How did you get started in the movie business?
I trained as an actor, mainly because I wanted to become a stuntman. A stuntman I had corresponded with in my teens suggested getting a bit of acting experience. Whilst at drama school, the lecturers said I should forget becoming a stuntman and concentrate on being an actor. I had always been interested in make-up effects and props, sculpting and painting at home for a hobby, making kits. So at drama school, as well as the acting, I would be called on to make any props or design peoples special make -ups. Of course, building puppets was always in the background. It's not too big a stretch from making a latex mask to fit on someone’s face; to making a latex head you could put your hand in to operate it.
How did you get the part of Yaddle for The Phantom Menace?
It was a simple 'phone call.
I had just finished the movie of Lost In Space then went straight onto a children's television series, so was looking forward to a break.
The phone rang. It was the casting director for The Phantom Menace, or Episode One, as it was still called.
She said Frank Oz was coming to England to perform Yoda and had asked for me to operate the eyes in case he could not persuade Dave Greenaway to come out of retirement. When I finally agreed and arrived at Leavesden studios. Dave was there, so I would not be needed.
However, there were a great many creature effects people I knew from the business working on the movie so I spent an hour or so chatting to people. When I was asked to have a chat with Nick Dudman, who was in charge of creature effects, he told me there was another puppet similar to Yoda in the Jedi senate and asked if I would operate it. I thought it would be fun, so said yes.
Can you share some of your memories regarding the time you worked on The Phantom Menace?
I mainly remember it being so much nicer than working on Lost in Space, which was frenetic and noisy! Also, on the children's television series I had just finished, I was the puppet co-coordinator and performer of the main character. So turning up and just having to put my hand in a puppet and then at the end of the day go home without any other responsibilities was great!
How did George Lucas direct you? And what impression did he make on you?
The scene was about the young Anakin, so the rest of us just had to react to what was being said by the other characters. George Lucas was more concerned with directing Liam Neeson, Ewan Macgregor, Samuel L. Jackson and young Jake Lloyd. We all knew that when there is a young actor on set, with so many distractions, everyone keeps noise down to an absolute minimum.
Yaddle had no dialogue, so it was just a matter of looks and nods at the right moment.
Did any strange, weird or remarkable things happen during the making of the movie?
Not so much weird or remarkable, but fun. When I had to go back a few weeks later to do close-ups, Some of the creature crew, many of whom I had worked with on various projects with the Jim Henson Company amongst others, decided to make me sit in my very own trailer, basically a very old beat up caravan with a grubby sign scrawled with my name taped to the door. Also, instead of walking to the set when I was needed, they sent along a runner in a golf cart, so I could arrive on set in style.
How do you look back at your part in The Phantom Menace? With pride? Or was it just a job for you?
One of the nicest things about working on The Phantom Menace is the interest it has generated. In all my years in the business it was one of the easiest jobs and one of the nicest.
Because of it I have been invited to signings and have met some really wonderful people, so I am obviously very grateful for that.
What do you regard as the highlight of your career?
This is a tricky one!
There are many jobs I have done which I am proud of and quite a few I would rather forget!
I think it would have to be Animal Farm for the Turner Network and Hallmark.
We shot it in Ireland in the cold and the wet, the mud and the rain, really awful filming conditions!
The crew was fantastic and the actors also. We all just got stuck in and tried to make the best film we could in the conditions. It helped with it being directed by John Stephenson who was head of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop at the time. He knew the limitations of filming animatronics, what could and couldn't be done.
Of all the characters you have puppeteered, which one is your favorite? And why?
I think it would have to be Napoleon in Animal Farm. Performing the scenes with Alan Stanford was a delight for both of us. My acting training came in useful, as we both rehearsed the scenes as actors would. Then I would go off behind camera to operate the Napoleon animatronic, and Alan treated it as a real character.
What are you currently up to? Can you tell us something about your current or future projects?
I have just finished filming in Sweden for a German four part film series of the books about Nils Holgersson. It’s about nasty young boy who gets reduced in size, then befriends a goose and has to learn to be nice.
There are lots of other geese in the story and they all talk, so I operated them all. The dialogue was in German, which I don't speak, which was tricky to say the least!!
I am just off to do a children's series for the BBC...this time operating and voicing some vegetables! Never a dull moment in this job!
Is there anything you want to say to the readers? Here is your chance!
Just to say "thank you" for you continued interest and support. You are a superb bunch of people. I am looking forward to meeting more of you at some future Star Wars events.