zero in The Mandalorian). For him to go on and become part of this too…I don’t think anyone deserves it more. I said to him one of the best possible untold Star Wars stories is that of Ahsoka Tano, it’s incredible. He said, it is all owned by Disney now so…you never know. To answer your question…Solo, it is all owned by Disney so…you never know ha.
That’s enough to keep me going! What’s next up for you?
I’m still waiting on the next thing. I am doing some self-tapes at the moment, but fingers crossed they are not done with me just yet in the galaxy far far away!
Thanks to Dee for joining us! We’ll be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter any future roles Dee has, hopefully one will be back in the Star Wars universe!
Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Dee’s fellow creature performer, Paul Warren who portrayed Varmik in The Force Awakens by clicking here.
Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.