Imagine that it’s 1977. You have just watched Star Wars in the theater for the first time, and thanks to the history-making movie magic created by George Lucas your life is forever changed. Star Wars toys further fueled your excitement and imagination. You are inspired to pursue acting in hopes of someday being a part of that universe. You go on to start your career, and after more than two decades of hard work, close calls, and setbacks, you finally make it: You’re in Star Wars. For most of us, we can only dream. But for veteran actor Dominic Pace, who just appeared in his first Star Wars role as a bounty hunter nicknamed “Gekko” in The Mandalorian, this is now part of his life story.
Ever the humble gentleman, Dominic will always tell you that he plays a side character. While that may be true in the sense that “Gekko” is unlikely to garner the same amount of screen time as characters like Luke, Anakin, or Rey, there really isn’t such a thing as a true “side character” in Star Wars either. For the unconvinced, just crack open any Star Wars Visual Dictionary, where you will find names and backstories of a seemingly endless multitude of characters, some of whom you did not even know were on screen (or some who actually weren’t. Constable Zuvio, anyone?). In short, no character goes unnoticed in Star Wars.
It’s also impossible to speak with Dominic without quickly realizing that doing well and doing good are often the same thing for him. On top of his busy acting schedule, Dominic is also heavily involved in charity work and plans have long been in place to further pay it forward with the Star Wars community through costume clubs like the 501st Legion and The Mandalorian Mercs. As Star Wars fans and fellow human beings, we can all look forward to a breakthrough in both Dominic’s career and philanthropy.
FT – What are three interesting facts about you that Star Wars fans may not know about?
DP – I’m a huge pop culture fan, especially the 80’s during my childhood. In 2009, my two sons were very young. We decided to take a little trip to Griffith Park to visit a movie location from Rebel Without A Cause. That trip turned into a huge hobby of visiting numerous Movie Locations throughout the country.
I’m big on bucket lists. I’ve visited 48 States and 26 Major League ballparks of the 30. I am planning on finishing both bucket lists within the next two years.
My first dream was to play Major League Baseball. Though I never made it past college ball, my first performance role on film was a teammate of Kevin Costner in For Love Of The Game. I always say it was a perfect consolation to never making it to the big leagues. The production filmed at Yankee Stadium for a month. To play on that field for that month was just a dream come true.
DP – We didn’t have much money as a kid. My mother raised us a single mom, but she always provided the best she could. I was five years old in 1980, and we lived in an apartment in Ossining, NY. My mom got me the cantina set, as well as the original figures. I can remember how much I found interest in the side characters. Walrus Man, Greedo, Hammerhead, etc. I remember planting their feet on the pegs of the cantina set. I also had a magnetic board with the alphabet letters. The first word I remember spelling was “Jawa”.
FT – Who is your favorite Star Wars character, and why?
DP – It’s a tie to be honest. Boba Fett, as what fan doesn’t love that helmet, armor, and jetpack? How cool was that figure to play with as a kid? Han Solo is right up there too as I’ve always loved Harrison Ford’s alpha personality and charisma. Not too many actors can pull off both.
FT – You have an impressive Star Wars collection, which has previously been featured on Entertainment Tonight. What is your favorite aspect of collecting, and is there one item that stands out to you from the rest?
DP – We all are drawn to certain characters within the Star Wars universe. It’s without question that George Lucas and his team created some of the most unique and incredible looking characters and ships, and not to mention weaponry. I find it fascinating that Lucas has created this universe where we can’t help but want something physical to appreciate his work. I love the high end pieces like replica props 1:1 scale as it gives you a magical feeling of owning part of that universe. I’ve always loved the former company, Icons. My favorite piece has been the Luke Skywalker lightsaber. That piece to me represents the story, the most iconic character, and one of the coolest props in Hollywood history.
FT – How did you get your start as an actor?
DP – I went to one year of college at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. I chose communications as a major, but only because nothing else seemed interesting. After the high tuition, I told my mother that I wanted to pursue acting full time. I was aware of the struggle ahead from odd jobs to sporadic work. I loved the adrenaline rush of performance. I starred in my high school production of Grease as Danny Zucco. Almost 1,000 people packed the high school auditorium. I loved it.
I started with acting schools and teachers in New York City. I stayed very close to directors and undergrads at New York University and Columbia University. I tried getting my hands on any role I could in student films and independent films. It wasn’t until 10 years later that I’d start booking guest star and co-starring roles on national television. The craft and business is difficult but I knew that going in. It is a challenge every week. You are constantly improving your craft as well as trying to find work alongside your agent and manager.
DP – Thank you! I don’t turn down work of any kind. In order to keep your schedule flexible for auditions, you have to be willing to work odd jobs of all kinds. I was called in by Legacy Effects, one of the most prestigious makeup companies in the industry. They wanted me for a day to test prosthetics and makeup for one of their upcoming projects. A very nice gentleman, Brian Sipe, greeted me in the main lobby of the warehouse. Little did I know Brian was one of the leading makeup artists at Legacy, with one of the most impressive resumes within his craft. I was in the makeup chair for seven hours that day. They split my face in half, working one character design on one side, and another character on the other. I made sure to be polite and patient, and Brian and I had some great conversations throughout the day. I gave him my business card and told him I’d love to be considered for whatever project he was working on. I saw not a thing that day as it was all confidential. Two weeks later I received a phone call asking me to report the following Monday to Manhattan Beach Studios. The project was titled “Huckleberry”. I had little to no expectations that this job would become a dream come true.
