How did you start your career in the movie business?
As a young man, I was living in Los Angeles and ended up helping a friend out who was working on a car commercial and needed someone to stop traffic on the road it was shooting on. This led to a few more commercials until I ended up working in film in the Art department. At first this consisted of driving around in a truck, picking up all the set dressing at various prop houses around Hollywood and bringing them to set. Then, I worked on many films as the ‘On Set dresser’ which meant I stayed on set during filming and dealt with anything the director or Camera needed from the Art Departement. It was hard work but I loved working on set and being directly involved in the shooting process. I did this for about 5 years and was lucky enough to work on films like Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects and horror films like the Amityville, Candyman and Halloween sequels. I suppose, during this time was when I first realised that acting could actually be a career and so I decided to give it a go. I was lucky enough to win a bursary to drama school in London and that set me off on a new path. I left Hollywood to become an actor!
On imdb.com you’re credited as a set dresser on one of the ultimate cult movies: Pulp Fiction. Can you tell something about getting this job and what you had to do?
Being freelance, I would usually be brought on a film through having already worked with the Set Decorator or Production Designer.
Pulp Fiction was shot a lot on a sound stage so a lot had to be designed and built. Once this was done, each set would have to be decorated and be ready for the day of the shoot. Usually, first thing the Director and main heads of department would come and look over the set and make sure it was how they wanted it. Sometimes things needed to be changed or moved to accommodate Camera or lighting. Then the actors would be brought in for rehearsal. You really had to be on your toes in the Art Department and be able to improvise quickly as usually things could change at the last minute and the whole cast and crew would be waiting for you to finish!
Besides Pulp Fiction you also worked on another wellknown movie: The Usual Suspects.
The Usual Suspects was really fun to work on as a lot was on location. I remember we did night shoots on a boat in San Pedro. I remember dressing the police station set and arranging the various things on the notice board which Kevin Spacey’s character uses to fabricate his story in the film’s famous twist.
How did you get cast as a Rebel for Rogue One?
Jina Jay, the casting director, asked me to come along to Twickenham Studios to be put on tape. She had seen me in a stage production of 1984 in the West End and thought I might be right for Rogue One. It was all very secretive and I wasn’t told what part I was auditioning for. I arrived early and had to sign a confidentiality agreement before being given the pages of script to prepare. Then I was brought in to a studio and auditioned to camera. I seem to remember a couple of different scenes (one being an X-Wing Pilot) but I don’t think they were in the final film. The casting director was really great and gave me bits of direction after each take. A couple of days later, my agent rang saying they wanted to offer me a role in a scene with Darth Vader!
You were a kid when the first Star Wars was released. Did you see it back then?
I certainly saw Star Wars as a kid but I can’t remember if it was in the cinema or not. I do remember having some of the character figure toys. It was massive. Funnily, Dave Prowse lived nearby and I remember knocking on his door and he very kindly brought me in and signed a photo he had.
Wasn’t it weird to ‘go back in time’ to the beginning of that movie to become one of the rebels in the starship from the first scene?
Yes, it was very strange when I was first shown around the set at Pinewood. Gareth Edwards, the director, explained the scene to me (I still hadn’t seen a script) but I remembered the opening sequence to ANH very clearly. That first appearance by Darth Vader coming through the doorway is so iconic now, so it was odd to be looking at a replica and thinking I better get this right and shut this door on him and command the launch of the Tantive IV!’
What can you tell about the filming of your scenes?
I was at Pinewood for four days. It was additional photography and reshoots and was very secretive. The first day was doing costume and make up, as well as a stunt assessment, which I had never done before, as well as rehearsal with the fight director and Daniel Naprous, who was playing Vader in the scene. They had set up a mock version of the Starship hallway, made of boxes and crash mats and we played around with different versions of escaping with the Death Star plans and shutting the door. They wanted me to fall through the doorway before closing it on Vader while still keeping hold of the plans. Hard work but a lot of fun.
After that I met with Gareth Edwards and he showed me around the set and we talked through the scene. At this point, I still hadn’t been given a script so I was figuring it out as I went. He spoke about the energy and feel he wanted to capture in the scene and how pivotal to the whole Star Wars story this moment was. I referenced the scenes in ‘Jaws’ and he agreed how it was the reactions and fear of the swimmers which helped sell the danger of the Shark and I should use that.
We filmed in the hallway for 3 days. On the morning of day one I was given my lines, only a handful but it was great to finally get a script. On set was fascinating as it involved lots of stunt men and extras, as well as pyrotechnics. Understandably, filming went quite slowly because of this. We filmed lots of different set ups/takes, angles, close-ups/long shots in the scenes I was in- from the Rebels POV as well as Vader’s. Gareth liked to use the Steadicam and have me react instinctively and improvise dialogue while trying to unjam the door, which was brilliant as he thought it helped bring a realistic urgency to the scene. A lot of time was also spent making sure the journey of the plans was clear for the story line.
Did anything weird or funny happen on the set?
Having the same name as a very successful film director, the 1st AD as well as the rest of the crew insisted that I was always called by my full name on set and took great pleasure in calling me to set or rehearsal with “Can we have Christopher Nolan in position?” It always got a laugh. Gareth said he totally understood my situation, having a famous namesake himself.
Other than my dome shaped Rebel Alderaanian guard helmet flying off most times I did my fall through the doorway or me giving the prop department heart failure by forgetting what I had done with the Death Star plans after each take, everything else seemed to go well.
The star of the final scenes is, without a doubt, Darth Vader. How did the rebel actors react when he appeared on the set?
Luckily, I had met Daniel while in rehearsals but it was totally different once he was in the costume. Darth Vader is just such an iconic brilliant character that you can’t help catching yourself thinking “That’s Darth Vader!” There was a lot of excitement whenever he was on set and a lot of the other actors from other scenes wanted to watch the filming.
When Rogue One was released everyone was talking about the final scenes with Vader and the rebels. Everyone loved it and it blew the fans away. What was your first reaction when you saw it?
I was invited to a cast and crew screening and I was pretty terrified watching it even though I was in it! It was great to actually see it all come together and although much didn’t make the final cut, the fast editing and the hand held camera work really kept the momentum and tension and delivered a scene to remember.
In the junior novelization of Rogue One the writer named your character Toshma Jefkin, a tribute to one of his friends who died of brain cancer. I’d like to hear from you what you think of this.
Yes, I recently was informed of this. I had been asking around if my character had a name or some sort of back story but with no joy. Then I was sent an extract of ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Junior Novel‘ which names my character as Toshma Jefkin, an Alderaanian consular guard. The writer, Matt Forbeck, was granted approval by LucasFilm Story Group to name the character as a tribute to his friend Jeff Mackintosh, who died from brain cancer in late 2016. I thought this was such a touching gesture to make and if this can, in some small way, bring some solace to Jeff’s family and friends, then I’m happy that Toshma Jefkin really can make a difference, both in the Star Wars universe as well as our own.
What have you -besides me asking you for an interview- experienced regarding Star Wars fans since appearing in Rogue One?
That scene seems to have been a favourite with the fans and I have had quite a few requests for autographs/ interviews as well as to attend conventions. Fans have been in contact on twitter and said very kind things. It has just been a great privilege to be, in a very small way, part of the Star Wars story.