Tag Archives: Rogue One Stories

Richard Cunningham – His Star Wars Story

Welcome back readers and you are just in time, because unfortunately we have ourselves an imperial entanglement today. He’s a hard man to find but talking to a someone of Richard Cunningham’s talents is certainly something to look forward to.

Rogue One’s General Ramda is also known for his appearances in the Golden Globe winning Dancing on the Edge as well as Stan Lee’s Lucky Man and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows among many other roles.

We are here to run through his career to date and his role as a General on the Scarif base where the Empire helpfully gave the Rebellion a fighting chance. We talk about Ben Mendelsohn’s shouting abilities, not being particularly comfortable around Darth Vader, making films during lockdown and Richard gives me challenging words to put into the writing.

This interview is dedicated by Richard to his friend Andrew Jack, a dialect coach who worked with over 200 actors in his career as well as on the Star Wars films. Andrew died from COVID-19 on 31st March 2020 at the age of 76.

Thanks for talking us through your Star Wars story Richard, how have you been keeping busy through lockdown?

Unfortunately, lockdown has paralysed the industry. There have been things coming through, I’ve been doing some Zoom castings which is very strange in your own front room. I’ve been exercising both physically and with glasses of wine though ha-ha!

Taking a look at your career, in the mid 90’s you started in theatre in the fair city of Manchester and then you transitioned into TV and Film is that right?

Quite early on in my career I was in Manchester, but I left drama school in 1990 so strangely this is my thirty years in the business. I started in Colchester and I ended up in a Manchester production called Ravings Dreaming’s directed by Sue Sutton Mayo which was quite an unusual piece with a very close cast.

What drew you into acting?

It’s a very difficult question actually; I was quite a shy child, so I felt nervous to act. A friend of mine called Tim Hincks saw me performing and told me I completely change when I am on stage and that gave me the confidence to move forward. That and playing with Muppets through curtains ha-ha!

What have been your career highlights to date?

Ravings Dreaming’s happened at the right time and I enjoyed that but for my TV career the opportunities didn’t arrive for me quickly. If I was lucky, I would get an audition for television every six months, you try too hard and put too much focus on it so it’s tricky.

There was a casting director called Andy Morgan who put a lot of faith in me and eventually I got cast as a waiter in Law and Order UK and again in the same show as Barry Flowers who was a florist, a clever joke. I had a line in Sherlock and got a few credits on the board before I was approached by Andy Pryor to work on Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge for the BBC which was a big opportunity. I had seven scenes in episode one, I went in not knowing the lines particularly well for the first casting, but it went well and I got a recall. Poliakoff wanted to meet me and he said I was “absolutely striking” for this role and weirdly it became something that put me on the map in television.

As soon as it was released, I was getting calls from Nina Gold who I’ve now done several jobs for. It was fantastic, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Goodman, Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Head, Matthew Goode…it’s just a really posh cast.

Another character I play in a film called Breakdown is a psychotic hitman. I got shot three times in that film, eventually I die getting shot through the eye! Then obviously Rogue One came along…

Yes, we probably should discuss Rogue One at some point! You played General Ramda, how did that role come about?

It wasn’t a normal casting; I was sent this information about a ‘Gareth Edwards Project’ and we weren’t supposed to know what it was. My agent kind of had a feeling but we had to go without knowing what we were going for. I went to a studio in Twickenham, they gave me a sample script to go away and learn and then put on tape. Ten days later we got an email we didn’t understand either, it was so secretive, but it was the offer.

I’ve got it here actually…he was described as ‘Scarif Security Officer #1’. When I got onto the set, on my trailer was the name of my character and it said ‘General Ramada’ and I thought that was a bit weird…isn’t that a hotel chain ha-ha! It was actually ‘General Ramda’.

I was suddenly sent the script through this very secretive software and there were quite a lot of lines, I thought it would be another game changer for me. Whoever suspects they are going to be in a Star Wars movie? It doesn’t happen to many people. I thought I was going to be a bigger character, but I was cut out a lot but fortunately I am still in it because I know so many people who were cut completely.

Have you been interested in Star Wars yourself?

