Lt. Gavyn Sykes (The Phantom Menace), Anakin Skywalker – Stand-in for Hayden Christensen (Revenge of the Sith)
Interview: February 2010
How did you get started in the movie business?
My passion and roots in the industry actually lie in writing – songs and literature. I recently released my debut album on iTunes and Amazon, however I went to school with actress Kate Beckinsale for 7 years, and continued drama study into my college years. I am creative at heart, and that is something that has never left me, so a natural transition in my 20s was to get a good acting agent, and go from there, which brings us on to your next question…
You were featured in The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith. How did you get cast for these movies?
It was my new acting agent at the time who first got the call about Episode I, where they were looking for just ten Bravo Squadron Naboo Pilots for the movie. I had heard that Star Wars was coming back to London and it was pure chance that I found out about this casting call at the right time, but that is timing I have never been more grateful for! I was called in to audition, where you have a chat with the casting people, have photographs taken, etc. And then a wait. A very long wait. I think it was a few weeks (ouch), until – and I can remember it like it wasn’t thirteen years ago – I was standing in the kitchen at my parents’ house and got the call asking me if I was free on certain dates in August 1997 because, “Christian, they want you for Star Wars”. You can imagine how I felt! My parents knew of my love of the movies, and they couldn’t quite believe it either. Believe it or not that was my first proper movie.
Wow, you’re bringing it all back to me here.
In The Phantom Menace you played a Naboo fighter pilot called Lt. Gavin Sykes. Can you share some memories regarding the filming of this movie?
I have many memories from this time, but here are a couple of the more memorable ones. As mentioned, this was my first movie, and it was literally a baptism of fire. My first ever scene was running across the hanger as the droids (actually extras in white coveralls) fired at us, and explosions went off all around us. The sparks you see are caused by paint ball guns fired by the crew, containing mini-explosive pellets. And yes, they fired them at… us. So it was a very real and very intense feeling, and not difficult to act as though your life depended on getting to your ship. At times these pellets would explode on my hat, with sparks flying across my face. It was pretty intense as you can imagine!
After filming, I got chatting to the person responsible for R2-D2 – Jolyon Bambridge and he actually handed me the controls of R2-D2. Suddenly in my hand was this huge helicopter control pad, and with a flick of the joystick, R2-D2 shot towards me, then stopped with a skid on the shiny hanger floor, within inches of my feet like an obedient dog. THE R2-D2! As a fan myself, you can imagine that this hasn’t quite sunk in yet. There were other R2 units there on set, that actually came from the original movies, and had been repainted to ‘portray’ other R2s in The Phantom Menace. One new droid however, made by ILM, was R2-C4 – the yellow one any fan will recognize, and I was very lucky to have my character Lt. Gavyn Sykes, paired up with R2-C4. There are some photos of us traveling to our fighter together on Wookieepedia I believe. This was something you never forget!
Your character got his own video game back in 2001: The Battle for Naboo. Have you played this game and how do you feel about this: that your character is the lead in a game?
Someone did show me the game, and I had a bit of a play with it I must concede – during the final battle sequence. You could say that Lt. Sykes was controlling… Lt. Sykes! I did a good job even he does say so myself. Wait, now I’m confused. Well anyway, it is such an honor that LucasArts chose my character for the game. The story I heard is that they needed to find a character who survived the final battle, is seen at the end celebration in the movie itself, who looked the part they envisaged, and who had an as-yet unused character name. Although I was ‘Bravo 6’, it was the game itself that tied the character name of ‘Gavyn Sykes’ to that call-sign, and thus tied the movie franchise into the gaming one. As you will know, the game was partly released to answer the question of how Anakin managed to fly through the shields to get inside the ship, if the shields were impenetrable. Someone sent me a copy of the recent Star Wars Insider which finally revealed that it was Sykes who destroyed the shields (in the game and possibly seen in the movie too), that allowed Anakin to have his victory. So in a way, I am responsible for creating Darth Vader. And may I hereby take this platform to apologize to the many Jawas who were slaughtered as a result. Sorry.
For Revenge of the Sith you worked as Hayden Christensen’s stand-in. Can you tell what you exactly had to do as his stand-in? And how was Hayden to work with?
The job of a stand-in is literally to stand in for the actor when he is absent on set. This means watching him rehearse, then when he goes to make up and wardrobe, you continue in his place, running the lines, acting the battles, everything really so the sound, camera, lighting, and effects departments can get everything perfected for when the actor returns. This means that somewhere, there is a version of Episode III that has me playing Anakin.
Please visit my blog on StarWars.com to read my in-depth behind the scenes journals from the making of that film. I hope you like them as much as I enjoyed sharing the details.
The inevitable question: you were directed by ‘the creator’ George Lucas. How is he to work with?
