“Admiral! We have enemy ships in sector 37!” – Captain Verrack
“It’s a trap!” – Admiral Ackbar
In a recent interview, I managed to speak to actor Gerald Home about his work portraying Tessek and Mon Cal Officer Verrack in Return of the Jedi. Tessek was a Quarren who worked as a bookkeeper for Jabba the Hutt.
Verrack was a Mon Calamari computer technician and specialist who held the rank of captain. Verrack’s expertise in power systems was greatly appreciated as well as needed by the Alliance to Restore the Republic’s fleet. In addition to his technical skills, Verrack also had experience as a gunner. He served aboard Home One during the Battle of Endor, sitting behind Admiral Ackbar at one of the bridge consoles.
Following the Battle of Endor, Verrack was promoted to captain of the Maria, in the New Republic Third Fleet. He destroyed Grand Admiral Syn’s Silooth during the Liberation of Kashyyyk.
LB: You played Tessek and a Mon Calamari Officer, how did you get these roles and I believe you had extra scenes with Admiral Ackbar that were cut, can you provide some info about those scenes?
GH: One of the subjects taught at drama school is mime because there are times in an actor’s career when he won’t have any dialogue to help him express emotion. Mime is really acting without words, and studying it helps the actor learn how to express different emotions using only his body. So I studied mime at drama school – in fact, my first job after drama school was a mime show called PRUFROCK, which we performed throughout the UK and in France.
I met a mime teacher and director called Desmond Jones when he came to see PRUFROCK in 1977, and we kept in touch. Five years later, early in 1982, I heard from Des that he had been asked to put together a group of 9 performers to work on a “new film”, playing masked characters. He didn’t tell me the name of the film at that time. So a lot of us performers auditioned, and 9 of us were eventually chosen. By then we knew the film was the next Star Wars film, to be called Revenge of the Jedi. Which characters each of us played was decided by how the production people saw us – and I was chosen to play Squid Head (given the name Tessek much later, in 1999, I think) and a “Calamari Man”. Not all of us 9 played Mon Calamari, but we are all credited as Mime Artists at the end of the film.
During filming the Battle of Endor scenes, the producers found that there was “a hole” in the plot – it didn’t make sense – there was some information missing – and so they wrote 2 pages of additional scenes which would “fill the hole” and make sense of what had been filmed. These additional scenes would be between Admiral Ackbar and a speaking Mon Cal – so the producers needed an actor to speak the lines.
Stuart Ziff is credited as Chief Articulation Engineer on Return of the Jedi, and worked as part of Phil Tippet’s team, who looked after us creatures. Stuart knew I was more than a mime artist and that I had recently been in a theatre play in the West End of London, so when he heard about the speaking Mon Cal, he recommended me for the part. That’s how I came to play the 2 pages of dialogue scenes, along with Tim Rose as Ackbar. As you see in the call sheets, I was named as Officer/Aide/Controller. That’s how I went from being one of several Mon Calamari to The Mon Calamari Officer.
Unfortunately, our experimental dialogue scenes didn’t work because my Mon Cal mask was not articulated to speak – I couldn’t move the mouth to make it look like my mask was speaking, and so those scenes are not in the film. Maybe one day I’ll be a speaking Mon Cal!
GH: It didn’t take long to get into my costumes. Most parts of the costumes were in my dressing room, and I put them on myself. My masks and hands were separate, looked after by my dresser, the late Ken Lewington, and he put them on me on-set.
The Tessek-Squid Head mask was bigger and heavier than the Mon Cal mask. It was so heavy that there were straps on it which had to be tied around my waist so the mask wouldn’t move. You can just see where the straps used to be in this photo of the mask when it was in an exhibition in Brazil several years ago. The human in the photo is Vinicius Ayres, the sponsor of my Honorary Membership of the 501st Legion. You can see how big the Tessek-Squid Head mask is in comparison with Vinicius’s head.
LB: Can you describe your time filming the Jabba’s Palace scenes?
GH: We had two days to rehearse on the Jabba’s Palace set before filming began, just us Mime Artists and Puppeteers. It was great to have the set (mostly) to ourselves, and we were able to practise moving in our costumes and masks. We were told previously that we would be featured in all the scenes with Jabba, but everything changed when filming started and over 100 other people arrived on set – production people, other actors, extras, carpenters, lighting people, electricians, painters, dressers and other wardrobe people, assistants, and other technical staff! The result was that we Mime Artists often got lost in the crowd, and we weren’t featured in the filming as much as we thought we would be. That was disappointing, but it was still thrilling and exciting to be there. The Palace set wasn’t as big as you might think, and it got very hot with so many people, hot lights and smoke from the smoke guns.
