From playing Cliff Richard's all dancing, all singing buddy to the hapless assistant/guinea pig of James Bond's gadget maker Q, Jeremy Bulloch has had a varied and prolific career which has spanned over forty years.
His most famous role though is Boba Fett, the greatest Bounty Hunter in the galaxy and nemesis of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in the classic Star Wars films. It's a part that still sees him invited to conventions and signing sessions over twenty years on to meet with thousands of fans.
He recently played a cameo role in the third and final Star Wars prequel, Revenge Of The Sith, returning to the Star Wars set for the first time in over two decades.
What made you want to become an actor?
Well, being an actor from the age of 12 was almost decided for me. I was at prep school and was about to take a scholarship exam, which was then called the 11 plus exam, and I would have gone to public school, but I didn't pass the exam and so that was the end of that. Soon after that my mum's best friend, Barbara Wainwright who was a continuity girl said "why doesn't he go to drama school?" I loved singing and painting scenery, I was about ten at the time. I also went up for a part in a film called 'Bang Bang, You're Dead' with Jack Warner. I didn't get it but that's when it was sort of decided for me, I didn't say "I'm leaving school and I want to be an actor" at 12. My father was a bit upset but really it's all through failing that exam because if I had passed, who knows? I might have been a professional sportsman, I don't know but academically I wasn't very good. Within six months I ended up at drama school which saved my mum and dad money because they didn't have much then.
Who inspired you?
In the very early days of my career I remember working up at MGM in Elstree which is no longer there. I was walking along in my school uniform from the stage school with the chaperone and walking towards me were Robert Mitchum and Alan Ladd. I don't remember what film they were making but it was so busy, like you see in these films that are shot at a studio. There were people in Roman gear and what have you and you don't see that anymore, that studio was packed. I was saying to myself, "Gosh he's (Alan Ladd) quite small" and he winked at me and Robert Mitchum said "Hi son!" and I thought wow! Robert Mitchum spoke to me! Those two inspired me very early on, because they were really nice people. They didn't know who the hell I was. I always thought Alan Ladd was a very good screen actor despite him not being a very tall man. So, those two were the first real actors that I saw in person when I was doing a small part of a page boy in a hotel in something, which was virtually an extras part.
How did you get your first TV role in The Chequered Flag?
I was at Corona . They picked out photographs and the casting director said let's have him in (Jeremy Bulloch) and so and so and Michael Crawford. So I ended up reading with Michael Crawford and doing 'The Chequered Flag' which was huge fun.
What did you learn from this early experience in your career?
Well it was my first major TV role and I remember thinking that this isn't going to be easy because there was a strike on at ATV.
Michael Crawford took me up on his scooter to Silverstone to a publicity shoot with the go-karts. I saw him many years later playing in a charity football match that I used to participate in. He was exactly the same and I said do you remember 'The Chequered Flag' and he said "Gosh, do I!"
It's funny that its just flown by yet I saw when I was trying to get my book published which is finally out, I was looking through the photographs and I went through all the stills and there was a picture of my father in the series with one of the go-karts.
You later appeared in two musicals back to back. The first of these was Play It Cool starring Billy Fury and directed by Michael Winner and then of course Summer Holiday starring Cliff Richard. They look like fun to make but were they quite hard to make?
Certainly 'Summer Holiday' was hard work. I joined the cast a little bit late, about a week late for the dancing and my audition in front of Herb Ross, the choreographer wasn't very good. It was actually pretty awful I have to say. I got through the reading with the director Peter Yates who's a lovely man and I really have to thank Richard O'Sullivan who was in 'The Young Ones' and was my best mate at drama school. He was in a film called 'Cleopatra' which ran way over budget and time and he was so late they had to recast. It was supposed to be the same gang as 'The Young Ones' but then he came back to do 'Wonderful Life' quite rightly. So I stepped in to play Edwin, which was huge fun.
It's a film that defines the 1960's in a way.
