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Thursday, 6 October 2011

STAR WARS AFICIONADO INTERVIEW: ALAN RUSCOE

Man of many monster faces, including Bib Fortuna: Alan Ruscoe.

ALAN RUSCOE INTERVIEW

Conducted by Ian Trussler

Star Wars: Episode One - The Phantom Menace is well known for having talented actors playing multiple parts, such as the excellent Silas Carson, playing Ki-Adi Mundi and Nute Gunray to mention just two, and Jerome Blake, who portrayed an impressive seven characters, most notably the slimy Rune Haako. Another actor to join this illustrious club in the opening film of the saga was Alan Ruscoe. A regular in sci-fi and genre films and TV shows, I recently met up with him and he kindly agreed to share his thoughts on life inside the Star Wars saga.

IT: So Alan, how did your involvement in Episode One come about, and what character were you originally up for?
AR: “I was originally cast as Plo Koon, closely followed by Daultay Dofine and then finally as Bib Fortuna, originally named as Bib Fortuna during filming. I'd completed filming on Luc Besson's film The Fifth Element, playing one of the Managlores and working with creature’s maestro Nick Dudman. A year went by and my agent got a call from Lucasfilm asking if I'd be interested in working on "the next Star Wars film". Turns out that Nick had recommended me to them and gave me such a glowing reference that Lucasfilm were interested. It's all thanks to Nick Dudman."
From when you were cast, can you talk us through the timeline and process that took place up to the end of filming?
As Daultay Dofine in EPISODE ONE. 
"Well, as you probably know, film production companies don't let the grass grow under their feet when it comes to getting things done and Lucasfilm are no exception. The casting itself took place in May 1997 and within a couple of weeks I was making trips to Leavesden Studios, to get head casts, costume and mask fittings done. I remember going for my head cast and walking into the Creatures Workshop. Above the door was a sign that someone had put up, reading: "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." It just about sums up the simply amazing people that work in FX makeup. Brilliant sense of humour, always kind and incredibly patient. From fittings to shooting was about another month and a half and then by September it was pretty much done."
In front of Nute Gunray (Silas Carson), Daultay Dofine (Ruscoe) faces the wrath of Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) in EPISODE ONE.
Episode One was perhaps the most anticipated movie ever, how did it feel to be working on it, were you aware of the expectations and was it apparent on set?
"I think the phrase you just used at the start of the question, just about sums up the general feeling we all had. This wasn't just a Hollywood film we were making, this was a big deal. This was Star Wars. Having said that, everyone was so professional and a pleasure to work with. Every so often as an actor I have "pinch me" moments, when I kind of stand back for a moment and think about what I'm actually doing. That's when things get a bit surreal. Your mind starts to shout "That's George Lucas! GEORGE LUCAS! He's giving me direction on a scene." Of course, you have a job to do and you get on with it but it's an amazing experience."
Was it a thrill for you to be associated with the Star Wars saga? Were you a childhood fan?
"Absolutely. I used to play Star Wars when I was a kid in the school yard. One of my earliest memories is my mum taking me to see it at the cinema on its initial release. I was so excited!  It gave me such a kick to be able to take her to the cast and crew screening of Episode One in Leicester Square twenty two years later. It's thanks to my mum that I was able to follow my dream to become an actor in the first place, so for her to come to the screening with me was a real pleasure."
Alan gets to take off Plo Koon's breather for a quick break between filming of EPISODE ONE.
How did it come about that you played more characters than the one you originally auditioned for?
"The rather handy thing about actors that work with masks is that they are easy to recycle. It makes sense to use one actor and three masks rather than three actors and three masks. I was just lucky really."
Alan as the iconic Bib Fortuna, for the Coruscant Senate scenes of EPISODE ONE.
Which of your three Episode One characters was your favourite to play and why?
"I love them all for different reasons. Plo Koon: Who would turn down a chance to play a Jedi, and, on top of that a member of the Jedi Council. AMAZING. Dofine was a wonderful character to play, such an absolute coward. Finally Bib Fortuna... to get a chance to play a character that was being reprised from the Original Trilogy was an honour. Obviously, I didn't know that George was going to change his mind about where he was going to place the character and who was going to play it, but it was his baby and he could do what he liked and quite right too. I was a bit sad when my scene in the Senate didn't make the cut, but I can't complain and Matt Wood did a fantastic job as Bib."
Alan's sadly deleted Bib Fortuna scene from EPISODE ONE.
As you say, your role as the Twi’lek Senator/Bib Fortuna was cut from the movie, what did the scene consist of, did you have any dialogue?
"My part in the scene was a cut away from Queen Amidala when she proposed the vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum. It was originally my character that called for the vote with me screaming "Vote Now!" at the rest of the Senate. Great fun. It was also the first time I had gotten to wear a full prosthetic make up with contacts and teeth, so it was very exciting as well."
So much footage is usually cut from movies. Did you have any other scenes or dialogue that got dropped along the way?