I wasn’t a massive fan; it may have been something to do with when I grew up. I grew up in the seventies, so I was into horror and Peter Cushing was a bit of an idol of mine also Christopher Lee both of whom went onto roles in Star Wars. Rogue One as a film, most people say it’s in their top three. It goes back to the original, that’s why they kept it so secret. It was called ‘Los Alamos’ as a code name so that nothing was leaked, it was exciting to be a part of that.

It’s quite an interesting role because you are portrayed as rather relaxed in the role on Scarif, was the role intended to be played in that way?

On set you just play the character but the relationship I had with Ben Mendelsohn’s character (Director Krennic) was one of…well he shouts at me quite a lot ha-ha. Ramda is slightly downtrodden, he’s well to do but not very bright. He rather liked the climate on Scarif and they are quite well protected under that shield! There was a cut hologram scene of me reporting to Krennic, shall I quote these lines?

Yes absolutely!

“Sir, we have a fire fight on landing pad 13-20 and an unauthorized access of the data vault but it’s gone into lockdown, whoever it is in there can’t get out” and then Krennic shouts at me of course…“It is vital that no information leaves that vault, do you understand?” (Richard shouts in his best Krennic voice) “On penalty of death!” and he swipes at me but I’m a hologram, I still react to him, he walks at me and I sort of cower away. So that relationship is there.

Funnily enough my first day on set was with Ben and we were doing the scene with the hologram and getting his eye-line, he goes from that into a scene with Darth Vader. My first day was with Darth Vader (Spencer Wilding in the costume) squeaking around in leathers. He’s a very tall, imposing character and when he appears…I was quaking in my boots. One of the most iconic villains in cinema history and it’s your first day on set. Gareth Edwards admitted he was nervous about it, some actors had tears in their eyes due to the nerves. There was a duty to perform and create something that honours the previous films.

Spencer has a piece on our site actually and talking to him about it was very interesting because it seemed very much like the character plays you rather than you playing a character when you act as someone like Darth Vader. For Ben and yourself that must have been very strange to have him there…

You’ve got this huge, imposing character…the funny thing was he was looking quite nasty, but he took his helmet off and flashed me this big grin ha-ha.

What do you look back on most fondly having been in that role?

Working with Ben Mendelsohn, he is a lovely guy and a very driven actor. There is a lot of me running around after him in all these cut scenes, I was just trying not to trip over his cloak! One of the major things was shooting the hologram scene because I wanted to dedicate all of that to Andrew Jack (pictured below) who was the dialect coach. Andrew sadly died due to the coronavirus, he had been my tutor back at LAMDA in 1987 and we met again on this Star Wars set.

A lot of my lines were about shields, the shield this and the shield that but I have a bit of a twang in my voice so I was saying shiewld and Andrew would say to me Richard you are saying shiewld not shield…I don’t know how you are going to type this up ha-ha (I did my best). Him being there, he was really supportive so I would like to dedicate it to Andrew Jack. He was a lovely guy, a really calming influence.

You have a few more film roles in the works but I notice you have done a lovely film on Zoom called Indefinitely, could you tell us a bit about that?

The blurb is…whether you are in the same group or on the same video call connected with your loved ones, lockdown is far from easy. It’s about this couple called Tilly and Vic who have some news to share with their relatives. It’s quite a small cast; Harriet Thorpe, Martin Trenaman, Daisy Waterstone, Fanta Barrie and myself, produced by Black Box Media in support of CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). It’s only 10 minutes and it’s quite funny and raises awareness for CALM. We were all on Zoom in our own homes, we shot it five or six times and it was quite a lot of fun to do.

There’s another short I wanted to mention called Tick Tick Tick, it’s just been selected for the Norwich Film Festival with a cast including Anton Lesser (Game of Thrones) and Anton Saunders, directed by Liam White and Larry Katang, so look out for that too.

Where can we look out for you next?

I have a movie coming out in 2021 called Eight for Silver with Boyd Holbrook and Alistair Petrie who was in Rogue One of course and Kelly Reilly. It’s about a beast that’s killing people and I play a Vicar in that. I only have a couple of bits in it, but one scene is with Alastair. I’m not doing too bad; I am lucky to I have a few things coming up.

