I recently got the chance to interview Victor Botha, formerly in the British army, but now a Death Trooper in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Death troopers were an elite variant of the Galactic Empire’s stormtroopers who were part of Imperial Intelligence. They served as protective details and bodyguards for important Imperial officers and members of the Tarkin Initiative, as well as being used as special-mission experts. They wore black suits of armour and specialized helmets that scrambled verbal communications. Death troopers were trained in unarmed combat, heavy weapons, and sniping. Specializing in commando missions, the troopers were experts at covering their tracks, leaving little to no evidence of their missions.
The earliest known deployment of the death troopers was in 13 BBYwhen they served Director Orson Krennic on his mission to find and capture Galen Erso. They would continue to protect the director until his death on Scarif at the start of the Galactic Civil War.
Another death trooper squad served with the forces of Grand Admiral Thrawn during his campaign against the early Rebel Alliance and participated in the Battle of Atollon. A squad of death troopers was also deployed to a freighter to protect a large kyber crystal en route to the Tonnis sector to eventually be transported and used for the primary weapon system of the Death Star. During the Ghost crew mission to Lothal, a death trooper tried to capture the crew leading the pursuit.
How does working on Star Wars compare to all your work on other projects?
Star Wars was the first project I worked on. Prior to that, I served in the British Army for 12 years.
How did you get the role of a Death Trooper in Rogue One?
When I was in the process of leaving the army, my wife signed me up to an agency providing extras for movies with a military background. A week later the agent called me and asked if I wanted to attend a casting. He could not give me the name of the movie but just said the code name for it was “Los Alamos”. I was a bit nervous, attending Pinewood Studios for the first time.
There were about 15-20 other guys there also for the casting, no one knew what it was for until we got asked to go through to the costume area. There was Star Wars stuff everywhere. We were asked to put the costume on so that the director can see us do movements and run in it. We then got told that they will contact us if we will be used. Two days later I got a call saying I was one of the six guys picked for the role.
What was the costume like, they look so cool?
As cool as they look, the first few days were hell. It took about 45min to just get it all on, and that was with the help of a costume guy basically doing it all for you. The costume was made out of hard moulded plastic, which rubbed and dug into your body and the first few days getting used to it was not pleasant, but no one has ever seen the Death Trooper so they all wanted to see you and that made up for it a bit.
Can you describe your time filming scenes for Rogue One?
At first, I was very excited, but then I got to see the main actors and got called to set to do the first scene I got so nervous.
The first scene was in some spaceship command centre and we had to walk up some steps, and my oh my it was so difficult seeing anything through that helmet visor. I just kept telling myself do not trip or fall over, it would be so embarrassing. Luckily all went well and I did not fall over. The sets were just amazing. The stuff they build in the studios is like you have never seen before. They make it look so real because there was none of that green screen stuff, so everything was build for the sets.
What are some of your fondest memories from your time in Star Wars?
I was lucky enough to get picked to go to Iceland for filming. Once again a first for me. Even though the weather wasn’t too great, the area, landscape and sets the made out there in the highland of Iceland was breathtaking. We were in the middle of nowhere in between mountains and ice glaciers filming Star Wars, I had to pinch myself every now and again to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Was there much interaction between yourself and the directors, if so, what sort of things would you discuss?
I myself only had interaction with the Director once when I was directed to shoot “Chirrut” the blind Jedi. The Director just told me where to point my gun at and in what position I had to be. The other times on set everything is done through assistant directors who gives you all the info for the set.
If you could play any other characters, who would it be and why?
To be honest, the Death Trooper was the best role for me, it was a character no one ever saw before and I don’t think they will ever see them again, one in a million.
Who are some of your favourite characters from the franchise and why?
To be honest, I have never watched a Star Wars film before I did this movie and had to catch up a bit, but the one that stood out for me in Rogue one was Director Krennic played Ben Mendelsohn. He was such a funny guy behind the scenes, always joking with the crew and messing about but as soon as he had to go on set he never forgot his lines and was very professional.
What does Star Wars mean to you?
As I mentioned before I never saw a Star Wars movie before being in it, so was never a massive fan. Now though it will always be that first movie I had a part in, being a character no one has ever seen.
Did you ever think your work would lead to a franchise like Star Wars?
No, never. I was just a soldier before and would never have thought I would get a role in a big franchise movie like this.
What are some of your favourite scenes from the Star Wars films and why?
For me personally, it was the beach assault we had to do on “Scarif”. The set they build on an old RAF base in north London was incredible. It took a whole week to shoot the scenes we were in there and it was hard work, running through that water every time, running onto the beach going down into various shooting positions, trying not to trip over again, haha.
So yes, this scene for me just because I know all the hard work that went into it.
Do you attend many comic conventions, if so, what does fan interaction mean to you, and do you have any appearances coming up?
This year I’m doing a few events so far. Cardiff in May, Mexico in August and Holland in November. Fan interaction is very important to me. I have my own fan page on Facebook and give various info about the movie to fans. Particularly to the fans building the Death Trooper costume themselves. Just to see the appreciation they have for me talking to them gives me great satisfaction.
A huge thank you goes to Victor for sharing these answers with me, and I would like to wish him good luck in the future.
May the force be with you!