|by Dennis Pellegrom & Gary X
Please tell us: How did you get approached to play in both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith?
This is a funny story actually. Just before Episode II started filming, Nick Gillard—Star Wars Stunt Coordinator and Sword Master—was auditioning people for a Dooku Fight Double. They needed to be tall—Christopher Lee is 6’5’’—and have some sword skills. My sister actually met a guy one night in a bar that had auditioned with Nick that day, but didn’t have the skills Nick was looking for. She got Nick’s number off him and the next day. I rang Nick and introduced myself. Nick told me to send along a CV (resume).
When he received, it he took one look inside, said to himself “God, guys with ponytails are wankers,” and promptly buried my CV at the bottom of a 150-strong pile. Three weeks and 150 stuntmen later, Nick gets to his last choice: The pony-tailed wanker. He called me in, asked me to do a few moves for him and started checking me out. At one point, he asked me to do a move and when I added a special little spin I like to do in that situation he simply said, “Put the sword down, you’ve got the job. Now, I’ll have my tea, white with two.” That was it. Over the next couple of months Nick and I built a great friendship, which also lead to me playing Joclad Danva—but more on that later,—and when he was preparing to come out for Episode III he called me and told me to get ready.
What made you become a swordsman? And, were there any idols you had when you were young? Errol Flynn, maybe?
I’ve always loved any form of martial combat. Actually, when I was a kid I had a much bigger fixation with guns. However, our country (Australia) doesn’t have the same kind of laws as you do. We don’t have "the right to arm bears," or even own guns. Gradually, the firearms laws got tougher and tougher, and that was an end to that. However, I had been studying martial arts since I was eight, and therefore I had a lot of skill and a great love for many different types of weapons. But, one day when I was in my late teens, I rented a movie called Highlander. Well, that was it for me. I watched it four times in 24 hours. A few years later, I joined The Society of Australian Fight Directors and I have been doing Stage Combat and working as a Fight Director since.
You were born in 1970. A New Hope came out when you were just a kid. Did you see the original trilogy when it in the theaters? And did you dream of ever playing in a Star Wars movie?
The first Star Wars film I ever saw was actually The Empire Strikes Back. My brother took me to a drive-in and left me sitting on the bonnet watching the movie while he made out in the back with his girl. I was transfixed. It was the most incredible thing I had ever seen...the movie that is, not my brother and his girl. I then saw A New Hope on video, and was all up to speed by the time Return came out. Then, when my girl friend and I were sitting in the cinema watching The Phantom Menace (we had known that AOTC was going to be filmed in Australia) we just turned to each other and said "I have to be in the next film."
Did you have Star Wars toys? Which one was your favorite? Do you have any today?
We weren’t a rich family, but I did have some toys. I used to get an action figure every now and then. I think I had about 50-to-60 action figures. Some of my mates had everything under the sun...every figure, every ship, all the sets...the works. I had curtains and bed-spreads and stuff, but only a few toys.
I was a huge fan by this point and tried really hard to build a great collection, but where I lacked money, I had ingenuity. I used to make things. I made a two foot tall AT-AT (that was to scale for my Snow Speeder), I made a Dagobah set, complete with Yoda’s house that you could take the lid off and walk him around inside and I also made a copy of Jabba’s skiff that was to-scale to my action figures.
I think my favorite action figure and character was always Han Solo. I didn’t understand the Jedi at that point, and Luke being a whiny kid didn’t really sell me. Han was cool. I still have all of my action figures and most of my stuff. However, all the things I made are now long gone. I’ll be keeping my collection until my kids are old enough to appreciate what they meant to me, and also not choke on them, and then it’s theirs..I think...
Christopher Lee has said in various documentaries that he did his sword fights himself as he learned fencing a long time ago. So, can you tell us what you exactly did being his double? Stunts only? Or, some sword fights too?
