Chukha-Trok (Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure), Ewok (Return of the Jedi, The Battle For Endor)
Interview: June 2010
How did you get started in the movie business?
I was attending Pasadena City College Majoring in Cinematography and Drama. A feature film was starting production called Under The Rainbow and they were looking to employ 150 Little People in Los Angeles. So I joined the film doing stunts and that was my first real experience working on a film and learning firsthand about the movie business.
Your second movie was Blade Runner. What do you recall of being in that movie, playing the part of Bear?
I started as a Street Extra on Blade Runner working nights and in the rain in downtown Los Angeles. Sometimes the local street people would get in line for dinner and it was difficult for the production to tell the real local street people from the extras. They cast me right there on set as a stunt man where I was one of four people that attack Harrison Ford’s car. After the stunt and sharing some scotch liquor with Ridley Scott he cast me as a Toy Bear. That is where I received my first line: “Home again, home again, jiggity jig. Good evening J. F.” Blade Runner is near and dear to me because I got the true feeling of being an extra bumped up to an actor all in one film. I became Union and started building my resume as a stunt man.
After Blade Runner you were in Return of the Jedi and the Ewok Adventure movie. How did you get cast for these two movies?
In Return of the Jedi they were looking for Little People Actors who were agile. I went on a stunt audition in Hollywood with J.R. Randall the coordinator and he interviewed me. I was the only Little Person Actor with mime and gymnastic training from High School and Pasadena City College. I was one of five Little People cast as a stunt man throughout the entire film. Because of my work on Return of the Jedi, I was cast on Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: Battle For Endor. My character died on Ewok Adventure, but they kept me for the stunts on Battle For Endor.
What are your specific memories from the Return of the Jedi set during filming? Do you have any anecdotes?
It was very hot in the costume and we filmed near Eureka, California. This was my first time away from home on location. In the costume I couldn’t really see because the eyes in the costume would fog up from my body heat. Fur and foam does not breathe. Many times I would practice running the action where the explosions were going to take place with the Ewok mask off so that I could memorize my steps once the mask was on. Once the scene was fully rehearsed with the crew I would get into full costume. Unbeknownst to me…the set dressers would redress the set with gigantic 6 ft ferns. Once we were rolling those 6ft ferns would knock out the entire Ewok clan like the Three Stooges. Good thing for editing. Whenever an Ewok was swinging from a rope, that was me. I did all the swinging from the ropes.
In the Ewok Adventure you played the part of the Ewok warrior Chukha-Trok. What do you recall of the filming of your scenes for this movie? I’d love to hear as much as possible since there is so little known about the making of this movie.
Ewok Adventure was made for Amanda Lucas, George’s daughter. George and his wife were divorcing at this time. Amanda loved the Ewoks and George wanted to make a story about family with the Ewoks. Amanda was always on set with her dad. She was always scared of my character Chukha-Trok because he was the biggest and the toughest Ewok with the axe and breastplate. I was the warrior. Amanda cried when Chukha-Trok died. The Little People tried to keep it magical by not letting Amanda know that we were Ewoks, but she caught on towards the end because she was there so often and got to know us on set.
Did any strange, remarkable or funny things happen on the set? Can you share some memories?
Knowing that looping would come along later, some of the Ewok actors would try to come up with a Ewok language. It was quite entertaining. I would improv my own lines in English that came out so humorous it would have the crew and cast in stitches.
For Return of the Jedi and the Ewok Adventure you had to work with George Lucas. What impression did he make on you?
George Lucas was a very humble man. He ate with the crew and drove himself to set. He was very soft spoken and he looked out for his daughter when she was on set. He personally would take pictures of Amanda with the Ewoks with a little 126 Kodak Instamatic camera. I thought he would have a big 35mm camera top of the line for that time.
What would you regard as your best memory from the two Star Wars movies you were in. Is there a special moment you’ll cherish forever?
Just the memory that I was in it. I was a big Star Wars fan before Return of the Jedi. It seems to become even a bigger deal as time goes on. I never really gave much thought to later years and the affect it would have on people and movie making. Another best memory are the residual checks. When the mail comes and there is a Return of the Jedi residual check I always thank Mr. Lucas. Not many actors in Jedi get residual checks, only the American stuntmen because the actors where on points and the English actors do not get residuals.
You have attended various fan conventions over the world. Do you like attending them and interact with the fans?
Interacting with the fans is one of my very favorite things to do. I can talk on and on about Return of the Jedi and the Ewok movies. I would like to attend more conventions. It’s fun to share stories with people who have the same passion.
You’re still active in the movie business. Have you got any interesting new project(s) you’re working on?
I am blessed to say active in the movie and television business. It has kept me busy for almost 30 years. I am able to release my wild and creative side by playing a variety of characters. I have met some really interesting people that have been my friends throughout my career. You can catch me on MTV with Warren the Ape, JackAss 3-D, I had three commercials last year airing, and I work behind the scenes with children on the new television show Parenthood for Universal and Dexter for Showtime.