Yildiz Savaslari . Com continues to meet Turkish fans with the stars of the saga. This time we, once again, have one of the villains of the saga; the one that arrogantly opposes the Empire, that the headhunters respectfully comply, that became the nightmare of the bounty-targets. Toby Philpott, the man who gave life to the notorious crime lord Jabba the Hutt, has benevolently accepted to answer our questions about himself.

Born in London at 1946, Philpott started his career working in several circuses as acrobat and magician. He then had interest on puppets and animatronics, and got involved in movies such as "The Dark Crystal", "Return of the Jedi", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and "Little Shop of Horrors".

If you want to find out how this huge alien had come to life, keep on reading our interview. And stay tuned on Yildiz Savaslari . Com for more interviews !

YS.COM: Could you briefly tell us about who you are?

T.P.: I have spent most of my life as a performer and teacher, like my parents before me. I have a particular interest in circus and comedy – and that led me to working as a juggler, magician, fire-eater and acrobatic clown.

YS.COM: What is the source of your interest for puppets?

T.P.: My father worked as a solo puppeteer for many years, and then went into teaching and writing books. I grew up around puppets, but did not expect to go on to work with them.

YS.COM: The first step of your career was the “Dark Crystal”. How did you involve in this project?

T.P.: When my father died I found it hard to continue ‘being funny for a living’ and went off to study mime – to give myself a new skill. The mime teacher was hoping to get the job of coaching movement for Dark Crystal (he had devised the ape movement for Greystoke). He told me to audition for this new film which needed ‘mimes, acrobats or dancers’ to work big creatures.

YS.COM: After Dark Crystal, “Return of the Jedi” was the next project. What did you think when you first heard about it?

T.P.: I worked on Dark Crystal for several months, and Return Of The Jedi the next film to be made in the same studio (Elstree, London) – so many of the builders and performers went straight on to that next film…although it was all very secret (they called it Blue Harvest at the time). I felt very excited to get a second film – I thought I had a new career!

YS.COM: How did you feel when you were told to take part as Jabba’s puppeteer?

T.P.: I really enjoyed the idea of performing a main character, with my friend Dave Barclay, and actually being a ‘star’ in several scenes for such a big movie.

YS.COM: Did you have any preparations before you get into that huge Jabba puppet? How many people were there in the puppet?

T.P.: Dave operated the right arm and hand, and with his left hand he operated the mouth, and spoke the words (in English) through a microphone. I worked the left arm and hand, and also moved the head and body around. With my right hand I worked the tongue, when we needed it! If we needed the tail to move we would have Mike Edmonds inside with us, as well. In addition, some of the builders operated the eyes by remote control, etc.

YS.COM: Do you like Jabba (we mean his personality)? Could you tell us about some of your experiences while you were in the puppet?

T.P.: I really liked Jabba. He doesn’t belong to the evil Empire – he’s just a pirate, like Han Solo – if he seems mean, well, he’s an alien! Both Dave and I had real fun creating his moves and moods – although we were quite alone inside him – the other actors had a social life on the film set, but we climbed inside Jabba and stayed there most of the day…just the two of us!

YS.COM: What was the moment that gave you the hardest time of all?

T.P.: Probably the day Jabba had to eat the frog. I had to tip the head forward with my right hand, while reaching down with Jabba’s left hand. I was handed the rubber ‘stunt’ frog’ and then brought it up to the mouth. Dave would open the mouth, so I could push the frog in, and then he would do the chewing move. I let go of the head with my right hand, then pushed it inside the tongue to lick his lips! Quite a complicated sequence, when all you can see is a little tiny black and white television image of Jabba to measure things by…

YS.COM: Is there a moment that you can not forget about while you were on the set?

T.P.: Well, probably the day when Jabba had captured Princess Leia (after she rescues Han Solo) and I had to wiggle the tongue suggestively. The first couple of times Carrie Fisher did not seem scared enough, so the Director whispered over the radio to reach out further. The tongue was horrible, and covered in slime, but I pushed it out further on the next take. I heard a commotion, and the Director shouted “Cut!” He then asked for ‘a little less next time…’ Apparently I licked right across her face with that horrible tongue…I was worried I’d lose my job for a while…

YS.COM: What does it feel like to work with George Lucas and the other actors & actresses (especially Carrie Fisher)?

T.P.: I enjoyed it a lot, but we didn’t get to socialise or relax with them, as most actors do on film sets. Usually there is a lot of hanging around and waiting. Dave and I stayed inside Jabba, practising moves…we only met Carrie, Anthony Daniels, Mike Carter, etc very briefly, if we had to get out of Jabba (through the hole underneath him) to discuss a move with them. We mostly dealt with Richard Marquand. George came on the set a few times, but I didn’t talk to him.

YS.COM: Have you had any moments with Frank Oz, the pupeteer of Yoda?

T.P.: Well, I worked for six months alongside him on Dark Crystal, so knew him a bit. When I worked with him on Little Shop of Horrors he would hang out with the puppeteers sometimes. As Director, he even brought a table-tennis table in so we could relax when hanging around. I have played against him (and lost every time) and with him (doubles match). I liked him a lot…and consider him a comedy genius.

