“It’s no good to die alone, kid. Val was right.“―Rio Durant’s last words to Han Solo before dying
Rio Durant was a four-armed Ardennian pilot who lived during the reign of the Galactic Empire. Durant carried out dangerous missions alongside the scoundrel Tobias Beckett for years and was good-natured and up for any challenge.
Rio Durant was a veteran of Freedom’s Sons , but since it paid no pension, he turned to a life of crime for income and applied his military skills there. By the reign of the Galactic Empire, Rio Durant was already working with the humans Tobias Beckett and Val. They formed a crew which carried out risky though profitable heists. Over the time, Durant carried several dangerous missions alongside Beckett, serving as his pilot.
How did your performance for Rio Durant differ from Hurid-327 and the Caretakers?
My performance for Rio involved acting technique far beyond that required for the caretakers and Hurid-327, because there were important and intimate scenes involving dialogue with the leads. Whereas with Hurid-327 and the Caretaker I was making up dialogue in my head to keep in character on set, with Rio there was set dialogue that had to be delivered on point with the directorial vision of Ron and Toby Hefferman’s production team. Whilst I was the body, movement and stunts of Rio, I knew the intention of Rio’s actions and acted the tone of his speech and the feeling behind his words. Dave Chapman spoke the dialogue for Rio on set whilst I did the movement. I had to work closely with Dave to get our timing in synch, and we worked really well together.
Whilst I was with the second unit, directed by John Shwartz, I got the chance to talk out Rio’s dialogue whilst performing the movement in the hauler. I practiced alone for one week in the hauler before we shot. A helicopter pilot worked with me for a substantial amount of time, teaching me how to operate and fly an aircraft so that I could make it believable. I learnt the dialogue for the hauler sequence when Rio is flying, and I came up with a routine that I felt worked. I performed my routine including voicing Rio’s dialogue to a team that included Neal Scanlan (creature head), John Schwartz (2nd unit director), Katie Hewitt (creature dept), Morna macpherson (lead fabricator and assistant to me as Rio) plus the main AD and others. Because I am familiar with routine building having done plenty in my years within the circus field, this was a job that came naturally to me. What people may not have known, is that I have always carried a deep passion for acting and stunts and Rio was the culmination of a long held dream of mine.
What are your thoughts on Rio Durant as a character?
Rio is super cool. From the start he was a laid back, shrewd, daring, acrobatic, loyal, root-cooking galactic superstar. And I am happy to report that it is exactly what was portrayed in Ron’s final vision. I’d really like to know what other people think of Rio’s character, because it is hard to watch him on screen and understand how he comes across to viewers. Certainly whilst I acted Rio, I felt his guts .. he was one bold character, and he was so confident in every action that he did. He had a dream, to be the best chef in the galaxy, and to own a restaurant, on every planet from here to the furthest galaxy. When he was done with the game, he was gonna settle down and make himself a nice business cooking the best food in the universe. But he had debts to pay, a crew that needed him, he was a member of a group of criminals to whom he owed his life and they to him. They were family, may as well have been.
Rio was happy with his group, in his heart, he knew where he belonged. And he knew his worth. Rio was able to fly a ship like no other … no need for a co-pilot when you can swing with ease across the cockpit. he didn’t need anyone else with him, he chose his people because they were hard as nails like him. Rio saw himself in them.
How much time did you spend on set?
I couldn’t say exactly but I worked on Rio for over a year, from rehearsals through shoots. I spent so much time on set that it became my home and my safe place. Once I was inside the Rio costume I was where I was meant to be, and my focus was on the thoughts, feelings and daring nature of this absolute rogue. I got to know people from all the other department like never before. I learnt the inner workings of departments coming together like never before. It was a great privilege and one that I will always be grateful for. The hours I spent in the dark, waiting for departments to give the green light for action was time well spent. I sat in Rio’s costume waiting in character for longer than I can remember. I had to gear myself time after time to give Rio the justice he deserved. I pulled every ounce of my energy on set time and again to deliver each segment of movement that was required. I listened closely to the VFX team, the photography and camera dept and of course what the AD and production were after. I worked closely with the leads. Particularly in Rio’s dying scene in the hauler, and also in Rio’s intimate campfire scene. I had to be very mindful of the dialogue and feeling that was created by the leads so that Rio added weight and emotion to the verity of the situation. I spent more time on set than off it, I was in the dark, with Rio’s character holding me to what was real for a long time.
How would you describe your time working on Solo?
Hard. It was tough going. When Neal Scanlan called me in he explained the character, a monkey like acrobatic creature swinging around a ship. It was perfect for me, but he warned me that Rio could be taken over by stunts at any moment! I remember saying, ‘let me do it! I know I can do this!’. I did a stunt test for Rio and passed but that was only the beginning of the journey. Initially, Rio was puppeteered by Dave Chapman, Brian Herring, Colin Purves and Damo. The puppet version of Rio was due to perform all the close-ups, as they were able to make the mouth move and give facial credibilty to Rio, whereas I was going to be the more dynamic movement shots for Rio. The puppeteers did an incredible amount of concept work into the creation of Rio. In rehearsals, the fantastic aforementioned, created sequences within the campfire scenes that were so funny, witty and creative.
