I recently got the chance to interview actress and circus performer Katy Kartwheel. Katy
worked as a creature and droid performer for Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi. She also portrayed HURID-327 in The Force Awakens.
HURID-327 was the groundskeeper of Maz Kanata’s castle, which was located on the planet Takodana, and was responsible for carrying her guests’ luggage.
“Neal said, ‘Let’s put a stilt-walker in it!’ I thought he was mad! [Laughs.] Katy Coleman, the stilt-walker/performer, did a great job inside.“―Luke Fisher speaks about Neal Ellis’ reaction to HURID-327
How does working on Star Wars compare to all your work on other projects?
As a freelance circus performer and trainer, I usually direct my own shows and decide when and how to work. On Star Wars I was part of a huge team and had to take direction and integrate myself fully into the creatures department. It really is like being part of a huge family.
How did you get the role?
I got my first role as HURID-327 through the Director of a circus company I was performing shows with at the time. He told me he needed a short stilt-walker for a movie. I taught myself stilts and went to Pinewood Studios for an audition. I had no idea it was for Star Wars until they asked me back again.
When you were given the role HURID-327, were you given any info to accommodate this?
I’m not sure I understand the question … I was shown the conceptual design that Luke Fisher had done, but I had no idea that I would end up carrying so much weight or that it would be so physically and mentally tough! I did feel thrown in the deep end, but I appreciated the process because I Iearnt so much about the film industry and about what it takes to be a creature performer.
Can you describe your time filming scenes?
Filming scenes as a creature performer are all about endurance. Because you are enclosed with very limited vision and air, whilst carrying a lot of weight, it can be disorienting and claustrophobic. I found that imagining the mental thought processes of the character I was playing helped me to last longer in the suit – the more fun I had in my head, the longer my body kept going. I tried many different techniques to push myself further on set but ultimately the ability to have fun was the winning strategy.
How long did it take to get into costume?
Once I was in my basic blacks it took 30 minutes to get into costume for HURID-327 which is more or less the standard time it takes to get into most creatures.
Was there much interaction between yourself and the directors, if so, what sort of things would you discuss?
On Force Awakens I used to say hi to JJ Abrams when he was not busy. Whilst shooting HURID’s scene at Pinewood, I took direction from creatures head Neal Scanlan and I was coordinated by Paul Kasey. JJ said I did a great job once we’d finished the shot.
If you could play any other character, who would it be and why?
I’d like to play a creature from the dark side that fights with a sabre. I’d love to get into the body language of a character that is militant, unforgiving and with strong fighting skills.
Who are some of your favourite characters from the franchise and why?
Rey is hands down my favourite character for a few reasons. Firstly because I was thrilled that Daisy Ridley played her, I hadn’t heard of Daisy before and it was totally refreshing watching her bring Rey to life on screen. In the Last Jedi, I was mesmerized by the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren, Daisy did a fantastic job building and keeping the tension. Rey’s character, for me, slots into the star wars story seamlessly.
What does Star Wars mean to you?
Star Wars has given me many gifts: an exciting job with unique experience, friendships and wonderful times with the star wars family, the chance to go to beautiful locations in the world. On a deeper level, I’ve spent years looking up to the stars for guidance on the wars I’ve faced in my life, and I’ve always wanted a tough physical challenge that pushes me to my limits …. star wars gave me the ultimate challenge and I’m grateful.
Did you ever think your work would lead you to be in a franchise like Star Wars?
Not for one second, I feel lucky, blessed and hugely privileged for the work I’ve done with Star Wars which was completely unexpected. I have worked in the circus industry long and hard and always aimed to perform in magnificent shows. I’ve always secretly wanted to be in movies but I thought it would have to be acting that got me there – not the circus.
What are some of your highlights filming Star Wars?
I performed in a power droid for my first ever star wars shot. There were controlled explosions going off right next to me and all the cast had to run away from danger. Being inside the droid with commotion and chaos surrounding me was a beautiful and thrilling feeling.
On the Last Jedi as a caretaker, I had to walk up some stone steps that were near the cliff’s edge. Being enclosed in the costume with next to no vision, I felt comforted by how surreal the situation was! At that location in Ireland, it was also great chatting with Mark Hamill, he had time for everyone and he was just a normal guy with a big heart.
On Force Awakens whilst shooting HURID, Harrison Ford came over and asked how I was doing … I had no idea it was him talking to me at the time because I couldn’t see anything!!
The main highlight is the memories of all the people I have worked with and the conversations and laughs we have shared together.
What are some of your favourite scenes from Star Wars and why?
The ones I’ve been in of course!!! Because I know the months of blood, sweat and tears that went into that 1 second of screen time 🙂
Do you attend many comic conventions, if so, what does fan interaction mean to you, and do you have any appearances coming up?
I’ve not attended any yet but I would really like to, I understand how much Star Wars is loved around the world and it would be a pleasure to share my experiences with others.
How long have you been doing circus work for and how did you get into this line of work?
I ran away to the circus aged 17 and I never let go of that dream. The circus is my passion, it’s part of my fabric and makeup. Whatever challenges life has thrown me, the circus has always shone through. Whether it’s training in London circus schools, performing with circus companies, putting on my own shows with my aerial rig or teaching others circus skills … There are many ways to keep the circus dream alive.
Are you open to doing more work for the Star Wars franchise in the future?
Absolutely! Star Wars is an incredible franchise to work with.
A huge thank you goes out to Katy for allowing me to interview her and I hope we get to see some more of her work in future Star Wars films!
May the force be with you all!