Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our sixty-sixth guest played Bravo 6 in The Phantom Menace and was Anakin Skywalker’s stand-in on Revenge of the Sith – Christian Simpson.
Lightsabre – Christian, welcome to Lightsabre.
CS – Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here!
Lightsabre – You went from fanboy to being on the set of the most anticipated films in movie history. How overwhelming was it to take in?
CS – It just sunk in when you said that! No seriously, I do have to pinch myself sometimes and also remind myself how lucky I was. Even though I was just a small cog in the huge Star Wars machine, if you had told me when I was 7 years old and my Father first took me to see The Empire Strikes Back, that I’d one day be seen or credited in a Star Wars film, I just wouldn’t have been able to take it in. The funny thing about it is when you are actually on set, it has the danger of becoming ‘normal’. This should be some consolation to the fans who wish they’d worked there too. I mean, it is just a job to many people who work on the films, but for me the magic of the situation just kept coming back, at which points I would allow a little smile to myself. “I’m in Star Wars!” It’s a fine line.
CS – My passion and roots in the industry actually lie in writing – songs and literature (see www.euromantix.com). But that is an equally competitive career, although I will never give up my other ambition apart from being part of the Star Wars Universe – and that is to have a hit song in the charts – one everyone knows. With the online age of music sales that may be creeping ever nearer, but it is a lot of who you know and luck as well. I’ve had my fair share of luck so far with Star Wars so I can’t really complain.
It was my acting agent at the time who first got the call about Episode I, where they were looking for just 10 Bravo Squadron Naboo Pilots for the movie. I had heard that Star Wars was coming back to London and it was pure chance that I found out about this casting call at the right time, but that is timing I have never been more grateful for! I was called in to audition, where you have a chat with the Casting people, have photographs taken, etc. And then a wait. A very long wait. I think it was a few weeks (ouch), until – and I can remember it like it wasn’t 10 years ago – I was standing in the kitchen at my parents’ house and got the call asking me if I was free on certain dates in August 2007 because, “Christian, they want you for Star Wars”. You can imagine how I felt! My parents knew of my love of the movies, and they couldn’t quite believe it either. Wow, you’re bringing it all back to me here.
Lightsabre – What is it like to be a part of the Star Wars phenomenon?
CS – Incredible. Humbling. Unreal.
Lightsabre – You stood in for Professor Snape Alan Rickman on the Brit-com Love, Actually. How much fun was that, working alongside two Phantom Menace pals Liam Neeson and Keira Knightley?
CS – How did you find out about that! Well I was Alan Rickman’s stand-in on the film you are correct, but that was purely on account of our sharing the same height. Sadly I did not get to meet Keira Knightley then. I bet she regrets that to this day, haha! And Liam I worked with on Episode I of course. He’s a sweet guy. His wife and child would join him on set sometimes. The fight with Obi-Wan and Darth Maul isn’t so menacing when you know his baby was just off camera watching daddy do the moves!
Most of my scenes were however only ones in which Alan and Emma Thompson were in, so it wasn’t quite such a Phantom Menace reunion sadly. The other thing to remember of course is that back when we filmed Episode I, Keira wasn’t that well know as an actor. To us she was a double for Natalie Portman, but only a very small part. To this day I still get them both mixed up. Could be embarrassing if I ever dated one of them…No wait I’m dreaming again, sorry.
Lightsabre – You acted out many of your scenes with Ian McDiarmid, who seemed very adept at putting you at ease. Is he really the gentleman he appears to be?
CS – Ian was absolutely wonderful. What an honour to work with such a talented and distinguished man of British Theatre and Film. It was quite a shock when, on my first day on Revenge of the Sith, Hayden was late arriving from make-up and so I had to act out the scene in his absence, with Ian. The very first scene of the entire phase of shooting. He began in his classic Emperor’s Chair that we all know from Sith and Jedi, facing away from me. All I could see was the top of his head and the back of the chair. Then he got the order to turn around and ‘face Anakin’, which I am delighted to say was me for that moment at least. But can you imagine your first day shooting on a new movie… and it’s Star Wars and you’re thrown right into the lion’s pit to meet your maker!? Overwhelming is an understatement.
