Imperial Officer, Stormtrooper (The Empire Strikes Back), Lt. Blount, Giran, Stormtrooper, Bossk, Mon Calamari (Return of the Jedi)
Interview: October 2012
How did you get started in the movie business?
My home town was Holmfirth, a small village in Yorkshire, where I left school and decided to study engineering at Huddersfield Tech. College, this led me to applying for a job at the David Brown Tractor co. After a short while I was offered a job at Westland Helicopters in Yeovil, Somerset where I was involved in hydraulics, and little known to me at the time this would eventually lead me to a future in the entertainment industry. It was one Sunday lunchtime while having a drink in a small country pub with friends from work, when I was approached by a somewhat unassuming lady, and asked, after a short conversation, if I would be interested in doing male model work. At first I thought it may be some kind of scam, but after a few days I thought, Why not call the number she had given me. To my surprise it was Askews, unknown to me at the time, a famous model agency in London. I was asked if I could come to their offices in Mayfair and do a formal interview, where again I met the unassuming lady who turned out to be one of their chief scouts. I was then asked to do some test shots, and after two weeks was asked to join their books. As work steadily got more and more busy I had to decide whether or not to do it full time, having used all my holidays at Westlands this was now causing problems trying to get time off work, as you can imagine driving to London seeing casting agents and doing photographic shoots, and driving back home to Somerset, a round trip of 300 miles was taking its toll. After some deliberation with my family I decided to become a male model full time and rented a small apartment in Paddington where I would live during to week and drive back to Somerset at the weekend. After a few months I met various people within the film industry and was invited to joint Central Casting as a background artist. Whilst concentrating on my modelling this enabled me to work on films and TV in between photographic jobs.
And then you were offered a job on The Empire Strikes Back right?
This is where my introduction to The Empire Strikes Back began. I got a call from Central Casting to go for a costume fitting in Edgeware, London, for a film called The Empire Strikes Back, a follow up to Star Wars. As I arrived at the costume fitting I recognised two of the actors who would be having a similar costume to me, Michael Sheard and Kenneth Colley, we were to become Imperial Officers. After a week or so I was to go to Elstree Studios where I was met by 2nd assistant director Roy Button, who introduced me to the set, where I met Irvin Kershner the director who discussed our scenes. Having been an Imperial Officer in several different sequences I was then asked by Roy Button to be a Stormtrooper. At this time I was getting the bug for action movies and put my modelling work on hold for a few weeks. By now I was getting to know several other artists, namely, Alan Harris, who was notably Bossk, -my Bossk character started on Jedi-. I then in between filming my scenes met some of the crew and was fascinated by the Special Effects guys, and was invited to the Effects workshop at Elstree where I met Brian Johnson, the SFX supervisor on the film, I discussed with Brian my engineering background and he was quite impressed with my hydraulics experience.
Did that influence you on wanting to be in FX instead of acting?
Having seen how certain effects are created and how interesting the work is I made my mind up, I want to be behind the camera and not in front. As I thanked Brian for his interesting insight into the world of Special Effects I made a joking quip, if you ever need a hydraulics expert don’t forget to call. Having seen the first Stars Wars film and how people said it was a fantastic achievement on such a small budget I have to say that when I was approached to work on Empire I did think this is just another sequel that would not be as successful and the first one, happily I was proved wrong. Being involved on The Empire Strikes Back I was eagerly waiting for its release and looking forward to watching my scenes, which also involved Dave Prowse (Darth Vader) I remember seeing it the first time at the Odeon, Marble Arch where many people were queuing to get in on the first day of release. I thought the film was amazing and was very happy to be part of this wonderful cinematic achievement. After working on Empire I continued my modelling and back ground work, thinking will another Star Wars film would be made?
How did you get involved with the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark?
In June 1980 I got a call from Central Casting to see if I was available for work, it was a Steven Spielberg film featuring Harrison Ford, I immediately said Yes, and again cancelled up and coming modelling engagements. I arrived at my favourite film studios Elstree to be met by once again, Roy Button who had asked Central Casting of my availability, Roy would then continue to discuss the part I would be playing and the name of the film, and the name of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, another Lucas masterpiece. The character I was to be was a German soldier one of two who would be carrying the Ark up a hill to where the visual effects crew would attach light bulbs to our costume to create a zapping effect when the lid of the Ark was removed, this I might add was before CGI but the ILM guys did a great job. Once again after finishing Raiders of the Lost Ark I did more modelling and filming but still hoped to get involved with Special Effects which at the time seemed very difficult to achieve.
