PZ-4CO (The Force Awakens)
Interview: April 2016
Hi Ms. Cuzner, I’d like to start with asking you how you got into the movie business.
Whilst I was doing my Postgraduate degree -I studied French and Italian at Cardiff University and went on to do a Postgrad in European Literature-, I started working as a Supporting Artist and a Lifestyle Model. Due to my extensive dance background, I was selected to audition as a “monster” back in 2004, for the revived cult TV series, Doctor Who. The audition was a very intensive but wonderful day of various exercises, mini workshops and challenges with the incredibly talented Doctor Who Choreographer and Movement Director, Ailsa Berk. From that day, I went on to play a variety of Doctor Who Monsters for over 10 years, for both television and stage. During this time, I learnt so much from Ailsa and my fellow monsters. Ailsa has been in the industry for a long time and is best known for her work on Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and also as a Wheeler on one of my childhood favourites, Return to Oz. During my time on Doctor Who, I also had the pleasure of meeting and working alongside the inspirational actor, physical performer and choreographer, Paul Kasey, who played a wide variety of monsters on the series, having had his first experience of playing a monster in the vampire thriller Blade 2.
You play the resistance droid PZ-4CO in The Force Awakens. How exactly did you get this part?
In November 2013, I got a voicemail from someone requesting for my CV. They were currently working on a production and Paul Kasey was the CFX Movement Director and had recommended me. I had no clue what the production was but promptly updated my CV and sent it in the very next day. I didn’t hear anything for over 6 months and assumed I had been unsuccessful.
Out of the blue, I then received a phone call asking if I could go to Pinewood Studios to be measured for a possible role in a production. It wasn’t until I arrived at the studios that I was made aware of what the production was. I was absolutely lost for words! (Something that doesn’t happen very often!) I will never forget that feeling – a mixture of disbelief, excitement, fear, joy and a huge desire to shout “YES!” as loudly as I could! Just for the record, I was able to control myself and thankfully didn’t actually scream anything out loud!
Before I knew it, I was being whisked off to be measured and to meet a variety of exceptionally talented people. I was first introduced to Pierre Bohanna, HOD Modeller. I then had the pleasure of meeting Toby Hawkes, Supervising Modeller and Neil Ellis, Senior Modeller, who had the challenging job of building PZ-4CO from scratch. Last but by no means least, I was introduced to Michael Kaplan, the Costume Designer and then Creature Concept Designer, Jake Lunt, who generously showed me his original drawings of the droid.
It was only as I was driving home that I realised that day was in fact my “audition”.
And as a result you became-as the credits state- a droid puppeteer for The Force Awakens!
PZ-4CO didn’t have her own specific credit. My name was credited alongside my fellow Creature Actors and Puppeteers under the heading of Creature and Droid Puppeteers. All I know is that I was absolutely delighted to see my name up there on the big screen – and in fact, whilst at the cinema, I asked the person in the row in front of me to basically get out of the way, as he was standing right in front of me putting his coat on whilst the credits were rolling. He gave me a bit of a strange look so I had to quickly explain that I was in the film, so he promptly sat down and watched and cheered along with us!
Due to all the secrecy you couldn’t tell anyone you were in the movie, until recently.
Prior to the film’s release, we were forbidden to discuss any aspect of the movie – or indeed, tell anyone other than our immediate family, that we were even working on the film. We definitely could not speak about any role or roles we may be playing. Once the film was released, I waited until I received permission to discuss my role and then made my announcement.
Were you a Star Wars fan before you got cast?
Before I got cast, I wouldn’t be able to class myself as a fan sadly. Although I do have very fond memories of it being a big part of my childhood, from trying to put my long hair into Princess Leia style side buns, to wishing I had a pet Ewok! Plus I was always intrigued by and in awe of C-3PO and R2-D2.
What was the first time you saw a Star Wars movie?
I actually cannot remember the first time I saw a Star Wars movie, I would have to ask my older brother. However as soon as I realised I was going to be playing a role in a Star Wars film, I ordered the Star Wars Original Trilogy episodes and watched them all in one afternoon. I think it was at that moment that it started to sink in that I was actually going to be working on a Star Wars film.
I always enjoy the funny, remarkable and weird stories about the things that happened during filming. Do you have any?
Oh I had so much fun filming The Force Awakens and have so many fantastic and cherished memories. Plus each day was remarkable. I was filming Star Wars! With the acclaimed Director J.J. Abrams! It doesn’t get more remarkable or weird than that!
I guess one of my most memorable and most surreal moments was at one of my first rehearsal days. I had been working long and hard with Paul Kasey on several “walks” for the droid. We were rehearsing a scene that we were going to showcase to J.J. Abrams for him to meet the various weird and wonderful creatures who were forming the Resistance. My vision in the suit was rather limited but I could see someone watching me with a lot of intent and interest. When the modellers Toby Hawkes and Neil Ellis came to take the head off of the droid to give me air (she was very heavy and tall so it always took the two guys to put me in her and to take her off of me), this chap who had been watching me started walking over to me. It was at this moment that I realised it was none other than Anthony Daniels. He had a lovely big smile on his face, he took my hand and said “Oh, I have to congratulate you on your walk. It is just delightful. Well done!” I couldn’t have asked for better feedback from a more worthy critic!
Another one that springs to mind was actually the last scene that I filmed, which sadly became a deleted scene. I was doing a close up with John Boyega and after about 10 minutes Toby came up to me and asked if I needed any air or water. Those guys looked after me so well! He used my name when asking this and suddenly John Boyega, who was lying on a gurney, sat bolt upright with a face of both confusion and disbelief and said: “Oh my God, is there an actual person in that?!” I knew at that point that I had done a really good job of making PZ-4CO come alive.
Could you describe an average day on the set of The Force Awakens?
I don’t think there was ever an average day as such but as with all film work, there were many times when we were waiting around, mainly whilst shots were being set up or whilst other scenes were being filmed. But actually some of my most cherished memories are the “hanging about” ones. I was so lucky to work with such a fabulous bunch of fellow Creature Actors and Puppeteers, many of whom have become firm friends, that whenever we weren’t on set, we would be chatting (and very often laughing) away.
A few months before The Force Awakens was released PZ-4CO starred in the Star Wars novel Moving Target, which takes place before the movie. Have you read this novel?
No…but it is now top of my reading list! Thank you for the heads up!
There’s a PZ-4CO action figure! When did you find out you were ‘immortalized’ as a toy and what was your feeling then?
During the filming of The Force Awakens, I was taken to another studio to be “scanned”; a very fascinating and technically brilliant method of taking literally hundreds of photographs to enable a toy to be made to the exact specifications of the droid. It was at this moment that I became aware that she was going to be a Star Wars action figure. I was over the moon about it and couldn’t wait to see her. My mum bought me my first one and she is still in her box, sitting on the shelf above my television.
Episode VIII is currently filming. Any chance we’ll see you as PZ-4CO or another character?
I would love it if they brought PZ-4CO back. I became very fond of her! And of course, it would be wonderful to also play another character. I guess we will all have to wait and see.
Are there new projects or movies you’re currently working on (or will start working on soon)?
I am currently very busy with my regular job. I am a Dance Fitness Instructor and Hypopressive Practitioner and absolutely love what I do. This time of year is always busy with summer fast approaching, plus I am fortunate enough to be invited to be a Guest Presenter at various venues and events all over the UK. But who knows what is around that corner….!