Chris is an amazing man and one of our time's great actors. He also holds a world record for more sword fights in films than any other living actor. He used to fight with the likes of Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, etc. But, he does give me plenty of credit in the Episode II and Episode III "Making of" documentaries for my work. The fact is, in these films we needed to see the light saber combat at the peak of its time. Chris is an older gentleman now, and for most of the really fast stuff he just couldn’t do it. Hell, it beat the hell out of me doing those scenes. I was honored to have been the one to fill those enormous shoes for the short time that I did. I mean, come on, sword doubling one of the greatest swordsmen that has ever been? If he ever needs someone to wield a blade on his behalf again, anywhere in the world, all he has to do is ask and I’ll be there with my three inch lifts on. (Chris is also very tall)
You played Joclad Danva in Attack of the Clones. He was one of the Jedi fighting in the Geonosis Arena. Can you tell us something more about filming those scenes? Almost all the key actors are in that scene, what were your impressions of them?
We actually filmed that scene a week or two before we came back and did the Second Unit shoot on that set and as you say it was just the principals in that scene. That was one of the things Nick Gillard did for me, he put me in that scene as one of the last surviving Jedi.
It was a fast, two-day shoot, so you didn’t really have time to hang out with the stars while they were working. Although, I was already in rehearsals with Hayden and Ewan, so we had the occasional chat. But, everyone was very professional and polite.
It was very funny, actually, a huge sound stage with sand on the floor and a blue curtain that went all the way around and people shouting at you, “Now these things are walking in and shooting at you, and these things are flying around overhead, this monster will run past you here, when you hear your number fall down, etc.” If you look carefully, Joclad is on the floor one minute, and fighting the next...I’m alive...I’m dead...I’m alive...I’m dead! Or am I? More on this soon...
Well, that brings up my next question: It's your opinion that Joclad didn't die on Geonosis. What do you think became of him?
Its funny, you know? At the time I did that scene, I was nobody-in-particular. Nick put me in there because he liked my sword style—and I begged and cried like a little girl until he did, but don’t tell anyone that. What? This interview is going on the web? Damn.
Then, years later, people who have never walked on a Star Wars set are giving you a name, creating a history and background and determining what happened to you next. Although I do love and appreciate some of the stuff they came up with—like Joclad being the Teras Kasi champ and all—not all is as it seems. So, for all of you who can’t decide whether Joclad died on Geonosis or during the great Jedi purge of Order 66, prepare to be enlightened
[Cue music and fuzzy fade out...]
"Yes, we see Joclad on the ground at the end of the Geonosis battle and, yes, he is badly wounded—but he is definitely not dead. The Jedi don’t know this, and leave him behind for dead in their hurry to escape. A short while after the battle, Count Dooku returns to Geonosis to gather some things he left behind in the heat of battle. Whilst there, Dooku senses a life force and goes to investigate. He finds Joclad and knows he is a Jedi, but Joclad can’t remember who or what he is. As Dooku approaches him, and as badly hurt as he is, Joclad tries to fight. Dooku respects the courage within this fallen warrior and also the opportunity before him. Dooku gains Joclad's trust and convinces him to let him help him. As Joclad starts to heal, Dooku starts to train him in some Sith arts and one day when the time was right he tells Joclad that he was a Jedi but that the Jedi left him for dead and that he really owes them nothing. Joclad starts to remember more and more of his past. He turns his back on the Jedi Order but also knows he doesn’t want to be a Sith. He leaves Dooku’s company and to this day is wondering the universe. Not a Jedi, Not a Sith, not even a Dark Jedi. Just a very dangerous man with Jedi and Sith powers and a serious grudge against the Jedi.”
[Cue suspenseful fill music...]
There, I hope that clears everything up for you all. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! And, tell me who should know better what happened to Joclad? Someone that reads internet stuff all day, or Joclad himself? ONE MORE TIME: JOCLAD IS NOT DEAD. Keep an eye out for my short film about Joclad's adventures...
Did you get to keep your lightsaber or your Jedi robes?
No, absolutely not. Security around that place was tighter than a deep sea fish's pucker. However, I do have a very cool set of Jedi robes that my mum made for me. She has actually also then made sets for both of my nephews, as well, and I made the belts and utility pouches. I have also had a go at making some lightsabers from bits and pieces. They’re okay, but nothing like the things Tommy was making on set. That guy was a genius.
