I knew that our interview with Gareth Edwards, the director of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, would be great from the first sentence he spoke when he walked in, “I just passed Riz and he said they are all so nice!“. Gareth had introduced the 28 minutes of the film that we saw the night before, and I had been really looking forward to speaking with him. The interview did not disappoint.
The first thing we talked about with Gareth was if there was anything he would have done to prepare for this film had he known he was going to direct it his whole life. “I probably would have spent every single day been a nervous wreck. Not do any homework or schoolwork and I probably would never have had a job. I would have sat and prepared it for 30 odd years and then the day it began, I think I would have brought in everything saying okay, I know exactly what to do and then realize I would have wasted my entire life. There’s something about the organic process of making a film. If you are a dictatorship, like the Empire, and you say it’s gonna be this, this, and this, I think you limit how great the film can become. Even though it was a massive movie, and there’s all this pressure to have a specific plan, we were gonna keep it incredibly fluid. So we had 360 degree sets where we could film in any direction. I remember on day 1 in this set called Jedha, which is one of the cities that we go through where the force believers are, we started filming, and the actors could do what they want. I just happened to pan left and there suddenly was all these crew members in shot that suddenly ran out of frame. Then the next day we came and the same sort of thing happened where I pan left, and the crew were there, but this time they’re all wearing Star Wars costumes. They’d all learned to put robes on and that way, wherever the camera went, they could be in it if they had to be.”
Star Wars fans love the franchise so much that I can only imagine taking on this film must have been intimidating for Gareth. We asked him how he overcame knowing the rabid fan base will scrutinize every word and action – but no pressure. “There’s a line in the original where Luke Skywalker is doing the attack run on the Death Star through the trench. He’s got the computer and he turns it off. Someone goes, ‘Luke! You’ve turned off your computer!’ And he goes, ‘It’s okay, I’m all right.’ It’s kinda like that. He trusts the force. So, just turn off your computer, not look at the internet, and just believe you can bulls eye this. Everyone’s shooting at you but just believe in yourself, and go for it. To me, that’s the takeaway from the original film – if you believe you can do something, and you never give up, then you can achieve anything.”
We asked Gareth if he had any specific people in mind when choosing his cast. The story he told about selecting Ben Medelsohn to play Krennic was one of the highlights of the interview. “You try not to think of anyone to start with, and then it gets really difficult to keep talking about someone, and not being able to visually picture them. Inevitably you end up [thinking of so-and-so] – sometimes they’re a character from a film – like so and so from that movie. I loved Animal Kingdom. I thought it was one of the best films in a long time – and then forgot about it. Then [I] watched a film called Startup. I came away that night going we’ve got to call this guy. This guy is Krennic – we’ve got to try and get him. As I came into work, I [thought] I’m gonna pitch this to the producer. I walked into the office [and] Simon, one of the producers, [asked to] stop [me] a second to talk about Krennic. He’d watched a totally different film – and he said Ben Mendelson. I was about to say Ben Mendelson – it was really weird. From that point on, we were not gonna take no for an answer – and thank god Ben’s a massive Star Wars fan.”
He told us how he came to sign Ben on to Rogue One. “I met him on a rooftop in LA, which sounds really glamorous, but it was raining. We wanted to be [somewhere] no one could hear [us] so [we] could talk. I would get really paranoid about waiters because once you say the word Darth Vader, they’re gonna pay attention. As soon as I talked about Star Wars [to Ben], he was just giggling and going ‘hehehehehe’. I was, like, you’re a fan? He’s, like, I love it! I watched it all the time as a kid. So I was thinking, okay, we might be all right.”
We asked just how Gareth got to direct Rogue One. “I’m not really sure how that happened, but I think the big break for me – there was two. I went to film school – I wanted to make films, that’s all I ever wanted to do as a kid – and graduated. I’d read the Steven Spielberg story of how you make a short film and then Hollywood calls, and then you go off directing movies. I worked in a supermarket [after I graduated]. I tried to earn some money to buy a computer so I could learn software because it felt like this was gonna be the future of film-making. It was all developed here with George and ILM. I thought you could make a film from home, on a home computer. I [thought I] just needed six months and I could learn the software to go make one. It took me more like ten years to be any good. I had spent that time doing visual effects for things like the BBC and discovery channel. Then one day I just thought, I’ve had enough. I can’t live with myself, being an old man, having never tried to do what I really wanted to do, which was become a director. So I quit my job and went and made a film where there was just five of us traveling around Central America. I did all the visual effects myself, and shot it. We showed it at South by Southwest – the projection broke down – and then at the end of the thing, this guy comes up to me and he gives me a business card. He says I’d love to talk to you whenever you’ve got a moment. The next day, as if by magic, he turned up, he just found me somehow. He said, I’m from an agency in Hollywood, and I represent directors, and I’d like to represent you. I’m with Quinton Tarantino and Tim Burton, and from that day on, my life changed.”
We noticed several details in Rogue One that were pulled from the original movies. For example, the blue milk and the set up of Jyn’s home. We asked if Gareth got to use any actual props from the first trilogy. “They never anticipated that Star Wars would become this when they made it so there’s not a record of what an object is. I can’t talk about some things because they’re spoilers, but there was definitely some. On Yavin, which is the rebel planet, there’s a guy that, as the Millennium Falcon comes in, he follows it with this speed gun. We were calling the art department [but they] have no record of what that object he’s holding is. So we called the guy that [was holding it in the original film] and asked do you remember what that was? He said [they] grabbed a light meter for the camera and something else and taped it together.” Gareth confessed that they pulled up the scene in high resolution and recreated it best they could.
Gareth also told us a story about how he, literally, left his mark on Star Wars. “For my 30th birthday, I went to Tunisia, and woke up on the day I turned 30 in Luke Skywalker’s house. I took some blue dye with me because I wanted to drink blue milk at the very table where he does. I actually made a blue milk glass drink and drank it – and then dropped it. It went all over the floor and there’s this big blue stain now. I felt really bad because this is cinema history.”
I asked Gareth how it felt to be telling a part of the story that is arguably one of the most, if not the most, important events in the Star Wars canon. Without those plans, the Death Star just destroys everything. “It’s feels like what the characters feel like in that it was an impossible mission. It was like something you’re not supposed to succeed at, or survive. Trying to make a good, or great Star Wars film – or something that lives up to those masterpieces I grew up with – is nearly impossible. It was very much like we became a band of rebels making the film – and we were rebellious! We did things we weren’t supposed to do – there’s a set way of making these big movies [but] we would try things. Say the shoot was 10 hours long – the last hour was like a playground. We’d get what we needed for the scene, and for the last hour, [we would say to the actors] do whatever you want. A lot of the stuff that was in the trailer came from things like that. The picture of Krennic in the white cape with the big blue sphere behind him – that was just messing around. And Felicity going in the tunnel [and it] lights up around her, as she turns around. That was the same sort of thing. As she walks into the tunnel, someone just turned the lights on – I saw the lights go on around her, and I was, like, ‘oh my god! That looks really good!’” Gareth then explained that they filmed that for about 40 minutes and got some great shots. I love when directors let things naturally happen on set – I think it makes for a great film. I cannot wait to see the full Rouge One: A Star Wars Story this weekend!
Be sure you see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – in theaters now!
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