You've acted Jabba in ROTJ. How did you get this role?
In the 70s I worked in fringe theatre in London, with a special interest in circus arts (juggling and tumbling), visual theatre (masks and mime) and magic. In 1980 my mime teacher suggested I audition for a part in a film called The Dark Crystal, which was to be made by The Muppets creator, Jim Henson, but starring strange creatures, more animatronic than classic puppet. You have to remember that the Creature Shop had already made Yoda, for instance, and this film was to be an experiment and showcase for such characters. I got the part, and worked for months on a variety of creatures, and when that film finished shooting, one of the next films to go into Elstree Studios was top secret, but turned out to be Return of the Jedi. Some of the Creature Shop guys were involved in making Jabba, and Dave Barclay suggested me as his ‘co-pilot’ inside Jabba.
Now a question about work with Lucasfilm and a director of film - Richard Marquand. Was it a nice cooperation?
We got on with Richard Marquand really well, although we didn’t see him face-to-face that much! Dave, Mike and I spent most of the day inside Jabba, and communicating through radio head-sets. John Coppinger, or one of the other Jabba builders, would be outside, on the set, and able to talk to Richard directly about what we could and couldn’t do. To maintain the character, we did ask that Richard always treated Jabba as an actor, not as some kind of special effect crew, and he played that game happily enough. Treating puppets as real people helps both the director and the other actors, as talking to separate ‘bits of Jabba’ would have destroyed the illusion. Remember that Jabba was a full-size creature (unlike The Rancor, for instance) and inhabited the same space as the actors (no green screen effects) – and I think it still shows in the film that he has real weight and presence.
Did you have any problems acting Jabba?
We had a few technical problems, but overall he was so well designed and built that we didn’t cause many delays on set. One of our big problems was not being able to see what we were doing! On The Dark Crystal we sometimes had to work blind (as Garthim and Mystics for instance) but for most of the puppeteering we had monitors around the set that showed a ‘through the lens’ picture of what we were actually shooting (as the whole film was centred around puppet work).
As Jabba was not the only character in the scenes (and with Leia and Luke and Han on set we were far from the most important actors) we had to manage with a rather grainy cctv shot which just showed Jabba from a distance. With current technology we could have crystal clear mini-cameras and headsets, but in 1982 that technology simply didn’t exist, however big the budget.
Do you have any souvenirs from the film?
It was a very secure set, and we even had to give back our numbered script pages (none of us ever had a complete script). Cameras were banned, so I have no photos from the set, or tangible souvenirs. I have a few call-sheets (which everybody on a film gets, outlining what is planned for the following day’s shooting) but not even a complete set. At the time I didn’t think to hang onto them.
What is your favourite moment in Star Wars films?
I only worked on this one film, and am not really a Star Wars fan, in that sense. I didn’t get the job because of being a fan, but because I was a professional performer for hire. In fact, I had to specially go out and watch the first two films of the original trilogy, after I was offered the job – for research. Up until then I had not seen them!
So I have only watched them all a couple of times. I guess inevitably I like watching the Jabba Palace sequences, just because I thought they were really effective, and a satisfying piece of work. I like Jabba, he’s more of a rogue and pirate (just as Han Solo is) than directly involved in the Battle between Good and Evil.
What is your most memorable moment concerning Star Wars saga in your life?
I guess going out in front of 2000 people at Celebration III in Indianapolis, and acting out – with several other performers, what we were actually doing in Jabba’s Palace, hidden, (as we all were) inside puppets, costumes and masks.
What do you think about The Phantom Menace in 3D? Were you, or are you going to go to the cinema? Do you wait for any other episode converted into 3D?
I haven’t seen any modern 3-D films yet. In the old days they offered us 3-D with red-green glasses, but it remained a gimmick or novelty item. It’s possible, this time, that 3D may be here to stay – but I haven’t experienced it yet, to know how I feel.
Shooting films specifically for 3-D seems like a different process from retro-actively transforming 2-D footage into 3-D images. I may be wrong about this, but I suspect they will look different if the shots were not devised with 3-D in mind.
I missed the original 3-D version of 2001 (back in the 60s) and only ever saw it in Cinemascope, but that and enough imagination made the thing appear 3-D to me. We didn’t watch films on tv back then. Everything was experienced in big screen cinemas. A New Hope seemed pretty impressive, on a big screen with Dolby surround sound, or whatever. How much better can it get?
Do you read new Star Wars comics or books? If yes, what is your favourite one?
As I said, I am not really a fan, so I know relatively little of The Extended Universe. I know it’s out there, but I haven’t even got my hands on a copy of “Jabba the Hutt: The Art of the Deal” yet, although I am looking forward to it!
How about Your relationship to Star Wars fans? Do you often go to Star Wars conventions to meet them?
For 20 years I didn’t even think back to those few weeks work I did on ROTJ. It was only when I got online in 1999 that I heard about fan conventions , etc. – and realised that people still wanted to talk to anyone who worked on the films.
For a few years I was invited to conventions in continental Europe (I am based in the UK) and even the USA, but I think most people who want to meet me, or get an autograph, have now done so. As I have a day job I don’t have that much free time to attend events, but I am still available, and love an adventure. When I retire from my day job, later this year, I may make an effort to go to a few more events.
Meanwhile, plenty of people find me online, in Facebook, my websites and blogs.