Mike worked on all three prequels and most fans know him as the Naboo Cruiser Guard. Besides Star Wars, he has also been featured in fan favorite movies and series like Batman Begins and Band of Brothers.
How did you get started in the movie business?
I had a desk job at a post production house and later had other desk jobs I didn’t really enjoy, which led to a move to the BBC in London as a production runner in 1997. That was ideal for me because my real interest in the business was the development side rather than acting. It was here that I heard of a new Star Wars Trilogy being planned and some of my colleagues were leaving the BBC to work on it. I also wanted to work on a Star Wars movie so I applied to be a runner at Leavesden Studios but there were no more vacancies at that time. I then applied to the agency that were casting for roles in the film as I had studied drama and acted in several plays at university.
You were featured in all three Star Wars prequels. How did you get cast for these movies?
After applying to the agency I was invited to a casting in London. There were a lot of people there and it took a while, I was just hoping I would be one of the chosen ones. A few days later I received a call asking if I could attend a costume fitting the next day at Leavesden Studios. Whilst there I was fitted as a footsoldier and a red costumed ground crew, as they were called then. I worked on Episode I: The Beginning over the summer of 1997 and a few more days in 1998 for the pickups.
I came to know several members of the production crew who I later worked with again on other movies and commercials over the next few years, where I had been trying my hand at acting in various supporting roles. When Episode II moved from Australia back to the UK, I was asked to return for a couple of days to play a Naboo Guard again but it was to be a more featured role as a personal guard to Senator Amidala. I was told Rick McCallum asked for those who worked on the previous Star Wars to be offered these roles so it was great to be invited back to see old friends.
For Episode III I was initially asked to be costume fitted as Jedi Knight Plo Koon for the UK shoot but while in the costume I was not as tall as the actor who played him in the Australia shoot. Instead I was asked to be a Clone Jedi where myself and others filmed some test footage in Jedi robes in front of bluescreen, our faces to be replaced with Temuera Morrison’s likeness by CGI. That was the first opportunity I had meeting with the Australian FX crew who were also doing the UK shoot this time, they were great but very secretive over the storyline! I was to return on another day to shoot the scenes proper but regrettably I later heard the whole storyline had been dropped, a pity as the Clone Jedi aspect appealed to me greatly! Hopefully a future release can see the footage completed but I did keep a look out during the other brief shots of Jedi to see if I could recognize myself but I couldn’t be sure!
Can you share some more memories regarding the filming of your scenes?
The best memory I have is on Episode I filming the hangar battle, which was over a few days and there was more death and destruction than what was seen on film. It was very exciting doing these scenes running through pyrotechnic explosions. There was also off camera crew firing explosive squibs at us from paintball type gas guns, they were firing between us and over our heads but the threat of being hit was there! The first appearance of Darth Maul behind the hangar doors was also memorable, it was a big shooting day and all departments were on set. We didn’t know which character he was and we speculated on whether he was the young Emperor as the dark hooded costume almost matched. During the first take when he first removed his hood and robe the whole crew stared at his striking facial tattoos in stunned silence, even those previously working had stopped to watch. That was a very cool moment!
The inevitable question: you were directed by the creator George Lucas. How is he to work with?
Very pleasant, on Episode II he suggested different ways he wanted me to address the Senator- in stiff military drill fashion where I would come to a halt then turn on a dime to walk off camera, then an alternate relaxed version without a weapon, in case he later felt a personal guard wouldn’t be armed when addressing a Senator. We only filmed that shot 2 or 3 times with the other actors and on each take he was happy to leave me play it as I thought an officer would do it. I had recently worked on Band Of Brothers so I had done US Army type drills prior. The relaxed version is the one you see in the movie which was the one I preferred.
For the next few shots coming down the ramp the Assistant Director would shout “Bang” over the megaphone to indicate the explosion, we were to jump off the ramp onto crash mats below. He forgot to say “Bang” on the last take and I believe it was George himself who said it in a very unthreatening way, which made the entire crew laugh, I don’t think that version was used!
There must have happened strange, funny or remarkable things when filming. Can you tell something about these moments?
I always remember arriving at Leavesden in the mornings during the early days when news was recently out that a new Star Wars movie was being filmed there. Fans had camped overnight trying to catch a glimpse of the filming and looking into cars as we arrived. It wasn’t possible to see any filming from outside the gates as Leavesden is huge and once inside there is a long drive past workshops and warehouses before you get to soundstages. The studio is surrounded by woods that they did film some scenes in and these are open to the public. It was funny seeing hikers and people walking their dogs wondering what this large group of people was doing there in crazy costumes!
You were young when the first Star Wars movie was released. I bet you had the toys as a kid? Or weren’t you a fan back then? If you were, what was it like to be on a Star Wars set?
I did collect the toys and wish I still had them now. I was a Star Wars fan and remember playing Star Wars games at school and watching the re-runs when they were aired over Christmas holidays. To be on a Star Wars set for a new trilogy was very exciting. The first expectation is to see familiar costumes and sets, something iconical Star Wars but there wasn’t too much that was familiar in Episode I. All my friends used to ask if I had seen Stormtroopers and X-Wings so I had to explain that it was a prequel and everything had been redesigned. There were familiar R2 units though so seeing those at the studio was very cool!
Over the years you have attended various conventions where you had the chance to meet the fans. What do you think of these events and how is it to meet all those fans who want you to sign photos, posters etcetera?
I enjoy attending shows and talking with Star Wars fans about the making of the movies. I don’t get time to do that many but I do try to attend as I am a Star Wars fan myself. I also help raise money for a charity (The MS Society Multiple Sclerosis) and appearing at shows is a great way for me to do that. I was very surprised to be invited by convention-guests.com to my first set of shows in Japan as I didn’t think what I did in Star Wars would be of much interest but I learned that the fans are interested in all aspects of the filmmaking process, not just the major cast and crew. One of the best times for me was being invited back to my old university to speak at a film studies Q&A panel and seeing some of my old lecturers still there only now telling me they were Star Wars fans! I have got to know some of the most hardened fans and its great to see the same faces at different shows, some of those guys are real characters and travel the world on their own adventures to be at as many as possible!
Regarding the future: what are your goals and dreams?
And what are you up to right now? Do you have new projects coming up?
Recently I have been working in program development for a number of production houses under the MTV/Viacom group of companies as well as the BBC and others. I enjoy the buzz and atmosphere from working behind the scenes on live shows and I always preferred this to acting. It was only really Star Wars I was interested in actually appearing in and along the way I was also lucky to play characters in Band Of Brothers, Alexander, Doctor Who, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and other great movies. Maybe if the right role comes along I may be tempted to audition again!
Please finish the following sentence: When I look back at my work on Star Wars, I…
am very proud to have been a part of it and I have many fond memories of my time on the trilogy and I did not die in that explosion!
If there is anything you want to say to the readers heres your chance!
I would like to thank everyone for their kind words and support. In many cases I have found that its not always the guests that make a great event, it’s the fans. I look forward to seeing you all at the next show!