Kenji Oates (Saesee Tiin)

Kenji Oates
Saesee Tiin (Revenge of the Sith)
Interview: April 2010

How did you get started in the movie business?

Pure luck. A friend’s boyfriend got a job doing IT for the Matrix sequels. They were looking for help doing a whole stack of network cabling and basic support. So I came on to do a couple of weeks of work, one thing led to another and I ended up staying for the duration. From there it was purely word of mouth, which is the way things seem to work in the movie business.

You portrayed the Jedi Master Saesee Tiin in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. How did you get this part?

Again pure luck and a lot of help from great people. My real job on Episode III was looking after the IT infrastructure for the production. It was a great job because it took me to every department, and I was on the film from very close to the start. This enabled me to meet a lot of great people. Some of those great people, and I never did find out who initiated it, decided that my face was the right structure to fit the already made Saesee Tiin mask (from Episode II). So it was suggested to the producer (Rick McCallum, I noticed you interviewed him as well, great, extraordinarily generous guy) and he said that it was fine as long as the costume and mask fit. Which they didn’t. Luckily, the awesome guys in costume and creature shop just changed it all to make it fit.

You were in the fight scene with Samuel L. Jackson and Ian McDiarmid. Can you tell something about the filming of this scene?

Yeah that was pretty funny one. I’d had no performance experience before this, apart from the occasional speech in high school or university, and I think one scene before this, the council chamber, where I was just sitting there, so still that Ewan asked if I was OK.
I think the funniest part for me in filming that scene, was when the Emperor (and it was the Emperor, as he was fully kitted up and looked quite nasty) accidentally stepped on me midway through the scene, then after the shot, he came up to me (still the Emperor) and said with a Ian McDiarmid’s perfectly nice elderly English gentleman’s voice “oh I think I stepped on you back there, dreadfully sorry”.

Were there other scenes filmed with you that were cut from the final movie?

I can only remember one, where we were walking toward the Emperor’s chamber, just before the above. I feel like there was another one, but can’t remember it.

How do you look at your character?

Well… he’s pretty ugly? I always liked the design of the bad guys when I was a kid (Transformers, GI Joe etc), but at heart felt like a good guy, so I suppose it’s not bad to look like a bad guy, but be one of the good guys.

How was the atmosphere on the set?

I noticed Rick described it as military in his interview. I would agree, except that military implies that it was strict and disciplined. I didn’t feel like it had that, I felt more like I was working with a great bunch of professionals who all wanted to get the job done right. Military implies to me that people took orders and followed them blindly, I felt like the crew were more autonomous and talented. Maybe military in the sort of guerilla warfare sense? It was definitely the best movie I’ve worked on. It was organized and done right, no massively long days or periods of extreme stress because things were planned and executed properly.

You were directed by George Lucas. How would you describe him?

Very quiet and focused. I would say quite introverted, definitely not flamboyant at all, but you can tell that he’s constantly thinking. When you talk to him, it feels like you can see thoughts ticking along behind his eyes.

You have worked on the visual effects for another blockbuster: Superman Returns. Can you tell something about what you exactly did for that movie?

I was working with Rising Sun Pictures at that time, who were providing the previsualisation team. I helped set up the IT infrastructure and support for those guys, as well as for the guys who did some of the scenes from the film itself. I did similar work on some other films that shot (and didn’t shoot) down here.

There has been criticism on the prequels; some people say that there is too many CGI in the movie. Since you’re someone who’s in the visual effects business I’d like to hear your opinion.

I think it was really a new style of movie, and maybe those people weren’t ready for it. If you think about what made the original Star Wars movies so popular, the gritty, wild west reality of it, with busted up broken space ships etc, you can see how the completely unreal, shiny, almost cartoony quality of prequels could rub old fans the wrong way. I actually quite like the cartoony look, and the absolute freedom it gives the director to make the world look exactly as they like. The story that was being told would not be possible using any other method, so I think perhaps people’s real argument is that they didn’t like the style of the CGI, not that it was used.

Looking at the future: what are your current and upcoming projects?

I’m actually out of the film industry now and have moved over to my field of training which is engineering. I’m working in automation for theatre and opening ceremonies. The film world was fun, but very draining, and doesn’t leave much time for other things in your life. Upcoming projects should be 2010 World Cup and Commonwealth Games with

Final question: please finish the following sentence:

When I look back at my work on Star Wars

I feel extremely fortunate.