John Simpkin Interview – Klaatu

Klaatu was a male Kadas’sa’Nikto gambler who worked for Jabba the Hutt. He often repaired the crime lord’s skiffs. Klaatu also took enjoyment in Jabba’s executions by Rancor in Jabba’s Palace. He was killed aboard Jabba’s sail barge on Tatooine during the failed execution of Luke Skywalker and his companions.

How does working on Star Wars compare to other projects you have worked on?

Working on Return of the Jedi (or Revenge of the Jedi as it was called during production) felt like a very big deal compared to some the Film and TV jobs I’d had previously. I was booked for a minimum of 4 weeks at a good rate of pay too.  I was aware that this movie was likely to be very bit as big as the previous two, but would never have believed that we would still be talking about it 35 years later!

How did you get the role of Klaatu?

My agent called me and said did I want go to an audition to play an alien on the new Star Wars film… I, of course, said YES!  When I got to Elstree studios I saw the amazing Klaatu mask and costume. I was told that the previous guy they had tried had got panicky wearing it because he felt he couldn’t breathe! They asked me if I was claustrophobic, and of course I said “No”, (though in reality I am, but I really wanted this job). I put on the costume, and then wore the latex rubber head for a solid 3 mins as a test (quietly panicking inside).George Lucas came into the room and said “He looks fine” and that was it…  I was to be Klaatu.

You also played a Stormtrooper, what was the costume like to wear? I read somewhere that the helmets weren’t very easy to wear.

It’s true that the vision through Stormtrooper helmets was terrible, and in the scene I mainly worked on (in the Bunker), there were several takes ruined by a trooper tripping over or marching into the edge of a doorway he hadn’t noticed! But actually I was used to even worse vision through the Klaatu eyes… Luckily I didn’t have to run about much, but where I did you can see me looking down at the steps! (Below)

What are some of your fondest memories from your time in Star Wars?

Carrie‘s jokes. I was positioned quite near her and when the Jabba team were rehearsing his are fondling her in that gold bikini she once said “It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it!”

What does Star Wars mean to you?

Star Wars has come to mean a lot to me.  George Lucas was a sci-fi fan, and somethingof a genius in my opinion. For me, in the original Trilogy he created thegreatest science fiction movies of all time… And now SW has become almost areligion for millions of fans around the world. There are Stormtroopergarrisons everywhere where fans live out their dream!

Do you attend many conventions, if so, what does fan interaction mean to you, and do you have any appearances coming up?

Yes I do attend quite a few conventions… In the UK and regularly in Europe, Last year I had the wonderful experience of a week’s tour of Japan! I enjoy them… I also consider myself privileged to be invited, and try never to take the fans and autograph collectors for granted; I enjoy meeting them (they’re nice people!) and chatting about Star Wars.

Check out my FB page ‘Klaatu UK’ for a list of convention appearances this year

Klaatu was involved in some of the greatest movie scenes of all time, the Jabba’s palace scene and also the sail barge fight, what were those experiences likes?

I didn’t play Klaatu on the Sail barge scene (that was shot in Arizona, USA and Corrie Dee Williams took over the Klaatu role. But I can say that Jabba’s palace was an amazing place to be..  The main thing I remember though was it was incredibly hot, and several of the creature actors fainted during shooting

How long did it take to get into your Klaatu costume, and what was it like performing in it?

It actually only took about 20 mins, because no make-up was required as I wore a complete head, But it was a nightmare to wear, especially on the extremely hot Jabba set! At the end of every day shooting my costume would be soaked in sweat!

What was it like working with so many other people in their alien/creature costumes?

It was a bit weird… Sometimes you would start a conversation with someone, and then realise you didn’t know who it was!

What are some of your favourite characters and scenes from the Star Wars franchise, and why?

Well I guess I’m biased, but for me Return Of The Jedi was the best film…. But then the Cantina scene in A New Hope is a great moment. My favourite characters are C-3PO and R2-D2 (imagine Star Wars without them!) and a special mention for Darth Maul.

What was it like having the likes of Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams on set?

Ok…. Harrison Ford was very serious, quiet and withdrawn onset (some would say rude and moody.. I wouldn’t of course!)   George Lucas was also serious and on the quiet side for a director, but I don’t remember him being rude to anyone, and definitely had the aura of greatness. Mark Hammil was the friendliest, normal,un-pretentious of all the stars on set, and sat chatting to me and the other skiff guards for hours in between scenes. Carrie was so lovely, friendly to everyone, funny too.. The atmosphere lightened when she came on the set.

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