Mark Alec Rutter
First Order Stormtrooper, Resistance Soldier (The Force Awakens)
Interview: January 2016
Mr. Rutter, my first question: What or who made you want to become an actor?
From an early age I was subjected to film by my mother and was brought up on all the Hollywood movies from musicals to Westerns. At school I always wanted to join in the plays but was so shy and it was not until I was in my late teens that I had the courage to perform. I had a very Victorian upbringing and was told that I needed to get a proper job so it was not until I was 34 that I did a two year Drama course and passed with distinction. The acting business is very hard to get into as you know, but I am fortunate enough now to pursue what I love.
How did you get cast as a Stormtrooper and resistance Soldier for The Force Awakens?
I was put up for the role by my agent and went along for the screen test and boot camp. The role of a Stormtrooper is actually quite demanding and your measurements are quite important for the suit. When I got to Pinewood Studios I was slightly dismayed that 98 % of the guys were under 25, ‘No pressure then!’ I am 53, the oldest Stormtrooper on The Force Awakens, but just got on with it and as always did my best. After two days of being tested for various different assessments , including stair walking in suit, weapon maneuvers, marching and running in formation, the 100 or so Troopers were split into three groups, A, B and C group. I had made it into a group! And later told I was to be in the core 8, which would be used for all close work on camera. I was told I looked good in the costume but it is actually very uncomfortable to wear and after a short time it becomes evident that the day is going to be tough…but we are on the set of Star Wars! Right? So man up. The part of Resistance Soldier was cast at Pinewood and by now we were all known for our reliability so it was a case of being chosen for our look and ability I guess. I feel very lucky to have got on this iconic movie.
Were you a Star Wars fan before you got cast?
No, I must admit I was not to be honest I was not blown away with Sci-fi and at the time more into Rocky and such like, it was not until the arrival of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, I was well into the whole Star Wars thing. There is nothing like it and I don’t think there ever will be anything to top Star Wars.
Back to The Force Awakens: In which specific scenes can we see you as a Stormtrooper?
Well, being one of the Core 8 I was in most of the scenes. In fact being very close to camera and as with all films what you see on screen they get cut or manipulated in some way. In opening scene invading the village, coming off the landing ship and running down ramp, holding prisoners and sweeping thru village. The scene where Finn gets the blood on his helmet from his fellow trooper, I can be seen walking past behind. This was a night shoot, one of nearly two weeks’ worth of village scenes.
The scene they used for the trailer, I am seen in this. It’s a widely published photo, where troopers are all ready for attack on the village looking for Lor San Tekka in the landing craft. I remember it very well as it was amazing…I had one of those moments standing on this craft. I will always remember thinking: ‘wow, this is Star Wars Mark!’ I remember saying they would use this scene for the trailer and they did!
The scene when Finn and Poe steal the Tie fighter, I am on ground firing at the ship as it tries to break free. This was a massive scene and filmed over several days, lots of different shots and we were used for many camera angles. The scene had a lot of pyro going off and I remember the set actually catching fire for a brief second but the fire support was awesome. I am also scene here walking up 30 steps at the back of the set to the right, a very small trooper. What people don’t realize is I had to go up 30 steps for each take and then walk back down, 29 takes! During the two day boot camp we were told that they would need someone to walk up stairs and we all had to try and do this and look as natural as possible, many did not try as the steps were shallow and visibility was very poor with those helmets on. I must have done something right because I was chosen. When the day came the set was awesome and I saw the steps and remember thinking, ‘Heck’, help me through this!’ each time I passed a steam exhaust, this was one of the hardest days for me on set but all part of the job.
In the corridor scenes with Adam Driver, I am marching back and forth and in corridors while Daniel Craig was doing his mind games with Daisy Ridley.
In the scene with the landing craft where the Stormtroopers are running towards the village I run to the right. In this scene I and several others fell on hitting the sand in first couple of takes, vision was very bad and as there was a trooper right in front of us made it worse.
As I said, many scenes and many amazing memories to share, just a few here.
Besides playing a First Order Stormtrooper you’re also the resistance soldier who helps Chewbacca carry a wounded Finn off the Millennium Falcon. What can you tell about filming this scene?
This scene was filmed at RAF Greenham Common, and the weather was good. The production had a lot of trouble keeping it secret and there were many days when filming had to stop or wait because planes, helicopters, or drones were overhead trying to get a glimpse of what was going on. Some photos were leaked to the press of X-Wings and sets. Production covered X-Wings up to hide them and it was quite stressful for JJ I believe.
On one of the days JJ had his own drone up in the air with camera on board so he could view the scene from the helicopters point of view but obviously a lot less expensive. When he was happy with everything he would bring in the chopper. I remember us all watching him maneuver it and we all applauded when he did a faultless landing.
