Hugh Purves Interview – Huper Tenrecs

Huper Tenrecs was a Talpiddian male who worked as a weapons specialist for the Resistance during their war against the First Order. He was part of the Resistance group that set up base on the jungle moon Ajan Kloss and acted as the base’s armorer.

In 35 ABY, he was amongst the base personnel who attended a meeting following the return of the YT-1300 light freighter known as the Millennium Falcon from a intelligence gathering mission. Commander Poe Dameron informed those gathered that they had received data confirming that the Sith Lord Darth Sidious had returned and that a Sith fleet from the planet Exegol was going to reinforce the First Order.

He later stood beside the technician Klaud during a second meeting at the base in which Dameron laid out a plan to attack the forces of the First Order and Sith Eternal on the planet Exegol. Following the successful attack, Tenrecs joined in with the victory celebrations held at the base, hugging a human beside one of the RZ-2 A-wing interceptors that had returned from Exegol.

How did you get into puppetry/creature performance?

I was super into youth theatre when I was young but I didn’t really think about puppetry until I saw an amazing play called ‘Lilly Through the Dark’ by The River People. It was a mixture of bunraku-style puppetry and object theatre and absolutely got me hooked on Puppetry as an art form. The brilliant thing is that the creator of the show, Claire Harvey, was on set my first day on Solo – that was a real star-struck moment for me.

Were you a fan of Star Wars before you started working on the film, if so, what are some of your first memories?

I was, remain and always will be a massive Star Wars fan. I remember seeing Phantom Menace in the cinema, going home and immediately offering my best Darth Maul to the world with a big stick in the garden.

Your first Star Wars job was working on Solo, what was your role on that film and how would you describe the experience?

I owe everything about my time on Star Wars to Brian Herring, we met when I did the tech for a talk of his at the Curious School of Puppetry in Bethnal Green. By chance we both got there about 2 hours early and started talking about puppetry, Star Wars and the film industry in general and, emboldened by Wine, I very cheekily asked if I could send him a CV!

I got the email about Solo a couple of weeks after I started a project with a circus in Italy, my friend and fellow puppeteer Liam Wright was visiting and in the next room – we both walked out at the same time looking at our phones with stunned grins on our faces! I was flying back and forth from Italy during the shoot but every second on that set was completely worth it. The first day I was there I just stood and gawped at the scale of it – this was my first big-budget film and I wanted to soak up every second of it. 

We were initially brought on to puppeteer tentacles in the first version of Lady Proxima’s water tank, she had many, many tentacles that she thrashed around at Han and Qi’ra. Eventually the Lady Proxima design was altered so she didn’t need tentacles but I also got to sit in another tank of water in a deleted scene where Han and Qi’ra hide in a tank of eels – I was one of the eels!

You then worked on The Rise of Skywalker where you portray Huper Tenrecs, a Talpiddian weapons specialist for the Resistance. How did you get the role?

I just got a call out of the blue asking me to come in for a fitting! I was told there was a big scene shooting over a month in Pinewood with lots of aliens and that Liam and I were to both be big pig-looking guys. We later established a rich canon between ourselves as pig-brothers with at least 3 generations of family drama – I’ve already sent the treatment to Kathleen Kennedy and I’m sure I’ll be getting a response any day now…

Were you given any additional information regarding the character to help you?

I was given movement direction by Paul Casey to nail down how the character moved around and behaved over a few sessions as well as specific direction about what to do in a shot-by-shot basis. 

What was it like working in the costume? (How long did it take to get into costume, how long did you work in it, any barriers you faced etc.)

It was very hot, very heavy and some of the most fun I’ve ever had! Getting dressed up to the neck in the padding and costume took about 30 mins –  the head only took a few minutes to strap on and strap down. On a typical day I wore the padding the whole time and wore the head in stints of up to 1hr-1hr ½. Eating was certainly a challenge with the padding on – I could barely get my hands to my mouth! I also drank litres and litres of water just to keep up with the amount I was losing to sweat.

What was it like working on the Resistance base (Ajan Kloss) set, and how much of it was actually there rather than being digitally added during editing?

The set was all real! In the cave we had a big ol’ spaceship and consoles everywhere and outside we had more big ol’ spaceships! I remember being very impressed watching the scenic painters paint trees on the studio wall anywhere there was a gap in the foliage. I took them only minutes and a brush on a stick to render incredibly realistic looking bark and leaves!

Did you do any other work on The Rise of Skywalker?

Yep! I also worked in Jordan on the set for Pasaana puppeteering Aki-Aki and baby Aki-Aki as well as a little bit on the side of the Star Destroyer!

How does working on a production like Star Wars compare to others projects you’ve worked on in the past?

The sheer scale of the production is thrilling, it’s incredible to be on a set with 100s of the most talented people in the world working together to make something as iconic as Star Wars. Especially working as part of Neal Scanlan’s CFX team; the people are so funny, kind and generous there’s really no feeling like it!

How do Ron Howard and JJ Abrams differ from one another in terms of what you saw on set and your own experiences?

I can’t really speak to their personal directing style as I didn’t really get close to them! What I can say is that the few times I got to talk to JJ he was very nice; you could tell how excited he was to be making a new story in the Galaxy and his enthusiasm was definitely infectious!

How would you describe your overall experience working on both SOLO & The Rise of Skywalker?

I could ramble on forever and ever about how exciting it was but I’ll sum up: It was the culmination of both the dreams of a 6yr old and of a 25yr old!

Do you have any fun/memorable stories from working on the two Star Wars films?

Working in Jordan was my first time on an international set and was super amazing – I was absolutely buzzing the entire time! Dance rehearsals with the Aki-Aki, cast parties at fancy hotels and crawling into pit in the sand to puppeteer cool Star Wars aliens – 10/10 would recommend.

There was a very funny moment on set when it was discovered that our offer of ‘Air’ (we used little leaf blowers to blow cold air into the creature suits) actually translates to scandalous human anatomy in Jordanian Arabic!

For anyone looking to either get into puppeteering or creature performance, is there any advice you can give, or any published materials you could recommend?

On a specific note I would definitely recommend checking out ‘The Curious School of Puppetry’ led by Sarah Wright – it’s where I trained and I can say with 100% certainty that I wouldn’t have made it as a puppeteer without it.

On a general note I’d say that the most important things are: talking to people – connections and friendships are more precious than diamonds when it comes to getting opportunities; and also to use your passion for the art to really fuel a drive to keep learning and improving your craft – there’s no such thing as too much practice!

A huge thank you to Hugh for answering my questions, be sure to check out his website https://hughpurves.com/

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