In some ways, it's just not fair. I mean, how many of us have spent years dreaming of being a part of the Star Wars
universe? How many hours have you passed imagining yourself playing a part in a new Star Wars
movie--even just a minor character, under a big mask, who walks across screen for, like, a second?
So how is it that Silas Carson
popped out of the blue to play not one but two major roles in Episodes I and II of the new Star Wars
trilogy? What is it about this one guy that, thanks to a couple other characters he brought to life in The Phantom Menace
, made him the perfect actor to play a grand total of four different Star Wars
Well, the answer is simple: Silas Carson is a good actor. Sure, his multiple Star Wars personas are aided by the prosthetics and animatronic masks that make each one look different from the other. But there's more to it than that. Although his face his obscured, making his job all the more difficult, Carson still brings a convincing and thoughtful subtlety to each character that sets them all apart. There's the wise old Jedi Ki-Adi-Mundi, he of the slow movements and knowing eyes. There's the cowering coward Nute Gunray, whose body seems to recoil in fear when he's confronted. There was even, in Episode I, Lott Dod, Nute's fellow Neimoidian whose higher station produced a more confident stance that helped audiences differentiate between the two.
Of course, Carson can act without all the make-up, too. In Episode I, he was the pilot of the Republic Cruiser
blown up by Nute Gunray himself. More recently, Carson has been gaining fame in his native England thanks to roles on two recent television series. First came the short-lived Metro Sexuality
, about a group of friends in West London. And now, Carson is starring in the hit medical drama A & E
, which is sort of a British version of ER
(A & E stands for Accidents and Emergency). The show, in which Carson plays an attractive young anesthetist, has taken off in the UK and will soon begin its second season there.
The 36-year-old actor didn't just pop into acting out of the blue, either. He paid his dues in drama school and began his career on the British stage. After the success of Episode I, he returned to London theatre, as well as appearing in the UK film Josephine and launching a career as a voice-over performer for cartoons and nature documentaries (his favorite kind of TV programming, he says). The voice-over resum� was significantly enhanced when Carson provided the voices for his own characters in The Phantom Menace, even the oddly intoned Neimoidians.
Carson's acting talents made such an impression on George Lucas
, Rick McCallum
, and casting director Robin Gurland
that he was not only drafted for quadruple-duty in Episode I but he was invited back for Episode II--with an expanded role for Ki-Adi-Mundi, the Jedi Knight
who became a fan favorite and comic book star. This time, Mundi, who spent his much of his screentime in Menace
sitting still in the Jedi Council, stretches his legs--and his lightsaber
--as he ventures out on a new mission.
As if that weren't enough, Nute Gunray is back, too, allowing Carson to put his stamp on two characters who couldn't be more different. Nute, the Trade Federation Viceroy who did Darth Sidious' bidding, is consumed by fear, despite his failed attempts to project a strong image. Ki-Adi, on the other hand, is so strong that he knows he doesn't need to draw any attention to himself. (Then again, his Conehead-like cranium isn't exactly what you'd call low-profile.)
Carson achieves such distinction in his Star Wars characters through a lot of hard work, especially given that each role requires full attention and preparation--and demands days of work. Additionally, the actor must endure hours of uncomfortable make-up applications and spend his days in physically punishing costumes that are both heavy and hot. Indeed, he got the part of Nute Gunray in Episode I after he was already playing Mundi and another actor couldn't take the claustrophobia of the Neimoidian costumes.
So just how did this actor get two key parts in Episode II? He studied and worked at his craft, and when he got his big break in Episode I, he went above and beyond the call of duty, spending days in difficult conditions while eagerly taking on additional work. In other words, he earned it. Who said life isn't fair? In Episode II, Ki-Adi gets up out of his chair and gets in on the action. Was it a challenge learning to fight Star Wars-style?
Well, there was certainly more moving around, and quite a lot of fighting to do. It was hard work, doing the same sequences over and over again, and it's very physical. I was surrounded by a lot of guys who specialize in stunt work, so they were very fit, and I'm pleased to say I was outrunning quite a few of them. I managed to get myself very fit for this one. But it's hot work in those costumes, which are very thick wool, and even though the latex allows the skin to breathe, underneath all of that I've got a plastic skull cap and I'm pouring with sweat.
But the great thing about it is that, often your opponents are not actually there. They get painted in later. So for us it was a question of making lots of different kinds of moves, making it look good, and then the CGI guys will paint in the appropriate flying bullets and the appropriate characters afterward. So there's a great deal of freedom to it.
It must have been cool to fight with a lightsaber!
It's the question I get asked all of the time. That is people's greatest interest--do you get touse a lightsaber? I worked with [stunt coordinator] Nick Gillard for a couple of days. He's very good. He's very specific, and it's great fun. Doing any kind of fight sequence is enormous fun--I've done swordfighting onstage before, and that's just tremendous. But with this, you know it touches people's hearts. You know this is the thing everybody else wants to do--and there's something very naughty about that.