The first day consisted of a wardrobe and makeup camera test. There was a vibe behind the scenes I had never felt before. Offices and dressing rooms with closed doors and code names on each one to not tip off any characters or storyline. The wardrobe door was closed and I was waiting with five other actors to be called in. Richard A. Porra was the costume designer. Like Brian, he has an extremely impressive resume over the course of his career. I was called in after one actor had left. They were taking us in one by one. It wasn’t until I entered the wardrobe offices that I realized what I was working on. Any Star Wars fan could see right away what project they were in by the photos on the wall. My hands went a little numb. To have been a lifelong fan, and essentially the reason I wanted to be an actor and entertainer, and now I have a chance to be in the universe? Wow.
The surprise and shock was not over that day. I was taken into a room with a clothes rack with my name on it. Next to my name was the title “Bounty Hunter”. Three wardrobe options were waiting for Richard and me to see. Two of the three had masks. Since I was invited to the show because they wanted to do makeup tests on me, they went with the costume with no mask. Black boots, gloves, and long dark blue robe followed with a bandolier. Richard looked me up and down after I was fully dressed. It took him about a minute. Assistants were in the room and everyone was quiet. He looked down at a box of masks and handed me an incredible looking oxygen mask, similar to what an Air Force pilot would wear. He helped me put it on and snapped photos of each side of me. I was then sent down to makeup. I was so happy to see a familiar face in the trailer. What do I say to Brian? How do I thank a complete stranger for what would potentially be beyond any dream I could’ve hoped for in entertainment? I’ve done close to 100 television shows and movies throughout the course of my acting career, but none of it compared to being in the Star Wars universe.
The makeup and prosthetics took two hours to completely apply. Brian was inspired by a green energy convention he did a year or two prior. He created a prosthetic for a woman that looked similar to the head of a gecko. That was the nickname that referenced my character in the makeup trailer: “Gekko”.
After I was 100% in makeup and wardrobe, I was taken to set to be approved by Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni. I was having an issue with the prosthetic as I didn’t like the round shapes. They didn’t seem menacing enough. After my camera test, I politely suggested to Brian if we can make these bumps a little edgier. Perhaps four horns. At first Brian was hesitant, but on the first day of filming for me they reshaped them to horns. “Gekko” now had an edge. Only thing was missing now: a firearm.
Sets have a very strict prop gun policy, and rightfully so. You’re not given your set weapon until you’re needed on set. You are to keep it on you at all times until you leave set for lunch or for the day. Samuel L. Jackson always had that story about getting to pick out his lightsaber on the set of The Phantom Menace. I can’t say enough what a dream it was to have the same thing happen to me. I was shown to a prop table and I got there before the other bounty hunters for the day. Once you picked your weapon, that was yours for the two weeks of filming. Even though we had 15-hour days, I wanted the biggest rifle blaster. I knew it would be heavier but I didn’t care. This was every boy’s dream come true. I’m 6’4″ and 260 pounds. I wanted something to fit my large frame. There was this semi-automatic with a paintball canister attached to the back of it. There was also this curved dagger down by the magazine. I loved it.
Being on set was surreal. No matter how hot I was in the costume, and how long the days were, my adrenaline was pumping. I was anxious and could feel the camera on me during some of the action scenes. I’ve been holding my breath ever since as I hope I am clearly visible in every scene.
DP – My original inspiration to be an actor was George Lucas and John Williams, and the universe they created together. Then when I was eight years old I remembered the first applause I have ever heard in a movie theater while watching Return of the Jedi, during the sail barge action sequence. I longed to be part of that universe: the energy in that fantasy world, and to inspire others in the same way. When The Phantom Menace was still in production, I was trying to track down the casting director. There was a roadblock though, as they were not accepting unsolicited submissions. That was a huge letdown. Filming in Australia and England was another obstacle of course, since if you were not a big actor they weren’t going to fly you out. The rest of the prequel trilogy came and went, but I continued to work hard, never turned down a job, and now here I am.
I would say the main takeaway is to have a dream and never let go of it. Let it inspire you, keep up the positive energy, don’t quit, and eventually it will come. I am living proof of that.
FT – What was the most memorable aspect of the experience of working on set?
DP – On day one of my filming, I’m walking onto set to film and who is there but the creator himself, George Lucas. Jon Favreau was there with Dave Filoni, as was Kathleen Kennedy. You could hear a pin drop. It was priceless to see Lucas surrounded by his element, and to be a part of it in full makeup as the heads of production talked about the scene and the universe.
DP – Children and the homeless. I’m 44. I’m not old, but I’m so grateful for the life I already have had so far. Aside from the acting success here and there, the most important element I’ve been fortunate to have in my life is love. It’s time to pay it forward. The homeless are less fortunate, and when I can give I do. Children are innocent sponges amongst us, and to inspire them and bring goodness and happiness to their lives is a priority for me. If “Gekko” becomes a fan favorite, nothing would please me more than to bring a smile to kids with appearances and charitable donations such a memorabilia and autographs.
FT – What advice do you have for aspiring actors?
DP – You have to take your dream into your own hands. Your agent should only be a catalyst to your career but you cannot be dependent on them. Guide your career and do something each day to bring you a little closer to achieving what you want.
FT – Last but not least, what is your dream goal after this?
DP – I have yet to achieve the goal of being a series regular on a show and that’s something that would be very rewarding. Regardless if it happens or not, I am so content in being able to do what I love, not to mention already having achieved the ultimate dream of becoming a Star Wars bounty hunter!