Back in May 2011 our good friend Tim Veekhoven of Belgian magazine TeeKay-421 Magazine interviewed the original Mace, Eric Walker. With kind permission of Tim and TeeKay here’s Tim’s chat with Eric.
Read on for the full interview with Eric…
JN – You’re writing a book about your experiences in the Ewok TV movies. Can you tell us about that book, what will it be about and why do you want to publish it?
EW – Yes I am writing a book that is called Growing Up on Skywalker Ranch. I hope to have it completed by the end of summer with it coming out around Christmas of this year or early 2012.
JN – What do you remember about the casting process for the role of Mace? How did it feel when you got word that you had the part?
EW – The process happen very fast. At first I was supposed to come in for just a general interview with John Korty (The Director) and Thomas G. Smith. (The Producer) The liked me so much they asked me to read some scenes. I asked if I could do a monologue that I had prepared.
I was told later that the monologue is what George Lucas saw and why I got the part. But the Director and Producer wanted to see me and Aubree Miller (Cindel) together for a screen test. So I was asked to fly to San Francisco from Los Angeles which was my first time on an Airplane for a day of shooting. After we finished filming the Director and Producer excused themselves in their office to look at the footage.
I went to the bathroom and by the time I came out and was walking though the kitchen I was met by the director who shook my hand and said “You’ve both got the part”. I continued outside where my father was with Aubree and her parents who already heard the news and was talking to the Producer.
Later after that is when I had learned that George had already chosen both of us based on our prior auditions and my monologue.
Then it was the Producer and Director who wanted to test us together to see how well we worked with one another and also to make sure Aubree Miller was not afraid of an Ewok because she was so young and only 4 years old at the time. During the screen test that day they brought out an Ewok costume with no one inside attached to a pole.
JN – Did you always want to be an actor or did you participate out of curiosity?
EW – Wanting to become an actor was a long process. I had already been an actor for almost 4 years before I got the part of Mace. I studied acting at the Virgil Frye’s acting workshop in Hollywood for about 3 ½ years before I got the Mace role.
I did a lot of small parts mostly on Television before getting the Ewok movie. I was on a show that was a very popular show in America called Webster. In a movie of the week with Diane Cannon where I played her Nephew called Having it All. I also did some toy commercials for the Revell Toys Adam Power series. I played Griptog the four-fisted brute.
All this got started because I did a Jack In The Box commercial in 1976 when I was six years old. I played on an American Football team when I was six years old and they asked the team to be in the commercial. I loved getting paid and free food. I asked my Dad over and over again to let me be an actor and finally after 4 years of asking he said okay. So I got an agent around 1980 and started my acting journey.
JN – How much of a Star Wars fan were you before you got the part? Did your interest in Star Wars grow once you had the part?
EW – I would say that I was a fan. In 1983, I went to go see Return of the Jedi about 10 times when it played in the movie theatre. I was a young when the first two Star Wars films A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back came out, so I did not see them until a few years after the Ewok Movies around 1987. I was invited to go to a trilogy screening on the 10th Anniversary. That was when I got to see all three of them. Back in those days Star Wars was not out on Video and we did not have DVD’s or Blu-Ray.
But I knew Star Wars was big and what I was doing was becoming a part of something very special. I had people tell me that all the time before and after we did the movie. The would say things like do you know you are going to be famous for at least 10 years or more. Something that is surprising to even me was that they we’re wrong; I did that movie over 25 years ago, and I am still doing interviews and people are still talking about it all over the world. What they should have said is, do you know you are becoming a part of movie history!
JN – How was it like working with Aubree Miller and Warwick Davis on set? Did you get classes between takes?
EW – It was a lot of fun. We all got along very well together. Warwick and I are the same age. In fact our birthdays are just three days apart. I am older than him just a little bit. We did have classes on the set until school ended then it was called R&R, (Rest and Recuperate) which are both mandatory for children in California.
We would go to school for three hours a day while we were still in school. When school was over because it was summer. We would get two hours off per day for R&R.
JN – How was it like working with the other cast members?