And then came Return of the Jedi…
In January 1982 I had a call from Roy Button to say another Star Wars film is starting production at Elstree named Return of the Jedi, and could I be available for the entire UK production run, which would undertake at least 3 months and play different characters. I started at Return of the Jedi on January 18th to April 2nd and my characters included, Endor rebel soldier (Lt. Blount) Bossk, Calamari warrior, Rancor Keeper, and Stormtrooper, fortunately all but one character was involved in wearing a costume which covered the face, so I would be filming many different sequences. It was great to be back on a Lucas shoot as there were many actors involved in this who were on TESB including Alan Harris who played Bossk on The Empire Strikes Back. I believe at the time I was asked to play Bossk Alan had to stand in for Jeremy Bulloch, Boba Fett, and being the same stature the costume fitted perfectly, I remember on one occasion I am waiting to start filming my scene as Bossk, when the 3rd assistant director summoned, he said “Alan come through please, Alan we are waiting for you”, unknown to him it was me in the costume, and with the mask on he could not see me and me see him. During filming for Return of the Jedi the director Richard Marquand, a very nice man who had a lot of patience, unlike Irvin Kershner, who I thought was a little too temperamental but none the less I respected both directors for their work.
What do you remember of your scenes in Return of the Jedi?
I remember my most memorable scenes when I played a rebel soldier manning one of the falcons gun turrets, this was filmed against blue screen, and after seeing the finished product it was amazing, sadly this was deleted from the movie only to be resurrected on The Blu Ray out takes. I have to say when filming ended after approx. 13 weeks, it was a sad occasion to think this could be the last of the Star Wars trilogy, and after working with so many of the same people both cast and crew on three big movies, including Raiders of the Lost Ark it had been a wonderful experience. Now I would not have thought at the time, more than 30 years ago, that the Star Wars films I worked on would bring me into the exciting world of the autograph circuit. I was contacted, asking if I worked on any of the Star Wars films, which I replied that I had worked on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, he also asked which characters, at first it was a little difficult remembering the names and the ones that stood out most was Stormtrooper and Bossk, after all it was many years ago. I then remembered I had an old diary relating to my work as a back ground artist which gave me the characters names on both films, I did some more research and since having being contacted 2 years ago I have come into possession of quite a few images of my characters on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
And then you started attending conventions.
My first convention was at Olympia in London, November 2010, since then I have done several shows in the UK, Germany, Holland and Tokyo, I try to attend the ones I am asked to, but sometimes it clashes with other commitments, mainly my work in Special Effects. I was also honoured as a member of Rebel Legion at the Darkside of Daedalus Con, which was quite an exciting event, I think it is really great that people take the take the time and interest in groups like RL and 501 etcetera to maintain interest in Star Wars for generations to come? The convention, which I was looking forward to attending the most is Celebration VI. I was lucky enough to get in touch with Mary Franklin back in April 2012 who is the Sr. events lead for Lucasfilm ltd. who then kindly advised me to contact Ben Stevens who is looking after the Celebration signers, he replied back with an invitation which was happily received.
After Star Wars, you’ve mostly worked in the FX business right?
I probably have to thank the Star Wars films for introducing me into the world of Special Effects, this is where I first met Brian Johnson, effects supervisor on The Empire Strikes Back. Two years after I finished on that film I got a phone call, it was Brian, he had remembered me from our first meeting, when I said that I would like to work in special effects. He was to start work on a film called Neverending Story, and would I like to join his team, this was August 2nd 1982, well what a big surprise after all this time I am eventually getting a job in Special Effects. After Neverending Story finished, other SFX supervisors would get in touch after hearing about my engineering skills, one being, George Gibbs, who I worked with on Labyrinth back in 1985, George gave me a call to ask me on his next project, it would be Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I started March 1988 and there I was back at Elstree as a SFX Technician on a Lucasfilm, directed by Steven Spielberg, it brought back happy memories of my work on Raiders in my supporting artist days. David Tomblin, the first AD remembered me well, it was David who was on all Lucas UK based films. Needless to say I never went back into acting or modelling and have now been involved with SFX for the past 30 years, and in that time I have worked on some of the biggest films, including Aliens, which I enjoyed immensely working with James Cameron, this was the days before CGI came into effects, we had to do much more in the way on mechanics, making everything for real and producing it for the screen without the aid of computers. I suppose I would have to say working on the Harry Potter films has been one of my most memorable, I started on the Chamber of Secrets, then Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, and The Half Blood Prince. After nearly 8 years seeing the children growing from being 10 years old to become teenagers was quite an unforgettable experience, and working with most of the same crew was something that will probably not happen again. Since the start of the franchise to the finish many different technical advances were made, including the computer age, this in turn has created more work for engineering technicians to produce the required effect that CGI requires. I have been very fortunate to work on some of the biggest films either as a supporting artist or in special effects, my last big film was Prometheus with Ridley Scott, this was something special as I have been a great fan of Ridley for many years after first seeing Alien. I now continue working but trying to scale down on my work load.
Any advice for the readers who want to work in SFX?
My advice to the many people who want to work in Special Effects is to never give up on something that you really want to do, if you are determined it will eventually happen, as it did for me.