Tag Archives: The Last Jedi

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.

Katy Kartwheel – Her Star Wars Story

You guys really have it bad for Their Star Wars Stories, don’t you? Well it’s mutual, trust me.

It’s a dark time for the world and there’s a need for good, positive stories. The story of Katy Kartwheel is just that. With not one but three appearances in Star Wars films, Katy is certainly well placed to tell her story but little did we know how amazing it would be. A story of chasing your ambitions and following your own path takes Katy from dreams of the circus to homelessness to an advertisement that would change her life, culminating in the creature performance role of Rio in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Her name is indeed Rio and she dances on the…er…cargo wagon…

It’s probably better that Katy tells the story from here on out so let’s get right to it! Katy thanks for agreeing to talk to us and I’m excited for you to share your Star Wars story. Before we get started on Star Wars, I’ve read the personal section on your website and frankly, it’s amazing, so can you share your journey from becoming homeless to the travelling circus to Star Wars?

I became homeless in a way because I was searching for the circus. At 17 straight after school I was in an office job and I wasn’t happy so I went to see a careers advisor and we went through what I liked, including drama and gymnastics, and she found this circus course so I enrolled.

Things didn’t work out. I ended up on the streets and it wasn’t as simple as just popping back home, so I chose to stay in a homeless shelter for a while to get myself back on my feet again. The most amazing thing happened where I was in this shelter and I saw an advertisement for one person to run away to the circus. It was fate.

I was the only person who applied and then went travelling with them and learned with them. The whole experience was like a light for me. I then worked with some circus schools and companies and one of them was Aircraft Circus. They really helped me get to a good level of performing. It was the director there who called me one day saying there is a movie looking for a short stilt walker; I didn’t know what the movie was. I ended up in a warehouse walking around on stilts, and there were some conceptual designs for the character which turned out to be HURID-327 in The Force Awakens.

Apart from the Bollywood film (Jab Tak Hai Jaan) The Force Awakens was your first experience in a movie, is that right?

Yeah that’s right, the Bollywood part was just a little thing but I ended up interacting with the King of Bollywood (Shahrukh Khan), who I’d never known about before. I went in as an extra but there were a lot of girls screaming “It’s really him!” He’s a huge personality!

So virtually no film experience to then end up in Star Wars via the circus. Do you feel lucky in terms of how it has all worked out?

I don’t think it came from nowhere but I feel really lucky of course, there are certain things I wanted to achieve in my life and I really worked hard to get there. I just wanted to make it, put all my effort into getting to where I wanted to be. You know what life’s like, sometimes it gets in the way of living out your passion and your dreams.

I suppose we should talk about Star Wars! What was your personal feeling when you got the role in as HURID-327 in The Force Awakens?

I was taken aback; I was trying to be cool about it and take it in my stride. I couldn’t tell anyone anyway and it was all very hush hush. To be honest it wasn’t until I saw it on the screen at the cinema when I was like, “This is massive!” Even though it was just six seconds and you can’t tell it was me, it’s still a big achievement!

I know you say it’s only six seconds but that moment in The Force Awakens is one of the first moments in the film that you get to see a new world, and HURID-327 is the first unusual character that you see on that world and starts off a feeling that we are about to see something very different. Knowing your journey, how did working in the circus help with your work on Star Wars?

Doing creature performance is very hard. I was top of my fitness level at the time and I knew how to endure physical work over and over. Mentally it was hard. I wasn’t used to being in an enclosed space being pushed somewhere. That was a big challenge for me, not knowing how each day was going to be.

How do you feel about creature performance? From the previous interviews on this site it seems it’s much more technical and respected than many people think…

I knew nothing about it before doing it! You are sweating buckets in a costume and you have to act the action out, I had no idea about the art behind it. It’s a privilege and an honour to do it. You do a lot of movement work, working out the physicality of the character and there are a lot of technicalities there. I was an Ahch-To caretaker in The Last Jedi. Mark Jones was puppeteering me on that one in Ireland. Mark was in total control of me, my eyes, mouth and occasionally messed with me while I was moving around to which I thought, “I’ll get him for that,” but it takes an hour to get out of the costume so I never got him!

Personally, what would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars?

Learning how to be Rio in Solo, it must be that. Going in initially I had to rehearse on a scaffold frame, so I was in my element swinging around, which was very similar to the circus. We were coming up with all this creative stuff and then one day going, “Wow, they built the hauler,” which moved around, and I’m in costume – it was a proper stunt! I had cameras all around me and I even had a helicopter pilot come in and teach me how to fly convincingly as I wasn’t really doing that. Rio was quite fun as I could use his feet and swing around, that was my best memory.

Let’s talk more about Rio! I’m a massive fan of Solo and Rio was an incredible character. His movements and mannerisms made him more endearing, so how do you manage to convey all that? I’m assuming it involves a lot of motion capture?

