Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our ninth guest played two roles in The Empire Strikes Back – Ian Liston.
Lightsabre – Ian, welcome to Lightsabre.
IL – Thanks Mark. I’m flattered that you’ve asked me to be part of your amazing web site.
Lightsabre – You’ve been in numerous episodes of Coronation Street, Brookside, Crossroads, appeared in Silent Witness and played Mister Chairman over 3000 times, and yet you are internationally best known for your role as Wes Janson in The Empire Strikes Back. How do you feel about that?
IL – Astonished. I don’t think anyone associated with the original films, when they were made in the late 1970’s, ever thought they would still be so popular three decades later.
Lightsabre – Empire is probably the best loved and most critically acclaimed episode of the saga. What is it about that film that strikes so many chords with both Star Wars fans and cinema fans alike?
IL – It’s the definitive adventure story. It has all the classic elements of good versus evil, the victor vanquished only to return and win the day and come away with the best bird on the block on his arm.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your career. How did you begin in entertainment and what led you to where you are today?
IL – I am so old! – 57 this year. I am old enough to have started in the theatre when they didn’t even have backstage relays / tannoy systems and so had to have a ‘call’ boy’ who went round knocking on the dressing rooms doors to warn the actors that they had impending entrances in the play. That happened in 1961 on an amateur production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe at The Winter Gardens Theatre, Waterloo (near Liverpool). I was bitten by the stage bug from that moment on and have since been involved with every branch of entertainment. – No sooner had I left college than I found myself working as a ‘runner’ (dogsbody / tea-boy – the lowest of the low!) at ABP Studios Elstree on a series called The World of Jason King which starred Peter Wyngarde.
How ironic that I should go back there several years later, to the very same sound stage where that was filmed, to do all the blue-screen work for The Empire Strikes Back.
I went back in similar circumstances to Granada TV in Manchester (where I had previously worked as a Prop man / floor assistant on Coronation Street) to play the part of Danny Burrows for three months in what is still my favourite ‘soap’!
<P<>Before I became an actor, one of my first jobs was with The Beatles company, Apple Films, as a location manager. I loved that job and worked on several films including Little Malcolm and his Struggle against the Eunuchs, Gumshoe, O Lucky Man and Sitting Target on the ‘other side’ of the camera.
Lightsabre – What is it like to be a part of the Star Wars phenomenon?
IL – I’ve been to many places and met countless people and had lots of fun being part of the Star Wars ‘universe’. I don’t regret one moment of it. It’s been fun all along the way.
Lightsabre – We often hear funny stories from the sets of the movies, especially from the Red Squadron and Rogue Squadron members. What memories do you have of being stuck in a cockpit in front of a blue screen with Dennis Lawson?
IL – Who’s Dennis Lawson? – We never met on the set of the film as all our stuff was filmed ‘front on’. If he appears to be in a shot with me, it’s a double…and vice versa.
Lightsabre – Your character Wes Janson has had a great fiction life beyond your portrayal of him in Empire. What is it about Wes that has made him such a popular character in the Expanded Universe, and do you like to keep up with his exploits?
IL – I love the books. It’s been great fun reading them and seeing how the character of Wes has developed. He’s always been a bit of a practical joker and sees the funny side of things. A bit like me in real life! I always look forward to the next book. If nothing else, to ensure he’s not been bumped off! – I’ve met Aaron Alston a few times and we get on well so, hopefully, Wes will hang on in there for a while yet. – Just how far up the ladder of promotion can he go.
Lightsabre – What would you change about your Star Wars experience if you could go back and do it again?
IL – Nothing…except, I might have kept script pages / call sheets / taken photos on the set but I didn’t know such things would be so prized and valuable over 25 years later.
Lightsabre – Your company Hiss and Boo has been an unqualified success, taking productions across the country to great acclaim and applause. Roy Hudd, the Beverley Sisters, Jimmy Cricket and Danny La Rue are just some of the great British theatre names you have worked with. How did the concept of Hiss and Boo come about?
IL – It started around the time of Empire Strikes Back…in fact some of the money I earned from Empire went into setting up the theatre company. It started as a way of creating theatre work in pubs / clubs / theatre venues for a group of actors, like myself, who didn’t like being out of work. The same holds true over 25 years later but now we play bigger theatres and take the shows overseas.
Lightsabre – There’s talk of a Star Wars TV series. Would you be interested in a role, maybe as the older and wiser Wes Janson?
IL – When do rehearsals start?
Lightsabre – What do you foresee in the future for yourself and Hiss and Boo?
IL – We’re now well established in the UK as a company who produce top quality pantomimes and Christmas shows. Some of our work is traditional: much of it is innovative. I just want to keep on doing more of the same…and doing it better and better!
Lightsabre – A quick question about our site. I noticed you had a quick look for Wes in our guides sections! Any comments?
IL – He’s missing but let’s hope he’s found before too long
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest. Just one final question. Widow Twanky, Buttons and Wishee-Washee are all on stage at the Lichfield Garrick Theatre in the panto production of Return of the Jedi – All the Galaxy’s a Stage: The Musical.
A Rancor appears behind the three of them and the crowd screams “It’s behind you!” Which one turns first, which one doesn’t believe the audience and which one ends up as a toothpick?
IL – Buttons turned and ran off when he received a message from his agent telling him that George Lucas had offered him a part as third Wookiee on the left in the new Star Wars film. Widow Twankey had a touch too much ‘yub-yub’ and was so overcome to even know what an audience was.
Wishee-Washee fell foul of an itinerant bounty hunter in the Dagobah system and was eventually tracked down to the Lichfield Garrick where he mistook a Coruscantian lumberjack for a dentist…silly man – too trusting by half!
Nurse, they’re out of bed again!
Thanks Mark…and best wishes to all on Lightsabre.
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 1st March 2005.