In a recent interview I conducted, I asked Keith De Winter several questions about his time playing Goss Toowers in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
Goss Toowers was a male member of the Shozer species who lived approximately thirty years after the Battle of Endor. He was part of the Resistance and served on the technical crew that provided mechanical support to the Resistance’s fleet of starfighters. A hard worker, Toowers’ duties also included the monitoring of arriving and departing ships. Toowers was present at the Resistance base located on the planet D’Qar shortly before the Battle of Starkiller Base.
How does working on Star Wars compare to all your work on other projects?
Well, most of my work over the years has been stage work. I had done some TV/Film before, but nothing on this scale. The production alone is massive. The amount of crew working on set, the dismantling and constructing of new sets throughout the production. Honestly, the skill watching these guys in action is outstanding. On set, you have the actors/dressers/make-up/wardrobe/, all of this talent playing their part in making all of this possible. By far, my favourite part of being an actor is on a film set.
It’s ‘Star Wars!’.
My other work in comparison is just as busy, but on a much smaller scale…a lot smaller! After filming on The Force Awakens I began filming a pilot for a comedy series…typical day on set had less than 10 people…big difference indeed!
How did you get the role?
A few months before filming began, I was working on a touring show in Saudi Arabia called ‘Barney and Friends Live!’ and I played a very loveable full skin costumed dinosaur, in an all singing/dancing show. The choreographer on the show had worked on many different characters on Dr Who. After the tour ended, I got a call from my agent telling me that a film that was about to go into Production had an interest in seeing me for a casting. Due to secrecy, she couldn’t tell me what it was, but as I knew where it was filming, there was only one big film about to go into production.
Like most castings that come up, I just resigned myself to it never actually happening…The more I thought about it the more I thought it would NEVER happen!
When the call finally came, I had to travel down to Pinewood Studios. I remember sitting in the reception of LucasFilm looking at all these movie posters covering the walls, all Star Wars posters, that in itself was a thrill! So you can imagine the thoughts going through my head at this point, especially when I heard a familiar voice. I looked up and there was Simon Pegg walking out the door…Simon Pegg! This was very surreal already!
I was then greeted by Brian, (this being the very talented Brian Herring who puppeteered BB-8 in the film), and he took me over to the CFX department for a head cast…(where they literally cover you in plaster and take a mould of your head).
After that, I met Concept Designer/Sculptor, Luke Fisher, and he chatted to me about this character he’d designed for this “film”, and although I wasn’t told what the film was, it was obvious by the surroundings that this was what I’d thought all along. It was then onto wardrobe…
Once all this was done, Brian then said it was time to meet the head of the creature department, Neal Scanlan. Now I’d never met him but I knew of his Oscar-winning work.
Waiting for the lift to take us to Neal’s office I was then greeted with the phrase, “Welcome to Star Wars!”…even then said in a quiet voice! I then found out I got recommended for the role by the Creature Co-Ordinator of the film Paul Kasey, who was the choreographer of the ‘Barney and Friends Live! tour that I worked with him on.
What an honour!
When you were given the role of Goss Toowers, were you given any info to accommodate this?
As a performer, you always want to get the best out of playing a character. Playing a fully suited animatronic creature is no different in terms of wanting to know who this character is. He is a member of the Shozer species and is one of the hard-working technicians who keep the Resistance base on D’Qar running. Basically, he fuels/fixes the X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon!
Can you describe your time filming scenes?
It was a fantastic experience. Working on any film set you have to have the 2 Ps…Passion and Patience! As glamorous as it can seem, working on a film set can also mean lots of waiting around while scenes you aren’t in are filmed or while new shots are set up. Whilst waiting for you have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. My first day filming on The Force Awakens was actually a scene which involved Carrie Fisher’s character, Leia. I had to work alongside a yellow droid called B-U4D, (Buford), played by the multi-talented Tom Wilton. Actually, this scene never made it into the film or any deleted scenes on the DVD.
How long did it take to get into costume?
Getting into costume didn’t take long at all. Due to the nature of filming, you were always half dressed in costume. That way, should you be needed on set at a moments notice it would be even quicker to finish getting ready. Putting the animatronic head on probably took the longest, but even as time went on that got quicker.
Was there much interaction between yourself and the directors, if so, what sort of things would you discuss?
I was very fortunate to be personally directed by JJ Abrams on The Force Awakens. One particular scene, just after R2D2 ‘wakes up’, C3-P0 goes to Leia to tell her what has happened. I appear just behind Threepio. We filmed different variations of this scene and JJ would always ask me to try something different. I’ll always have fond memories of this scene as it was my last day of filming and I got to work again with Carrie Fisher. She was so funny during rehearsals on this scene. She was sat at the control panel and I kept pretending to press buttons and she kept slapping my Alien hands saying that it was her panel! She even asked me why everyone kept calling me Keith to which I did reply but under the head, I don’t think she could hear me properly…fun times. Being directed by JJ was an incredible experience, being in a scene with Carrie was a delight and one that I’ll treasure forever.