You were Nick Gillard's right hand on the films. How was it working with—and for—him?
Nick is fantastic. I really love that man and I can honestly say that in all my best heterosexual goodness. Nick taught me so much about the film industry. Before Star Wars, 99% of my experience was in the theatre. Nick taught me how to adjust my style for camera, how to work with the crew...the actors, the director, et cetera. We always worked our butts off, especially on Episode III, but Nick always knew when to push you and then when to reward you with fun. There was a lot of fun and games on and around set, but only when the day’s work was done. What I really love most about Nick though, is that he really appreciated and respected my skills as a swordsman. I will go anywhere and do anything for him, I just hope that the next big sword wielding epic is just around the corner.
How was the experience working with Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, preparing for the longest lightsaber fight in all of Star Wars?
In all honesty, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The choreography and rehearsal for Episode III was three months in total. Ten-hour days, six days a week, and Hayden and Ewan were both there from almost the very beginning. Both of them actually requested to be flown in early to do as much work on the fights as possible.
The most important thing for everyone involved, Nick, Hayden, Ewan and myself included, was that this fight really told the story of what was going on inside their characters' hearts and minds. Both of the guys are incredibly talented, not just as actors, but their sword skills are amazing. That made them really easy to work with. They both learn choreography really quickly, and quite huge chunks of it too—not just a few moves and "Cut!" Both of them were putting down 100-plus move sequences, and then running the hell out of it at full speed. Nick’s choreography is amazing and it was brilliant to watch and learn as he tweaked a move here, or a sequence there, until the whole thing just flowed beautifully and the story was clear and in your face. And with the boys' skill, if something needed changing it was not a problem. They just did it. Of course, there are always a few bruised knuckles when you’re fighting fast and in-close, but that was the worst anyone got hurt in six months. Another testimony to Nick’s ability.
What about working with Ian McDiarmid? What was he like?
Ian was fantastic. Much like Chris Lee, you can just sit around and listen to the stories that these guys tell for hours. However, in the rehearsal room everyone was under the impression that Ian’s fight would be much the same as Chris’s—they would pull a few moves and a couple of close-ups for camera, and the fight double would do the rest. But,when we got to set on the day of filming, George Lucas wanted Ian to do his whole fight. Now, Ian is no spring-chicken. "This could be problematic," we thought. But again, Nick steps in, takes control and within no time we had Ian doing short sequences himself.
In Revenge of the Sith, you did some fight scenes for General Grievous. Can your work be compared with the things Andy Serkis did regarding Gollum in Lord of the Rings?
Yes, you could say that. I spent a lot of time in a very revealing blue Lycra suit on Episode III. Although, because Grievous doesn’t really have facial features I wasn’t covered in those little balls they use to capture facial movement, I was more a reference for the guys at ILM.
But, the Obi-wan fight scene was more of a challenge for Ewan than myself. We did the fight several times—like a whole day—and then Ewan had to do the fight on his own, without me in front of him. Trust me, that is a real challenge even for a seasoned Fight Director. This was because Grievous is only an inch thick in places, so they couldn’t just impose him over my body. They actually needed a clean plate, but the footage of the fight with me and my moves with Ewan are what they had to work off to create Grievous in action.
The most fun I had as Grievous though was the day we spent filming the last part of the Obi-Wan versus Grievous fight near Grievous’ ship. The Obi-wan stunt double, Nash Edgerton, and I spent about 12 hours beating the crap out of each other to film all the really big hits, then Ewan came to finish up. Don’t get me wrong, Ewan is no pansy and insisted on taking some good shots that day, but Nash and I are good friends and we know what the camera needs. There were a few bruises, but no love lost.
Matt Wood got most of the credits for General Grievous, but did only the voice. What is your opinion about this? Doing his fight scenes sounds equally important to me.