He’s really lovely – relaxed and funny. Although at all times I was never unaware that he is the man responsible for everything, it was easy to feel at ease with him. There is a story on the last day of my blog about him directing me to read Palpatine’s lines to Hayden – which was the last scene filmed for a Star Wars movie, ever. He directed me to do it “more evil”, which I was happy to do. I hope he can hereby consider it my audition for the live action TV series. Seriously though, he’s a lovely guy and you would often hear someone muttering behind you adjusting a lighting stand, only to turn round and see that it was George. He’s very hands-on, and reminded me of Yoda in some ways. It was an honor and privilege to work with and for him and play with the toys in his Tatooine sand-pit.
There must have happened strange, funny or remarkable things when filming The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith. Can you tell something about these moments?
On The Phantom Menace I remember a scene (sadly cut) which was solely of me running up the steps to my ship, jumping in the cockpit, closing the canopy, pressing the launch sequence buttons, then taking off. I remember doing it, closing the canopy, at which point you can’t hear the crew at all, then thinking how well it had gone. Until I hear, “CUT! CUT!”, from down below, and my Ground Crew pointing up to my door seal. It turned out the Naboo long pilot cloaks aren’t that practical and I had shut mine in the canopy door! Oops. You can just imagine other pilots flying next to you in space, pointing to your door, mouthing, “Your coat’s hanging out!”.
On Revenge of the Sith in the scene where Anakin had to walk in on the Younglings, and turn on his lightsaber (very dark scene that), these Younglings just weren’t looking scared enough. We did maybe eight takes of that, and still not scared enough. As a last resort, Hayden walked into the scene, up to the Youngling, then suddenly SCREAMED, “RARRRRRR!” in the poor little five-year old’s face. He looked terrified! And that’s the shot of the kid you see in the movie! Minus Hayden’s scream of course.
You were four years old when the first Star Wars movie was released. I bet you had the toys as a kid? Or weren’t you a fan back then? If you were, what was it like to be on a Star Wars set?
The first film I saw was The Empire Strikes Back when I was seven. My father took me to the cinema, and I’d say my life changed around then. I used to collect action figures, and my best Christmas ever was when I received the AT-AT toy by Hasbro. That was last year. Haha, only joking – but I’d still love one. I must confess I do eye up the Star Wars shelves when I have occasion to buy presents for the little people in my life.
Contrast with that actually then being inside the Star Wars universe and… well what can I say… it still hasn’t sunk in and I’m not sure it ever will. I mean, I’m saying the words, but seriously – how can it ever feel real? I hope my blog helps to share the fan experience for other fans out there – that was my aim.
Besides Star Wars you have appeared in more blockbusters: Batman Begins, Harry Potter, the Mummy Returns…how did you manage to appear in these big movies?
I’d love to say it was down to my talent (!) but the truth is, it is just having the right agent and being in the right place at the right time. They say there is no such thing as luck – but it is where preparation meets opportunity. I’d agree with this – you have to be prepared and do the legwork, but ultimately you have to wait for opportunity to deal its cards. I did a lot of work to make sure I was in the right place at the right time, and then when they cast for these films during what was a very good few years for the British film industry, I found myself cast. For Batman Begins it was on account of just what type of face they were looking for to be Bruce Wayne’s friend, for Harry Potter I happened to share the height and build of Fred Weasley so as to play his older self, and for The Mummy Returns, I had always been told in college that I looked like Brendan Fraser, and he is the exact same height as me also – although I was a little heavier built back then. So that’s just how these things come together, and before you know it, you’re sharing a make-up room with Brendan Fraser whilst he has his hair washed and offers you some pastrami. Life is a curious thing!
You’re not just an actor but also a composer. Suppose you could compose the music for Star Wars. What kind of music would you choose/compose?
I would so something a little magical but more in an alternative electro-pop vein, something you might hear in a Cantina on Coruscant – very other-worldly, yet familiar too. Why, have LucasFilm asked you to approach me to score the next Star Wars project? Now that would really be a surprise – I’m not sure I could take it!
You moved from the UK to Hollywood. What are you currently up to?
I am here in LA working on a sci-fi screenplay – Armageddon meets Romeo and Juliet, but in a very unique way and based on real events. It has never been touched on before and I hope it will be a big studio movie. Watch this space! Other than that, I am hoping preparation (moving to Los Angeles) will again meet opportunity (the right audition for the right project) as I attend regular auditions for productions out here on a weekly basis. Most recently I auditioned twice for the director of Serendipity among others, for a new feature film. You can follow me as I try to ‘make it’ in Los Angeles, via my Facebook fan page, where I keep everyone updated on the daily life of an actor-writer, as it happens.
Regarding the future: what are your goals and dreams?
I hope to direct the movie I am writing, which will also give me the power to cast upcoming actors – maybe even myself on occasion – and also compose the music. Movies are the ideal outlet to combine everything that I love creating – the story, the soundtrack, the characters… I have a number of other screenplays sketched out for the future, so check back with me in a few years and we’ll see if Yoda’s mantra of ‘try not’ has helped me again, as I attempt to ‘do’.
Final question: please finish the following sentence: “When I look back at my work on Star Wars, I ….”
am so thankful for the opportunity to have been a small cog in such a wonderful machine.