If you could play any other character, who would it be and why?
This is quite a difficult one really…do you mean in any of the films? If you do, then I suppose I would say, Han Solo. My reason is that from first seeing Star Wars with friends when it first came out in the cinemas we were all blown away! So naturally, being the kids we were, I was Han Solo and my other friends played Leia Luke, even Chewie…but we only had one other friend with us so he was half R2D2 and the other C3-P0…so we called him C3D2! I never imagined ever being in a Star Wars film, especially alongside Harrison Ford…I’m sure I could’ve still played him! Ha!
Who are some of your favourite characters from the franchise and why?
Defo Han Solo, and Leia and Luke. Just loved all 3 of them. The chemistry they had with each other, lovely. I also really liked Vader, and I have to say that Adam Driver as Kylo Ren is just a joy to watch. Even though we didn’t see Vader without his mask until the end of Jedi, we still saw the humanity through his performance. When Kylo Ren took his mask off, blimey, that’s when you knew just how inhumane he could really be!
What does Star Wars mean to you?
I grew up watching these movies, and the effect they had on me growing up was paramount to me wanting to become an actor. So, like Luke, I was on a journey..okay, so I was nothing like Luke!…but these films are still just as effective now as they were back when they first came out. I know that in 40yrs, someone will say the same thing about The Force Awakens. On The Force Awakens, I got to work with some incredibly talented and wonderful people. some who I consider my closest friends. Everyone who works on Star Wars becomes a part of a very big ‘happy’ family.
How does it feel knowing that there are action figures for your character?
When I first got told there was a Lego figure available I was jumping up and down with excitement. Then when the action figure came out, woohoo! I was doing somersaults! These figures were based on a character that I played. The action figure is actually taken from a 360* scan of me in the costume. Amazing!
What are some of your highlights filming Star Wars?
One particular highlight, besides some of the ones I’ve mentioned, was seeing Chewbacca. In between filming, I nipped out to grab a coffee. As I came back into the studio I headed to where we sat in our tent between takes. One of the walls of the set had been removed and this set was a medical unit that had Chewbacca and a Dr who was tending to Chewies arm. After the rehearsal, Chewies head was removed and I nearly fell off my chair. It was none other than the man himself, Peter Mayhew. I had no idea he was going to be the one in the suit. This was such a thrill, and what a very nice man he is.
Another highlight was a few months after Harrison Ford had broken his leg. We were filming the exterior scenes of the Resistance base and it was one of the days that Harrison was back. I was standing on a hill watching a scene being rehearsed and JJ was talking through the scene with the actors. Then I noticed this man riding a bike he was about to ride through the scene. I almost said aloud, “Look at that idiot riding through the scene”, but thankfully I didn’t as it was Harrison Ford! That was THE highlight of the day.
What are some of your favourite scenes from Star Wars and why?
My favourite scene in The Force Awakens is when Han Solo and Chewbacca arrive onto the Millennium Falcon. His line, “Chewie, we’re home”, still brings a tear.
Do you attend many comic conventions, if so, what does fan interaction mean to you, and do you have any appearances coming up?
Attending Comic Cons is such a thrill. Meeting all of these fans who want to talk to me about my time filming on TFA. I’m also a huge fan, so for me, I get to geek out to, as I also meet fellow actors who appeared in the original trilogy. I remember one Comic-Con I attended and I was sitting a few feet away from THE Dave Prowse, (Darth Vader), and I just couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. I did eventually manage to speak to him and he was such a lovely guy. We chatted about his work and my recent experience. Oh yes, I got a photo with him!
How long have you been doing creature performance for and how did you get into this line of work?
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is my first job as a Creature Performer. I got into this line of work based on all the character performing I’ve done over the years. Playing a skin character that has no facial movements/doesn’t speak, is quite a challenge and this has helped me to become a skilled performer. I actually got into this line of work purely by chance a few years ago. One day I was watching a couple of performers playing these two cute characters. They were dancing, miming, bringing joy to all watching. I just wanted to play one of the characters. Eventually, I got the chance and ever since then, people have wanted to cover me up…not sure why!
(FYI – Keith also reprised his role as Goss Toowers in ‘The Last Jedi’ as well as playing a Caretaker and a Canto Bight alien)
Are you open to doing more work for the Star Wars franchise in the future?
Well, I never thought I would get to appear in a Star Wars film…and now I’m in 2!
Star Wars: The Last Jedi…now that was another fantastic journey!
If any of your readers attend any comic cons I’m at then come and say hello. If you’d like to know about my future appearances then head on over to my FB Page or Twitter for more information.
Twitter – @KeithDeWinter
A massive thank you to Keith for sparing some time to answer my questions, hopefully, we will continue to see his work in Star Wars films to come!
May the force be with you!