We thank Richard for his time and check us out on social media for updates on Richard’s future roles. You can watch Richard in Indefinitely for free by clicking here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? If more of the Empire is your thing then why not check out the Star Wars story of Darth Vader himself, Spencer Wilding. Read more 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.

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.

David M Santana – His Star Wars Story

Welcome back dear readers, sadly it’s time for us to bow to the First Order, with our new guest David M. Santana! As we know, the First Order rose from the dark side, but David did not.

David appears in three Star Wars films as a key First Order Stormtrooper in Force Awakens, a Stormtrooper Commander in The Last Jedi and clearly they don’t check with HR within the First Order because in between that he was a Scarif Rebel in Rogue One.

David isn’t just a Star Wars actor; he’s featured in 2015 blockbuster Everest and seems to have got his big break now with roles in upcoming TV shows that we will talk about. We discuss his career so far, the strange lack of Spanish speaking roles and David gives us a guide of how not to approach Harrison Ford…

Thank you for talking us through your story David. Lockdown has been very difficult for actors so how have you been dealing with it?

Just before it happened, I was working in Morocco on a new TV Series called Glow and Darkness with Jane Seymour and Denise Richards and ten days after I got back, lockdown! Right before that I moved into a new place, so I was surrounded by boxes and empty cabinets. Inside of my house it was like Christmas because I was opening boxes and finding figures that I hadn’t seen in the last ten years. I have also been refreshing my acting skills and doing some online classes, even before our interview I was doing a webinar.

A good way to keep busy then, what got you into acting?

I’ve been surrounded by movies since I was a kid. My grandfather was a massive movie posters collector and he watched a lot of movies. I used to recreate a lot of scenes from the movies I watched like Conan, Terminator and Beverly Hills Cop.

Here in the Canary Islands I should explain the film business has not been so big in the past but recently due to changes in taxes there are a lot of big productions here like Wonder Woman 1984, The Witcher, Solo and more. In the past I didn’t find much acting work here, so I studied Translation and Interpreting and as soon as I finished that I started studying Drama in London at the Identity School of Acting.

You seem like you had a lot of roles in shorts and then, boom, Force Awakens comes along. Is that how it went?

Yes, to be honest. I was studying in London and I met a girl from the Canary Islands, she gave me a card and said they were looking for extras and stand ins for the movies business. I thought it would be good to know how a blockbuster works from the inside, so I submitted my CV and the very first movie I got was Everest working as an Italian climber. After that, a company called We Got Pop got me the role in Force Awakens as a Stormtrooper.

All that while you were still studying?

That’s right and it’s funny because on set we met John Boyega (Finn) and he told me and some friends that he got the role after studying at the Identity School of Acting. He said it’s really good to express yourself and so I studied there for three years thanks to his recommendation and it helped me a lot as an actor.

You were with him in the first scene, right?

Yes, I was directed by JJ Abrams in the scene where we are in a circle and when the cameras travels onto Finn, I’m the Stormtrooper on his right.

I was so excited that day, I was a huge fan of JJ’s work especially Lost and Star Trek. He was wearing his Star Trek – Into Darkness sweater which was cool and he asked if I prefer being called Dave or David, I said I have no problem he can call me whatever he wants ha-ha. We filmed in six or seven takes, I saw JJ every day and it was really cool to get some personal direction from him.

A fun story, I also used to work in Forbidden Planet (Comic and collectibles chain store). I was attending my classes one day and I went by to say hi to everyone and my colleagues were talking and they said “Your boss is downstairs”, I thought that was weird because my boss is their boss but they explained it was JJ. I went downstairs, he was reading a book and I briefly introduced myself, explained I was a Stormtrooper and he relaxed a bit. He was reading a book of Star Wars art!

Very cool! What’s your best personal memory from the three Star Wars films you were in?

