Creature Performer (The Force Awakens)
Interview: May 2016
How did you start your movie career?
My first role in film and television was on a national TV show called Wolf Blood were I performed stunts for the leading role on the show. I got the role through friends that I happened to be training martial arts with, who I had recently met and they were looking for someone who could fill the role as a stunt double on the show. Little did I know they were stunt performers themselves, so when they asked me if I would like to audition for them I jumped at the opportunity and things went from there. A week later I was on set performing. Through this I later gained work on films such as Into the Woods and Pan also performing stunts. Thus my career on film started.
And then you got cast in The Force Awakens where you played an alien in Maz Kanata’s castle. How did you get cast for this part?
I got cast for this part through a recommendation from my amazing agent, as I already had had experience in working in costume, performing in stage shows internationally. So I was put forward for the role as a creature performer. I went in for a costume fitting and they were really pleased with my body shape and appearance so they started work on my creature costume straight away, a few months later I came in to do a full costume fitting with all the parts finished and everyone seemed happy and relieved that I was the perfect match. This was however the only creature I played on The Force Awakens.
What can you tell about your costume?
The costume was brilliant to perform in however very challenging but I embraced it and reaped the rewards as I was regularly praised for my performance on set. It usually would take around thirty minutes to put the costume on and about an hour to paint my hands as I didn’t wear prosthetics for them which looked great. It was a very heavy costume so rather difficult to move in but my character was that of an old alien so moving slowly helped to build his character. The neck of the alien was actually on top of my head so the alien seemed way taller and over that was a dress he wore which draped down from his neck so that barely gave me any visibility. I had an earpiece in so I could be given instructions from the movement director who would tell me where and how he wanted me to move. The head did not move unless I moved my left hand as I was holding onto a hookah pipe that he was smoking throughout the scene so if I moved my hand left the head would move also as it was above my head and not a mask. The hookah pipe was stuck into his mouth so I was always holding onto it. My left hand also held a flask which drew a bubbling blue and red liquid as I puffed on my pipe, so both my hands were always busy. The facial movements of the head itself were performed by a creature puppeteer as they used animatronics to control the movements and the desired reactions. I got to play with my head for a short while on set with the remote control and it was a real treat.
How did the filming of your scenes go?
The filming went great. In the movie the scene lasted around five minutes but it took around two weeks to film and the difficulties only lied in how long you would have to be in costume at any given time. I remember I was sitting in costume right next to an alien on a skewer being barbecued on a live fire and thinking ‘I am roasting, hopefully not long to go’ as that was hard to manage. The production did a really good job in making sure we didn’t have to go beyond the filming hours and work overtime, although we usually would as they wanted as many shots and angles as possible. I worked with a great group of actors, creature performers and puppeteers who helped make the experience fun and lively and we all got on super well. The costume department also helped keep us cool while we were in costume with air blowers and regular water breaks.
Could you share some good or funny stories about what happened on the set?
It was amazing being on set with like-minded people because we all got on so well, and I remember a time when the production told us to relax while they were setting up the next shot and we were all so tired from having worked the night before that all the extras, creature performers and stunt performers were on the floor sleeping in the tent they provided trying to get some extra sleep before filming started again. This made me realize the effort we were all putting in and is one of my fond memories from working on the movie.
What do you think of JJ Abrams? How did he direct you?
I thought JJ was a brilliant director very down to earth and easy to get along with. Not only did he motivate us but every time it was getting a little too uncomfortable in costume he would always praise us once we came out of costume and tell us what an excellent job we were doing. It was very easy working under him as he was such a humble guy and would speak to everybody as his equal and often gave motivational speeches about how we were making history once again for working on such an illustrious movie which would give the whole crew a burst of energy and no one wanted to let him down.
Main cast members like Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Harrison Ford were on the set of Maz Kanata’s castle. Did you get to interact with them and what impression did they make on you?
It was an honour to work alongside Harrison Ford who seemed to be loving the experience as he always had a smile on his face. All the new cast members seemed really happy to be working on the film as well. To me it seemed like they were given a golden ticket because they always seemed cheerful especially Daisy and John, and they would have a laugh and a good time on set while being serious when it came to filming. I was lucky enough to speak to Daisy a little while on set and she seemed nice and down to earth, but didn’t get a chance with the other actors as I had to be professional on set and hold my excitement towards them! I got to watch them act at times and it was funny to see them mess up lines because they were always laughing. Especially the one liners Harrison would come up with if he fudged a line.
One of the most memorable Star Wars scenes is the Cantina scene from the first movie. In many ways the first scene in Maz Kanata’s palace is a new version of that classic scene. Do you think 30 years from now it will be a classic as well?
I definitely believe it is an iconic scene and a memorable one at that considering all the effort that went into it and all the alien creatures that played a part in that scene. Even if it isn’t an iconic scene to the fans which I highly doubt, it will always be a classic scene for me.
What was your very first Star Wars experience?
The first Star wars movie I watched was when I was a child around 17 years ago and it was Return of the Jedi in my cousin’s house and I absolutely loved it. I had to leave before the movie had ended so I tried to prolong my stay. Soon after I remember the game coming out on the SNES and it was awesome. By then I was a fan.
How do you look back on the whole Star Wars experience? And will that experience continue in Rogue One and Episode VIII?
Looking back I feel privileged to have worked on such a high profile movie and something I admired as a child and growing up. I have made lifelong friends through this role and have many fond memories and moments from this experience as well. Unfortunately I cannot disclose any involvement on the upcoming movies but look forward to seeing them in the big screen.