Paul Warren is an actor known for playing characters in prosthetic makeup and creature suits in such films as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: The Dark World, Clash of the Titans and World War Z.
Paul was the man behind Varmik in The Force Awakens as well as a dowager alien during the Canto Bight scenes in the Last Jedi. Varmik was a Hassk thug that was present in Maz Kanata’s castle on Takodana thirty years after the Battle of Endor, shortly prior to the castle’s destruction by the First Order.
How does working on Star Wars compare to all your work on other projects?
My job is to hopefully deliver a performance that my creature effects supervisor and director are happy with. My work ethic is pretty much the same as any other film I’ve worked on. That said, I’ve been a massive Star Wars fan since I was 3 years old, so when I do stop to take it all in, it can very emotional and slightly overwhelming at times …in a good way.
When you were given the role of Varmik, were you given any info to accommodate this?
When I first met with Neal Scanlan (Star Wars creature effects supervisor) about the role, he showed me the classic cantina concept painting by Ralph McQuarrie and said that’s who they would like me to play. I was kind of blown away. I’ve had that concept image on my wall for years! It’s my favourite by McQuarrie.
Ivan Manzella (creature concept designer) took the cantina concept and early Chewbacca designs to create the character.
I was only told that it was one of JJ’s favourites too and that he wanted to bring it to life on screen. The rest was left to myself and creature choreographer Paul Kasey to come up with. All the performers were encouraged to come up with our own backstories, even though we knew they would never be used (Lucasfilm would write the character backstories after the fact). It was more just to help us all get into character.
Can you describe your time filming the Maz’s Castle scenes?
It was insanely hot on that set even before we got into the suits with animatronic heads. But it was a wonderful experience. I will never forget peering through the steamed up head eyes and seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca!
How long did it take to do your costumes and make-up during the filming process?
For me personally, it wasn’t too long at all. It was about 15 minutes to get into the fur suit and feet, then about a minute or so to take the head on or off. Before Star Wars I was more used to wearing hours and hours of prosthetic makeup in movies. This was very easy in comparison to get ready.
Was there much interaction between yourself and the directors, if so, what sort of things would you discuss?
J.J Abrams is a very nice and humble guy. He would interact with everyone. He talked me through the scene before we shot it. As the camera enters Maz’s Castle, it follows me around the room in part homage to McQuarrie’s painting and also a way of introducing the place to the audience. We did about 3 or 4 takes. Not many.
If you could play any other character, who would it be and why?
I would have really loved to have tried on the old cantina alien suits in New Hope to compare the experience with our new ones. Especially Hammerhead. He’s my favourite Star Wars alien.
Who are some of your favourite characters from the franchise and why?
Hammerhead, Greedo and Walrus Man. They were the first action figures I ever had.
What does Star Wars mean to you?
Everything at this point. It was my childhood and now as an adult, it provides me with a living. I’m very lucky.
What are some of your favourite scenes from Star Wars and why?
So many, but I really love the scenes with pilots and alien co-pilots. Han and Chewbacca. Lando and Nien Numb. And now Chewbacca and Rey. That buddy dynamic always appealed to me.
Do you attend many comic conventions, if so, what does fan interaction mean to you, and do you have any appearances coming up?
I have done quite a few since The Force Awakens. I love doing them. Everyone is welcome to come up, hang out and just have a chat.
I do have a few this year. The best place to find out where will be on my facebook page https://t.co/3QemApGmVe
or twitter @paulRwarren
How long have you been doing creature performance for and how did you get into this line of work?
I began my film career as a body double for Daniel Radcliffe on the film Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix, before being chosen by director Joe Johnston to be a double for skinny Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger.
In 2007, I was recommended to the legendary Stan Winston Studio as a good choice to portray an emaciated version of the title character in ‘The Deaths of Ian Stone’ The role required me to be covered in body prosthetics. Working with Stan’s crew is what ultimately set me on a path to becoming a creature performer. It was a great experience to have on CV.
You also played a dowager alien in the Canto Bight scenes in the Last Jedi, how was that different to the Force Awakens?
Yes, I play the dowager alien that is carrying the now infamous Space Gary (a homage to Carrie Fisher’s dog). The biggest difference was now instead of wearing a creature suit, I was actually climbing inside the creature and puppeteering her from within. There was a tiny camera on the front and a video monitor inside for me to be able to see where I was walking.
It was much fun to climb out from under the alien dress to the shock of the background extras. They thought it was being remotely controlled. The only part that was animatronic was the face operated by Chris Clarke and space Gary who was being remotely controlled by the brilliant Daisy Beattie.
Are you open to doing more work for the Star Wars franchise in the future?
If I had my way, I would work on Star Wars films for the rest of my life.
A big thank you to Paul for sparing some time to answer my questions and stay tuned for more interviews coming in the future!
May the force be with you!