I never thought a Star Wars fan like me would be able to be a part of these films. The best memory as a collector of figures was meeting Han Solo. Han Solo is my favourite character in the history of cinema ever. I met him at Maz Kanata’s castle and got to shake his hand. Here is the thing, I didn’t shake Harrison Ford’s hand, I shook Han Solo’s hand…

I had my helmet off; the whole set and location is there and they created everything to scale. I see a meter from me is Han Solo waiting for action to be called. I looked at him, I said to myself “Be professional, we are here to work” but the kid inside of me was talking back. I thought to myself, don’t look at him, and as soon as I thought that I looked at him about 50 times! On the 51st time he looked at me and said, “Are you alright son?”, I took my glove off and introduced myself and he said he was glad to meet me and saw me enjoying it and that he would see me around.

I turned back to my colleagues…do you remember when you get a girlfriend in high school at 12 or 13 and all of your friends give you hugs, it was the same as that. It’s a memory that will stand out to me until my last days on earth.

I guess these roles get you out on the signings circuit throughout the world?

I never thought I would get these opportunities. In February 2016 I did my first one and as a fan I was treated so well, like an A-Lister. My colleague and I, Sandeep Mohan are known as the ‘Nope troopers’. Do you remember when the two Stormtroopers are walking down a corridor and Kylo Ren is smashing up a room, those two Stormtroopers are me and Sandeep. Thanks to that scene we have been to Japan where there is even a ‘Nope Café’ open there named after that part of the film!

Since Star Wars your other roles have been picking up so what direction are you trying to go in now?

I’m working on the show I told you about and I finished a movie recently called Vampus Horror Tales, a creep show kind of movie. I’m doing a casting for a DC Comic based TV series and I am hopeful for that! In this lockdown I’ve done more castings than the last 12 months, it’s been crazy. I’m a Spanish actor living in Spain but most of my castings have been in English, next week I am doing my first one in Spanish for a year, how curious is that?

When you mention you worked as a background artist you get told not mention it on a CV because it’s considered a different career which I understand completely but for me Star Wars has opened a lot of doors. When I mention it, people are interested and then you can discuss the other work you’ve done, it helps to get people’s curiosity. If I didn’t do those films, I am not sure if I would get the opportunities I get now.

David in Marvel’s Doctor Strange

Are you more comfortable with Spanish speaking roles?

I’m Spanish but being from the Canary Islands we have an accent compared to mainland Spain. I prefer English roles, it sounds weird, but I get a lot of castings looking for people like me.

You’ve said that it’s helpful to be known for the Star Wars films and you’ve kind of highlighted that it’s provided you a springboard to other roles, does that bother you?

To be honest, if what catches their eye is Star Wars, that’s fine and I’m happy with that. I’ve got their attention and I can get inside the room where the magic will happen. Hopefully, soon I will be also known for Peacemaker on Netflix and Glow and Darkness. But if it’s Star Wars that people are interested in as a start then I am more than happy.

Thanks to David for joining us! In the absence of conventions David can be contacted to autographs 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.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out another Force Awakens story featuring creature performer Keith De’Winter. Keith featured as Goss Toowers in The Force Awakens, click here for more!

Tim Rose – His Star Wars Story

Star Wars as a saga has numerous characters who have left lasting impressions on us, the fans. However, there are some you could show to non-Star Wars fans and they would likely recognise them due to the cult fame they achieve. One such character was portrayed by our guest, Tim Rose.

Tim was responsible for bringing Admiral Ackbar to life in Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Tim was also the puppeteer of the awesome Sy Snootles and Salacious Crumb in Return of the Jedi and fellow Mon Calamari, Shollan, in Rogue One. Basically, Tim has left an indelible mark on Star Wars history.

It’s a trap! I waited two paragraphs to write that – it was worth the wait. Yes, Ackbar is also responsible for a very famous internet meme, but as with all interviews on this site this story is about Tim, his journey and how he looks back on it all now. So, on we go to cover The Muppets, Guantanamo Bay torture techniques and disliking your writer’s choices of cosplay…

Welcome Tim!

Right so the long number on my card is…

I won’t start with that; I normally save it for the end! How are you keeping yourself busy during lockdown?

I haven’t really noticed any difference. About 17 years ago I had to move out of London or I’d have ended up in jail for a road rage incident. I moved out to the countryside and bought a Victorian hackney coach driver’s house. It’s got paths through leading to a barn where the old owners would keep the coach and horses, and that’s where I set up my workshop. Lockdown or not my commute is past the raspberries and up to the workshop.

