Dennis Pellegrom from StarWarsInterviews.com presents: an unique, lengthy and detailed interview with Nick Kellington (his first ever!), who portrayed Bistan in Rogue One.
In the interview Kellington talks about nothing but Star Wars: a hippy Ackbar on set, being a LEGO fig, and is he returning to the Star Wars universe?
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Here's a brief snippet:
Hi Nick, let’s start at the very beginning: How did you get into the movie business?
At school I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life but I did know that the drama classes were fun so that’s the path I followed. I studied Drama and Psychology at university after which a couple of friends and I started a street theatre company. We weren’t great but once again, it was fun.
I started going to auditions and workshops in Circus skills, Commedia dell’arte (an Italian Mask art form), Mime and Puppetry. The auditions were hit and miss but as an actor you have to develop a thick skin because that never changes. More often I found that the companies running the workshops would then hire me as a performer because they saw something in me. I learned so much “on the job” in front of live audiences. This led to more success in auditions and I started working as a jobbing actor on the stage, touring around the UK for a few years with various companies. Most of the shows were devised and involved physical theatre, clowning, dance, puppetry and mask work.
I knew nothing about the movie industry but I started going up for Creature roles on Television. I found that working in creature suits for children’s television drew upon the same skills I’d learned in theatre but also gave me new experiences working with animatronics, monitors and cameras. Most notably I play “Igglepiggle” on “In the Night Garden” and “Dipsy” on the new Teletubbies. These kids TV jobs definitely helped me move on to Feature Films.
I now work in both the movies and television as a Creature Performer and I love it. The work is hot, claustrophobic and can be painful, but it’s still fun!
In Rogue One you play the part of Bistan. Could you tell how you got this role?
The creature industry is a relatively small community. Even if you’ve never met someone, you do start to hear the same names mentioned.
At the time Episode VII was being made, I was puppeteering on a kids TV show called Strange Hill High and was about to go straight into filming the new series of Teletubbies. I’d heard rumours of a top-secret project that no one would talk about. In fact, the less information you could get about it, the more you felt it had to be the new Star Wars film. I’d put feelers out but security was really tight around the project and I simply couldn’t get seen for what turned out to be the The Force Awakens.
The following year I had a break in my schedule between filming series of Teletubbies so I asked around if anyone needed a performer for anything.
Reports in online entertainment news sites suggested that filming on Rogue One was to start soon so I figured all the roles would have been allocated to performers and I’d missed out on getting into Star Wars once again.
But out of the blue I got a phone call asking me to come to Pinewood for a meeting about an un-named project.
Not many people are expected to go for job interviews with no idea of the job they’re going for. But in acting if you get an invitation to Pinewood you just go. Pinewood is a remarkable place, it’s been at the centre of the UK movie industry for decades and it’s always exciting to be there.
When I arrived, even right up to the front door of the workshop, no one mentioned what the project was. I couldn’t believe it when, inside, there were amazing clay maquettes, costumes on stands, animatronic heads being worked on and most tellingly, R2 Units everywhere! My brain just melted! I was so happy.
It turned out that a friend, Vanessa Bastyan, who had fabricated some of the costumes for me on the TV shows I’d worked on was now running the creature workshop at Pinewood. Vanessa knew my work and she’d got me in there to meet the boss, Special Creature Effects Supervisor, Neal Scanlan.
They wanted to try me out for a “Space Monkey gunner” character they’d been working on. There was a chance this creature may have a more developed role to play and so they wanted an experienced performer inside. Fortunately for me, Bistan’s face is quite flat and the guys who were already on the crew were mainly western performers and to put it bluntly their noses were too big to fit inside his face!
I tried a face piece on and surprisingly, for something not built for me it fit. Neal seemed interested and said that it might work. I was then taken to try on the muscle under-skeleton and Bistan’s flight suit costume. At first the costume guys said I was a quite a bit shorter than what they’d wanted but, once dressed, my short legs made the creature look a bit more ape-like, also I’m actually flat footed which can sometimes make me walk a bit like a monkey anyway! Photos were taken and Neal said they’d review everything and would be in touch but could make no promises.
A few weeks later I was called back to Pinewood for the Creature Effects (CFX) “Show and Tell” day. This is when the finished creatures are presented to the film’s Director who decides if they’ll appear in the movie. It’s an important event for the team and the CFX crew would have been working really hard towards this day for months, designing and building the creatures.
This was my first time in the full Bistan costume including the contact lenses.
We were on a big sound stage with tents scattered around for us to get dressed in. Creature after creature walked past me on their way to the performance space. They were all new designs and looked so cool. Eventually it was my turn and I was led on. My eyes were streaming from the contact lenses, which are hard and quite irritating. The stunt co-ordinator joked, “There’s no need to cry.”
“I’ve just been thinking about these kittens” I replied, “I can’t help it.”
I, or at least Space Monkey, was introduced to Gareth Edwards who starts examining Bistan and directing me. I remember Gareth asking me to walk a bit less like a monkey.
Then he put a camera on a group of us to see what the creatures looked like on screen. I was sat at a table with Admiral Raddus and the other two Mon Calamari officers from Rogue One. The performers inside them were Paul Kasey (Raddus), Aiden Cook and Tim Rose. We were asked to improvise a meeting in a war room, discussing tactics etc. I remember laughing inside my costume because Tim was playing his Calamari as a hippy pacifist saying stuff like, “Hey man, I think we should all just go home. I don’t wanna fight, let’s get a beer.” Tim’s very funny and naughty but he can get away with it because he is Admiral Ackbar.
Next I was given a laser rifle and they put fans and spotlights on me as if I was looking up at helicopters right overhead. Gareth filmed loads of close ups of Bistan’s face, exploring how my eye’s looked, how the paint job on the skin reacted under light, how the hair moved in the wind and how I performed.
All the time Gareth gave me directions as if I could see or hear enemies in different places. He’d tell me I was exhausted, totally demoralized or frustrated. The camera was really tight on my face and Gareth wanted me to work with tiny head movements or just my eyes. My facial animatronics weren’t operational at the time so it was all down to me.
Then I had to run around the set with the rifle, pretending to take cover behind walls and firing at imaginary foes. It was just like playing as a child except this was for Star Wars and I was in heaven.
The day went on and there were more lighting tests and photos. I didn’t know where I was going to be taken or what I was going to be asked to do next. At one point I did a stunt assessment in costume, pretending to fight loads of stunt guys with a stick/sword. On another sound stage I did a camera test in what turned out to be a U-Wing. They positioned me at the ship’s gun and we improvised an aerial dogfight, testing both the costume and myself and also experimenting with how they might film the sequence.
At the end of an intense day, whilst I was still fully in costume, Neal came up to me, shook me by the hand and said, “Congratulations Nick. Today you carved yourself a role on this movie.”
Nobody could see it but I had a beaming smile inside Bistan’s head.
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