Well it does. I looked at it the other day with my Granddaughter who loves singing the songs and they still hold up. Some of the dialogue is a little bit dated but the innocence of it is what's so lovely. I enjoyed the singing and dancing, that was huge fun. I'm not a singer, I can sing with people, but everything I've done I've really enjoyed otherwise there is no point being an actor. There are some tough jobs, 'Play It Cool' was not hard work, but done at quiet a rate. I think it was the first film Michael Winner did and he's gone on to do the 'Calm Down Dear' commercials now!
You played a key role in the BBC soap opera The Newcomers, which sadly no longer exists in their archives.
Well, it's interesting that at the time there was another soap opera on twice a week called 'United' which was about soccer. I remember going up in 1965 for this interview and they all agreed that I matched the look of the family very well despite my mother in the programme, Maggie Fitzgibbon, being Australian. They told me that they had reached a decision and in the back of my mind I was thinking "Oh no! I want to be in United!" because I knew they were casting that and were asking for people who played soccer. I played to a good standard then and would have been 19, but it didn't last the course and 'The Newcomers' went on and I remember thinking, "I've got to get out because I'm going to have a problem doing any other job," and it was true that for 18 months I didn't do anything for the BBC. I was almost growing a moustache and beard and going in and they would say "Jeremy it doesn't make any difference you look like Philip Cooper" (the character I played in the show). So I did a lot of theatre and a lot of tours and got into the West End with two of them and then eventually went back in a series called 'Doctors' playing funnily enough, a soccer player. That was the first job for the BBC in two and a half years. It was tough then but today you come out of a soap opera and go straight into your own series. You might play the same part but no one cares anymore. Some of the people who have come out of soaps like Tasmin Outhwaite have done fantastically well. I forget that she was in 'Eastenders', that's how good she is.
I'd like to speak about the film Hoffman which you starred in with Peter Sellers - what are your memories of working with Sellers?
They were manic times because he used to say "Stay behind, stay behind! Do you want to go for lunch?' and I'd say "No I don't think so," as I was keen to learn my lines for the next day. It was a small cast of four and he used to practice his funny voices on us. He was huge fun and no one knew what was going on behind all that. I hadn't a clue, I just did my job, he was really nice to me and we had a lot of fun. He said to me, "This is a funny film isn't it?" and he used to make me laugh all the time. There were times when I was thinking that was going to be going to be fired if I didn't keep a straight face and stop giggling. Sellers was shouting "Er.Jeremy's laughing everybody, I'm very sorry but Jeremy is laughing. It's outrageous. Stop it!" and I'd be begging him to stop. We eventually got through it. I suppose he was a complicated character, but at the time I didn't know that. I was a young actor and just did my job.
Did you rate Sellers as an actor?
Yes, you can't say he was a comic, as a comedy actor he was excellent. When you look at him in things like 'The Pink Panther,' It's wonderful stuff, his timing is superb. You hear stories about his complicated life, but you must judge him for what he has done for the whole profession.
To 1973 and Lindsay Anderson's O' Lucky Man. What was he like as a director?
I always found Lindsay to be great fun, I worked with him a few times. I did a commercial for a Ewbank sweeper where we had a days rehearsal! I thought why does he want a days rehearsal? I'm just cleaning the floor! But he knew what he wanted. I always found him to be the kind of man who loved praise. I'd say "That's fantastic the way you are shooting that Lindsay" and he'd say "Do you think so?"
When he asked me years after "O' Lucky Man" to be in 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' at Stratford East I had to decline. I don't know if he took it as an affront, but I never worked with him again.
He was always phoning my agent and saying "I think Jeremy would be good in this. No money of course, its theatre! But I'd like him in 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!' After saying I'm sorry but I can't I'm doing something else, I don't think that went down very well. I was going to be in ' Britannia Hospital ' but was never called. He had an ensemble cast and they all worked with him time and time again.
