You’re a pretty big Star Wars fan and you have a pretty big collection as well. How and when did you become a fan?
Before I could even spell. My first playset was the Cantina Playset. I had the original 12 figures. My mother got me that magnetic alphabet board and I remember the first word I put together on there was ‘Jawa.’
The dream of every fan is to actually be in Star Wars. How did you get cast for The Mandalorian?
I am blue collar actor. I have been very fortunate to land numerous Guest Stars and Co Stars on television, however I never turn down work of any kind. In order to survive in this business as an actor, you have to accept flexible jobs of all kinds. I was invited in for a simple makeup test for a major Hollywood Special Effects Company, Legacy Effects. It was there that I met Brian Sipe, one of the leading makeup artists within their company. There was no discussion of any future work or what the project was. I had previous prosthetic experience before (Van Helsing, Bright, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). I was calm and professional for the entire 6 hours of application. Brian and I got to know each other. At the end I handed him my business card telling him I’d love to work on whatever project he was doing. It did not cross my mind one bit that it was Star Wars as Star Wars has always been filmed overseas for the most part. I received a phone call two weeks later to report for a project code named, Huckleberry. I did not realize it was a Star Wars project until I was invited into a wardrobe room. I quickly noticed some of the sample wardrobe photos on the wall. Any Star Wars fan would’ve been able to have connected the dots at that point. What added to the shock and excitement was that I was lead into another room with a clothing rack. It had my name on one section of the rack with the words ‘Bounty Hunter’ next to it. I was at a loss for words and just tried to stay calm.
In The Mandalorian you play the bounty hunter Gekko. How did you get this specific part assigned? And what kind of character is Gekko?
Gekko is just the nickname and not official by Disney. Makeup artist Brian Sipe was working on some sort of GreenPeace Convention a few years prior. He did this extensive prosthetic on this model. The model had these two humps on their head with a very distinct makeup design similar to a Gecko. The model was holding a Gecko in her hand. Brian gave me the same mold, but altered the head bumps to horns. The paint design stayed the same. It is a one of a kind Bounty Hunter and species in the Star Wars universe as of now. I am 100% certain no one has been established with this look except me due to the origin of the model outside Star Wars. I was personally given this role as it was the most extensive makeup. Brian appreciated my attitude and patience so he gave me the most elaborate design for my two episodes.
You wear heavy makeup and prosthetics. Can you share your experiences getting dressed up as Gekko?
Normally this would be a tedious process as the entire character took about two hours each morning to prepare. I’m sure every Star Wars would agree that it would be an absolute joy to watch your detailed Star Wars character come to life each day. Richard A. Porra was the costume designer. Richard gave me a bandolier, forearm guards sewn into my dark blue robe, along with a face mask which really made the character. Initially I almost had a bare face. I was being rushed to set and I could’ve left the mask behind as they had trouble finding it on day 1. I really wanted that mask and reminded Richard that the initial screen test had the mask. It truly makes the character as it makes my Bounty Hunter more mysterious.
How did the shooting of your scenes go?
Though it was priceless enough to have been at least featured in the Cantina, what Star Wars fan wouldn’t want their own bit of action? It was an exciting time, but a stressful time, as I wanted to make sure my character was established. As the performer, you do not have a say in this. The director and producers either want you in their shot, or they don’t. It’s never your choice. The first week was amazing in that, the first day I arrived on set, standing in the cantina with his arms folded was none other than George Lucas. At this level, you cannot approach the stars or producers unless they acknowledge you or initiate. I mention that because as much as any fan would love to approach Lucas, you are just there for a job. Regardless, it was such an honor to be in his universe that day with him present.
The cantina scenes were finished after the first week. The first assistant director asked about 20 featured cantina aliens and Bounty Hunters to stay behind as the director Deborah Chow wanted to have us all line up. I had no idea what the lineup was for, but in general, it was mostly likely that they had to make a cut for the following week. Not everyone was going to be chosen for the following week. They cut half of us, and luckily I was chosen. Making that cut solidified my Star Wars immortality. Not only did it lock my place in the universe in focus, but also I fulfilled my dream of being in a Star Wars action sequence.
As an Italian American, I was always inspired by the Rocky series growing up. Carl Weathers was an essential part of the Rocky success. It was such an honor to be alongside Weathers whose had such a legendary career. My adrenaline was pumping so hard during this one scene, and being alongside Carl made it that much more special.
The overall experience was simply priceless. However an entire year of not being able to say anything, along with waiting to see if you made it into the shots was stressful in a good way.
You just mentioned George Lucas. Did you meet him?
I did not meet him that day as I always have a tremendous respect for the head producers and director. When you have a $100 million budget on the clock, unfortunately it’s not a meet and greet time. However simply being in his universe as one of his characters was an honor enough. I had the privilege of meeting him years prior at a charity event, but not on set.
Did any weird or funny things happen on or off the set?
The Gekko like bumps looked like breasts on my head. I brought it up to Brian during the initial makeup and costume test and thankfully he changed my head to horns. That would’ve been funny and embarrassing at the same time.
What is the best memory you have regarding The Mandalorian?
Getting to choose my own blaster. I think every Star Wars fan would love to choose their own lightsaber or blaster. Having that honor from the prop master was absolutely priceless. I picked the biggest blaster they had and I hope they make it out of a figure someday.
Final question: What is your ‘dream Star Wars project’?
Being a one of a kind Bounty Hunter in Season 1 of The Mandalorian.