Tag Archives: The Last Jedi

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!

Mike Quinn – His Star Wars Story

Greetings once again, exalted ones. We have a pretty good reading on who we are speaking to this time around and it’s another Star Wars legend, Mike Quinn. Mike brought life to one of our favourite characters, the wonderful Nien Nunb, but in addition he worked on a list of characters so long that even he loses track himself sometimes.

Little known fact, he worked on every trilogy as he was an animator on Attack of the Clones adding to his reappearance as Nien in the sequel trilogy. Mike’s got a great story to tell, one of determination and a love for what he does so, let’s get right to it…

Really happy to be speaking with you, Mike. You’ve been in some truly great films as a puppeteer, actor and an animator so before we talk about Star Wars, which is obviously why we are here, how did you end up in that field?

My sister was in the business as a child; she sang, played piano and was in a few pantomimes. She was winning talent competitions and things like that. It wasn’t really my plan initially. I had glove puppets, hand puppets and marionettes as a kid. My first experience with performing was when I was eight. I had a few magic tricks and illusions and a Punch and Judy style puppet booth so I would go to the park and do a few magic tricks and finish up with a puppet show that I’d written.

I was still a kid at that point and I wasn’t that good. I was shy and what I was doing was under-rehearsed. When I was about 12 or so The Muppets show came along and hit big in the UK; I became an obsessive original Muppet fan! I wanted to know what these things were and how they worked. I spent my pocket money trying to construct puppets and I would practice the moves in front of a mirror. I was the first boy in school to take needlework – they weren’t that pleased about it – but I got to make puppets in school. Then came the premiere of The Muppet Movie which I bought tickets to go see in Leicester Square.

I decided this is what I had to do with my life. I grew up in Enfield, London, and I would regularly visit the Muppets tapings and bribe my way into the studios. I tracked the crew down in Hertfordshire where they were filming in a village; the Muppets were landing in a pond with Robert Morley. I gave Jim a “Please can I have a job” letter and I think it was his birthday that day so he thought it was a card but sure enough I got a call from the Executive Producer, David Lazer, asking me if I wanted to do a bit of puppetry on the film.

I was initially a background puppeteer, but I was doing big stuff pretty quick, assisting Jim with Kermit and Rowlf the Dog and doubling up in wide shots. That’s kind of how it all happened…with will, determination and a bit of luck.

Is your path into Star Wars somewhat similar to the other puppeteers and performers who made their way into the films? It seems like that group was quite close?

Almost the same yes…I never really auditioned which was quite good. We rolled from The Great Muppet Caper to The Dark Crystal and they sort of dovetailed.

The next picture coming in was “Revenge of the Jedi”. Towards the end of 1981, Robert Watts took on a lot of us with the right experience because we were trained up as Animatronic performers already. It was a quick chat and I ended up assisting Tim Rose with Sy Snootles and Admiral Ackbar. Next, I found myself working the puppet closeup for Ree-Yees and everything sort of flowed from there really.

If my counting is correct you have been involved in five Star Wars films to date is that right?

I think that’s about right if you count Attack of the Clones!

I saw you did animation on Attack of the Clones…

I was a character animator on Attack of the Clones, so technically that puts me into all three trilogies. I’m in good company there with Warwick Davis, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels. A lot of people don’t know that I do animation at all; it’s another way of bringing something to life and an extension of being a puppeteer.

I think a lot of people will think your role was limited to Nien Nunb but you were behind or part of a lot of well-loved characters within Star Wars…

I was a huge fan of Frank Oz’s Yoda in Empire Strikes Back and I worked with him on The Great Muppet Caper with Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and a little in Dark Crystal too. He pulled me in to help on Yoda and because I was small I fit in well. I also did a baby Ewok, assisted with Jabba the Hutt…to be honest I forget them all now!

Before I go into much more detail, what story do you remember most fondly from working on the Star Wars films?

