A little film called Star Wars: The Force Awakens is coming out this week; you may not have heard of it. As part of the publicity campaign to get the word out, Disney and Lucasfilm held a press conference last weekend featuring the cast, director, producer and screenwriter of the film. Moderated by Mindy Kaling (The Office; The Mindy Project), there were two panels; in the first, Director J.J. Abrams, Daisy Ridley (Rey), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Lupita Nyong’o (Mas Canata), Carrie Fisher (Leia) and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan answered questions from both Kaling and members of the audience. In the second, the participants were Harrison Ford (Han Solo), John Boyega (Finn), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Oscar Isaac (Poe), and Producer Kathleen Kennedy.
Here are some highlights:
I got to ask a question; if you watch the video, you can spot the exact moment when I realized I was talking to Harrison Ford and my brain froze up.
J.J. Abrams on why he wanted to make the film:
“Here’s the thing. This is a project that I felt incredibly lucky to be asked to be a part of, and I think I speak for all of us, except for maybe Harrison, when I say, this was not a job. I’m kidding, Harrison, you know, was unbelievable. But the process of this movie, to a person on the crew, to a person on the cast, this was not a job, and it was nothing that I think any one of us took on because it was a gig that was available. It was something that felt like a true passion and something that every single person brought much more than any of could have expected, and so I do honestly feel honored to be part of this group.”
Adam Driver on Kylo Ren:
“I think he’s very unpolished and unfinished and I think what J.J. and Larry did, keeping all the vocabulary that everyone’s very familiar with of Star Wars and the dark side and keeping that very much intact, but also adding a kind of recklessness or something that’s kind of un-neat about that I think people normally associate with the dark side being organized and very in control and calm and in command.”
Lawrence Kasdan on Kylo Ren:
“And that’s why we’re so excited about Adam playing this part, because there’s never been a character like Kylo in the saga. And no, he hasn’t got his s*** all together, I would say. And Adam acts it so beautifully because what you’re looking at is, you know, you expect that oh, this is some evil genius, you know, but what you’re getting is all the contradictions and the conflict that people feel, any one of us can feel at any moment. That’s what’s so amazing about it and I think that’s what’s unique about what Adam has done.”
Lupita Nyong’o on playing a CGI motion-capture character:
“Fortunately for me, J.J. had me be a part of principal photography, so my very first experience of motion capture was on the actual sets with the actual actors. So I am eternally grateful to him for giving me that, because it was a great way to get into this wonderful, crazy thing called motion capture. I got to be on those sets and see those things and feel them and the art direction in this, there’s so much detail, even when you’re standing on that set, that it’s mesmerizing, and I think audiences are going to be – they’re going to have a very immersive experience, much like we had filming it. And so it was good to have that and the physicality is something that then carries on into theater for sure, and that was a thing that attracted me to the idea of playing motion capture, the idea of working on a character that wasn’t limited by my physical circumstances and I could work with my body in new ways and I’ve continued that onto the stage.”
Abrams on Lupita Nyong-o:
“Like, if I can just say one thing that Lupita would not, which is that she was remarkably tireless and willing to experiment with different versions of this character, and it was kind of an amazing thing to discover over various iterations of Mas what she sounded like, how she moved. It was really – I’ve never been through this before with an actor where we got to discover again and again and again kind of how to better tell the story we were telling and it was just – I always felt guilty every time we started up another session, we did some reshoots, we did some work, and every single time, Lupita was willing and game and deeply committed and into finding Mas Canata’s voice, and again, I’m just eternally grateful.”
Abrams on continuing the original trilogy:
“When Kathy Kennedy and Larry and I started talking about what this was at the very beginning, the fundamental question was what did we want to feel, and what did we want people to feel when they came to this movie. And that was really the beginning of the discussion, and the answer was the kind of sense of discovery, exhilaration, surprise. The comedy that George Lucas put into Star Wars kind of was, for me, the thing that made me love the movie. But when you look at all the things that he got right, it’s impossible, and stunning. And so for us, at the very beginning, it was really about knowing why we were telling this story and it was to give people that sense of possibility and magic that we all felt when we first saw the original Star Wars. But I will just say that this is all to tell a new story. Meaning, it’s not a nostalgia trip. We had to go backwards in order to go forwards. And if you look at 4, 5, and 6 those are stories that continue. This is 7, so the history of 7 will be what we’ve seen before. So the fabric needed to be that that we are familiar with, in order to tell a brand new story.”
