Captain Khurgee (A New Hope)
Interview: May 2011
How did you get started in the movie business?
Before I moved to Berkeley, California to attend the University, I lived in Chicago and was
fortunate enough to complete a Theatrical Apprenticeship at The Second City Theater. After I received my degree in Drama, my wife and I moved to London and I attended The Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art for two years. After that, I worked as a teacher and as an actor with Steven Berkoff and it was through him that I was picked up by the Filmrights Agency in London. In 1971, I became a permanent resident in the UK and was allowed to work professionally as an actor and I got my first film job that year, a toothpaste commercial for Germany! I also was cast in some BBC plays and then in Scorpio in 1973. By then, I had become one of the group of jobbing American actors living and working in London. We met often at casting sessions and on film and TV sets and became good friends.
Can you tell how you got cast as Captain Khurgee for A New Hope?
It was a very normal thing, I got a call from my agent to go and meet Irene Lamb, the casting director, for a part in “…some science fiction thing…” I turned up at the production office in the 20th Century Fox building in Soho Square and as usual met up with a bunch of the guys who had also been called. After a short wait, I went in and met George and some other people, had a chat, admired the story boards which covered the walls of the office, said goodbye and left. A few days later my agent called and told me that I had been cast as an Officer and would be getting a costume call and 1 day’s filming.
What do you recall of the filming of your scene?
Of Course! A studio car picked me up early in the morning and took me to Elstree. I was shown to my dressing room and I put on the costume which had been made for me; then to make-up and then to the set. I had been sent my lines, but not the whole script so I knew my scene but nothing of the whole story. I was introduced to Kenny Baker and David Prowse and he and I went through our dialogue and then our moves with George. We then had a break while our scene was lit and the cameras and extras were set up and rehearsed. The wide angle long shot was first; showing the Hanger Bay and the Millennium Falcon, with all the Troopers moving around, Vader coming over to the ship and me coming out of the ship and down the ramp to meet him. Then we rehearsed the close-ups for our dialogue. David’s CU was first, and then mine. As the scene was short, we did all the dialogue each time so that George could cut it together any way he wished. The last shot was of Vader’s exit and my orders to the Troopers to “…Get a scanning crew on board – I want every part of this ship checked!” And then it was over. I thanked George, said goodbye to the crew and cast, particularly David and Kenny, got out of my costume and makeup and was driven home. Another working day done!
Can you tell how the filming went, how many takes it took before it was done and if changes were made to the scene during filming?
As you can see from the previous answer, the whole job was very straightforward. I honestly can’t remember exactly how many takes we took for each setup but I have the feeling that got through very quickly. Everything seemed to go smoothly and there were no script changes at all.
Did any strange, weird or funny things happen on the set?
Not really, although having a conversation with Kenny (3 feet tall) and David (6’9″) was a bit like watching a vertical tennis match. There was a lot of joking on the set and a very relaxed atmosphere. David only put the top of his costume on for the actual filming as it was so hot, so all our rehearsals were done with him wearing Vader’s trousers and a black string vest. In a lull in the conversation, I asked him probably the most stupid of questions, “Do you work out?” David was kind enough not to take offence but very politely told me about his body-building and weight lifting career.
For A New Hope, you were directed by George Lucas. How was he to work with?
Mr Lucas was very quiet and reserved. He knew exactly what he wanted and we did our best to give it to him. He did explain to me the power, position and fear which Vader commanded and the level of commitment which he would have expected from his officers.
What expectations did you have of the movie when it was filmed?
I had been a science fiction fan as a teenager and when I realized that I would get a chance to be in a sci-fi film I was really pleased. I’m not sure that anyone at the time had any idea of what a phenomenon it would become or the extent to which it would inspire and move people all over the world so long after it was made.
I don’t think there is a movie that has such a huge and strong fan base as Star Wars. For almost 34 years people buy the merchandise, watch the movies over and over again, and the movies have become a part of the modern culture. What do you think the ‘Force’ behind this is?
Personally, I think that the answer to that question is quite simple. It is a wonderful story told by a master storyteller. However, it does goes deeper than that. The setting of the saga “…long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”; the extraordinary, yet easily identifiable characters; and the mixture of the remarkable futuristic effects within the recognizable and everyday situations. Most of all, the entire work fits together and appeals to the inner child in all of us and the desire to see right triumph over wrong. In its own way the saga is a quest which hopes to bring out the best in the world. In that, it compares with The Fellowship of the Ring.
Originally your character didn’t have a name. Years later the name Captain Khurgee was introduced. This character appears in games, novels and a card game. How and when did you find out you got a Star Wars name?
I only discovered my character’s name when I was given one of the game cards by my son. Since then, of course, I have discovered much more about him – even that he was the Emperor’s personal pilot! He is mentioned by name near the end of Episode III by the Emperor himself, “Tell Captain Khurgee to get my ship ready!”
What is the best memory you have regarding Star Wars?
Sitting in the audience in the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road where the previews for cast, crew and then Press were shown and being absolutely blown away by the opening scenes of the film when the Imperial Cruiser came overhead, chasing and firing at Leia’s ship. The whole theatre erupted in cheers and applause.
What do you regard as the highlight of your acting career?
While I am very proud to have been a very small part of the Star Wars Saga, I still feel great pride in my role in The Unknown Soldier and His Wife, written, starring and directed by Peter Ustinov, in which I was honoured to play the title role. I am also proud to have played Joey’s boss in the very popular and acclaimed revival of Pal Joey, opposite Denis Lawson. I also remember my featured roles in the much praised series Oppenheimer and The Nightmare Years opposite Sam Waterston. I have had quite a varied and eventful career as a jobbing actor in London, at a time during which many well known films were made here and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it!
What are you currently doing?
In 1990, I had begun a second family and had two little boys and another on the way. I felt that perhaps a more settled life and regular income was essential and I moved from acting to teaching. More precisely, teaching in English Primary schools. I taught in Hertfordshire schools for the next 20 years and retired in 2002. I continued to occasionally work as a supply teacher until 2009 and since then I have been fully retired.
Are you still in the movie business?
The only contact I have with the Industry now is when I am fortunate enough to be invited to events where I can meet and chat with Fans whether they are part of what I like to call our Star Wars Fan Family or fans of the James Bond series as I was also fortunate to have been cast in a small featured role in The Spy Who Loved Me, playing a weapons officer who helps Bond (Roger Moore) dismantle a Polaris Missile!
Please finish the following sentence: “When I look back at my work on Star Wars, I…”
When I look back on Star Wars, I feel very proud and honored to have been given the opportunity to participate in what has become one of the most original, iconic and significant cinematic creations. It has also given me the chance to meet hundreds of fellow fans, with whom I feel a very special and unique bond.