Tag Archives: Paul Warren

Dee Tails – His Star Wars Story

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.

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.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of fellow creature performer, Keith De’Winter who featured with Paul as Goss Toowers in The Force Awakens, by clicking here.