Daisy Ridley on “Girl Power” in the film:
“Well, obviously Princess Leia and Carrie is a source of inspiration for girls for the past thirty years, and I’m definitely not quite there yet, but I hope Rey will be something of a girl power figure, and I think with writing like J.J. and Larry’s, and with a story of which she is woven into richly and holds an important role, I guess there’s no other way except to say that she will have some impact in a girl power-y way. I’m so not eloquent, sorry. She’s brave and she’s vulnerable and she’s so nuanced. That’s what’s so exciting playing a role like this. She doesn’t have to be one thing to embody a woman in a film and for me, she’s not important ’cause she’s a woman, she’s just important. It just so happens that she’s a woman. Like, she transcends gender. She’s going to speak to men and women. But obviously we started with Leia, and Leia’s still there kicking ass. We got Mas kicking ass too. So it’s wonderful to be part of obviously with Kathy at the helm as well, a wonderful crew and cast of wonderful women.”
Lawrence Kasdan on the Star Wars canon:
“I think, you know, we were aware, we’re respectful of the canon, but we really wanted to tell a story that interested us and delighted us and we didn’t really want any rules and parameters particularly. We just said, we can do anything we want with this story. What would be the most fun thing to do on this page, and the next page, and the page after that? And that was sort of the guiding principle, I think, more than the canon or anything that had come before.”
Adam Driver on one of the themes of the film:
“It’s 30 years later, but the exact same things are going on in a way, which I thought was so telling; it was so true to life, even though I feel that’s very – we have such short memories of huge events and mass genocide; then we kind of forget about it, it seems, and there’s still the same people are in charge…it’s all a cyclical thing…and a lot of things have changed, like the setting, but really the circumstances are the same.”
Kasdan on films that influenced and inspired him in writing the script:
“Oh, yeah. All the movies of Akira Kurosawa have influenced me throughout my career. That’s because he was sort of the Shakespeare of cinema, he did comedies, he did action films, he did Shakespearean drama, and all of life is contained in each one of his films. Seven Samurai may be the greatest film ever made, is, you know, it’s a personal drama, it’s an action picture. So when J.J. and I were working, we kept referring to that, and then we would talk about the great American movies that we loved and things that had influenced the first Star Wars which is Howard Hawks and John Ford, and you know, all the – Flash Gordon. Because when George made A New Hope, he was influenced very much by Kurosawa, and by Flash Gordon, and by the Wizard of Oz. And I think that all those movies, you can feel them in A New Hope, and everything that’s in A New Hope has come down through the movies, to this day, I think.”
Abrams on whether there is an extra scene after the credits:
“No, there’s not. All the scenes are actually in the movie.”
Abrams on costume designs:
“So the costume that was the most challenging I think for us to arrive at, and Michael Kaplan, the costume designer, I cannot wait for you to see what he’s done in this movie. There are so many cool – and many of you have not seen at all, costumes that are extraordinary. the most difficult one was Kylo Ren, and we went through I don’t know how many hundreds and probably thousands of iterations and different versions, and one of the great things about that was, over the course of that, the costume for Captain Phasma was designed, that was actually pitched as a Kylo Ren costume originally, and for story reasons it didn’t make sense and didn’t work, but we suddenly realized, oh my god, this is one of the greatest-looking costumes I’ve ever seen. And he/then she became one of my favorite characters in the movie. But the design of Kylo Ren was the most difficult one and when we finally saw the mask in the beginning of that design, it was really instantly clear that was the winner, and I’m very grateful to Michael and his whole amazing team.”
Nyong’o on getting prepped for motion-capture:
“For me it took about – well, I didn’t have a costume because I was a motion capture character, but to get suited up it took about – in the beginning it took like two and half hours, maybe three. And then by the end we had it down to about an hour or an hour 15.”