Starting at the very beginning, what was your motivation to get into the Film and TV industry?

I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I started university, I’d enjoyed my art classes and I had done a bit of drawing and writing but I didn’t really know how to apply any of that. At university I started to go to drama classes, and I liked it, but I didn’t enjoy the applause at the end. Anyway, we started doing renaissance fairs and while doing the fairs I decided to do a Punch and Judy show.

I discovered that with puppetry I could sculpt; I could write scripts; I could draw and perform. I could do all the things that I loved without giving anything up, so from that point I stuck with the puppets. The main guy on our TV sets at the time was Jim Henson and The Muppets Show. I used to sit in front of the screen and work out how he was doing it. After a year or so when I left university, I managed to get a job with Jim, which is why I’m in England now because this is where Jim did all of his work.

I suppose there is no avoiding that Star Wars has been a massive part of your life, but when you first got into it how did you feel at that point in your career?

I’d been working with The Muppets and I already knew George Lucas because he was always coming around to see what Jim was up to. What I actually loved the most was starting from a design concept and carrying it on all the way through to performance with the actual creature that I’d built myself. The only two places to do that were The Muppets or Industrial Light & Magic or Lucasfilm. When I got a job at Lucasfilm, I was very happy because I’d worked at the two best places to do what I wanted to do.

Going straight to the two companies that were ideal for you is quite something! Is it something that came naturally to you?

Although I have a university degree, I got my job because of what my father taught me when I was playing on his workshop floor. My dad was into models and radio-controlled airplanes and so I always knew about building things from scratch.

I always joke that if you were to put a label on me, which in school they try to do, I would have been labelled dyslexic. When it came to being a designer, my brain shot off in five directions at once and I actually came up with a lot of really original ideas because I was putting things together in a way no one had ever thought of before. Was being dyslexic a problem or was it an asset? Ultimately, I think it was quite a good asset!

When I worked on The Muppets they were starting to develop the robot side of the puppets to make them more technical. It always amuses me that everyone knows the word animatronics, but do you know where the word came from? I do not. Jim was American but did all of his work in Britain and at the time the film industry was going through a bit of a nosedive, yet they didn’t want anyone coming in taking their jobs from abroad. Jim was told that what he needed to do was give them a job title that doesn’t exist in England, so they called us ‘Animatronics Designers’ and we didn’t displace anyone because no one had that title in the UK…because we made the name up! It was a title that needed to be made though.

What would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars, the one you look back on most fondly yourself?

I was just the right age that when the very first Star Wars movie came out, me and my buddies were teenagers. We would sit in the back of the cinema and pretend to fly X-Wings. We watched it over and over again. Two movies later, I’m saying good morning to Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, walking past the Millennium Falcon to go into my own spaceship – every day of it was fabulous. I don’t have a favourite story. I enjoyed the entire process from beginning to end.

That’s still a good answer! I think if I were in your shoes it would be hard to choose one story…

What is fabulous about movies that you’ve worked on is that when you watch a scene, you don’t just see that scene in front of you. Your mind can see the camera guy, the sound guy, the lighting guy, the boom operator and you know it brings back the memory of the whole situation and the experience, not just that bit of film footage. It’s a really nice special thing about being on movies.

You’ve featured in the original trilogy and the new trilogy. For you, was there a different feel when you returned as Admiral Ackbar?

Entirely different! I wasn’t alone but I was heavily involved in creating the original Admiral Ackbar. There were two versions of him. There was the full body suit and a hand puppet head. Servos hadn’t gotten small enough, and because we hadn’t fully utilized how to use them a lot of the full body suits had cable-controlled heads, which is what Ackbar’s head was. With a person in there it doesn’t leave a lot of room for the mechanics, so I built a second version which was a hand puppet where I puppeteer the mouth and that left room in the rest of the head for the eyes to move. It allowed you to have a more animated character.

In the new movies I’ve got my carbon fibre helmet on, I’ve got 38 servos around my head, all chirping like budgies, and I don’t have full control of the performance anymore. I was much more personally involved in the original one.

You of course were the puppeteer for Sy Snootles and Salacious Crumb also. Did you prefer the puppeteering side of it? Or does a character’s performance come through no matter how you are performing it?

