Hassani Shapi (Eeth Koth)

Hassani Shapi
Eeth Koth (The Phantom Menace)
Interview: April 2010

How did you start your acting career? I read that you originally studied medicine?

Yes, before becoming an actor I was a veterinary doctor, having obtained my masters degree in Paris, France. I was working in a private clinic in Paris when I decided to drop veterinary and to get into acting. My first job was with an English theatre company in Paris called ACT. And I have never looked back since.

How did you get cast for Star Wars: the Phantom Menace?

What was incredible about the casting for my character, I presume for the other characters too, was that they had a drawing of Eeth Koth on paper before the actors were seen. So the actor had to look like the drawing. They were looking for actors who had some movement training and I had worked with a contemporary dance company for several years. So when I turned up for the audition and saw the drawings of Eeth Koth, I could not believe the resemblance! Luck I guess.

In Star Wars: the Phantom Menace you played the Jedi Master Eeth Koth. The scene everyone remembers is the one with you and all the other Jedi, including actors Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Samuel L. Jackson.
Can you tell something about the filming of this scene?

This was a long scene to shoot as the set was in the round, which meant many different camera angles. Also there were many characters in this scene. The Jedi Council scenes took almost two weeks to film. For me the pleasure was seeing my two favorite characters, R2-D2 and Yoda, animated by Frank Oz, come to life.

You were directed by George Lucas. Some people love him, some people say he’s not a good director. How were your experiences with him and what is your opinion?

I found George Lucas to be a very discrete man, never attracting attention and very humble. Most of the directorial notes he passed on to his assistant and then the assistant communicated this to us.

What was the atmosphere on the set? Did you and the other actors get along well? Did any strange, funny or remarkable things happen on the set?

The atmosphere on the set was one of brother hood, or clan like. Most films I have done have had the star sometimes acting up, sometimes not, and always with the actors placed in a peck order. This was a rare moment where there seemed to have been an equality amongst all, Star Wars the film being the star.

You weren’t in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Why didn’t you return to play your character again?

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones was filmed in Australia and they wanted to use local actors. So most of the Jedi knights were replaced.

Your character, Eeth Koth, has featured in many books and comics. Did you know this? And if so, do you keep up with these stories?

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I have been really busy these last few years and have not had the time to catch up on the character. But I will certainly do this as soon as time allows.
You know Star Wars has an enormous fan base. Every die-hard Star Wars fan knows your name. What is your feeling towards this?

I think Star Wars is a phenomenon, and I am very happy to be associated with it. And to tell the truth, as an actor, it is a good thing that one’s name is known.

You have had roles in the popular TV series Spooks and Waking the Dead. Where do your preferences lie? TV series or motion pictures?

I appreciate both these media, and in the end it is the quality of the writing and the genius of the director which counts, whether it be in television or cinema. However I also do love theatre tremendously.

Suppose you could play any role in any movie. Which role and which movie, or what kind of movie, would you choose?

The kind of movies I love? I love science fiction, and to an extent horror movies. I would love to play a character like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, or maybe Yoda if the role were to be played by an actor. The role of a vampire also has its attraction to me.

Looking at the future: what are your next projects? Can you tell something about it?

At the moment I am filming an Italian comedy in Puglia, South Italy called Sensa Arte ne Parte which looks at contemporary artists and their works. I did a film called Lezioni di cioccolato in Italy three years ago, and its popularity has created a lot of work for me here in Italy. After this I go to Torino to do another film, Maschi contro Feminne, followed by a television series L’Isola to be shot in L’Isola d’Elba. In 2011 I begin filming Lezioni di Cioccolato 2 the prequel.