Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our tenth guest played two citizens of Mon Cala – Gerald Home.
Lightsabre – Gerald, welcome to Lightsabre.
GH – Thank you. It’s great to talk to you guys at last.
Lightsabre – You’ve been in numerous episodes of Casualty, Scarlet and Black, Spitting Image and Time Gentlemen Please, and yet you are internationally best known for your roles as Tessek and the Mon Calamarian officer in Return of the Jedi. How do you feel about that?
GH – It’s better to be known for these characters, than not to be known at all! Seriously, it’s a thrill to feel the fans’ appreciation still, after all these years. And I have to say – it’s because of the fans that I am known for these characters at all; they tracked me down, suggested me for the convention circuit, built my website – everything in fact. If it wasn’t for the fans, none of what’s happening for me now would be happening.
Lightsabre – As an accomplished puppeteer you must have been in your element on the set of Jedi, a film populated by puppets and masked actors. Given the amount of non-human characters on the set, how smooth a shoot did you find Jedi?
GH – Everything connected with Return of the Jedi ran as smooth as clockwork; nothing was left to chance; everyone knew exactly what he / she was doing. Having said that, the Jabba’s Palace set was surprisingly small and it became very, very hot and stuffy once all the performers, extras, crew, technicians etc arrived, lights were switched on and smoke guns activated. It needed enormous concentration not to keel over or even fall asleep, as a result of the sauna-like conditions. Several of the little guys did faint, and I can understand why, but nothing held up the running of this well-oiled machine. Richard Marquand was a fairly quiet, calm director, and his led to a stress-free atmosphere on set. And of course it was joy to watch all these incredible puppet and mask characters being brought to life.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your career. How did you begin in entertainment and what led you to where you are today?
GH – I began acting while I was at university in Australia, where I lived for 10 years when we emigrated there from N. Ireland in 1967. After I graduated, I spent 3 years as an actor / teacher, then came to London to study at The Drama Studio. I have been here ever since. A mime teacher I had at drama school formed her own company, and I was part of that for a while after leaving drama school. We toured Europe with a couple of shows and met many other mime performers along the way. I left the company when I started getting very good Equity work. I did many shoes with Polka Theatre, which is where I learned my puppetry skills – glove, rod, string, shadow – we used all kinds of puppets. Then I got a very good agent and he got me into No Sex Please – We’re British at the Strand Theatre in the West End. This was the World’s Longest-running Comedy and I was in it for 13 months. I loved it.
Shortly after I left it I got a call from a mime director called Desmond Jones – one of the other mimes I had met in my mime-company days. He said he was putting together a group of people to audition for the new Star Wars film – REVENGE of the Jedi. Those chosen would play various mask characters. The brief was that they were looking for performers who could move well, and act without words, purely with their bodies. Nine of us were finally chosen, credited in the film as Mime Artists, though we came from vastly different backgrounds – some dancers, circus performers, puppeteers, street mimes, a couple of actors like myself who had learned mime and puppetry. Since Jedi, I have worked pretty regularly, touch wood, in all areas of the entertainment industry, mostly acting, but occasionally doing puppetry jobs and jobs that require, if not mime skills, then acute awareness of the body.
GH – When we auditioned for Jedi, we were told that, if cast, we would be heavily featured in all the Jabba scenes. So when we 9 eventually started rehearsals, we worked out lots and lots of “business” to be used in the film. Of course, once the set filled up with the people I mentioned before, we 9 kind of got lost in the crowd. We were very well taken care of, but I have to say – we were all very disappointed that we weren’t used the way we thought we would be. And when we saw the finished film and saw our characters fade into the background, well, it was another huge disappointment. So it is especially rewarding now to find that the fans understand all this and still find something to celebrate in the work we did on the film. The appreciation feels doubly sweet because it is coming after all these years. And of course it now feels fantastic to be part of this, as you say, phenomenon.
Lightsabre – I would imagine that you were one of the few cast members to be on both the Jabba’s court set and the Headquarters Frigate set. How different were they to work on, and how difficult was it to see anything at all out of those eyes?