J.J. ABRAMS: Lupita had dots on her teeth. Like everywhere. She had dots all over the place. Actually not until today have I met her without dots.”
Carrie Fisher on her costume:
“How long did it take to get into costume? About 10 minutes or 20. I’m older and I do it faster. No, really, 20 minutes. I have a kind of classy gas station attendant look. That’s not funny. So that doesn’t take long to put on.”
Harrison Ford on why he made this movie:
“It’s because it’s what I do. It’s what I like to do. It’s what’s fun for me. And I had a chance to work with people that I really admire, doing something that I thought was going to be fun, and which actually turned out to be fun, and to work with J.J., whose work I had really admired and long known about. And it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Kathleen Kennedy on what’s NOT in the movie:
“Jar Jar. Definitely not in the movie. Ewoks are definitely not in the movie.”
Ford on returning to Han Solo:
“It’s gratifying to be asked to be part of this. There was a interesting story to tell for the – through the character. It’s always nice to anticipate working in something that you know people will have an appetite for. This is not a crap shoot. This is – this is a big casino. And it’s fun to play with these toys again. It’s been a great experience.”
“I can tell you how it feels. It feels familiar. It feels good. It’s good to be home, as Hans says in the trailer, in the teaser trailer. It’s a – you know, I’m aware of the value that’s placed on these films by the audience, and I’m gratified that they’ve been passed on, the first three have been passed on generationally through family, and that there’s still an audience for those of us that were in the original film. There’s still some value to them in interpreting life somehow. And it’s a – and it’s a bit of a mystery, but it’s very gratifying to be part of that.”
“It seemed easy to come back to the character. Clothes make the man. I had walked more than a mile in those boots. I was interested in the described path of the character. I thought there was an interesting bit of business for the character to do. And I had been – I’d been having a real good time with J.J. Abrams, talking about it, and getting ready for the adventure of filming. So I was – it was easy.”
Gwendoline Christie on the positive response to Captain Phasma and the possibility of being cast as Captain Marvel:
“I was very surprised, and heartened at the overwhelming response to the character of Captain Phasma. But I really felt that what Kathleen, and J.J., and everyone had created at Star Wars was – I think J.J.’s been open about the fact that he wanted to respect the origins of the films and celebrate the, but to bring them into the modern day. And confirmation of that seemed to be, to me, in this amazing character of Captain Phasma, who is Star Wars’ first on screen female villain. And more than that, this is a character who, so far, we have related to due to her choices, due to her character, and not due to the way she has been made in flesh. And conventionally, that is how we have related to female characters. So this to me felt very progressive. And the response from the audience and the fans has been so celebratory, it makes me think that this is the kind of thing people want to see. People want to see a more diverse reflection of society. And I feel incredibly privileged to play that part. If anyone else wants to offer me any work, then I am very grateful and willing to listen. ”
Boyega on the the themes of the film:
“For me, I – I’m going to be honest. I really don’t care about the black stormtrooper stuff. I couldn’t care less. This is a movie about human beings, about Wookies, spaceships, and TIE fighters, and it has an undertone and a message of courage, and a message of friendship, and loyalty. And I think that’s something that is ultimately important. I watched the movie with Kathy just last week, and I really relate to Rey more than any of the characters. And to be in a circumstance where you have to find something bigger than who you are within yourself, is something that’s an inspiration to me. And I think that people take that away – in terms of the kids, all they’re going to be concentrating on is BB-8. Yeah.”
Boyega on recording his role for the Disney Infinity game:
“”I’ve had to go back twice – once for Disney Infinity, and the second time for Star Tours, the ride at Disneyland. And it’s been – to be a playable character – I get to play with myself! Booya! Disgusting. Sorry, I had to tell that joke. But it’s been amazing. It was fun. And the characters in Disney Infinity are more of the childlike versions of the characters in the movie, so that was very cool.”