I don’t really know Matt so I can’t say anything bad about him,I think this question is just an attempt by Gary X to raise some controversy for the website (He-he-he, love ya mate). Honestly though, I did put in a lot of hard work and blood, sweat and tears working on Grievous and you don’t get much credit for it, but that is the life of any Fight Double or Stuntman. You are not the character. Your job is to enhance the performance of the stars and keep them safe. In the end you accept that, move on and just do the best job that you can for them. It has its own rewards in other ways.
How about playing a Magna Guard and fighting in the closed confines of General Grievous' ship?
That was a lot of fun. Again I was teamed up with Hayden, while Stunt/Fight Double Ben Cooke fought with Ewan, and I just love working with him. He is so in your face as an actor and as a combatant. He control is phenomena,l which allows you to really gets some speed going and his eyes are flaming all the way through the fight. But ,as soon as it's done, they just melt away to this big cheesy grin. He really loved the fighting part of that character and it showed.
The set was so bad, though. There were are few chairs and stuff around, but all the droids and some of the set were put in later digitally. Still you get to run around, jump over stuff, fight a Jedi, kill a droid or two (bad guys got to kill droids in that scene too which was cool. "If it’s in your way, kill it" was the brief from Nick) and you get paid for it, so yeah it’s pretty cool.
We also understand that you helped Jett Lucas film his scenes during the assault on the Jedi Temple. Can you tell us about that?
Jett’s great. He had to do this scene and being the boss’s son, we had to make him look good. Nick was quite busy most of the time, so generally I would work with Jett. He is just a kid, remember, and there was always the desire to play—so the first thing we worked on was discipline. That out of the way, we got down to it and he started doing really well.
Cut this head off...stab this guy...now, chop off this leg and arm. He’d come up every so often and we would just work through the scene and then, of course, play for a bit. Then, the day came when he had to shoot his scene. Now, he is the only one on stage with three hundred people looking at him. We got a call up to our rehearsal room: Jett wanted me on set now. I went down and when he saw me, he just lit up. He ran over and gave me a big hug and then backed off, all macho again. We went through his sequence a few times and then he was ready to go.
At the end of this scene, he gets shot by one of the Clone Troopers, so I had this prop gun (the one in the Hyperspace photo that started so much controversy) and on action I’d call him through all of his moves then call out “JETT!” He’d turn around and look at me, I’d aim the gun on and him and yell "Bang!" and he’d fall down. He did a really good job in the end. I was very proud of him, and George thanked me personally as well.
Was there anything funny that you remember happening on the sets of Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith? Were there any pranksters?
Man, how much time have we got?
Like I said, Nick takes his work very seriously, and he takes his fun just as serious. Nick is one of the world's greatest on-set pranksters, he told me some great stories of other movies he had worked on, but I’m not bad myself and I’m pleased to say—and I’m sure Nick will attest to this, as well—that I held my own with him.
I had bought these little explosive things. You prime them like a mouse trap, put a weight on it, and when the weight is lifted they go off with a hell of a bang. One day I set one on Nick's desk and used his script as the weight. He walked in and sat down and as he was saying, “Oi! Who moved my f*ck*ng script around?", this thing goes off. We all just dropped and starting crying with laughter. That was it though, it was now on for young and old.
We were hiding these things everywhere, blowing up anyone we could. But mostly, Nick and I used to like making up little songs, or taking an existing song and tweaking the lyrics to suit us and the situation, but none of those lyrics are going on this page—so don’t even think about it! He was always about doing a good job, but having fun while you did it. There are many more stories I could tell but I already think that if, or when, Nick reads this he’ll fly down to Oz and blow me up on my own toilet.
You did a tour in Japan in 2006, your first ever autograph signings, with Ian Liston (Wes Janson) and Wattographs Head Honcho Gary X. How did it feel, signing stuff for the fans for the very first time? Did it live up to your expectations?
Wow, what a surreal experience. It was an absolute blast, but it was just amazing that these people would want your autograph in the first place—let alone pay for it. But again, this is part of the pay-off I mentioned earlier. To see the look on these people’s faces when you sign something for them or have a photo taken with them was great. It really made you feel like a star for a while.
