I recently managed to interview Dee Tails about his time working as a creature and droid performer in The Force Awakens, Rogue One & The Last Jedi. His roles in the franchise consist of, Cratinus, K-OHN and Slowen Lo.
Cratinus was an Ubdurian male and the identical brother of Prashee. The pair were fond of games of chance and would use their identical appearances to swap identities during profitable scams. In 34 ABY, both brothers were present in the castle of the pirate Maz Kanata on the planet Takodana. They sat together by a fire pit playing a game and interacting with another alien before the castle was attacked and destroyed by the First Order.
K-OHN was a manumitted L-1 tactical droid that provided people with his programming skills in exchange for energy and credits. K-OHN’s personal goal was to gather enough funds to obtain a processor upgrade that would allow him to comprehend the idea of spirituality, but he also shared part his earnings with a band of street urchins he once befriended. K-OHN was present in Jedha City shortly before the Galactic Empire’s Death Star destroyed it. He was equipped with an AA-1 VerboBrain.
Slowen Lo was a male Abednedo who resided on Canto Bight. He made a fortune selling driftwood sculptures and lived on the beach in the coastal city on the desert planet Cantonica. In 34 ABY, Lo saw Finn and Rose Tico illegally land and abandon their ship on a Canto Bight beach. Annoyed, Lo told Finn and Rose they were not allowed to leave the ship there, but they ignored him and proceeded to the Canto Casino. Lo informed the Canto Bight Police Department about this and accompanied officers to the casino, where he observed Finn and Rose and confirmed their identities to the police. He was startled as the officers stunned and arrested Finn and Rose.
How does working on Star Wars compare to all your work on other projects?
There is absolutely no comparison. Until now I’d never worked for a Production or a movie franchise that I had dreamt of working for. I find that regardless of how little we may or may not know about the story or script while I’m on set, that because I know and love Star Wars from the ground up I have a good idea of how to perform (which would be tweaked by Paul Kasey) and also how to conduct myself. I’ve worked on various obscure little productions as well as those a little bigger and found that the real difference working on a Star Wars movie, for me it’s probably being able to give 100% to a project that you feel everyone and every department is also giving. You don’t always get that on other productions; Yes some of it can be put down to a production’s budget and how people feel about the projects they’re working on but very few movie franchises have the ability to reach into your childhood and be everything and more than you could’ve ever expected like Star Wars.
How did you get the role of Cratinus?
Tom Bell (who went on to play Prashee, the twin brother of Cratinus) and I were originally brought in to see Neal Scanlan about playing Hassk creatures supporting Paul Warren who played the principle Hassk Varmik and was later teamed up with Nathan Plant to play the other one. I and Tom were going to be another two Hassks, I’m guessing when I say ‘we were probably going to be a part of Varmiks gang’. But no sooner had we been in for fittings we then found out that they’d given those parts to the actors from the Raid movies. Neal had said ‘Let’s see if we find something for Dee’ But I wasn’t holding my breath, because at this point I thought well that’s it, this is as close as I’m going to get to Star Wars and began celebrating thinking at least I was seen for Star Wars, because there was no way the sun was going to shine twice on me for something this huge, or so I’d thought.
But then a call came through asking me how I felt about working on my knees? And knowing that it was Star Wars asking there was no other reply than; ‘Of Course!’.
Over the weeks that followed, I was then brought in for fittings and was given these little slippers to put on which had these incredible kneepads attached in case they wanted me to walk around. I also got to try on the head which was unpainted at the time. Eventually, I was also reintroduced to Tom and found out that there would be two of us!
On our final day of wardrobe Tom and I were waiting for them to bring in our heads, and as they did so they brought out what I thought was my head as it was the only one I’d been trying on, but they gave it straight to Tom, and told me mine was on its way. When they gave it to me I wasn’t sure whose smile was bigger, mine or the one on Cratinus’s face. They couldn’t have tailored that to me any more than they did, it was such an amazing moment. I love that little Ubdurian Dude, I think it was Jake Lunt Davies and Luke Fisher who designed them, with Luke designing mine.
Playing Cratinus wasn’t your only role though, you also played K-OHN and Slowen Lo.
K-OHN The Manumitted L-1 Tactical Droid came about very early on in production, as he was intended to be the K-2SO droid, but as the project began to grow, so too did the development of the droid and began to make more and more sense to evolve the droid from the Super Battle Droids that were seen in Attack Of The Clones. But it was Neal Scanlan who put me forward for this role telling Gareth I was a perfect choice.
It was amazing to be apart of the whole development as my makers Neil Ellis and Toby meticulously built my suit to fit me perfectly, which it did. It was such a joy to be encased in that suit, I keep hoping that one day they’ll put me back in it, so fingers crossed we’ll have to see.
Slowen Lo was just another character I was coming in to play (so I thought) not knowing if he’d be seen much or what it was they were going to need me to do. Originally I was told he was going to be a beachcomber with a metal detector who looks up to spot a ship flying overhead. Then he became a swaggering local as he was then going to be a player in the Casino, to then finally becoming the concerned citizen he is in the movie.