There were motion capture spots on me and the face is CGI but obviously I don’t have four arms…no I grew two extra arms for the part! The top two arms are CGI, I had big shoulder joints where the next two arms should be which really restricted my movement, actually, because my arm could only go back a certain way. I had Rio’s little belly and they gave me a bit of a bottom. It was this awesome intergalactic onesie, the kind of thing I would have gone out raving in a long time ago!

Katy on location for Solo: A Star Wars Story

There was another moment I remember where Rio is cooking dinner for Han, Chewie, Val and Beckett, which was really intimate. They were saying their dialogue but I was also doing it in that scene for continuity reasons when Dave Chapman was not around. Doing that with these incredible actors, you could feel the atmosphere. I was given vision for that scene and they had eye holes cut out because Rio was juggling a lot with pots and pans, which is very difficult to do if you can’t see!

It sounds like you have a lot of belief in yourself. Would younger you believe that you’d be working with the likes of Jon Favreau, Woody Harrelson and Alden Ehrenreich?

Do you know what that’s a really good question as my initial reaction is no, but really thinking about it the answer is yes, I would believe it, because if I didn’t believe that then I’d have spent my life being really frustrated that I hadn’t done something that I knew I could do. I think I did imagine being with Woody Harrelson once, but I was always passionate about circus work and movies and thought “Do you know what, I could do that.”

You run your own business teaching the skills you’ve learned now, right?

It’s a bit of a nine to five yes, my fall back is my passion which is not a bad place to be and I do what I really love to do – workshops,  events, festivals – and I perform on my aerial rig doing trapeze and silks and things like that. I like to get my customers, friends and family involved too, which is really nice.

What does the future look like for you, Katy?

At the moment I’m just trying to be the best circus performer that I can be. I’ve been teaching quite a lot, which I couldn’t do when I was doing Star Wars. I’m also a mum and I’m doing a psychology degree, so I’m not doing anything else for now. I’m sure something amazing like Star Wars will come again at the right time.

What a highly motivational Star Wars story that was! We thank Katy for her time and look forward to seeing her in future roles! Until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

I have spoken.

Keith De’Winter – His Star Wars Story

We meet again at last readers! Following on from our first Star Wars story with Andrew Lawden from The Phantom Menace, we return for the next Rancor-size helping of knowledge from our galaxy far, far, away.

We started with a guest from the beginning of the Star Wars saga so it’s completely logical that we now jump to the final trilogy and a guest who is quite literally a Tour De’Force Awakens.

Our guest is a creature performer who has one of the most fabulous journeys into Star Wars that you may ever read. He’s been forever immortalised as an action figure for his role as Resistance technician Goss Toowers in The Force Awakens, and shamefully not made into an action figure for The Last Jedi roles as hotel-concierge-casino-dweller Terrib Igmusk and an Ahch-To’ Caretaker.

Welcome to the Star Wars story of Keith De’Winter! Sadly, Keith’s story relies on not spoiling much of it in this introduction but (Spoiler alert!) we should probably start with a super dee-duper dinosaur named Barney…

Keith, thanks so much for spending time with us, you said your journey into Star Wars is an unusual one, can you share it with us?

Well this is how I got involved in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this is my Directors Version! Do you remember Barney the Dinosaur? [Your interviewer excitedly nods] I got the gig to do a Barney the Dinosaur show in Saudi Arabia and completed the contract stage but unfortunately it hit problems and was cancelled.

That year went by and my agent asked me to do it again the following year and it turned out the choreographer for the show was Paul Kasey (Multiple Doctor Who and Star Wars roles) and I’m just in awe. I remember at one point he said to me in passing, “Well you know what it’s like to work on Doctor Who don’t you?” and I said “I’ve never worked on Doctor Who.” He complimented me saying I was really good and we moved on.

Anyway, I got home from that and time passed, my agent was based in Pinewood studios for a while and said casting had been in and they are interested in me to play a creature. She couldn’t tell me what film but asked me if I was interested, I quickly answered yes.

At the time I knew it was Star Wars as that was the only big film about to go into Production but that was it. I got taken to Pinewood after a few months’ wait and I was in this reception area surrounded by all these posters and I’m still wondering what the audition is going to be! I’m sat there and I hear a recognisable voice, Simon Pegg (Unkar Plutt in The Force Awakens) is walking by and I’m trying to be dead cool about it, eventually I’m taken through to the creature department.

Brian (Herring, BB-8 puppeteer) asks if I have ever had a head cast done before, I said no and before I know it I’ve got Nivea cream all over my face, they are putting all this gunk all over me and they say if anything is uncomfortable thumbs down otherwise thumbs up and I thought to myself, this thumb is never going down!

