Tessek, Mon Calamari Officer (Return of the Jedi)
Interview: November 2005
How did you get cast for the parts of Tessek and the Mon Calamari officer?
I am primarily an actor, but the first job I had after I left Drama School in 1977 was in a mime show called Prufrock.
When we performed the show in London it was seen by a mime teacher/director called Desmond Jones. Nearly five years later he remembered me when he was asked to assemble a team of performers for Revenge of the Jedi. The characters to be played didn’t speak, so it was necessary to get actors, mime artists or dancers who knew how to use their bodies to bring these characters to life. So Des chose people he knew could do this and a bunch of us were introduced to the producers in a cold rehearsal hall one (I think) saturday morning. It was quickly decided that my body type and movements suited the Squid Head character very well, so I knew very soon that I had been given that part. That was to be my main part, but I was told that I would also be a Mon Calamari.
What you might not know is that I also played some additional scenes with Admiral Ackbar, which were not used in the film.
Editors note: the call sheets and dialogue cab be viewed here.
How did I come to film these scenes? Well, one of the people in our team was Stuart Ziff. He worked on all the Original Trilogy and is credited in Return of the Jedi as Chief Articulation Engineer. I got to know him very well on set and he knew that I am an actor. One day he was at a production meeting with the film’s director and producers when it was decided that they wanted to try an experiment: they wanted to film some additional scenes with Ackbar (Tim Rose) and another speaking Mon Calamari. But they would have to audition new actors to play this part. Stuart Ziff told them there already was an actor on set who could do it – me! And so that night I found myself going home with two pages of dialogue to learn.
I wasn’t surprised that these scenes weren’t used because my Mon Calamari mouth didn’t move very much – in fact, it wasn’t built to move. It must have looked very strange that the words came out of a hardly-moving mouth. But it was a very interesting experiment. For Star Wars experts, here is a question: look at my unused dialogue and you’ll see one of my lines was, “Sir, the shield around the Death Star has lost power”. As this line is not in the film – what line replaced it, and who said it?
Answer: Ackbar says, “The shield is down”.
If you look at the call sheets, you’ll see I was listed as Officer, or Controller, or Aide – until then we were all Mon Calamari. A little historical note is that I was the only one named as an Officer.
Back in 1983, when Return of the Jedi came out, your character Tessek’ was just another alien’. He was just called Squid head.
Over the years, he got a name and a background story (as described in the book Tales from Jabba’s Palace).
Have you been keeping up with all this? And are you proud that after all these years Tessek got some recognition?
In fact, when we were filming he was usually called ‘Squid Face’, so I was very surprised when the original action figure came out and I was now Squid Head!
I must tell you that when I got the job, I thought I was going to be heavily featured in all the scenes with Jabba. We all thought that. But by the time filming started, the set was filled with technicians, electricians, other crew, actors, extras, Jawas, make up people, assistants and so on – well over hundred people – and the result was that we, nine characters got lost in the crowd. So yes, when I first saw the film, I realized I was ‘just another alien’. This was very disappointing because I’m not a background artist, and I wouldn’t have taken the job if I had known I would be in the background!
Star Wars came back into my life about three years ago and it was only then that I began to learn what had been happening since Return of the Jedi came out in 1983: for example, Squid Head had a history, a name (Tessek), and a new action figure – and the Mon Calamari Officer had an action figure too. I also learned that Tessek had survived the Sail Barge explosion! For about twenty years I had thought he / I had died in that!. It was a nice surprise to find he survived, even though only his brain is now in a nutrient jar!
Interesting note: he was in the early drafts for Episode I (or maybe Episode II). In the end, it was decided to have a new Quarren – Senator Tikkes, a female.
You never know, he could make a comeback, one day.
I also learned that what disappointed me for all those years – that Tessek is mostly in the shadows in the background – is what many fans like about him! Many people have told me they like the fact that he lurks suspiciously in the shadows! It makes them want to know more about him. So, yes – it is very, very nice to know that he is appreciated by many people.
I do try to keep up with events in the Star Wars Universe, including the Expanded Universe, but I have to admit, a lot of it is beyond me and I will never remember it all! One of the new friends I have made is the excellent Star Wars author Troy Denning who explains Star Wars things to me when I get confused – he knows just about everything in the Star Wars Universe – I guess he has to, as he’s writing things like his recent Dark Nest trilogy, but I could never know as much as he does because my mind doesn’t work that way. Anyway, I’m just an actor – I don’t have to be an expert!
During the filming of Return of the Jedi there were loads of mime-artists: you, Sean Crawford and Tim Dry just to name a few.
Are you still in touch with them?
