Watto (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones)
Interview: May 2006
Did you ‘invent’ Watto’s voice all by yourself?
When I got a call there was an audition for loads and loads of voices. I auditioned and asked what they were looking for! I was told that George had an idea of the second hand car salesman. So, I came up with (talks like Watto) “Hey, how yer doing”; that kind of voice. I don’t know why I came up with that, it was the first thing that came out.
It sounds a bit like the Godfather to me!
Yeah…I guess it does. Well it was actually based a bit on (laughs)…there’s an English actor called Michael Ripper. You know the Hammer Horror movies? He was always like “O you don’t wanna go up there!”. It was sort of half based on that character.
There’s a story on the internet that it was based on Alec Guinness’ role as Fagin in Oliver Twist.
No, he isn’t Jewish! Watto is an Italian….Toydarian! No way he was based on that character.
Was Watto the only character you were considered of doing his voice?
I auditioned for Jar Jar Binks and a few others…I can’t remember which ones.
When you recorded the voice, where you all alone in the studio? Or did you meet the other actors?
I met them all! The first scene we shot was in the Leavesden Studios; the Podrace hangar scene. I did the scene with Liam Neeson. What they would do is shoot it with me doing Watto’s movements….and then shoot it again without me. This way, Liam had some idea of where the character, me, would be.
Was it also for reference that you were wearing…
O yeah! (laughs, because he know what’s coming as he sees me making a gesture of a large hat)
…the big hat?
O yeah, there’s a funny story about the hat. It was hot, we filmed in the summer, and because I was a voice-character they didn’t give me a costume; I was wearing a T-Shirt and shorts. They surrounded me on the set with blue aliens, people with strange heads and god know what! To make sure the animators knew which character was Watto, George had the idea of giving me this large hat. I said “they’re gonna know! I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt!” He said “no, we need to be absolutely sure they know who the character is”. So, it was a very uncomfortable hat and it had a sharp metal rim! At one point, I had to lean very close to Liam to threaten him, and the edge of the rim caught him in the nose. Aaarrggghh! (laughs) and the whole studio went “oooooo!” (puts on a frightened face)
I thought I had broken his nose. He said “well, let this for 5 minutes” and Rick McCallum was rolling on the floor; “God this is gonna cost us!”
The next take Liam asked me to just stand back, and after that I was allowed to lose the hat.
Only to return in Episode II!!
In Episode II it returned….without the baking sun of the desert.
You have worked with both Anakins: Jake Lloyd, the kid Anakin; and Hayden Christensen, the grown-up Anakin. Can you tell us how it was to work with them?
I was very impressed by Jake because of his attitude towards acting. It was like working with an adult. I have worked with children before and they can be very very difficult, especially when they have no good idea of what is going on. Not with Jake, he knew all about the camera-angles etcetera. So, it was easy! And he’s a nice guy too. So, it was fun.
Hayden; I didn’t do so much with him, just one shot. I have to admit that when they got me in for that day and I arrived at the hotel, I had no idea who he was.
Did you expect to return in Episode II? In Episode I we see him losing everything as a result of the lost bet with Qui-Gon Jinn.
George said he would probably return in Episode II. But after Episode II, that was it!
I have to say goodbye to Watto and thank him! (laughs)
Have you ever thought about what could have happened to Watto after Episode II?
What happened to him…I don’t know. I think he has set up some kind of small-scale gambling den. Having lost everything, he’s now selling bits of scrap metal. He’s not the successful man he once was.
Maybe we’ll see him back in the upcoming TV series?
You never know! People keep asking me.
Would you be interested in returning as Watto for the TV series?
Yeah! I like the character! I feel very affectionate. What do you do when you have created a character? You feel a certain responsibility towards it.
Ok, I’ll be sending this tape to George Lucas then!
Hah! Absolutely! (looks into the camera) “Give me a job George!” (laughs)
Right now, you are attending a convention and you have signed lots of items during your career. What would be the weirdest item you have ever signed?
Right….the weirdest item…(thinks). Well, the weirdest item is the most fun item. I once signed a ladies left breast. (laughs)
That was very nice! And it was weird.
Your personal favorite of all six Star Wars movies would be?
I will get into trouble no matter what I say now. I was a big fan of the original trilogy. Then again, I also liked the last one, Revenge of the Sith a lot. I think, mainly for nostalgic reasons, I’d choose A New Hope. I remember watching that in the cinema, totally blown away.
If someone had told you back then that twenty-two years later you would be starring in a new Star Wars movie…
I would have said “you are talking out of your bottom”. Absolutely, no way! (laughs)
Fan mail; do you get lots of it?
I get loads of it! I’ve got stacks! I apologize to any fan watching (editor: it was filmed) this. It mounts up, and with the rest of my life it is sometimes hard to handle it, but I do try to sign everything.
What is the most bizarre thing you have ever experienced at a convention?
I guess…this is quite sweet and strange…it was when I did my first convention ever.
It was at Disneyworld (editor: the Star Wars weekends). It was all new to me; the lines of people, signing things, etc. Suddenly, a Jedi turned up, dressed in robes. He introduced himself with a made-up Jedi name…and then said: meet my family! They were dressed up as Jedi as well, his wife, son and daughter! It went from tall to small, like Russian dolls. It was my introduction to the madness, they take it seriously and see it as a real world.
My final question; please react to the following names and words with as few words as possible.
Great, great guy.
Fun! Fun! It’s not easy, but it beats working.
(with Watto’s voice) I’m a Toydarian!
(with Watto’s voice) No parts! No Deal!