I also missed out on 'This Sporting Life' at the Royal Court . I said "I'm a rugby player" and they said, "I think you are going to be too young" and I never heard about that although it would have been terrific to have done that, but that's life.
What do you think makes a good director?
First of all he's got to understand actors and different temperaments. I've worked with some very good directors. Some are short tempered and can almost make people weep. I've had directors shouting at me "No, no, no, no, NO!" and then they come up and say "Sorry about that, I've been under stress with editing last night etc." As long as they apologise or say "I think I was getting the wrong message to you," its understandable.
You defiantly want a strong director who knows exactly what he wants and is happy if you want to try something different. They might say "Yes try it, I don't think its right but by all means have a go and I'll have a look at both takes." He's seeing that you want to try something, but if he thinks in the cutting room that the way he asked you to do it is the way that works best then I respect that.
I don't want an indecisive director. He must have done the preparation beforehand.
What can an actor do in order to be prepared on set?
I do my homework by getting into the character, learning the lines and being spot on. Also you've got to know what scenes are scheduled for tomorrow and learn those because they might say "Uh oh! Here comes the rain that's it, we'll jump to scene 54" and you panic because you don't know it! The main thing is to be aware that things might change, that somebody might be ill. You have to pre-empt that something might happen. Preparation is everything!
1977 brought your first brush with Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me rushing around Ken Adams fantastic supertanker set. And you later appeared in a different role as Q's long suffering assistant Smithers. How does working on these compare to your earlier work?
You get more money! When you see the huge set in 'The Spy Who Loved Me' it was just extraordinary. First of all you had the interior of the submarine which was fantastic enough. Then I was getting shot to pieces on that supertanker set with stuntmen falling into the water. It was just incredible. When you look at it and think how much it was costing and then thought about the old days where they would turn the backdrop around to change the set or they would use different angles it was just incredible. I read somewhere that Stanley Kubrick secretly helped to light the Bond set as it was so vast!
Who do you think should play the next Bond?
Well it's very difficult role to cast now. I think (like a lot of people) that Sean Connery was the best and Roger Moore was very good. Brosnan was acting too much in his earlier ones but got better as he went on. It's a tough act to follow. Clive Owen would be my choice and he just got an Oscar nomination, so that would help him.
I'm trying to get my agent to get me into the next one in John Cleese's laboratory just as a brief return.
How did you get the role of Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back?
My half brother Robert Watts was the production manager. When they were filming the second film he phoned me and said "Get your agent onto this, it's not much, only a couple of days but they want to see people to play the bounty hunters." I was told that they only had one costume and I always say that if I hadn't fitted the costume, I wouldn't have got the part. It was as simple as that. There was one outfit which zipped up at the back. It was almost tailored, the leggings drifted over the shoe. It was as if it was meant to be. A perfect fit. I walked into the audition room George Lucas said "Yeah that's fine. Well its not very much Jeremy but we'll see you on Monday." That night I told my sons and they thought it was cool. The two to three days turned into five weeks then I was asked back for 'Return of the Jedi' for another four weeks.
Boba Fett made his first appearance in the lauded Star Wars Holiday special which Lucasfilm has all but erased from existence. Have you ever successfully watched the whole thing or have you just seen the scenes that contain your character?
Yes, I saw the sort of cartoon that Boba Fett appeared in that was part of the show. I thought it was terrible, although it was nice to see the character in it. I think one of the reasons that Boba Fett became popular is that you could send off for a Boba Fett if you bought a certain amount of figures. You couldn't initially buy him in the shops. I remember being shown a plastic toy of Boba Fett and I hadn't even finished the film! I thought that was rather cool. In those days you didn't know what the memorabilia meant at all and the amount of stuff that's been made of Boba Fett is second only to Darth Vader. It's quite extraordinary.
Boba Fett, makes a huge impact with surprisingly little screen time. How difficult was it to get the attitude of his movements right?
Well, perhaps I put myself down a bit but when fans say "I like the bit where you turn round or the way you press a switch." I say "Well I was probably falling asleep at the time!" I was working in the theatre at night and luckily as a masked character you couldn't see that I was quite tired.
