The first film I was cast in was a movie called Giro City, which was directed by Karl Francis, and starred Glenda Jackson, Jon Finch and Kenneth Colley, incidentally. I played Flynn, the head of the IRA. You played General Madine in Return of the Jedi. How did you get cast for this part?
My agent suggested me for the part, I went for an interview with Richard Marquand, and the casting director Mary Selway, and was offered General Madine a result.
What was your initial feeling when you got the part? Star Wars was very popular and this much anticipated movie promised to be big; it had the biggest budget of all three.
I was very pleased to get the part of course, but didn’t really realize at the time, just how iconic the trilogy would become.
Your scenes in the movie are in the briefing room, where you tell the Rebels about the second Death Star. There were more scenes with you filmed (you have your own ship in the movie), but unfortunately cut from the movie. Can you tell something about those deleted scenes?
Well my scenes in the briefing room were all that I was due to shoot on the movie. I think they were due to take two, possibly three days. However as I was leaving the set one evening the First Assistant asked if I was free the following week, as George Lucas needed to shoot some more footage of the Rebel battle. I ended up doing several days, as I remember, shooting blue screen footage with George directing the second unit. A wonderful way to spend a working day, flying into battle each morning!
The briefing scene was shot with every member from the main cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams. How were they on the set and can you tell how you experienced this scene?
Well they were obviously all well used to working together, and couldn’t be more welcoming. I think it’s fair to say that both Caroline Blakiston and I were quite overawed by the set when we first walked onto it. It was as extraordinary in the studio, as it is in the film, and really took one’s breath away, but then we simply got on with it.
Did any remarkable, funny or strange things happen on the set?
I turned round one day on set to see one of my all time heroes Paul Simon quietly watching the scene. He was dating Carrie Fisher at the time. Richard Marquand was the director of Return of the Jedi, but George Lucas and producer Howard Kazanjian were also a lot on the set. Can you tell how you experienced this? Did Marquand direct you for instance? Or did Lucas have a lot to say during the filming?
George Lucas was there quite a lot, as you would expect, but he didn’t direct the actors as such. That was Richard’s job. I remember him as being very quiet, authoritative, and immensely capable. A lovely man.
Your character General Madine died in the Star Wars novel Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson. Did you know this? What do you think of the fact that your character got killed? It had a big impact in the fan community so that must feel good; to know your character was popular.
I learned of my character’s fate some years after I had made the movie. I am always surprised and delighted at how popular General Madine is with the fans, as he makes a relatively fleeting appearance in the film, and I think that’s probably due to the fact that he has such a detailed back story in the novels, and died a hero in the Star Wars universe. Looking back at Return of the Jedi, what are your feelings towards it?
Well it was a unique experience. I know some people (and most fans!) will find it hard to believe, that I had seen neither Star Wars nor The Empire Strikes Back before working on Return of the Jedi. In a way I’m glad that I hadn’t as it turned out. I think I would have been completely overawed if I had. I knew the preceding films had been huge successes, but I had absolutely no comprehension that 27 years after the release of Return of the Jedi I would be doing an interview such as this, and that the interest in Star Wars would be as strong, if not stronger than ever, and it’s a very nice feeling to be a small part of what turned out to be cinema history.
You have attended quite some conventions where you got to meet the fans and fellow actors. How do you look at these conventions? Do you like talking with your fellow Star Wars actors for instance?
I look on the conventions as an opportunity to meet the fans, primarily. They have given me an insight over the years into exactly how much the Star Wars world means to them. A lot of fans grew up with the original movies, and absorbed the sense of morality that they portray, and I find if fascinating to learn their stories. As regards my fellow actors, a convention is the perfect place for a good catch up gossip!
What are your current projects? And are there new things on the horizon for you?
I have just finished a run of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in London, and am currently filming a new six part thriller for the BBC called Luther due for transmission in May this year. Besides movies, you have done a lot of theatre. What do you prefer? And why?
A difficult question. I love working in the theatre, especially on new plays, as you are creating something that has never been seen before, until the first night. Without trying to be too analytic about it, it is also a very pure form of work from an actor’s point of view. By that I mean that, once the play starts, there is nothing to impede the communication between the actor and the audience, and each performance will be slightly ( sometimes greatly ) different from the performance that preceded it the night before. It can be a rough diamond, and very exciting at it’s best. It’s therefore a unique experience for both the audience and the actor, and people seem to be thirsty for live theatre now, as never before, which I am delighted to see. Film and Television on the other hand have the great advantage in that they can be shot, and edited, polished and honed, before being released to the public in as perfect a state as possible. They also preserve, for posterity, performances that, in the theatre, disappear once the play is over, living only in the memory of that night’s audience. I love working on film. It is a great and exciting medium, the great art form of the 20th/21st century However, on film, most actors have very little input into how their performances will turn out in the end, and I think that’s why they love working in the theatre. The perfect solution is to do as much of both, as often as possible!
You have had quite a long acting career so far. What do you see as the highlight of it?
Well apart from Return of the Jedi, obviously, I would say working with Robert Redford on the Legend of Bagger Vance, and the opening night on Broadway of Conor McPherson’s play The Weir.