Star Wars interview: Jeremy Bulloch

A chat with the nice man behind Boba Fett.

What were you told about Boba Fett before working on Empire?

“Not a great deal – they just said it was a character, and it seemed to me he was peripheral, standing in the background looking menacing. And there were so many other amazing faces, that actors would go in an put a funny face on, like half an elephant, or a bounty hunter…and it just seemed to be taking off. People were listening to the story of Boba Fett, how he answers Darth Vader back and gets away with it, and not many people do that. He became quite a cult character, which made me laugh, as I’ve been acting for 50-odd years. Being told, ‘Mr Bulloch, you’re a cult icon! Oh my god!’ and they bow down. You go to different conventions and it’s quite extraordinary, the reaction.”

When did it occur to you that the character was gaining a cult following?

“I think more so when they re-released the films in ’97. Originally it came out and they were like, ‘wow, that’s fantastic!’ and I was like, ‘I didn’t have much to do.’ I think in 96/97.”

What was your first meeting with George Lucas like?

“Well, my first meeting, I had the outfit on and the helmet on and walked onto the set by Gary Kurtz, the producer. And I went up to him – they were filming the Wampa scene where it first attacks Luke Skywalker, and I was turning round – it was rather like being a model, and being turned around, with all of these different gadgets you don’t notice. And he just went, ‘Mmm hmm, okay, welcome aboard.’ I was like, ‘I haven’t been asked to read, yet! I’ll probably be asked to read.’ I went back up, took off the costume, got back in my normal clothes and they said, ‘See you Monday.’ I thought, ‘See you Monday? I still haven’t been asked to read…’ But that’s how it was.  It was as simple as that. I had fitted the outfit really well, and it seemed to please them in whatever way it was, and it was one of the easiest interviews I’d ever had.”

How did you first hear about getting involved with the series?

“Well, it’s funny because we all saw A New Hope, and people said, ‘This is quite a fun film, based on science-fiction things in the Fifties, like Captain Marvel’. And that’s what we were hearing. Then some friends of mine were in the film as Imperial officers and different characters, and we all supposedly had one, two, three days work, and mine went up to about three weeks. I think I was one of the lucky ones who happened to get into a costume, and looked like a walking arsenal – you heard ‘ooh, they’re doing a sequel.’ And sequels are never as good. I remember seeing Jaws and the sequel was terrible, but the first was excellent – and you were hoping that The Empire Strikes Back was going to be as good. In the end I think it was the better film.”

So were you a fan of A New Hope before working on Empire?

“Oh yeah, I was a fan back when everyone was saying, ‘you’ve got to see this film’. ‘It’s a kids film, really’, that’s what they were saying, but I thought it was a kids, grown-up and everybody film. There was something completely new that had never been done before, the techniques and technology that George had with Lucasfilm. It was an incredible time.”

How did Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand differ as directors?

“I think all directors are different – I think Irvin Kershner was an outstanding director. He used to like to walk through with you. He’d say, ‘right, this is what you do’… Richard Marquand, I’d met him a few years before, he was a nice director, completely different, and that’s why directors become famous, through being different.”

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And so how exactly were they different?

“Well, from Richard Marquand I heard, ‘I really like the Boba Fett character. You know what to do, Jeremy.’ He would direct you, but not to the extent of ‘alright, well now we’re getting heavy.’ He knew what I was doing…he relied on you to pick up where it was left off.”

What was the atmosphere like on Empire? Was there a lot of camaraderie between cast and crew, or a lot of pressure to get things right?

“I think there was a lot of pressure on getting it as good, if not better than A New Hope. There was excitement because a lot of my friends were in it – we were all actors, growing up [together] as teenagers. This was one of the strong points of it. When they were doing a little explosion in the side of Cloud City, you didn’t want to make a mistake because it takes a lot of time to reset it. It was expensive, but everyone mucked in and I think afterwards we were waiting to see the film – as cast and crew, there was a special screening going on in Leicester Square. And coming out of there, I’ve done this before with anything that I’ve done, and I remember thinking, ‘that was bloody good. That really was bloody good!’ to myself, then went home. I remember my wife saying, ‘what did it come out like?’ And I said, ‘well, I don’t want to much things up, but I think it’s going to be a good film’.”

And the key moment in that film was the ‘I am your father’ scene. Did you have any idea that was coming before the screening?

“No, not at all. No-one knew at all, nobody knew at all. And I think that’s good.”

What were you interactions with the cast like? Was there a lot of back-and-forth, or was everyone quite on-task?

“I think there was always an atmosphere – but a good atmosphere. Everyone felt like they had to work really hard, there were long days, and you didn’t want to make a mistake. You wanted to be absolutely on top. At lunchtime, I’d say ‘you look absolutely ridiculous in that outfit’ and they’d be like, ‘well, you’re not much better’, you know. Lots of banter between [scenes]. Everyone worked very hard because they all wanted to be in a second film – the first one did really well and the second had to be really good or better.”

And were you sad Boba Fett met his fate in that way?

“It was one of the most upsetting times, when I discovered I went into the sarlaac pit. But I’ve told everyone since then, ‘but don’t forget, he gets out! He fixed his jetpack and he’s gone!’ And in the meantime, he’s opened several restaurants down there, and bounty hunters fall in and he gives them a beer. So he’s making money as a bounty hunter until he gets out.”

What were your memories of filming that scene?

“Well, it was all done with stuntmen, there were five involved with that fall, and many got injured. It was not an easy stunt, and they weren’t going to use an actor who can roll about – I can fight, ride horses and things like that, but not anything like that.”

Why does Star Wars remain evergreen?

“Well, if you look at it, it’s a fairy story, good against evil – you have the wicked giant, Darth Vader, the princess, Princess Leia, the prince who comes to rescue her, Han Solo – and looking at those three characters, that’s a story in itself, and it will go on forever. I have grandchildren who loved it. I have ten grandchildren; they’re not fanatical, there’s a lot of them who love Harry Potter, but it will go on and on. The discussions of things will go on.”

Did you feel that you were working with genuinely talented people throughout filming, then?

“Well, it came up about George Lucas being a genius, and you have to use that word lightly, but I think he is. When you first meet him, he’s very quiet, perhaps a tiny bit shy, but then I’m a little bit shy – that’s why I’m an actor. Everyone was good, the directors were good, the cameramen were good… Within three or four days, you had everyone’s first name. Everyone worked really hard on those films. We felt we were working on something pretty tasty.”

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