GH – And don’t forget the Sail Barge scenes. All totally different. Jabba’s Palace – hot, cramped, stuffy. Sail Barge – less hot; fewer people. I could only see out of the bottom of the nose in Tessek’s mask, so I had to think of that as a kind of “blind” part, working out distances, how many steps to the left, to the right, etc. before each take. And my own eyes were way below Tessek’s eyes, so I always had to hold his head in a certain way, so it seemed as if I was actually looking out of his eyes….if you see what I mean! Plus, I was strapped into Tessek’s mask. The Mon Calamari Officer mask was lighter, easier to see out of and easier to put on and take off.
Lightsabre – Your two Return of the Jedi characters, while appearing to be totally unrelated, have actually turned out to be from the same planet of Mon Calamari, and by all accounts the races hate each other. Were you aware of this at the time?
GH – Excellent question. No, I wasn’t aware. I only knew Squid Head was a Bad Guy and the Mon Cal a Good Guy! It was only a couple of years ago when fans tracked me down that I learned all about the name “Tessek”, the new action figures of my 2 characters – and the fact that Tessek didn’t die in Jedi! I also learned that he was Jabba’s accountant and had been embezzling Jabba’s money. Also, I now know that the Quarren and Mon Cals did share the same homeworld, having come to mutually-beneficial working arrangements.
Lightsabre – What would you change about your Star Wars experience if you could go back and do it again?
GH – It would have been nice if our characters had been featured more. And I wish I had been photographed with Tessek’s head off! Maybe I was and maybe those photos will turn up one day.
Lightsabre – You have had a wide and varied career, ranging from working with the Royal Shakespeare Company to appearing in A Midsummer Nights Dream and Alice in Wonderland. And also famously as the original Mister Muscle! How much fun was that, to be at the forefront of a major advertising campaign?
GH – I adored my time as Mr Muscle. Sometimes people think I am a very serious person. Maybe they think this because I take my work extremely seriously. But I’m not a serious person, far from it. So the character of Mr Muscle fitted me like a glove: I can be very accident-prone, just like him, and I can get myself into unbelievable situations, just like him. I made many of those commercials, over 9 years, and they were shown as far away as New Zealand. I loved being “the face” of the product. And I loved the way people reacted to me when they recognized me….always with warmth and a smile.
Lightsabre – There’s talk of a Star Wars TV series. Would you be interested in a role, recreating perhaps one of your earlier characters or as someone entirely new?
GH – Of course I’d be interested, though preferably as a new character.
Lightsabre – What do you foresee in the future for yourself?
GH – Ah, where would we all be if we could see the future…? Who knows….?
Until about 18 months ago, I thought I knew exactly how and where my life and career were going, but then Return of the Jedi re-entered my life and basically took it over! Since then, I’ve been to conventions all over the world, I have my own website, I’ve just been made an Honorary Member of the 501st Legion (one of the coolest things ever to happen to me), so I wouldn’t even hazard a guess about the future. My experience is that we just never know what lies around the corner. And it’s probably a good thing that this is so.
Lightsabre – A quick question about our site Lightsabre. Any comments?
GH – Your site is filled with mind-blowing inventiveness! I mean that; such creativity stuns me. Role-playing, games….these are all new areas to me, and I wouldn’t say I’m sure how they all work. I recently did some panels and Q & A sessions with Star Wars author Troy Denning. Till I met him, I had no idea there was such an Extended Universe of material. I couldn’t believe the questions fans asked him and I learned a lot from them and from Troy. Lightsabre is in that same mold, part of this parallel Star Wars Universe I’m now inhabiting!
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest. Just one final question. Tessek, the Mon Calamari and Mister Muscle are scrubbing a dirty sink using only a scouring pad. Mister Muscle has the technique, Tessek uses his tentacles and the Mon Cal his flippered hands. Who cleans the sink quickest?
GH – Thanks very much, I’ve enjoyed it too, but I have to tell you….you’ve got Tessek wrong: cleaning sinks is for lesser creatures – he would NEVER touch a scouring pad, nor scrub anything dirty; in fact, the only laundering he ever did was money-laundering Jabba’s millions.
The Mon Calamari, bless him, tries hard, but those flippered hands weren’t designed to pick up soap pads, so most of the soap goes flying through the air as he tries to pick up the pad; he never does manage to clean the sink. He should stick to Galactic Battles really.
Mr Muscle eventually does the best job because, as we know – “All it takes is a little squirt.”
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 11th March 2005.