Interview with stunt co-ordinator Nick Gillard (Mr. Optimism)- March 2004


Nick Gillard feels the Force will be strong in Star Wars: Episode III. “It’s going to be the best prequel. I can’t see how it won’t be,” says Gillard, the veteran stunt co-ordinator whose outstanding fight sequences have been one of the undisputed highlights of the new Star Wars trilogy.

“Episode III has got everything the other films had and more! The movie is 60 to 70 per cent fighting. Ewan [McGregor, Obi-Wan Kenobi] had 1,000 moves to learn, as opposed to the three pages he had to learn in The Phantom Menace. There’s tons of fighting in this one.”

“Episode III also ties in beautifully with all the other movies. And when I read the script, I was really surprised by how emotional it is.”

“Everyone working on the film took so much care with it,” he states. “Nobody wants to get it wrong.”

Fighting Talk-
Set three years after events in Attack of the Clones, Episode III focuses on the fall of the Jedi, the rise of the Empire and Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader. As the film is currently in the early stages of post-production and won’t be released until May 2005, Gillard is understandably reluctant to give too much away about specific plot points at this early stage. But he does confirm that the movie features the long-awaited lightsaber duel between Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and his former mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

“It’s a monster of a sequence,” reveals Gillard. “I had a couple of years to think about it and think about what George [Lucas, writer/director] had told me about it, and it was daunting because I knew how important that sequence is. I spent probably a year deconstructing the Jedi style of fighting to make it work. I had Hayden with me eight weeks before we started shooting it and I had Ewan six weeks, which wasn’t really enough time, so we often had to rehearse at weekends during the filming.”

“If it comes out like I saw it being shot, it’s going to be phenominal,” he promises.

Gillard also reports that the duel will explain how Obi-Wan is able to defeat his protege, even though Anakin has been established as the most powerful Jedi who ever lived. “Obi-Wan taught Anakin and Anakin has gone past him,” he notes. “But when you get to that duel, it’s emotional. That’s where the mistake will be made. And if you know the characters, you know Obi-Wan isn’t going to get emotional and he doesn’t make mistakes.”

Anakin’s grisly demise at the end of the duel is set to be one of the most chilling moments in the entire saga. It will also help make Episode III the most intense Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back.

“Episode III is really dark,” confirms Gillard. “There’s rumours of it being a PG. I’ve made it as violent as I absolutely possibly can. If something had to be cut off in a scene, it was a painful thing!”

In-between choreographing Episode III’s epic action sequences, Gillard also filmed a cameo role in the movie. “I am in it as a hologram. George said I had to be in it. He wanted to call me “The Troll’, but I managed to change it to ‘Cin Drallig’, my name backwards—though I will probably end up as The Troll.”

“It was nice to do, and I think I will become an action figure eventually-they laser-beamed me along with everyone else.”

Duel Purpose-
A veteran stunt co-ordinator whose credits include Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, Interview with a Vampire and Aliens, Gillard began working on the Star Wars prequel trilogy in 1997, when he joined the crew of Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace. His first task was to develop a new style of lightsaber fighting for the trilogy’s characters.

“I loved the original films,” he says, “but once I took the job, I looked at them and thought, “Things have moved on. I can’t make the fights the same as they were back then. I have to up the ante’.”

“I developed different styles for the characters, and gave each of them a flaw or a bonus. So with Obi, for instance, he’s got a very business-like style-when he was younger he could border on the flashy and might twirl his lightsaber a bit, because he was taught by Qui-Gonn. Qui-Gonn was brash, that rubbed off on Obi and Obi then taught Anakin, who was way too old to learn anyway.” “I think the style really worked well. The Jedi style of fighting is an amalgamation of all the great swordfighting styles. Melding them together is the difficult part-to move from a Kendo style to, say, Rapier requires a complete change in body and feet movement, and this must look effortless. The style moves seamlessly between the different disciplines, but remains technically correct throughout. It’s unlike any other style of fighting and I think it’s beautiful to watch.” In addition to developing the character’s fighting styles, Gillard trained the actors to bring them to life, in a deliberate effort to avoid using stunt doubles. He is full of praise for everyone’s efforts on the movies, especially those of his leading Jedi. “Ewan McGregor can just do anything,” he notes. “I’ve known Ewan for years and whatever you give him to do, he can do it. I would have thought that no one could have become better than Ewan-after Phantom and Attack of the Clones, he just looked like the best. But Hayden learned fast and is now leagues ahead of everybody. He is terrifying!” Gillard’s work on the films’ lightsaber duels doesn’t end with the principal photography, though. He is heavily involved in the development of the fighting styles employed by the movies’ computer-generated character, including Jedi Master Yoda. “I worked with Rob Coleman and John Knoll at ILM on the Yoda stuff in Clones,” he explains. “I think we did alright with it. It came up very quickly, because originally the fight between Anakin and Dooku was going to be much longer and we shot a much longer sequence, but that was dropped for the Yoda fight. At the time I thought, ‘ Oh no, it’s going to look so bad….’, but I was quite impressed when I saw it. I think if I had been six or seven years old, I would have been blown away. And it won Best Fight at the MTV Awards!” Reflecting on the first two Star Wars prequels, Gillard is aware that neither The Phantom Menace nor Attack of the Clones seem to have captured cinemagoers’ imagination in quite the same ways as the original films. But he maintains that they are worthy additions to the saga, and is proud of his own contributions to them. “The prequels were never going to be what people remembered, because they were a lot younger when they saw the original films. It’s a personal thing,” he notes. “But I liked both of them, I actually liked Phantom Menace more than Clones-I know who George makes these films for: he makes them for children.” “I’m happy with my work on the films,” he continues. “You always want to do more, of course, and you don’t have any control over editing and stuff. But I think it’s great.” Following the completion of principal photography on Episode III at the end of September, Nick Gillard is aware that the bulk of his work on the Star Wars prequel trilogy-is done. He also feels that his time in a galaxy far, far away will always hold a special place in his heart. “It’s been an amazing experience,” he declares. “It can spoil you for other things, because it’s not studio backed and Rick McCallum is the best producer in the world-he will give you anything you want, anywhere you want it, any time. When you go to America, you’ll walk into a shop and people will know who you are and that you worked on Star Wars, even though you’re just the stunt co-ordinator. And, of course, you get offered everything after doing Star Wars without an interview-although when you meet the filmmakers, they don’t want to talk about their films, they just want to talk about Star Wars!” “It’s been a fantastic seven years. It was weird getting the job and realising I’d be doing it for seven years, but I’m really happy to have done the three films. I would have hated it if anyone else had done them.”

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