Gary was very cool and very helpful to someone in a strange land, doing strange things. I have a couple of great nick-names for my new mate but even if I put them in here, he is the editor and they probably wouldn’t go to print, would they O’ Mighty Padded-One? [Sure, why not?—Gary X]
As for my signing partner, Mr. Ian Liston, he was great. Very British to start with, but Gary and I soon loosened him up. Didn’t we, Ian? Well, "That’s what she said," anyway. It was great—we were laughing all the time and entertaining each other when things were a bit slow and he was just as amazed with Japan as I was because it was the first time either of us had been there. Thank you, Ian. It was a pleasure, sir.
Do you have plans to do more signing sessions or maybe a convention in the future?
I’d love to do more signings and stuff. The short time I was with Gary X in Japan, we made a really solid friendship and with him living in the States and me in Oz it would be a great opportunity to catch up again, if nothing more. But we’ll just have to see what the future holds on that one.
I've heard some rumors about "Matrix" pictures of you and Gary X when the two of you were in Japan. Of course, our readers want to know everything about this!
The first two signings we did in Japan were at this toy store and they the largest collection of AirSoft replica firearms I had ever seen. Gary and I are both huge gun fans and after the second signing, we chatted with the owner of the store and he let us "arm ourselves for bear" The day before, Gary and I both agreed to wear our best Matrix outfits to the second signing and as soon as we were armed, we hit the streets outside the shop and went to town: Pulling poses, pretending to shoot cars and Agents and each other. We had all these mad Japanese fans gathered around taking pictures and video. I don’t know how long we were out there but both of us were grinning like a shot fox for days. (Thanks Big Man, f*cking loved it) Maybe Gary will put a few of these pics on the website one day.
Looking back at your two Star Wars movies: Is there anything you regret or would have done in a different way?
Not a thing. Look we all look back in retrospect and say, "Oh I could’ve done this, or I could’ve done that." But we are who we are, and we do what we do. There is no point looking back. Either be proud of what you have done, or do it differently in the future—but never doubt your choices if they were truly yours.
You are the owner and leader of the Sydney Stage Combat School. Can you tell us a bit about the school and what you do there?
I set the school up back in 2000. At that time, I was doing a lot of training with a guy from Brisbane who moved to Sydney and taught me. But, that was it. I started running courses and then found when people came back months later, they had forgotten everything they had learned. So, in the beginning, the SSCS served two purposes: give people somewhere to practice what they learn and also give me someone to play with. From there, it just sort of grew. The SSCS now covers most of the choreographic work in New South Wales for theatre, short films and live performances. We specialise in just about every weapon, from every culture and from every time period. Historical accuracy and period depiction is our specialty.
Not that we dress up and run around in Medieval clothing...I’d love to but my guys keep talking me out of it. Bu, if you want to do that and swing swords around at the same time, we will teach you which sword was right for that period, how it was used in combat and most importantly: how to do it safely.
Are there any other Star Wars "alumnus" from SSCS?
When Nick called me for Episode III he did tell me at that point that "this was the big one" and that if I had anyone I could trust to give me a hand, to bring them. I took my then-combat assistant Michael Byrne with me. During the choreographic and rehearsal stages, Michael would fill in for Obi-wan and I would play out the Anakin side of the fights until Nick had them just the way he wanted it. This then led to Michael becoming the Fight Double for Palpatine, where he performed fights with Sam Jackson. And, of course Michael has joined a very special club that he and I are the only members of: "The We Kicked Yoda’s Butt Club.”
Any chance we'll be seeing you again in the upcoming Star Wars TV-series? Or, do you have other plans for the future?
I bloody-well hope so! Nick has told me that at this point he isn’t sure whether he will be doing it or not, but if he doesn’t that I am his only choice for a replacement Sword Master. Also, being an actor myself I am really stinging for a nice recurring role. That way, I can be around to do all the choreography and still get my face on camera. Like I said, in my world Joclad Danva is still kicking. Although, ever since doing the Dooku fights I’ve had a dream to play the young Count Dooku in a flash back scene or two...if they go there.
Hey Rick (McCallum): Are you reading this, Spunky? Don’t forget me now!