I was at a convention in Australia. We had finished filming The Force Awakens but it hadn’t come out yet. I couldn’t talk about it even though everyone wanted to, so I decided to talk about what it’s like being in a full body suit costume. I realised what we put up with was not dissimilar to the torture techniques used at Guantanamo Bay, ha-ha. When you start sweating in there it’s a bit like waterboarding because the scrim in front of your face gets blocked with sweat; you get full-on sensory deprivation and your whole body goes over 100 degrees…

You are making it sound very appealing!

What’s enjoyable is creating the character and seeing what you’ve created. From that aspect, Salacious Crumb was much more enjoyable as he was just a hand puppet. I could put him on and just walk around and entertain the crew with him, ad-lib and joke.

Puppets introduce me to parts of myself I didn’t know existed. I’ve always considered myself to be quite a nice guy but Salacious was a right little bastard and when I had him on, I became a right little bastard too, ha-ha. I guess you, Mr Dressed-In-The-Carbon-Outfit, know the story with Harrison Ford? I do indeed. That took place when the carbonite scene was going on and so the second I saw you in that photo I thought, “That’s it I’m not doing this.” Ha-ha! I still react quite strongly to seeing any references to the carbonite scene.

I’ll make sure I don’t trigger any bad memories! Ackbar was voiced by Erik Bauersfeld, who sadly is no longer with us. When you are acting as a character with a different voice, do you work together much, or are they separate processes?

With Jim Henson, the two most crucial things for the life of any character were good eye focus and spot on mouth syncing. If you heard that character talking you had to believe those words were coming out of his mouth.

I found out from Mark Dobson, who did Salacious, and Erik, who did Ackbar, that neither of them were shown my performance when they did their voiceovers. When Ackbar says “It’s a trap!” his mouth isn’t in sync with the words even though when I did it, it was spot on.

Most people don’t notice. I was trying to sound like a man in his fifties but I obviously wasn’t at the time. It needed that final bit, the mature voice to sell the character. What I love about the puppet characters is not one of them is done by a single character; they are all a group effort to create something that’s better than the sum of the parts.

Do you look back on playing the character fondly now?

From a convention point of view, one of the big things for guys like David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) is they’ve always had to contend with that they weren’t the only guy to wear the costume. As time has gone on, at least I can say I was the only person to play Admiral Ackbar.

That’s true, there can’t be many people who can claim they are the only character in those suits…

I said to fans at the time, they are going to want a younger guy who can do it not an old man who needs to go for a pee. That actually did happen in Rogue One…I was Shollan in that one. We had gone for six hours solid without a pause break, and my character held up his claw and said, “I’m sorry but the old man has to pee,” and at that point we got a break.

I have BB8 to thank for coming back as Ackbar. The person doing BB8 was Brian Herring and we first worked together on Spitting Image in the 80s. When they were doing The Force Awakens he was in charge of getting the performers for the characters and he kindly said, “Tim’s not dead yet, he should do Ackbar.” I was at a convention in Australia and he asked me to sign something so I could talk to him. It was an NDA from Disney and he asked if I wanted to be Ackbar again and I said, “Of course I do!”

The next thing I did was pump up the tyres on my bike because as I’ve already said…full body suits. At my age you could die in there, ha-ha!

I’ve seen you at a couple of conventions and you seem to still get a lot of joy from meeting the fans. Does it bother you to be known for Star Wars, or is it something that you still get enjoyment from?

It just shows what a good actor I am, ha-ha. That’s not true!

I hit my mid-life crisis…why didn’t I listen to my mother and become an architect instead of running away to the circus and all that. CG was coming in and work was getting less and less. It was really when I started doing the conventions and meeting all the people that we had quite an amazing long-term effect on that I fully appreciated that I hadn’t been wasting my time after all. I’ve gotten to go to so many parts of the world. I used to travel all over the world making the movies. Now I travel all over the world talking about them…

You can check out more of Tim’s stories on his official website as well as purchase official autographs by clicking this link.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Chris Parsons aka Bounty Hunter 4-LOM by clicking here. As well as portraying the Bounty Hunter, Chris also doubled for C-3PO!

Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

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.