There were nine of us in total. I have known Alisa Berk (Amanaman) since 1978, and we kept in touch for many years. I come across Tim and Sean sometimes at conventions. I have met Phil Herbert on and off over the years as he’s still a working actor, like me. I know and have worked with Andy Cunningham’s former-partner and I tell her that many people want Andy’s autograph. She tells him, but he’s not interested.
On the set of Return of the Jedi, were the big three (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher & Mark Hamill) seen as ‘big stars’ by the rest of the cast?
What are your memories regarding them?
Yes, we saw them as big stars.
Mark Hamill: he was ‘everybody’s friend’, was extremely friendly and spoke to everyone. He wanted to know how the masks and “puppets” worked and was like an eager young puppy.
Carrie Fisher: it’s no secret that at the time of filming, she was “out of it”. She has said the same thing herself, so I’m not being rude. I remember she looked at me once on-set, screwed up her face and just said, “YUK!” (I was wearing the Squid Head mask at the time). She didn’t mean it in a rude way…….she just didn’t really know what was going on, I think. I met her when she was in the UK last year and told her this story; we laughed about it. I think she’s great these days.
Harrison Ford: I can see why he became the film star that he became, because he was totally focused on set. When he arrived, he politely said “Hello” or shook hands, or nodded his head to you in greeting – and after that he was “in the zone”, totally concentrated on the work, as if the outside world didn’t exist. You can see this attitude in his work. I think he’s excellent.
How was it working with George Lucas and Richard Marquand? Did any strange/funny things happen on the set?
George Lucas wasn’t on the Jabba sets much, nor in the Rebel briefing scenes, and when he was, he was very quiet. Richard Marquand was very organized and got what he wanted in a calm way. David Tomblin, the First Assistant Director, was a very important element in every film he worked on: in fact he made Richard M’s life a lot easier because he always knew what Richard wanted before Richard knew himself. If any shouting was done on set, it was David Tomblin who did it.
If you look at my two call sheets, one is white and the other is lemon. A lemon call sheet means Second Unit. I’m sure you know, such scenes are usually directed by an assistant. Well, these second unit scenes with Ackbar and the Mon Calamari, on the bridge, were directed by George Lucas himself.
Why? Because a lot of them were blue screen and only one person in the world knew what would eventually be in these screens, and that was George Lucas, so it made sense for him to direct them. But he did so in a very quiet way, not really giving much direction, just a few suggestions. Not many people know he directed those Battle of Endor blue screen scenes; you’ll get confirmation of what I say in the 1983 book The Making of Return of the Jedi.
The funniest thing that ever happened to me on set was the day I kept my glasses on under my Squid Head mask: I had to walk close to the Rancor pit which was open at the time and I was afraid of falling into it – I can’t see very clearly without my glasses. But the result was disastrous – my glasses steamed up with condensation and I couldn’t see anything at all! And of course I couldn’t take the mask off. When I look at that scene now, I can see myself looking at the floor to try to avoid falling into the pit!
You have attended loads of conventions, signing photos and other memorabilia. What is your general feeling to signing things? And what is the craziest item you have ever signed?
Actually, I haven’t attended loads of conventions, only just over twenty, which isn’t a lot, compared to some other actors. I still think of myself as the New Kid on the Block. I love conventions and meeting fans and hearing their stories. I will sign whatever I’m asked to sign as long as it’s “official” and respects Lucasfilm, because after all, none of us would be here without Lucasfilm. But having said that, I have signed someone’s ………………no, I can’t tell you what…….let’s just call it a certain body part!!! And the weirdest object I have signed was a car in Germany. And someone brought a photo from a TV commercial I used to be in (Mr. Muscle – it was on TV in the Netherlands too) and asked me to sign it. They had printed a photo from a TV recording. It gave me an idea and I now have Mr. Muscle photos of my own to sign.
What’s your best memory regarding a convention?
I have many happy convention memories, like in Detroit where a fan asked me how I was and I said I was very well, but was dying for a cup of tea. I meant it as a joke (though I was desperate for a cuppa at the time). I couldn’t believe it when she returned later with a huge box of teabags for me! I thought that was very kind.
And a recent nice memory was at Celebration III when I was talking to someone, using my hands and throwing my arms around as I often do when I’m talking. I noticed two young girls watching me, giggling. I asked them what they were laughing at, and one of them said, “It’s you, isn’t it – the confused looking Mon Calamari, running around at the back of the scene during the Battle of Endor?” They said this was their favorite Return of the Jedi moment! And they had recognized my hand and arm movements as being the same as the Mon Cal on screen. Well, I couldn’t believe it – no one has ever recognized me in this scene before, though it is a very typical piece of Gerald Home acting. I was so pleased, I went and hugged them and gave them signed photos as thank-yous.
Only one last thing to say……
MOGE DE KRACHT JE BIJSTAAN.
(Note for the non-Dutch speakers: That means ‘May the Force be with you’)