What was sweet was that his first words to me were not “JOINNN MEEEE ON THE DARK SIIIIDE!!”, but a very ‘luvvy’-like, “Hello I’m Ian”! Not quite so scary. Thank the maker.
Lightsabre – Apart from your involvement on the film, what are your feelings on Revenge of the Sith? Did it satisfy your fan appetite, or whet it for more adventures to come?
CS – I didn’t like it. Nah only kidding! I loved that movie. I haven’t met anyone – Star Wars fan or not – who did not appreciate it. George, Rick, and the rest of the crew did us fans (and actors) proud. Even my girlfriend said after we went to the London premiere, “That WAS a cool movie!”, and that’s saying something – to get the female vote. Actually it’s great how many girls do love Star Wars. So yes, I was royally chuffed and very satisfied. In a way it wrapped things up so nicely that I don’t – yet – feel a need for more Star Wars. What I really am looking forward to is seeing the movies in 3D. That will capture a whole new generation, and recapture the original one to boot.
Lightsabre – Your blog is an amazing read, giving detail and warmth to what could have easily become a sterile account of the production. Are there any plans to produce a book about your behind-the-scenes time?
CS – Wow, thank you very much! I try my best to remember who I am writing it for – MEs – that is fans like me. It’s an odd juxtaposition because on set I wasn’t ‘being’ the fan, I couldn’t, I was being the professional. But in my accounts I have to speak what was going on inside my head at those times. And believe me, it was! I know many people on set were also hiding their true excitement of being there, but it kinda spilled over. Even Hayden. He was so excited to get the part and you can see that he still had his moments. We would share little comments, like on the last day even of filming on a Star Wars movie, I was proud to be reading Ian McDiarmid’s lines for him in his absence, to Anakin so he could react (I think that makes me the last ever recorded dialogue on a Star Wars movie). I turned to Hayden and said, “So this is it then – last day”, and he looked kinda sombre as he agreed, “Yep, last day.” Then I heard George muttering something about the last day as he adjusted a lighting rig! (He likes to chip in!) Everyone knew we were working on something special. There was a grand air of history in the making.
As for a book, it’s funny – I have been asked that before by fans. They really seem to love the journals. I guess it would be up to a regular Star Wars Publisher to come to me, but I’d happily expand what I have and fill at least a book or two. There’s more where that came from I can assure you, and I haven’t even touched on Episode I yet in the Blogs!
CS – Jar Jar. Just kidding, again! I suppose I would have to say Anakin. As a kid, growing up, I loved Luke. Everyone did (mostly). But being involved in the filming process of his father’s character, Anakin, has left a mark on me. I mean, when George Lucas starts to actually call you “Anakin” on set, instead of your given name, you can’t help it. Then there’s the Christensen / Christian Simpson thing, and how filming the last ever day on 31 January was my birthday. Then I found out that was the date they started filming Episode IV. Then I found out George started writing Episode IV in January 1973 – the month, possibly day I was born. It’s amazing how Star Wars can draw you in.
And since then I have been so lucky as to do several conventions and autograph signings where Anakin is the key centre of attention. In Japan (where they’d announce me as “Haawww Christian Simpson san, Hayden Christensensan san san!”. It was crazy – fans were bringing me Anakin action figures and other merchandise to sign. Anyone who has had anything to do with the Anakin/Vader character in the making of the movies it seems is very lucky! Even the guy who brought him his tea I would imagine. And the story is so tragic, so very tragic, that it is not hard to see why it can wrap people’s emotions up.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your other interests outside of Star Wars?