Are there any other characters you have played that have not been mentioned?
In The Last Jedi, I also play an alien called Brother Letrun Pay who appears just as the Fathiers break through a wall after Finn yells out ‘Too Much Cover!’
“Brother Letrun Pay was an alien male who spent time in the city of Canto Bight on the planet Cantonica in the year 34 ABY. He stood at a railing looking out over the edge of the city and speaking to a human female when a fathier carrying the Resistance agents Finn and Rose Tico crashed through an archway behind him at high speed and lept over the railing. Pay recoiled in surprise at the sudden appearance of the fathier, which was followed by a herd of riderless fathiers also fleeing the city. Pay had blue, light-sensitive eyes which he shielded with over-sized droptacs. He had white and pink skin and wore the white and black Vestments of the Sacred Circle.”
I was stood with actress/stuntwoman Claire Lawrence who was helping to guide my movements as I couldn’t see out of that head at all, while I had more guidance in my ear from Olly Taylor in between him singing.
I also play Lexo Sooger who appears in the Canto Bight book. The scene was cut from the movie but we hope to see him somewhere on the DVD behind the scenes.
I was puppeteering this one. He’s Canto Bights best and most famous masseuse. This guy was beautiful to operate and was designed by Ivan Manzella and operated by Pete Hawkins.
“Lexo Sooger was a Dor Namethian male who was the star masseur at Zord’s Spa and Bathhouse in Canto Bight. He was sought after by the gangster Sturg Ganna, who eventually kidnapped his daughter Lula.”
How did you get these roles?
As one of their Actor/Creature performers it’s up to us to make sure we can provide the production with the types of performances they’re after and we’ll be called in based on creature suits made to our specs, only sometimes will we be given a heads up on who or what they’d like us to perform. Some are massive suits that may need two people to operate or a really big suit they’ll need someone like Ian Whyte to put on etc.
It’s a beautiful team that is ready and willing to throw themselves into whatever’s being asked within reason of course, but that’s where the rehearsals come in handy. The type of work they call on me to do usually falls in Paul Kasey’s arena where he’ll get us up to speed with a better understanding of our specific range of performances, and then he’ll run off to go jump into a suit himself like Admiral Raddus or C’ai Threnalli to name but a few he has to his credit.
Even things like that are just awesome because I get prepped and trained by the best who are also part of the team/cfx family.
Can you describe your time doing creature and droid performance for Star Wars?
I’m beyond words to describe the feeling, I know Star Wars and love Star Wars, I played with the toys as a kid, watched the making of’s and eventually the movies. To be able to work and perform at such a high standard for Disney & LucasFilm on a Star Wars movie feels like I was always meant to be here doing this, in a realm far beyond it being a dream come true.
I feel very humbled every day to be able to contribute to Star Wars and work with all the puppeteers, wardrobe etc. All in production. I think due to the fact that it’s always so surreal helps me never to take anything for granted.
How did you get into this line of work?
I’d been acting for a good few years doing various Shakespeare projects here and there and also being involved in a few concept projects from people who were filming and making their own. But during this time I’d been acting at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and also doing Christmas Pantomime shows, both for seven years; At the Opera House I got to wear a 15’ft costume in Wagners Ring Cycle for two years and in Pantomime I got to play Dick Whittington’s cat Tommy for five years.
To be honest I think the suit and creature performing I was doing due to growing up watching the Muppets, Sesame Street along with their movies, and even though I knew they were either being operated or worn by people never seemed to spoil my enjoyment or understanding of what was taking place, which is why I think I’m able just to connect with this Galaxy Far, Far Away etc.
What are some of your fondest memories from your time in Star Wars?
That’s a very hard question, I’m currently not being given the time to ponder upon everything, I can grab moments here and there to look back on but you gotta understand that for me every day I turn up to work is like the best day of my life, genuinely each day is outdone by the next. Right now I can tell you that being taken away on location to Dubrovnik for The Last Jedi was just incredible. The performers I was out there with, the crew I was out there with & the location pre-dressed for our arrival, not to mention how beautiful Dubrovnik is, it’s an absolutely incredible place.
You see, I can recount this for you today but ask me this same question tomorrow and I’ll have another amazing moment to hit you back with.
Was there much interaction between yourself and the directors, if so, what sort of things would you discuss?
Yes, I think we all do at some point, which is beautiful because there’s this thing where if you’re performing and no one says anything to you by giving you a note or something, means you’re doing just fine. But occasionally a director may want to give us a specific note. J.J Abrams had a few notes for me on The Force Awakens in Maz’s Castle, where he directed me to acknowledge Han Solo like everyone else does when Maz calls out his name. It wasn’t used in the end but that’s filmmaking, you kind of just do everything that’s asked of you because sometimes the director/s may just want editing options later down the road.