I then met Luke Fisher, a talented concept designer who shows me all these drawings, he explained this creature was someone who fuelled the Millennium Falcon and X-Wings and I’m thinking “this is great, but I don’t know what he’s showing me all this for!” and I still don’t know what this audition is going to be but I really want this! I then have more pictures done where I’m holding a mask of this creature that Luke had shown me, Goss, then Brian comes to me and takes me to see Neil Scanlan.

“That creature” in action fixing up an X-Wing

Just before we got in the lift Brian turns to me and says, “Welcome to Star Wars”.

“Am I playing that creature?” I said and he replied “When you come recommended of course we want you on board” and it turns out from the Barney the Dinosaur role, Paul Kasey had recommended me, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I went upstairs and I see people putting hair into Chewbacca’s costume, I see a box with a droid in it that they tell me is “the next big thing” and they tell me they will be in touch for fittings and I went to my car, sat down and I screamed my head off I think.

Were you a fan of Star Wars before all this then?

Absolutely massive fan, Han Solo was my hero and I went to see Star Wars with my mates when we were kids and we didn’t know much about it at the time but we came out of it and we played Star Wars, each of us as different characters.

As everyone knows now George Lucas originally said it was going to be a nine-film story and to be sat here having been in it is just amazing, I still pinch myself.

An amazing journey especially with the passion you have! I know that you’ve been successful, otherwise I wouldn’t be sat here, but listening to you the whole time you were telling that story I was thinking, “I hope he gets the job at the end!” I’m glad you did! From your perspective, what is your best story from working on Star Wars?

I got to not just meet Carrie Fisher but my first day on set was filming with Carrie and my last day was with her too. It’s great how much of it was practical sets and not computerised, there’s obviously some green screen but to have practical sets was amazing. Carrie Fisher’s at one end playing her part and I’m in the background programming a droid.

Behind the scenes look at the Ahch-To’ Caretakers

Anyway, during rehearsals Neil (Scanlan) told us we had a special guest watching us and I thought to myself it didn’t really matter, I couldn’t see anything out of Goss’s head! It was Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), I could hear him, but I couldn’t see him and when my head was taken off Anthony was looking straight at me. He came over, shook my hand and said, “That was marvellous!” C-3PO said I was marvellous…

On our first day of rehearsing we were told that Harrison Ford had broken his leg and so we had to delay certain scenes. We obviously had a bit of a break due to Harrison’s injury so when we came back a couple of months later it was to shoot the external sets, as Harrison was there too, and that’s when I saw the Millennium Falcon for the first time and that was a spectacle to see. My job was repairs on the aircraft, the first appearance of Goss Toowers is when the Millennium Falcon lands, and I have a little fuel canister to refuel it.

During my breaks from filming I could watch via a monitor and headset. I had the beauty of watching the others perform and it was lovely seeing Carrie and Harrison together, the chemistry they had it was amazing. I will always revert to The Force Awakens when I think about Star Wars, playing a character that’s now very dear to me, plus I’ve made so many wonderful friends.

What a brilliant story! Important matters now though Keith as we need to discuss action figure versions of you. Goss Toowers is an action figure, does that excite you and how many of those do you own?

It’s amazing, I’ve got a whole bedroom full of them! No, it’s hard to get hold of them now, I picked up four of them that I have at home. I have one that is dear to me that my daughter bought for me and she also gave me the Lego figure which you couldn’t get unless you bought the Poe Dameron set, those are special.

I’ve always wanted to ask, are you gifted the figures, or do you need to go and purchase yourself as yourself?

I’m sick and tired of the gifts I get sent! No sadly I had to get them myself, I don’t expect that to be honest.

Terrib Igmusk, we haven’t mentioned him very much but he’s the character you play in The Last Jedi and seems to not have an action figure! Should we start a campaign for that?

No, he doesn’t, I think you need to start the campaign right now! The male Ahch-To’ Caretakers I played don’t have a figure either actually. There’s a POP figure but that’s a female but fans still want you to sign them, but my ‘Salty Old Seadog’ isn’t available, maybe one day…

Terrib Igmusk, contemplating his lack of action figure between takes

Challenge accepted; your campaign is coming! What are your hopes for the future in this galaxy far, far away?

I would love to be a part of any Star Wars projects coming up obviously. The Mandalorian looks beautifully shot. I’d love to be a part of anything and you have to make sure that you don’t take it personally if you don’t get called up. I didn’t get the opportunity to be in Rise of Skywalker but there was a focus on the core characters in that film. Anyway, I get enjoyment from watching my Star Wars friends in these things now too!

On that wonderful note, we say goodbye to Keith for now but fear not, your writer has the deepest commitment and the most serious mind and won’t keep you waiting long. Until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.