Whilst I ended up doing all the shoots that were realised in the final edit, the four puppeteers were the brains behind the initial concept of Rio, and their genius enabled me to carry forward the many complex movements that were required. Also working with me, were Claire Roi Harvey and Lynn Robertson Bruce. We were the terrific trio, and we rehearsed mountains of movement with the girls behind me as Rio’s back arms. Although the final edit sees Rio’s back arms CGI’d in, we tried every moment as a trio to see if we could bring Rio to life, with his four arms, as a total practical performance. It is disappointing that we didn’t quite manage this, but as a trio, we didn’t have quite enough time, and there were many restrictions on vision and movement, especially as Rio was such a fast moving and dynamic character.
I’ll be honest, I was the newbie in a close-knit team. For the first time since working on star wars, I was invited by Scanlan, to be involved in the development of a key character from start to finish. He put an enormous amount of faith in me. My priority throughout was to develop tricks and skills that could be given their hayday within the film. But I clashed many times with the puppeteers, because our vision was so different. Brian, Dave, Colin and Damo have brought key characters to life several times, and this was my first. I had a vision for Rio that was very fast and dynamic whereas they had a vision that was filled with close-up character. In the end, I’d like to think that we met half way, and that the character they brought to the table was matched by the dynamic I had empassioned from the start. I could not have brought Rio to life without the foundations they set in place. We all loved Rio, and we were competitive in bringing him alive. Neal Scanlan directed our rehearsals with such a professional hand. Overcoming the creative clash was the most difficult thing I had to deal with. It was more difficult than performing in the Rio costume for a 15 hour day, remembering dialogue and acting scenes out with the leads.
Performing Rio forced me out of a ‘circus’ mindset and into an ‘actor’s’ mindset. It was the best lesson that I had to take on board and I do believe that I surpassed it. Meanwhile I was battling with a knee injury, that I refused to set me back in my performance.
Working within the heart of the creatures department was the most meaningful experience that I have taken from Solo. Working within a team that starts early morning and ends late nights, on rehearsals that no-one will ever know about, so that a character that may or may not materialise, gets a second or more in the movie…. that is my happy place, being plunged into a process where we work so hard with no real idea of what will or not get seen, but the relentless work we put in all the same. And the respect I have built up for all the people that I have worked with, is something I will never, ever forget. So a big thank you, to every single person I have worked with in the CFX crew. They are a family, and they are my family, so thank you.
Did you get to spend much time with the rest of the cast, if so, what were they like?
Absolutely. I got to know Joonas very well. Joonas and I spent a lovely afternoon with Maria Cork (Lead fabricator for Chewie) on a gondola in venice, and hung out with the CFX crew out in the Dolomites in Italy. Joonas is a funny, witty person, and his character is like a glue that holds fun together. Thank you Joonas for the fun times you enabled us all to share!!! I met Woody Harrelson and thandy for the first time on set in the Dolomites, and was fortunate enough to spend more time with them on set back in Pinewood. Woody was very laid back, but also very serious about making the shots work infront of the camera. Because I was new to the process, Woody was frustrated with me at first, but once I got to know the ropes, I saw him relax on set with me, because he could see I had it in hand.
Thandy and I had some lovely discussions about parenthood and families, she is a fantastic lady and I love her to bits. Alden was an absolute gem. A real gentleman who cared so much about the role he was performing. It was a privilege to work alongside Alden at such an important time in his life.
I shared some intimate scenes with the leads, there were two moments that really stick out in my memory: 1; Hans asks if Rio is OK as he dies in the hauler. In this scene every breath intake and out was crucial. I had met Alden a few times by now, but in this moment I didn’t care … I only wanted the scene to be believable, and I imagined Rio really taking for this Solo lad and feeling comfort in his presence. 2; Chewie describes the loss of his tribe within the campfire scene. All actors stand still as they take in the brevity of what Chewie is saying…it’s heartbreaking. That moment, in that space, got me closer to Rio as a person than any other moment in the film. Rio took in the emotion of Beckett, Val, chewie and Han and it was beautiful.
Those moments on set, brought me closer to the actors as their real selves, because we all had to bring out pieces of ourselves to make the scene work.
What did you think of the film?
Solo was fantastic from start to finish. A big hats off to phil, chris and Ron for bringing a true piece of artwork to life.
What were some of your favourite moments from the film?
The conveyox, the way it twisted and turned on the track … the visual effects were stunning. The rebel droid, L3-37, her character sold me completely. How a droid can have feelings and emotions and be quite indignant about being controlled was just absolutely charming. L3-37 was my favourite character by far and I love the message she brings.
As you have been in three Star Wars films now, how would you describe your overall Star Wars experience?
A wonderful, mindblowing, growing experience that I never imagined. Star Wars has given me a world of possibilty that I never knew existed. I have been opened up to a family of creatives who I respect to the end, and I have been pushed far beyond my limit in creatures to the point where I only wish to be pushed further.
I have coped with darkness, extremity, physical exhaustion, mental panic, to the point where I feel akin to those who have walked the south pole, or trekked up the most dangerous everest path. All performers in the Star Wars Creatures Department have metaphorically climbed mountains of the highest level, and we have been guided by Neal Scanlan, who has a vision and a perfection that out of respect, we seek to attain. We are explorers inside a suit of artistic licence. We are the creatures department for star wars.