"I've been quite lucky with all the stuff I've done in front of a camera really. Very little has hit the cutting room floor. The only real exception to that was the Sweeney Todd movie with Johnny Depp. I was originally cast as one of Todd's customers with a couple of lines of dialogue. I shot some of the stuff but then got replaced by Anthony Head. After some rewrites, that led to his part being cut. They used some of the shots they took of me before this happened with me still in the crowd. Blink and you miss me, though. I got my agent to take Sweeney Todd off my C.V. when I found out. It would have felt wrong having a credit on there, made me feel like a fraud. The only trim I got on The Phantom Menace was one of my lines as Dofine: "I knew it… they were sent here to force a settlement." Originally that should have been followed by "Blind me... we're done for!" I think it was a very good edit and agree with it totally."
Keeping out of the boardroom, another shot of Daultay from EPISODE ONE.
Was all of your work studio bound, or did you make it to any locations?
"My stuff on Star Wars was all studio bound, first at Leavesden to TPM, then Elstree and Ealing for Attack of the Clones reshoots. I don't think it's a bad thing. All these studios have so much history, and it's an amazing experience to work in them. I've got great memories that I wouldn't change for anything".
At Leavesden Studios in 1997, Producer Rick McCallum holds the EPISODE ONE clapperboard for the filming of Daultay's death scene.
So long Daultay!
Any particular actor you enjoyed working with? Did you make any lasting friendships on set?
"When you work on the type of schedule that I tend to be on, it can be kind of sporadic. Although TPM spanned three months for me, I would be working for one week here, a couple of days there. I didn't get a real chance to work with any one actor for any prolonged length of time. When you're a creature actor, the people you spend most of your time with are the creature FX make up guys and they are probably the best company you can get. Those guys were my lifeline. Kind, generous, and endlessly patient. The one actor I was really pleased to work with was Christopher Lee on AOTC. I'm a huge horror film fan and was totally star struck, so when he started to chat to me about cricket in between takes, I was made up. Lovely gentleman."
When Episode One was released, did you get caught up in all the hoopla and hype or did it pass you by?
"By the time TPM was released, I'd worked on a couple of jobs since shooting and was in a West End musical. I try not to get too carried away with it all. It was an exciting time for sure, but I was also very aware that my contribution to the whole thing was very small. That kept things in perspective for me".
When Episode One was over, did you have any expectation of being involved in future films in the saga, or was it purely a one off?
"I always treat every job as though it's a one off. I didn't take it for granted that I'd be used in the next film and so when I heard about them moving everything to Australia, I took it as read that I wouldn't be used at all. They use local actors when filming, something I benefitted from on TPM. With that in mind, I couldn't really begrudge another actor benefitting from the same opportunity I'd had, so that was that".
So were you surprised to eventually get a call to work on Attack of the Clones?
"Surprised and very pleased!"
Back for more Neimoidian antics, Alan as Lott Dod in EPISODE II.
In EPISODE TWO's finale, Alan would play Lott Dod (right) to Silas Carson's Nute Gunray.
Alan would also partake in some of Plo Koon's brief scenes in the Geonosian Death Arena, too.
What did your involvement in Episode Two consist of? What character, and how long did you spend working on it?
"I was involved in the reshoots that happened over here in the UK in 2002 after the main filming in Australia. It wasn't a great deal of time at all as it goes, 2 or 3 days at the most. The first segment was in the Geonosis War Room (my scene with Christopher Lee) playing Lott Dod. Now... for some reason that I've been unable to figure out, the role I played in this scene has caused some controversy amongst the fan base. Apparently there are some fans that have claimed I wasn't in this scene and it was played by another actor. This is interesting because I do have quite clear memories of shooting this scene, receiving the script and contract for it (and getting paid for it). I really can't remember anyone not authorized being on set, hiding behind a light fixture and taking notes. I am, of course, being a little flippant here but I do have to say that these rumours that I was playing a totally different character (that I'd never heard of) with a different name really is much ado about nothing. I was contracted to play Lott Dod for Episode Two. It was Lott Dod's name on the script and my contract. The reason why I was playing it was because Silas Carson was already in the scene playing Nute Gunray and as talented as he is, he can't split himself in two. The other scene I shot was in the Geonosis Arena Battle, playing Plo Koon, which I think, apart from seeing me run by in one of the shots, didn't make it to the final film. Probably just as well as my lightsaber technique really isn't what it should be!"
Alan as Jedi Master Plo Koon from EPISODE ONE. Plo has now become a beloved character in THE CLONE WARS animated series.
Finally Alan, you originated Plo Koon, of course, who never spoke in the movies but has become a prominent character in The Clone Wars animated TV show. Have you seen the show and how does Plo Koon compare now to what you may have envisioned him in your mind?
"I've got to be honest here and confess that I've still not seen The Clone Wars. I think the reaction to Plo Koon from the fans has been amazing. When we were in pre production, I'd chatted to the creature FX team about what George had asked of them, his thoughts on the character and how they'd physicalized that in the make up. From very early on we were all singing from the same hymn sheet, as it were and I think that shows. I think that when you have a unified base like that, that the evolution of the character can be interesting and solid and from what I hear the guys behind The Clone Wars have done just that".
Thank you Alan, it's been an absolute pleasure.
Alan as the doomed human scientist, Andy Stone, infected and possessed by Martian water in one of his most recent DOCTOR WHO TV series appearances: THE WATERS OF MARS.
Selected picture research by Ian Trussler, Scott Weller and Chris Baker. With thanks to Chris Baker for selected compositions.

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