I used to stand in a certain way and tilt my head and use small specific movements. He loved his weaponry so I would cradle the gun in my arms and do things in the hope that people notice.
So in Jabba The Hutt's Palace as the camera pans across I would move my head a small amount. As you are doing that, you are working with the camera. The strength of Boba Fett is not action. It is standing totally still with just the odd movement.
There is a scene in 'Return of The Jedi' with the dancing girls that was added in for the special edition where he tickles one of the girls on the chin but don't think its something he would do. They might hit on him, but he would always be on guard. There must be many people and aliens after him and he wouldn't want to be caught with his trousers down.
Do you feel that the characters mystique has been diminished by the filling in of his character in the prequels?
If I was writing it I would make sure that you never, ever saw his face. To keep the mystique he doesn't take the helmet off. You see Darth Vader unveiled but with Boba Fett it would be best if you never see his face. You might hear him but you never get a good look.
I met with Daniel Logan who plays the young Boba Fett and Temuera Morrison who played his father a few years ago it was great. Temuera said, "Well you started it all." People ask me about the voice which wasn't mine to start with. It was dubbed by an American actor called Jason Wingreen. On the new DVD versions it was dubbed by Temuera Morrison and although I understand why they did it, I don't think they needed to change the voice. It was originally raspy but now has the New Zealand stress on different words. It's not Temuera's fault but they've done it so that there is a strong continuity between films.
The great thing is that there is always a talking point. Fans will say "Why has he changed that?" What's intriguing is that George is doing exactly what he wants. That's really what it's about.
In his audio commentary on the Star Wars DVD George Lucas admits to underestimating the appeal of the character, hence the quick and undignified death (Boba Fett ends up being clobbered by a blind Han Solo and falling into the belching jaws of a monster). How would you like Boba to have gone?
I think he should have gone after a much better fight than that! As a very good soldier and as a very cool character I thought he went far too quickly. He should at least have shown some of the real fire power but that's filming. When I was asked back to do 'Return Of The Jedi' the fans were very excited but I played it down and I'm glad I had that attitude.
Again though, it was enormous fun to do. It was a shame I went a little bit too early, but that's showbiz.
Does it surprise you that your signature is often sold for tidy amounts of money on eBay?
It annoys me when it isn't mine. There have been a few times that this has happened and it makes me exceptionally angry. People can have my autograph for nothing. The worst thing I've seen is fake charities on eBay which has happened twice.
You were recently on the set of the third and final star wars prequel. What was it like filming a cameo in the new movie and what if anything had changed?
When I did it I was quite nervous actually. I didn't have much dialogue, a line and a half but George was exactly the same, there was a lovely relaxed atmosphere but my work was mainly with the green screen. I knew the camera man, the assistants and the photographer was in 'Play It Cool' with me, Keith Hampshire and he's now a top film photographer and we had a long chat after. It was wonderful. I was there for a day and the atmosphere was magic. If I'm in the final cut then good, if not then that's tough.
People have already sent in the post an image from the website from Starwars.com of me in the film and it is a horrible blurred blow up. It's a terrible photograph, it's not an official shot and I've sent it back with a letter saying I can't sign this until its official.
What is the best thing about being part of the Star Wars story?
I've done a lot of work but at least I'll be remembered as Boba Fett. People will always remember Star Wars even in 50 years time. Hopefully people will remember you from theatre plays and television, but to be known for being part of the Star Wars saga, it's a part of history.
I get to travel the world to various conventions, which I'm making the most of now because in a year or so's time I won't want to travel quite as much as I'd rather see more of my grandchildren.
What is the worst thing about being involved in the Star Wars story?