CS – Well we have already touched on my writing passion. I also have some business interests including another website (www.superhighstreet.com) and a few properties in the UK and Spain – trying to slowly build up ‘the empire’ you know?! 😉 I also love film & TV in general as you might imagine, and there have been some great sci-fi series of late. Dark Angel was a particular favourite of mine, not least because Jessica Alba is the hottest girl kicking ass that ever there has been. Heroes also looks very promising. And I even liked Firefly, even if it was responsible for Dark Angel being cancelled! People have flatteringly compared me to Dark Angel’s Michael Weatherly, and I really love the character he now plays in NCIS – an excellent show. That is the sort of character I would also fit very well into playing, so here’s hoping for the future. Does Donald P Bellisario read this site? 😉
Lightsabre – You got to recreate the infamous force-choke while filming Revenge of the Sith. You mention the sheer thrill of certain moments during your time on the stes, bringing back memories of yourself as a seven year old when the film first came out. How high up did that moment rank?
CS – Pretty high! Sitting in the Emperor’s throne feels pretty good too, although it’s not that comfy so I don’t recommend it for long planet-destroying sessions, but actually acting out the scene of the moment that causes Vader to turn to the dark side – injuring Padmé (as he thinks fatally) – in front of an entire film crew that includes Hayden and George sitting at the plasmas watching, well that is just too much to put into words. I won’t even try. Even though I just did.
But that was topped, I think, by filming a scene in Episode I (sadly on the cutting room floor now) where my character runs up the ladder to the yellow Naboo fighter, jumps in, pulls back the canopy, puts his goggles on, presses the ignition buttons, all while sparks fly around, the ground crew fuel up the ship, and an R2 unit is hoisted up in behind! Even better that I had to film about 5 takes because the overly long pilot’s cloak kept getting caught in the canopy! When I watched it back on the video assist and the operator said, “Pretty slick”, to the final take, I was a fanboy in fanboy heaven. My pleasure now is sharing these moments for other fans to enjoy. I want to do my best to take my like-minded Jedi there with me.
Lightsabre – There’s a Star Wars television series on the way. Would you be interested in a part on that?
CS – Yes please. Very kind of you! Where do I sign?
Lightsabre – What lies ahead for you in the future?
CS – Apart from the Star Wars TV series which you have just given me a part in, for now I am back to focussing on the music side of the entertainment biz, but I am also often seen reading for parts, and getting the odd one now and then, so who knows where I might end up. I know that I will however always be involved in the Star Wars machine for as long as it needs this particular cog, and hope to meet as many of your readers as I can at the exciting upcoming Star Wars events this year!
Lightsabre – A quick question about our site. Any comments?
CS – What a cool resource it is, not just for news, but for fans to show their work – I particularly like the gallery. Also it was nice to see some old acquaintances in your interviews section. I’m honoured to join them.
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest. Just one final question. George Lucas invites you to the ranch and sits you down. Stroking his beard he eyes you up and then leans forward. “I need someone to play a part in my new Star Wars TV series. You’d be perfect for three roles, but I need you to choose one.” He leans back and looks at an ancient looking yellow legal pad. “You can play Biggs Darklighter, Jabba the Hutt or Wicket the Ewok.”
What’s your choice?
CS – “Well George – can I call you George? No? Oh, Georgie? Ok Georgie, well I am very flattered that you would consider me, and I’d have to say Biggs Darklighter. I can grow a moustache, I just know I can. It might not be as great as his, but I’d be playing a younger version of him, so it just might work Georgie. But would you be editing Episode IV so I don’t die? No? Please? Yes? Okay! Deal. I’ll do it”. And then I wake up…
You’re very welcome for the interview. It has been an honour and a pleasure, and who knows, someone reading this might actually have that meeting with George themselves. Follow your dream, try not, do – or do not. There is no try. It was those very words from Yoda that led me to actually get a part in the Prequels. That is what went through my mind in one particular scene where I had to stare Yoda in the face for nearly an hour. How ironic is that?
Thanks for a great interview!
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 8th April 2007.