Well broadly speaking, being a fan of the first two films just walking onto those sets and seeing the next stage in these films. Being on Dagobah I could sneak onto Luke’s ship and look around, seeing the actors in their new costumes, watching Han come out of carbon freeze, seeing the Falcon. I was 17, it was my third movie so the excitement and the wonder is what comes to mind.

To be co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon was amazing; it wasn’t really planned. I just have a lot of joy and gratitude about it all. I was there to work and do the best that I could and enjoy it all. Anything I did on my first three films set me up for life in terms of puppetry technique. Where else is better to get training for that in such a short space of time?

It must have been amazing. You are one of just a handful of people to pilot the Millennium Falcon and for a person of your age that must have been unreal?

It was crazy and a bit abstract for sure because it was such a big thing. Going back onto it for Rise of Skywalker (working on Boolio) when he hands the data down to Finn and of course I was in the final scene of The Last Jedi…it feels like an old friend!

It’s really interesting that you were so young actually. A lot of the people I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to from the original trilogy seem to reflect that at the time it was just another job. Their recollection of Empire and Jedi especially is very different to yours. Yours is more in line with the sequel trilogy actors and performers I have spoken to in that you’ve got a feeling of wonder and excitement about it…

You know what, that hasn’t changed for me either – I haven’t become cynical or tired about it. When I walked onto the set in the new movies, I didn’t want it to end! I enjoy being around these brilliant, creative, wonderful people. These films will be seen long after I’m gone, and I don’t take that for granted.

Throughout your career who created the biggest impression on you?

It would have to be Jim Henson as far as my whole career goes. He gave me chances, mentored me and were it not for Jim I wouldn’t be here now doing what I do.

I was reading about Kipsang Rotich (voice of Nien Nunb) and how the producers wanted him back. Star Was must be full of great little stories like that. Did you meet and work together, or have you never had the chance?

I shot my scenes for Return of the Jedi and we knew there were going to be alien voices, so we used to just lay down a guide voice in English. When we finished the film, I had a chat with Ben Burtt about Nien Nunb’s voice and Kipsang was an intern at Skywalker Ranch at the time, Ben got him to do it.

They found him again a month before the release of The Force Awakens and got him to record some lines. They used him in the Disney rides, too. He was working as a teacher in Kenya when they tracked him down! I was hoping that at one of the Star Wars Celebrations we would be able to do a first-time dual appearance. I thought it would be cool to meet him for the first time on a stage.

Were you expecting the call about the new films?

I engineered it to be honest, but I suspect they would have contacted me anyway. I thought they will probably bring back Nien Nunb and I wanted it to be me, so I built a little web page about that. I was working with Thomas Dolby (Singer of ‘She Blinded me with Science’) andwe had just done a music video together. He was a close friend of JJ Abrams who facilitated a few things on his recent album and Thomas made sure that JJ had received my communication. So not a surprise, but a relief!

It must have been fantastic bringing back all of the original actors as much as they could for the sequel trilogy?

They didn’t have to do that; they could have got sound-a-likes or used anyone inside the costumes but J.J. (Abrams) and Kathleen (Kennedy) wanted to keep that continuity. It’s a nice addition for the fans, too!

What’s next on the horizon for you?

We’ve got the new Muppets series ‘Muppets Now’ which we did late last year for Disney+. There’s not been much in terms of new production for obvious reasons, and we would have been shooting the third season of ‘Kidding’ with Jim Carrey during this. I’m using this time to write and develop new stuff; I want more people to come into the Secrets of Puppetry training course, too. I took a lot of what I learned and created online workshops so I hope we can get some new blood in there!

To finish, one of my curiosity questions was not Star Wars related. How does Kermit the Frog do a Ted Talk? I saw you had assisted Steve Whitmire puppeteering him for that…

Oh, you saw that? That was amazing, my goodness. It was all about preparing to do a speech properly, he sat on a stool so he didn’t get tired standing up all the time and he had a drink so he wouldn’t get thirsty so that’s how Kermit the Frog does a Ted Talk…professionally anyway, ha-ha!