I think the worst thing, although it never really worries me too greatly, is people maybe begin to forget the other things that you have done. Real sci-fi fans will pick up on 'Doctor Who,' some people want to talk about 'Robin Of Sherwood.' The sad thing about it is it can just be about Star Wars. It's lovely when people say "I remember you in Billy Bunter when I was abut 15 years old," it's great to be able to talk about that. I would never say "Oh I've done this and that, don't ask me Star Wars questions!" If you are invited to America or wherever the convention is, it is rude to then not talk about the films that you have been asked to speak about. I don't think any of the Star Wars actors do that though, when we all meet up we have a terrific time. There's a lot of camaraderie with a lot of the English actors and even with Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker). Carrie always gives me a huge hug and Mark says "Hey, how are you?" We're all actors, although the ones in costume are just listening to the direction as George Lucas is making this wonderful picture come alive and we are just part of it.
What is your preferred medium (film, TV or theatre) and why?
Theatre has to be best, I haven't done theatre for 8 years which is a long time for me and I think I might go back to it very soon. Maybe even to do a rep season. I was asked to do that at Windsor two years ago to do three plays and it was too much but it would be nice to get back to the theatre and do something like that. I don't think I've been lazy I've used the last eight years well. I'm a dad and a granddad with eight grandchildren and three sons.
How choosey are you about what kind of parts you play ?
That's a good question. It's a lot of luck really.
In 1990 and 1991 I toured the Middle and Far East with two Derek Nimmo plays and he said we are going to Jordan and told me there was the possibility of a war starting (which was the first Gulf War) and I said "No, that's fine. He said "This is the thing. You have to be under contract, you can't work for anybody else for two years." You should never say no though. A lot of actors say I never do commercials I don't tour etc and you end up working in one medium and once you get known for turning down work you won't get offered very much.
What do you look for in a script?
Well as long as it bounces off the page and you can learn it quickly. The dialogue needs to flow off the page. A lot of the time you can learn it one the page. Certain things that are not well written, you can make the mistake of thinking it is well written. I don't think you can be the perfect judge of a brilliant script. You can say this is fantastic and it turns out to be a load of tosh.
Having a career that has spanned five decades, how do you feel that the business has changed?
Well in the last ten years reality television and makeover programmes and the like are the death knoll. Luckily we have digital television and there is some good stuff on there. If these reality shows carry on much longer, our television will become even more trashy than the Americans. I know things have to move ahead but I used to love it when we only had three channels. There was a sense that everybody in the country was watching pretty much the same thing. I just feel some of the reality shows are an insult to people's intelligence. When on 'Big Brother they have celebrities, I don't want to see them going to sleep! Why! 'I'm A Celebrity' is slightly better because Ant and Dec are so good, but after five minutes I'm bored with that. I want to see a good drama or comedy and they are getting thin on the ground.
What advice would you offer to anyone looking for a similar career to yours?
Well, if you need to think about it, don't. You have to be determined to keep going and not think, "Oh no there's another rejection!" When you see 'Pop Idol' or 'The X-Factor' and the panel say "No, you're not for us," then they act like their whole worlds over! They are not even taught to say "Hey, I tried my best but I'm going to go back to square one and try again." I was taught at drama school and by directors to say if you don't get that job, there's always the next one. I always say "It's their loss! They're not going to use me, so what!" So you make a joke out of it in a way. You mustn't be defeated straight away. If you are a drama student you should have a second trade. Something else to do is a good idea, because acting today is more like a hobby than a job.
I'm sad to say that especially when you get to the age of 50, the parts aren't there anymore. People say "Oh yes there are more interesting character roles, but for David Jason and John Thaw then yes, there are the parts but you can't be a pilot or a policeman on the beat past a certain age. So from 24 to 46, that's a good time to be working. It's even harder for actresses. The parts just aren't there. Unless you are Maggie Smith or Judi Dench but there isn't that much work. My advice is to think twice. If you really want to do it then and have that drive, like I had and still have, then pray for good luck! In the earlier days it was very tough, I had to make sacrifices. During the hard times you have to get your hands dirty but if you want to rehearse a play in case something comes up that's fine. In the meantime you just have to go out and do another job.