Nikto (Revenge of the Sith), Lor San Tekka (double) (The Force Awakens), Imperial Fleet Officer (Rogue One)
Interview: April 2018
How did it all began, you and the movie business. How, when and where did your career take off?
I saw an advert in the local paper for extras in the film Enigma. I managed to get a featured role in the production and also doubled for Dougray Scott in one scene, which really spiked my interest and love for the film industry. From there I managed to join a Supporting Artiste Agency and have not looked back since.
I read that (I quote) “A pleading email from his children to his agent, accompanied by a cute photograph of them in their Star Wars costumes, surrounded by their toys, led to a role as a Female Nikto in the UK reshoots for Revenge of the Sith and a chance to work directly with George Lucas.”
Please, tell me all the details as it sounds like a great story!
I was aware that some of my friends were getting enquiries to work on the movie at Pinewood, but so far I had not been approached. My boys were really interested in Star Wars and desperate that I try and get work on the production. The timing of their email and photograph coincided with one of the other supporting artistes (SA) dropping out, as they were suffering from claustrophobia from wearing the Nikto head mask. The next day I was having a costume fitting at Pinewood! The filming day was marvellous, with all the familiar characters in costume, but we were totally unaware what the scene related to due to script secrecy and the presence of a huge blue screen upon which we performed. George Lucas insisted that one of the pair of Niktos had to be female and plonked a curly wig on my head. The other SA was right about the costume being claustrophobic and we were constantly fanned by costume and make-up colleagues, together with water fed through the mask using a straw.
Almost 10 years later you returned to the Star Wars universe, doubling for the legendary Max Von Sydow. How did you get hired for this part?
An agent who had worked with me in the past kept trying to contact me and I kept ignoring the call, as I was busy with something else. I eventually picked up the call and the minute she told me it was a secret production called AVCO, it didn’t take my boys long to let me know it was the new JJ Abrams Star Wars movie. I immediately said yes and was booked to do camera tests one night later that week. Along with the other doubles, we were taken to this marvellous set on the backlot at Pinewood and told to act out various scenes, with no idea what we were doing, no script and no idea who we were – apart from the new Stormtrooper costumes, Kylo Ren mask and red lightsaber. Being only 53 at the time, I naturally assumed that I was doubling for Harrison Ford, who I had briefly met in the make-up truck that week. When my scene came to be test filmed with my mate Lucas dressed as Kylo Ren cutting me down, we were certain this would be the end of Han Solo – hardly realising that I was actually doubling for the 85 year old Max Von Sydow! In fact we even made up dialogue for some scenes, such was the secrecy of the project. I would love to see some of the footage that was shot, especially me thanking Poe for cleaning my windows and paying him with what turned out to be the map to locate Luke Skywalker. As you can imagine, my boys were excited to find out what I had been doing each night but with the strictest secrecy at school.
Did you meet Max Von Sydow and how was it to work with such a legendary actor?
There were so many legendary actors on this production and I was very fortunate to meet them all – John Boyega even remembered me arresting him on Attack the Block. Max and his wife were very kind and I would have loved to have had a copy of the photograph that one of the crew took of me, Max and the stunt man, Paul Weston, standing side-by-side, all looking exactly the same.
While filming The Force Awakens JJ Abrams praised you with “Hey Phil! You’re killing it!”. What is the full story behind this?
As you can imagine, once Adam Driver had cut me down, I spent a lot of the night shoot laying in the soft sand, playing dead and trying not to fall asleep. It was particularly difficult to remain so when the Stormtroopers who, bless them, had very restricted vision, kept thrown Poe to the ground in front of Kylo Ren, but virtually always onto my legs! Having generally taken direction through the 1st AD Tommy, it was great to get praise from JJ himself and that he actually knew my name.
You have been directed by George Lucas, JJ Abrams, Gareth Edwards and Ron Howard. What defines each director according to you?
I have been very lucky to work on such amazing production and to see directors of such high calibre in action, particular when being directed personally by them on some occasions. Each occasion is such a small part of the overall movie, so you don’t get a larger picture emerging but rather wonder throughout the entire production how your little scene fits into the overall story (and praying it doesn’t get cut!) However, when scenes are cut, such as Rogue One and Solo reshoots, you know it can only be to improve the finished movie.
Are there funny or remarkable stories can you share regarding your time on the set of all the Star Wars movies you have been in?
My wife probably doesn’t think it’s funny, but I was so unexpectedly excited upon returning home at 4.00 am from the camera tests on VII that I was leaping on the bed shouting ‘you wont believe what I have just been doing on set…’ and then her disappointment that I wasn’t actually doubling for Harrison Ford! Then there was collecting all the loose sand from Jakku out of my beard before going to bed and saving it in a little plastic bag for an avid Star Wars fan friend of mine.
What is the best or most precious memory you have regarding working on the Star Wars movies?
The joy my working on the Star Wars Movies gave my children and now my joy that my children are working on the latest Star Wars movies too – although unfortunately we haven’t been on set together at the same time in any of the Star Wars productions. My son, Robin, plays a Mudtrooper in the forthcoming Solo and had three glorious weeks fulfilling a childhood dream, including standing-in for Solo for a few scenes.
What was the first time you saw a Star Wars movie and were you a fan before you got cast?
I was in the front of the queue in 1977 and followed all the subsequent movies. Who can’t be a fan of Star Wars?
Besides Star Wars you have appeared in many movies like Harry Potter, Batman Begins, Wonder Woman, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom… what do you regard as your personal highlight?
I have been lucky to play so many great roles in the eighteen years since Enigma. Voldemort double in the first Harry Potter and stand-in for Goyle in the last (when Robin was also a student at Hogwarts!) Actually, it is probably going to be Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, but you will have to wait to find out why – having doubled for Ted Levine on this production. So hard to choose……
Next month the Han Solo movie will be released and you’re in this one as well! What kind of character do you play and what do you expect from the movie?
I’m afraid I’ve been type cast as an Imperial Officer again! A lot of my scenes were re-shot when Ron Howard took over, so I’m uncertain what to expect. Hopefully the reshoots have improved the story like Rogue One and both Robin and I make the final cut. Fingers crossed!