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Spencer Wilding – His Star Wars Story

You were not summoned here to grovel, readers. This Star Wars story is one that should bring you a lot of excitement. Few people can say they have portrayed the greatest villain in cinema history, but Spencer Wilding is an actor who can say just that.

This being a Star Wars-related website, introducing Darth Vader would be clumsy as it is stupid. He is the greatest bad guy the franchise produced and only those who wish to choke on their aspirations would dare say otherwise.

Spencer has had a lot of cool roles including in Batman Begins, the title character in The Wolfman, a White Walker in Game of Thrones and the guy who stole Star Lord’s Walkman in Guardians of the Galaxy…that’s him too, but when all that leads us to Darth Vader, we begin to learn the power of the dark side…

Thanks for joining us, Spencer. You had a very special role in Rogue One and the first person I’m speaking to from the film…

Setting the bar pretty high there aren’t you.

No pressure! How did you feel when you got the news that you were going to be Darth Vader?

It didn’t happen in one day; it was a process. The process started 30-40 films ago for me because they are not just going to chuck any tall actor in that suit. They have to be very confident in you. Vader hadn’t been around for a long time so they had to get it right. It’s a very special thing. Mr Dave Prowse is the man and he played him when I was born in 1972. He played a Minotaur in Doctor Who as well as Frankenstein’s monster, so he had a lot of other stuff going on, too.

My first audition was a self-tape with my agent in Manchester, the second was a self-tape a week later and then I got another self-tape…so three before I even got to the studio. We didn’t know what production this was for or who the character was going to be, nothing. We had to sign non-disclosure agreements, but I sort-of had a feeling. Using the force obviously. When we actually found out who it was it became clear why I had to go [Spencer makes a Darth Vader breathing sound which is very difficult to put in writing, thanks Spencer] at the end of every line!

The final audition was at Pinewood Studios and that was the big tick. The role was shared with Dan Naprous who did the fight scene at the end. It was just an honour to be asked to play the part.

What kind of lines do they make you read for this kind of role?

It’s additional dialogue that we had to read but the character comes through. I have a good voice for it which helped the other actors. My voice isn’t too squeaky and that’s helped in similar roles I’ve done. Darth Vader is a hell of a presence and really takes over your body.

You’ve had to do the reverse of a lot of the original actors by the sounds of it. Through doing Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Guardians of the Galaxy and everything else you’ve done, you’ve had to earn this opportunity. Was the slog to get there worth it?

I’ve done a lot of iconic characters over the last decade; Darth Vader is right up there. I was the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster so there’s a lot of big players. Every character I’ve played I have an equal respect for all of them to be honest. It doesn’t matter if it’s the guy walking behind Liam Neeson or the lead role in Green Street 3, it’s very special to get a part in a film – it’s a gift for me.

Does it bother you being in these roles with costumes or prosthetics compared to say, the role in Green Street where you can be seen as yourself?

I think some actors think differently but I feel as an actor you give a character a spirit, a presence, a soul, and bring it to life really. It doesn’t matter if you are dressed as a monster or putting on a leather jacket beating the hell out of people.

What is your best story personally regarding Star Wars?

I was five when the original came out in 1977. My dad was supposed to be taking me to the Saturday matinee showing in Prestatyn. I was very excited, every kid wanted to see that for the spaceships and all that. I was one of those kids when my mates were watching football, I wanted to climb a tree and find some animals or go running through wastelands. I would look at the stars and want E.T. to come down, I have always believed we can’t be the only ones out there…

When my dad went to take me to the cinema, he wasn’t into it so he took me to see Pink Panther instead. I was sat there waiting for the spaceships, I was only five! I remember the conversation eating my popcorn asking where the spaceships were. My mum took me in the end…ha-ha.

To be part of the Star Wars franchise, something people dream about, to be Darth Vader…you know I’d have been happy cleaning a toilet on Star Wars but to play such an iconic character, for the production and for the Emperor to believe in me, it’s an honour. When I put on the gloves, the pants, the helmet and all of that, I respected the character so much more after doing that.

Becoming Darth Vader being your personal highlight, how did it feel for you the first time you put that suit on?

It was something else. The very last audition, Darth Vader was rumoured to be returning and Spencer Wilding turns up and he is six foot seven… people were wondering, what’s he turning up for?

When I did the last audition there was a little tent in there, they pulled the curtain back, there were his gloves, his boots, his pants, the helmet, the cloak…you end up meeting the character. It’s very much a “if the slipper fits” situation but once I put the boots on, they fit like a glove, especially after I chopped my toes off ha-ha. I got the helmet on and my eyes went black. A presence comes over you and the atmosphere changes and you think, “Okay, here’s here”.

It’s not me, it’s Darth Vader.

Very few people have got to wear that suit. Is it weird walking around the set, are people acting weird around you?

People react differently when Darth Vader is on set. The presence he has, when he walks on deck you get a feeling from people and they aren’t acting. He’s a very special character and I get him now. I understand why he is the most iconic cinema bad guy of all time; I didn’t get that in the beginning. I understood he was a bad ass character but when I put the outfit on I really understood.

You say Daniel did the fight scene. Which scenes were yours?

Daniel did the end fight which is a very cool scene. He smashed it as he’s a top swordsman. I did all the other scenes and all the promotional stuff but we both shared the character.

I’ve seen you at conventions and you seem to buzz off it. What’s your take on the fan side of it?

I love conventions. I didn’t realise I was a geeky person until I started attending them. My daughter loves it and does a lot of cosplay. What I really love about them is the passion to make costumes and to be a character. I probably do give away more pictures than I should though ha-ha.

I met you last year at a convention and I took my nephew, Jake, to meet you for a photo with Ray Park as a birthday present and there was a short queue and a big line for the next shoot and everyone was looking impatiently at us while you guys were giving us a bit of a martial arts show. We thought that was really funny, by the way! How good is it to also mingle with all the other stars, too?

It’s incredible! I met Stan Lee at Mega Con and loads of other legends and I get to go to the front of the queue ha-ha. I go in a day early to a lot of conventions to meet kids at schools and stuff like that, encourage them to get into conventions. You don’t hear any negatives only positives at conventions…it’s beautiful, man.

We are locked down right now, how are you keeping busy and have you got any upcoming projects?

I’ve got a show called Devil coming up at the end of the year, we already filmed that in Prague. You know what, I’m dipping in and out of roles and I’m in my hometown with my kids. I’m happy and relaxed but wishing everyone stays safe and uses the force for good.

Thanks to Spencer for the great chat and insight into becoming Darth Vader. 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? Lightsaber wielders must be your thing so check out our interview with Andrew Lawden who stood in as Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace. Read more by clicking here.

Andrew Lawden – His Star Wars Story

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?

Qui-Gon GIN! Make it a thing Andrew

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.