Rian Johnson was lovely, I’d been told that I could be asked to play Slowen Lo a few different ways in regard to his walk and movement mannerisms and it wasn’t until the very day where I was due to go on and shoot my first performance in the Casino, that Rian told me to play him as a ‘Chilled Out Hippie Dude’. Now here’s the thing about how things get developed; All those ‘Hippie’ body movements were still able to support Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s voice performance of his non-hippie character and vice versa. When you’re aware that this is part of how they do things and have grown to do these things since the prequels especially, it makes me feel that much more honoured to be apart of the process.
You have appeared in three Star Wars films now, how does that feel? Out of the three, which has been your favourite to work on and why?
Yes, I have. How does it feel ??? I struggle with questions like this because I find it hard to find the words. I know the words are tucked away deep in my emotional feelings somewhere, but to push them out of my mouth is tough. I never thought I’d get to appear in any! Ever!
There was no chance on any of the prequels and when they were done most people thought ‘Well that’s that then’ Only to discover that there was a plan to complete Georges original vision for nine movies in the Skywalker saga, while plans would be made to continue telling other newer stories within the Universe George Lucas has created. So to have appeared in three is beyond a dream come true and to love the entire process as much as I do is just nuts.
My favourite? That’s tough, but maybe playing that little dude Cratinus alongside Prashee, because I think If I had totally messed up on that character I doubt very much if Neal would’ve had me come back so through Cratinus everything became possible I think.
If you could play any other characters, who would it be and why?
I don’t really know when I was a kid I never watched any movie even Star Wars wanting to be any of the characters, not even Lando. I had the toy figures for that sort of thing. I just wanted to be a member of the team helping really.
Who are some of your favourite characters from the franchise and why?
I’ve always loved R2-D2 his little beeps, his size and his attitude. Between him and C3-P0, their banter has always been brilliant. I love the moment in the first movie where they’ve just landed on Tatooine and he decides he’s going on his mission with or without C3-P0 which meant he’s not dependant upon his companion.
I also loved it when C3-P0 told him to mind his language, which told us that he just swore! The only character to do that in the entire franchise I think, and I’d say he must’ve said something far worse than ‘Poo-Doo’.
Oh, and I loved it when Captain Antilles was told to wipe the protocol droids mind and R2 starts cracking up! How could anyone not love this little droid?
What does Star Wars mean to you?
Star Wars is more than just movies to me.
I was already a huge Sesame Street fan and a Muppet Show fan and knew a small amount about Jim Henson and Frank Oz and it was one weekend where they showed the making of the Star Wars movies. I think they showed them individually at first until all the movies were made and I got to see them all back to back. It was like watching a more organised pretending session in the playground. And then I saw Jim Henson and Frank Oz on the Dagobah set and I was sold.
It’s also that continuation of storytelling in a palatable tone I had as a kid from the Ray Harryhausen movies, giving us those Greek fairy-taled myths of the past. And it wasn’t anything like watching Gene Kelly dancing with little Jerry Mouse, this was a fairy-tale sincerely acted by real people acting opposite people in creature suits, puppets, stop motion and ‘whatever it was they did’ to make me believe that they were in the model ship flying through space. Not to mention the laser blasts that travelled across the screen. That amazed me just as much if not more than the Lightsabers.
This was a big deal for me because I began to realise that these guys were doing what I and my friends were doing in the playground ‘Pretending’ but getting to show and tell a really good story. And Still, this is all before me even seeing the first one. Then I finally saw the movies and was blown away at how different some of those shots looked pieced together.
It was later that I then began to watch all the documentary’s on George Lucas and his struggle to get the movies made, some of this had been mentioned in the previous making of episodes I’d seen before, so his struggle and perseverance in making these movies all came hand in hand with my love of the stories and his personal struggle that told me; It doesn’t matter if no one believes in you, as long as you believe in you!
No one believed the music band MN8 I was in would succeed and we did. No one believed before, during and after MN8 that I would achieve my dream to become an Actor, working on feature films instead of dreary soaps.
When you see all the charities LucasFilm/Disney work with, and see just how far reaching the love for Star Wars goes it’s impossible to ignore how special this franchise is and to see how many people it has and will go on to continue inspiring.
Nearly everyone I work with on these movies has been inspired to do what they do because of Star Wars or even the Muppets with Frank Oz being involved.
If George Lucas could achieve everything he did and has with little to no support, what excuse do I have, is how I’ve always seen it.
I’m guessing that I’ll never work on anything else that I know and love as much as Star Wars.
What are some of your favourite scenes from the Star Wars films and why?
My favourite scene in the entire franchise has to be watching Han and Luke riding on their Tauntuans on Hoth in Empire Strikes Back, merging my love for the Ray Harryhausen movies that came before with this new story set in space, and not here in some near biblical relatable past.
Do you attend many comic conventions, if so, what does fan interaction mean to you, and do you have any appearances coming up?
No, not unless I’m just visiting to look around or even to do a podcast interview.
At the moment I truly prefer to have a chat on a podcast actually talking about Star Wars to a Star Wars loving audience. So not sure when and if I’ll do any conventions just yet, but we’ll have to see.
A huge thank you to Dee for answering all of my questions and sharing lots of information about his time working on Star Wars. Hopefully, we will continue to see him feature heavily in all the upcoming films from the franchise.
May the force be with you!