LB: What was it like being a part of the Rebel briefing scenes?
GH: The Briefing Room set was much bigger than the Jabba’s Palace set and was, therefore, cooler and more comfortable to work on. None of us had much to do in the Briefing Room other than to listen to Mon Mothma, General Madine and Admiral Ackbar. I had much more to do in the Mon Cal Bridge scenes, before, during and after the Battle of Endor.
LB: Was there much interaction between yourself and the directors, if so, what sort of things would you discuss?
GH: No, there wasn’t much interaction between director Richard Marquand and us. It was mostly First Assistant Director David Tomblin who gave us directions. The only character note I was given about Squid Head was that he/I worked for the meanest, most vile gangster in the galaxy, Jabba the Hutt, and when we moved to the Briefing Room set I was told I now worked for the nicest man in the galaxy, Admiral Ackbar! George Lucas was sometimes on set, but I never heard his voice. He was very quiet and didn’t speak to us. He and Richard Marquand would often discuss things, in a quiet, collaborative way.
How does working on Star Wars compare to all your work on other projects?
GH: As we know, Return of the Jedi was the third Star Wars film, the first two had been incredible international successes – so we knew we were working on a film which was going to be hugely successful and part of cinema history. It was very exciting working on this iconic film, but once you’re on-set, you can’t think too much about the history involved – you have to concentrate on the work you’re actually doing, make it as “real” as possible, and not think too far ahead.
LB: What are some of your favourite memories, characters and scenes from the films and also, if you could play any other character, who would it be and why?
GH: The highlight of working on Return of the Jedi for me was seeing Harrison Ford working up close. I think he’s one of those rare creatures: a major film star who is also an excellent actor. I was standing just a few feet away from him when he filmed his “defrosting” from carbonite scene, and his concentration was intense. It was as if he and Carrie were the only two people there. It was a good lesson to see how he was able to “tune out” the many other people around him and the activity that was happening on-set. I guess it’s that ability to concentrate so deeply that all great actors have.
The character I’d love to play in Star Wars is the Emperor. It’s usually more rewarding and more interesting for an actor to play a baddie than a goodie, and the Emperor is the ultimate Star Wars baddie!
LB: What does Star Wars mean to you?
GH: Star Wars is the gift that keeps on giving! Who would have thought, way back in 1982, that Star Wars would still be playing such a big part of my life all these years later? And the popularity of my two characters continues to grow, which amazes, and delights, me.
LB: Did you ever think your work would lead you to be in a franchise like Star Wars?
GH: No one can plan to be in a franchise like Star Wars, but given my background as an actor, mime artist and puppeteer, I had all the necessary experience to play Star Wars characters, and looking back on it now, I think I was destined to play Tessek-Squid Head and the Mon Calamari Officer! And of course, I’d jump at the chance to work on any future Star Wars projects.
LB: Do you attend many comic conventions, and if so, do you have any appearances coming up?
GH: Some years I do 6-8 conventions, sometimes more. I’m still an actor, so conventions have to fit in with my working life. Last year I did 15 events because it was the 40th anniversary of Star Wars. This year will be busy too, travelling the world to help fans celebrate the 35th anniversary of Return of the Jedi. I’ll be going to Spain, France, the US, Mexico, and several other countries this year. An example of a great event was when I was the guest at Star Wars Day, Movie Park Germany. Almost 20,000 visitors came, and I paraded through the park with over 120 members of the 501st and Rebel Legions, all in costume. It was a spectacular event.
LB: What does fan interaction mean to you?
GH: Interaction with the fans means everything to me. It was fans who tracked me down in 2003 and fans are the reason why I’m doing conventions and other events. I owe everything to the fans. We actors from the Original Trilogy are very lucky that fans still want to meet us.
Also, I’m very involved with fans online, principally through my long-running, very popular Return of the Jedi Creature History thread. Fans can chat with me and ask me questions there. Here’s the link to it: http://forum.rebelscum.com/showthread.php?t=1069050 I’m sure Star Wars will keep us all busy for years to come!
Interview originally published on Hutt’s Palace on 20th February 2018.