YS.COM: Although puppets were frequently used in 80’s and 90’s movies, today they are replaced with computer graphics and animations. What do you think about this?

T.P.: I prefer puppets for their three-dimensional, real-time acting ability, but I understand that it can prove a very difficult thing to do to make them ‘real’. Normally, puppets live in a ‘cartoon’ reality, where we accept them as just themselves – like the shadow puppets, Karagoz and Hacivat. It can be difficult to put them alongside humans.

YS.COM: What is your opinion about the future of puppeteering and animatronics?

T.P.: I think they both have a part to play in film making. Some films have very large budgets, and some have small. Sometimes it can prove cheaper to use digital effects than to set up complicated and dangerous stunts, for instance. Other times a puppet might be a cheaper way to do it.

YS.COM: What do you think about the 3D Jabba of the prequel trilogy? As a person who is greatly involved with Jabba, do you find it realistic enough?

T.P.: No, I didn’t like the first attempt they made at digital Jabba on the Special Edition. Still, they can come back and have another try with digital work (unlike live filming). The Jabba in Phantom Menace looked more like the original design, but he still doesn’t interact with humans, or hold your attention on the screen the way ‘rubber Jabba’ does.

YS.COM: Star Wars films seem to be re-released in every couple of years, what do you think about it?

T.P.: Well, it doesn’t bother me, although I don’t get paid again for any of those re-releases. They paid us with a buy-out contract back in 1981/2 – so we don’t get anything more for our work however many different formats they create (video, DVD, cable, etc). I still enjoy my link with such a big media event – although many younger people now seem surprised that Jabba got done ‘the hard way’ for Return Of The Jedi.

YS.COM: Lets say that in a few years, the guys at Lucasfilm have decided to digitalize ROTJ and to replace the puppet Jabba with a digital Jabba, what would you feel?

T.P.: I wouldn’t enjoy that at all, but there is a good chance they may do that at some point – to match the other Jabbas that they have drawn. Already they have played around with Max Rebo’s band, for instance…Still, in the modern world we would probably always have certain fans who prefer the original (just as some people want to see ‘Director’s Cuts’ etc.)

YS.COM: When you look as an objective, ordinary viewer; do you find animatronics or digital graphics visually better?

T.P.: Generally I prefer animatronics, but I have an old eye. Kids who have grown up with computer games, and hi-res video images read the screen a different way. To me it looks glossy and ‘unreal’, and the gravity doesn’t convince me when people fall, and so on. On the other hand, cheap puppets can really distract you. I found it hard to believe in Falcor the luckdragon in The Neverending Story, for instance [and I far prefer the book!] The perfect combination should stop you wondering how they did it, so you can just enjoy the story. For instance, Jurassic Park mixes the two so well that you don’t even think about it. The other option is to accept a certain amount of unreality for puppets – the way they use Chucky, for instance. Or do as Jim Henson did with Dark Crystal, and not put them alongside living, breathing humans.

YS.COM: Do you have any interest about collecting?

T.P.: No I don’t really collect memorabilia about anything – not even my favourite subjects like juggling and circus and magic. I don’t really consider myself a fan of Star Wars – I just worked on one of six films. Still, I have one or two souvenirs from going to conventions…

YS.COM: Is there a project that you are currently working on?

T.P.: I stopped working as a performer about ten years ago (I am now 61 years old) and went to work in my local library, live in one city, and do a lot of my work on computers and the web, rather than travelling around. I have written the script for a comic book that a young friend might illustrate for me, and I have done a couple of years research on magic and mind-reading, so I might get another show together one day. I think I’d like to finish a book about my life, experiences, ideas, dreams, etc.

YS.COM: What do you think about our website?

T.P.: It looks amazing! Of course, I don’t read Turkish, so I miss a lot. I explored a little and I liked the fan art, but I haven’t gone into all the corners. There’s so much there!

YS.COM: We would be delighted to see you in Turkey, are there any plans to visit one day?

T.P.: Well, I don’t really plan my own visits to conventions; fans and organisers just invite me, sometimes. Because I have a regular job now, I can’t spend much time travelling any more. I set out to visit Turkey many years back, but something happened on the way, and I ended up performing in the streets of Barcelona, Spain! I used to wander about quite a lot…

YS.COM: Finally, what would your message be to the Turkish fans of Jabba and Star Wars?

T.P.: Well, it’s a real privilege to hear from you, and to realise that people all over the world still appreciate the work we did back then. I hope you enjoy the films for many years to come – and the television programs that George Lucas appears to have planned, etc. If I do get to Turkey, or you get to a convention in another country, I hope we can meet up one day!

Bo Shuda! Ho ho ho ho ho….!

 

Special thanks to Gizem Yýldýrým (Jaina), Cansu Korkmaz (Darth Dogg) and Oðuz Karaaslan (Feanor) for their contributions to this interview.