John Simpkin interview | Klaatu | Star Wars

John Simpkin
Klaatu, Stormtrooper (Return of the Jedi)
Interview: October 2012

How did you get started in the movie business?

I’d always been interested in films, and had done a little work as a teenager through a friend’s mother’s child actors’ agency, but began working on movies when I married my wife, Beverley Keys, who worked as a model and actress.

You played two parts in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: Klaatu and a Stormtrooper. How did you get cast for this movie and these parts?

Ah, how was I cast? Well actually, on the basis of being the right height and shape to fit the costume! There was a group of seven or eight of us cast as Skiff Guards, all roughly the same build so we could occasionally double up as Stormtroopers. I did go for an ‘audition’ as Klaatu. It involved a claustrophobia test as the latex heads were hot, tight and difficult to breathe in, but, while I am quite claustrophobic, I wanted this job, and I just about passed the test. I remember there were two heads: Klaatu and Wooof. I was strangely drawn to Klaatu and pleased to get that one! I ended up working on the Jabba’s palace section for about six weeks solidly.

The Star Wars phenomenon was huge when you got your parts for the Return of the Jedi. I bet you must have been really excited? And did you see the other two movies and what did you think of these?

I was very aware that we were working on something special. It was exciting just being on the Jabba’s Palace set, though it never occurred to me that three decades later I’d be signing Klaatu autographs. I was a bit of a Sci-Fi freak anyway, having grown up reading Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, Doctor Who and Star Trek on TV, then the ground-breaking 2001 and then, of course, Star Wars. Yes, I was in my element! Personally, I have to say I still think the original Star Wars was the best.

In which scenes can we see you as a Stormtrooper?

I appeared as a Stormtrooper in the scene with Barry Holland when he says that legendary line “You Rebel Scum!” Stormtrooper helmets were notoriously hard to see out of, hence all the famous outtakes. The first take of about six of us running into that set was aborted when the guy in front of me missed the doorway and smashed into the wall causing a huge Stormtrooper pile-up! I was also in the big line-up when Darth Vader lands on the Death Star.

What are your specific memories from the set during filming? Do you have any anecdotes from your time on the set?

Lots of memories. The skiff guard costumes were un-believably hot. People sometimes fainted. In between takes the wardrobe guys came round with portable hairdryers set on cold and stuck them in our rubber mouths so we could get some air.. Looked hilarious! Also, after standing in the same spot on the podium for a week, screen left of Jabba, I was shocked when what I’d considered to be a weird looking moving plant next to me, started calling for help! Apparently there was a puppeteer underneath who’d got his arm stuck!

On the set of Return of the Jedi, were the big three (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher & Mark Hamill) seen as ‘big stars’ by the rest of the cast?
What are your memories regarding them?

They were certainly regarded very much as stars. Harrison Ford came across as, perhaps, the most serious and reserved of the three; Mark really suprised me by being incredibly friendly to everyone, chatty and totally un-pretentious. Carrie was perhaps the funniest on set. When rehearsing the scene where she’s chained up in that gold bikini and being molested by Jabba’s hand, she turned to us Skiff guards and said, “Yeah I know its a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it!”

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’ve only signed at two conventions so far. London last year, and Munster, Germany a couple of weeks ago. It was a revelation to me! Loved it. So many devoted Star Wars fans, such a truly nice group of people -I have to say that my son is one!- and a fun atmosphere. I really didn’t expect anyone to want my autograph at all, but they were queuing up for it! They’re also such a knowledgeable bunch. Some of them knew more about my part than I did. I look forward to more conventions in the coming year.

What are you up to right now? Do you have new projects coming up?

Right now I work as a musician which is my main passion, playing guitar with my band Peach. I also work part-time as a fitness trainer. But having met so many great people, including a few old friends, at the signing conventions I’m hoping this will become another enjoyable association with the film world.

Please finish the following sentence: “When I look back at my work on Star Wars, I…”

When I look back on my work on Return of the Jedi, what do I feel? Proud, and privileged…