As well as his successful career in film and TV, Mike runs an online puppetry course called ‘Secrets of Puppetry’ for those aspiring to get into the field or with any level of interest. It’s the first ever of its kind and starts from the very beginning with the basics all the way into learning the top skills. Presently, Mike has a 60% discount on the Academy so joining the classes costs just $78.80 (just over £60) for lifetime access! If you are interested, click here to read more.

You can also contact Mike for autographs in the absence of conventions by clicking here.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of Jabba the Hutt puppeteer Toby Philpott by clicking here. Toby had a life of travel and performance before a role in The Dark Crystal lead to him working on the great Jabba the Hutt.

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

Paul Warren – His Star Wars Story

“I like that Wookie,” to quote Maz Kanata, as she pines for good old Chewie. But here’s a question, would Maz have been so keen on our favourite walking carpet if he had followed his original design?

In The Force Awakens we are introduced to a creature named Varmik, a Hassk thug brought to life by our guest, Paul Warren. Varmik is an interesting character as was he was based on 1975 Chewbacca concept art by Ralph McQuarrie.  The legendary status of McQuarrie’s design and illustration work was a motivator for director JJ Abrams to bring Varmik to life in the movie.

Impressive character back story aside, we are here to learn about Paul’s Star Wars story. It’s the usual stuff, doubling as Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix, playing a skinny Captain America, Zombie in World War Z, young Magneto in X-Men: First-Class…

Okay, so it’s not the usual stuff…it’s a great story and one that’s bound to carry Paul on to even bigger things. Anything else? No? Let’s get into it…

Thanks for talking us through your Star Wars story, Paul. How are you keeping at the moment?

Hello! Well, all my work for the year has been cancelled due to corona virus, so it’s been incredibly difficult, as it has been for many people. Having your income and industry wiped out overnight is very surreal.

It’s very stressful for all at the moment! For someone with your experience, in your position how do you de-risk in your career and make sure there are other sources of income?

It’s a good question. As jobbing actors we would normally do other work between film jobs in tough times. Something like bar work or sometimes maybe a signing convention somewhere in the world. That is obviously not an option now. I’m still trying to figure it out, but yes, it’s very tough times for all.

We should get onto some lighter topics… You got into film initially by appearing in Children of Men, which is a seriously underrated film by the way, and doubling for Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter. How did that take you all the way into the Star Wars galaxy?

Children of Men turned out to be a very gruelling yet incredible experience. It was my first film and I had no idea that the very long and cold shooting days were unusually tougher than most films. It was a very technical film, which required everyone to be on their game. It was pretty intense on set, but Alfonso Cuaron is a master filmmaker, so being able to watch him direct everyday was a free film class in itself.

I was on the film for a few months, networking and getting to know people in the industry. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was creating opportunities for my future career. One job just seemed to lead to the next and before I knew it, I was given mostly creature work. The more I did the more I was getting known for it.

And looking at your journey into Star Wars, I noticed you’ve got a very interesting credit to your name. You were also “Skinny Steve Rogers” in Captain America: The First Avenger, is that right? That must have been quite an unusual role to get!

I was one of them, yes. It was very cool to be a small part of a very big visual effect.

The main double was Leander Deeny. I was skinny Steve in the pre-production VFX tests. I was also on set as a visual reference for the recruitment scene, along with Leander, who was the body double for the remainder of the film.

Due to The Force Awakens being the triumphant return of Star Wars, there was obviously a lot of excitement for those involved. Were you a fan of the films yourself growing up?

I was around four when the original film came out. I’ve been a fan of Star Wars pretty much my whole life, so when I got the call to go in and talk with the creature department on The Force Awakens, I almost lost my mind ha-ha!

I get a buzz from the stories hearing about how actors and performers discovered what roles they were going to get in the film, and I can only imagine what that feels like. How did you find out who your character was going to be?