On the day of the Falcon scene I turned up and was sent straight into makeup, so knew it was going to be a special day, and it was. The AD said to me: ‘ remember me when you’re famous!’, I remember laughing. This specific scene where I help Chewie carry Finn off the Millennium Falcon was considerably longer than what you see. Initially I run up to Chewie from camera left and help him down the ramp to a sort of first aid wagon. The camera pans round and I turn to camera, -face clearly seen- and then we were filmed travelling away through the crowd who had turned up to see the arrival of Han Solo off the falcon.
Poe (Oscar Isaac) was on the wagon and they drive off slowly with me running alongside holding Finn on the back. I had a trouble keeping a straight face as Poe was making fun of Finn and cracking jokes, it made a hot day much more fun.
Can you share more of your memories regarding the time you worked on The Force Awakens?
I have many amazing memories from this particular film, so many days on different sets, some nights, and many days in studios. Some in the rain and some in extreme heat but here are just two or three for now.
What people do not necessarily know about big major Studios it that other stuff is going on in other sets and films and many actors are massive fans of Star Wars and the actors themselves have families.
On one of the days I was standing in for Harrison Ford. It was in fact the scene where he and his son Kylo Ren are walking on the bridge just before Solo gets struck down and I was just relaxing there off set with a coffee and someone walked in and stood beside me. It was Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and he just wanted to have a look and say hi I guess, he turned to me and said hi, I returned the compliment and he walked off and had a chat with JJ, all part of filming I guess.
Another great day was actually the scene where all the troopers turn to see the planet explode. This was a really long day, 13 hours in costume I believe and such a scorcher. Troopers were passing out from heat and sweat constantly running down our backs into our boots, so glamorous! Continuous running day so no break for dinner as such. Anyway the day had come to an end and we were tired, waiting for the word,” wrap” but an AD came over to us troopers and said: ‘I need two troopers’, one guy said ok and the next made up an excuse that his helmet was missing, so I said: ‘OK, I’m in’. We were taken out past set and behind an easy-up, and there waiting and looking was Mark Hamill himself, with his wife and two children. We walked up and he approached me and said: ‘Hi, pleased to meet you, I would shake your hand but you’re carrying a gun and helmet’, I instantly replied with: ‘I can put the helmet down’, smiled and introduced myself. We were photographed with Mr. Hamill, me to his left pointing my gun at him and he is looking at me. I guess this was just a personal photograph but it might come out somewhere later. Again he was very humble and thanked me for my time, true gent. Great day for me.
And finally for me, for now was the day when we got to set and the trooper costumes had been cleaned and polished. We were told that Annie Leibovitz (editor’s note: a very famous photographer who did a Star Wars photoshoot for Vanity Fair) was here to photograph us, wow, this was awesome. We were taken down to ‘The Paddock’ area of rough ground at back of Pinewood Studio where many outdoor scenes are done. Here we posed with Gwendoline Christie in full silver suit! I stood directly behind her right with a red captain flash on my shoulder…this photo has yet to emerge.
Then we were asked to pose in the mud for more photos, there were only about 5, 6 troopers used for this shoot which was to be used for the magazine Vanity Fair, she is a total perfectionist and people were running about after her every whim. She was not happy with the suits being so clean, and we were all splashed with mud to give the shots more realism. Much to the disgust of the costume department, who would have to clean them all off again.
Finally a great group shot with crew, great day.
I bet strange or funny things have happened during the making of the movie.
One of the strange days was the day when Harrison Ford had the accident (editor’s note: he broke his leg on the set), I had in fact just got to set that day only to be told to go home…at this point no one knew what had happened and it was not till I got home that I found out about his accident. I won’t go into it any more as it’s not my place but the whole set was shut down. That was an easy short day. On return to set I had decided to get him a get well card with Darth Vader on the front, I got several troopers to sign it and wrote, “Get well soon, from the enemy”. I hope it made him chuckle.
You mentioned JJ Abrams earlier in this interview. What do you think of him as a director?
JJ is very calm and focused on what he wants, on the rare occasion that he does speak he commands the set and speaks with a controlled voice that only comes from experience. Most of the time the producer Tommy Harper runs the show to be honest and JJ is there behind the screens making sure everything is the way he wants. Tommy is a well-loved character on set and could always be heard shouting, “Energy Energy”, with every take, with his broad Scottish accent. The main impression I got from JJ is that he was honored to be directing The Force Awakens and loved every minute of it.
Besides acting you’ve also worked as a voiceover. Which of these two do you prefer?
Yes, I have been heavily involved in two voiceover projects, which not only had me doing voiceover but also on location in Finland in winter and summer. I was involved in production also but I have to say acting is what I love; becoming someone else for the day has its appeal.
Last question: what do you regard as the highlight of your career?
Well I have done a lot in my life but I have to say that being involved in something as awesome as Star Wars has to be right at the top of the list of achievements.
Thank you for this interview! You surely had a lot of interesting things to say!