Saturday, 28 September 2013

Small Roles, Big Impact #1 - An interview with John "Klaatu" Simkin

The evil Galactic Empire, under the direction of the ruthless Emperor Palpatine, is constructing a second Death Star in order to crush the Rebel Alliance. Since Palpatine plans to personally oversee the final stages of its construction, the Rebel Fleet launches a full-scale attack on the Death Star in order to prevent its completion and kill Palpatine, effectively bringing an end to the Empire. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker, a Rebel leader and Jedi Apprentice, struggles to bring Darth Vader, who is his father Anakin and himself a fallen Jedi, back from the Dark Side of the Force.

Yes... This is Return of the Jedi, the third instalment (or 6th if you want to be picky) of George Lucas' Starwars original trilogy. And where would it be without Klaatu? Who, according to Wookipedia is: 

"Klaatu was one of several Kadas'sa'Nikto who served Jabba the Hutt. He was Barada's main assistant, in charge of repairing the skiffsKlaatu was noted as a gambler, and would try his best to make his way to Jabba's throne room to view executions by Jabba's rancor.
During the Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon, he was present on the top deck of the Khetanna"

And what would Kalaatu be without the man beneath the mask... John Simpkin... (A big thank you to my Starwars guru, Elliot Ashton for the questions.)

So, John, did you know the name of character when you got the part? what did you think of the name coming from 'the day the earth stood still' -" klaatu barada nikto"
"I’ve been asked this before, and to be honest , I can’t be sure. But I’m pretty sure I was told the name at the audition (which was actually more of a test to see if I was too claustrophobic to wear the rubber head… it was hard to breathe!).  Myself and ‘Wooof’ were also referred to as Green Nikto’s."

And how did it feel seeing the figure of your character?
"I had no idea there were Klaatu action figures until about three years ago.  I had a phone call (which I first thought was a joke)  from a guy who said he was a Sci-fi convention promoter, and he was searching for me.  He had a photo from R.O.T.J  featuring four characters, and he had found the other three actors, who were all signing at a London convention, and one of them remembered my name.   Having agreed to do the show,  I Googled  ‘Klaatu’ and found all these models and toys.  I was stunned. I asked my son (Sci-fi geek as it happens) why he hadn’t told me Klaatu had become a toy, and he said ‘I never realised that’s who you played in Starwars!"

Did you prefer appearing on the big screen behind the mask, or the 'making of' where you are seen without the mask?
"Well I was doing quite a lot of film and TV work at the time, so having my face on screen wasn’t really a novelty.. But in spite of the discomfort, I loved that Klaatu mask… I still think was one of the best alien faces on ROTJ."

When did you last drop it into conversation that you were in return of the jedi, or tell an anecdote of being on set?
"Probably at my last Sci-Fi convention, which was Utrecht in May. The starwars fans want to hear every detail."

Did you manage to keep any memorabilia? 
"Not often to be honest… But I so wish I did have.  I guess at the time, while I realised it was a huge movie and felt lucky to be there, it was also just another job… And we weren’t meant to take photo’s on set (though plenty of people did of course!)"


Do you have any good anecdotes? 
"Lots of really funny stuff happened on set…  After the  scene where Carrie  Fisher, in that famous gold bikini, was being fondled  by a puppeteer in Jabba the Hut’s arm, she turned round to me, on guard in my Klaatu costume’ and said “Yeh I know it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it!” 
As I said earlier, the Rubber heads that many of us wore were suffocating and claustrophobic, and took time  to get on and off. It was very hot on the Jabba’s Palace set,  and artists regularly fainted . So in-between takes, the wardrobe dept. came round with hair dryers (set on cold obviously) , and stuck them in our mouths…  All these aliens  with hair-dryers in their mouths looked  so bizarre!"

What were the guys really like? And yes, I'm talking Ford, Lucas, Hamill and all.
"Ok…. Harrison Ford was very serious, quiet and withdrawn on set (some would say rude and moody.. I wouldn’t of course!)   George Lucas was also serious and on the quiet side for a director, but I don’t remember him being rude to anyone, and definitely had the aura of greatness. Mark Hammil was the most friendly, normal, un-pretensious of all the stars on set, and sat chatting to me and the other skiff guards for hours in between scenes. Carrie was friendly to everyone, funny too.. The atmosphere lightened when she came on the set."

A big thank you to John for this, he certainly is another actor who made a big impact without a leading role! Brilliant!