Oscar Isaac on Poe’s back-story:
“I think this has been one of the coolest things about working on this with J.J. and with Lucasfilm, is that there’s been a real sense of collaboration with that kind of thing. There’s – it was almost a bit of a sandbox element of it. You know, we could talk about those things, and there was an evolution of the characters from – even from the first meeting with J.J., and Kathy, and Larry, to what ended up on screen. I mean, for example with me, after we had started filming, I was talking a bit about, you know, just kind of talking about where Poe could have been from. And the thing is, in New Hope, at the very end of New Hope at the Medals Ceremony, one of Guatemala’s claim to fame is that that last shot where the ships are leaving, where you see the temples, was shot in Guatemala. And then for me, the fact that I was born there, and that’s a rebel base, and I’m playing a rebel – a resistance fighter, a rebel fighter, I thought, “You know, maybe Poe was there. He was – you know, that’s where he’s from.” And then this comic book comes out, called Shattered Empire, where Poe’s parents ended up going to Yavin Four and making sweet love. And so that’s an amazing thing. It’s the first time, that you know, talking about where a character could have come from ends up in a comic book. And it’s kind of a – it’s a beautiful thing, that it feels like we’re creating these things together.”
Boyega on Finn’s back-story:
“I didn’t know much going in, because obviously, the spoilers and all that kind of stuff. But I do remember having the sides which were loosely based on who Finn and Rey was. But I just remember during my time screen testing, I was like to Daisy, “There’s no way that our stories are so simple.” And we still don’t know. So I’ve still got some conspiracy theories, as a fan, as to where Finn comes from. And I’m still trying to figure that out. But I like that it’s a mystery. I like that.”
Gwendoline Christie on Captain Phasma’s history:
“I was so heartened that it was a genuine, creative experience to work with J.J. about who the character was, and to develop that together. And really, without horribly ruining everything for everyone, I think it could be – it’s interesting to see where my character may go.”
On “fan theories” about the film:
OSCAR ISAAC: Like – that Jar Jar is Kylo Ren. That’s my favorite. I kind of wish that would be – that was true.
JOHN BOYEGA: I remember reading the theory that Finn is Mace Windu’s grandson, or something like that. And I was at a party, and someone behind me just tapped me on the shoulder and just like, “Yo, Black Jedi!” I turned around; it was Samuel Jackson. He’s like, “You’re my son!” Yeah. I’d say that was a moment that was quite profound for me.
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: It’s absolutely impossible to follow what John has just said. And I have not – I’m – maybe I should start, shouldn’t I? I’ve not followed any fan theories at all. I’m just going to say, because I’ve been busy with Game of Thrones.
JOHN BOYEGA: Is John Snow alive or dead?
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: I only read my bits in the script. I’ve got no idea.
Kathleen Kennedy on Harrison Ford:
“I can attest to the fact that for all of us that were there, the second he walked in to the Millennium Falcon and said his first line, Han Solo was back. So it was pretty instantaneous.”
Boyega on using Luke’s lightsaber:
“Oh, it was – it was – I was very excited to use that thing, because I think blue suits me. And also, it was – it was amazing for me to read the whole script and to find out all the things that Finn gets to do. And for me, it’s like – I feel like for some reason – did J.J. know what kind of fan I was when it came to Star Wars, and write this role for me? Because I get to wear a storm trooper’s suit, a rebel jacket. I have a blaster. I use a lightsaber. I hang out with frickin’ Han Solo and Chewie. It’s just fantastic.
Christie on seeing the original Star Wars as a child:
“I just remember, I was about six when I saw the film, and I remember being so struck by the character of Princess Leia, and thinking even then, in my infant mind, “This seems different to the other women I see in films,” and feeling very, very inspired by that. And inspired by a woman with such tenacity, and being so strong minded. And I asked Carrie Fisher if – I said I felt like watching her performance implanted a seed in my mind. And Carrie said that she did plant a seed, actually in my mind.”
Boyega on the auditioning process:
During the audition I had screen tested, and then I heard that I was going to be brought back one last time. And mind you, I had been auditioned for several months. And I just needed inspiration. And I went on YouTube, and I saw Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill’s original audition tape, just on YouTube. And that really inspired me to, you know, tap into the Star Wars-esque energy, because I think that’s what – that was something that we were trying to gauge, and that really inspired me. And I booked it. Ha. Ha. Thanks, Harrison.”