I had no idea who I was playing until Neal Scanlan (Star Wars CFX supervisor) pulled out a Ralph McQuarrie book and was showing me the cantina alien painting from 1975. I’m a massive fan of McQuarrie’s work and I had that picture on my wall at home!  Neal explained that JJ Abrams really loved it and wanted to bring the character to life in the film. So that’s what we did on the day; we tried to bring the painting to life in that steady cam shot into Maz’s castle.

What would you say is your best story from working on Star Wars?

The day I was shooting my Varmik movement for the steady cam shot was the day Mark Hamill and Kenny Baker were on set to watch. That was very exciting and nerve-racking! At one-point Mark came over to chat. He was just as lovely as you would hope, and he loves all the alien stuff. He would visit often to geek out. We spoke about how the animatronic head worked, how I was providing the movement and a puppeteer was operating the facial expressions remotely. He was genuinely fascinated by how it all worked.

Mark came to the creature department on the The Last Jedi, too. There is a scene in the documentary ‘The Director and the Jedi’ on the Blu-ray where Peter, one of our creature performer pals, is apologising to Mark for not knowing it was him (Mark Hamill portrayed tiny casino drunk, Dobbu Scay, in The Last Jedi). What you don’t see is that shortly before that, Mark was talking with Peter and I just off the set. Peter hadn’t even realised it was Mark the whole time as he was inside his creature costume and could hardly see or hear a thing! He couldn’t believe it after when I told him it was Mark Hamill. 

How did you feel personally playing Varmik in that scene?

A little bit of everything, actually. Mainly I’m focused on trying to give the director what he wants, to deliver a performance that fits his vision. That’s what my job is essentially. That said, I was smiling a lot inside the creature head throughout most of the shoot.

Varmik must have been a cool character to be given for a fan of the films. He’s based on the original Chewbacca designs and, the crowning glory, he has his own action figure. Do you feel close to the character now?

Varmik was very cool to portray. I had a copy of the 1976 production image it’s based on signed by Ralph McQuarrie on my wall before I worked on Stars Wars. It’s almost as if it was meant to be…

It might sound silly to some people, but one of the things that I feel is a major accomplishment as a creature performer is playing a character that was made into a toy. There is an action figure and a Funko pop currently. I love all that stuff.

Does Star Wars top the other roles you’ve had to date?

It’s definitely going to be a tough one to beat.

When you got called back for The Last Jedi to be a Dowager alien, did returning have a different feel or the same levels of excitement?

I was honoured and flattered that I was asked back to portray another character. It was a slightly different challenge for me this time. I was inside the large creature in my normal clothes, puppeteering her head and movement from the inside.

Daisy Beattie remote puppeteered the creature’s pet pug ‘Gary’ from behind the set with Chris Clarke, who was remote operating the dowager’s face. It was hard work, but a lot of fun working as a team to bring her to life. Meeting Rian Johnson was also a highlight. He’s a lovely guy and a brilliant director.

How do you feel about your experience so far with the Star Wars galaxy and the appreciation you get from Star Wars fans?

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to quite a lot of comic cons. Overall everyone has been so nice. I love travelling around the world and chatting with people about the films. The ones that don’t like The Last Jedi have no problem telling you that, ha-ha! I think The Last Jedi is a masterpiece. I think it’s a beautiful and brilliant film and deserves more love…

Couldn’t agree more, and thanks, Paul, for your time talking to us. Keep checking back for more Star Wars Stories and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

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

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.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of fellow creature performer and Star Wars legend, Mike Quinn, who is best known for portraying Nien Nunb by clicking here.

Keith De’Winter – His Star Wars Story

We meet again at last readers! 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 and until the next time, I’ll be there for you…Cassian said I had to.

Did you enjoy reading this interview? Why not check out the Star Wars story of fellow creature performer, Katy Kartwheel who performed as Rio in Solo: A Star Wars Story by clicking here.