EW – I enjoyed working with all the Ewoks. Especially Tony Cox (Widdle), Debbie Carrington (Weeche), and Daniel Frishman (Deej). It was always a lot of fun working with them. Little people although small in stature are very big in heart and character. They are very witty and funny. They are always joking around and full of life. You can learn a lot from a little person and they do not let the fact that they are small stand in the way.
JN – Was it difficult to act with the creatures that weren’t always on set, such as the Gorax?
EW – Sure at times it was difficult but we are actors and know how to make believe. So it is not that much different than pretending to be who you are as a character. I had to believe that I was stranded on the Forest Moon of Endor. Once you can believe that everything else comes easier.
They also had little things on the set that made it a little easier. Like the whistie Queen Izarina or firefly creatures for example; they had a small light bulb that I would put in my hand. When it was flying around the attached it to a string on a stick so we saw something moving around.
As for the Gorax, one day the guy playing him Jon Berg came on the set and did the loud roar sound in the background during a take, so it scarred us. Jon was great and he never took credit for being the Gorax. I still have people ask me who played the Gorax. It was Jon Berg for the record.
JN – You and Warwick apparently got along pretty well, because you even made a behind the scenes documentary. Can you tell us something about that?
EW – It started out as a school project for us to do. It was an idea of our set teacher Ramsey. We got to run around with video cameras and interview some of the crew and the cast. We have about two hours of behind the scenes footage that can be edited down to make a nice documentary. I had hoped they would release it when the movies came out on DVD. But they were too busy with other stuff and did not release any extra features on it which disappointed a lot of the fans. Since Warwick and I are the film makers they would have to ask us for it and they did not. I’m looking into releasing by myself either as a collectible with my book or by totally by itself. So check out my website www.ericwalker.net for updates.
JN – Although John Korty directed Caravan of Courage, I believe that George Lucas also directed several scenes. Can you compare both directors?
EW – They both are good but in different ways. George Lucas is much more technical oriented and everything runs at a much faster pace. John Korty is more of what we call an Actors Director. He gives an actor more room to work and helps us get to an emotion in a scene by making suggestions since he knows a bit about acting. Like I said both are good to some degree but I prefer Actor’s Directors. John Korty was the right choice for the job since there was a lot of emotion going on in the Ewok Movies. But I did love working with George Lucas as well and it was nice to see the master at work. He really knew what he wanted but conveyed it differently.
JN – What was George Lucas like when he wasn’t directing? Was he present during the entire shoot?
EW – He was not there everyday. But he did come to the set more than once to see how things were going on. One of the pictures I have that was taken with us together was when he visited the set on the day when we were filming the magic pond scene on Skywalker Ranch. If I would have to say he visited the set about once a week to check on things. It was obvious when he was on set or about to arrive because suddenly the whole crew started to work much faster.
JN – Is there anything you want to share with us about the deleted scenes from Caravan of Courage?
EW – The biggest mistake in the movie was because of a deleted scene. In the original version when Mace and the Ewoks go out to get more medicine for Cindel because she was sick, we went to a rocky hill area were there was these Gulping Man Eating Flowers that grabbed me by the hand and started to drag me under ground. We then filmed the scene back in the Ewok hut where Shodu looks at my hand that is hurt. It was the same hand that the flowers had bitten.
Then during the re-shoot they changed it to a tree monster and I put the wrong hand in the tree. It was a big mistake that the script supervisor and continuity person messed up. But that woman made a lot of these kinds of mistakes all throughout the movie. In another scene when Cindel is sick there is a flower that Wicket lays next to her in the hammock and then a second later it is gone. Then it there again and then it looks like it dying and days old.
There was a deleted scene where Mace is walking with the Deej and Wickets two older brothers Weeche and Widdle and as they go underneath a tree he snaps a branch that hits the brother knocking them down.
There was another scene where Mace, Cindel, and Wicket are watching a traditional Ewok ceremony. A picture from that scene is in the book Ewoks: and the Lost Children near the start of the book.
The original ending of the movie was cut and was supposed to be Mace, Cindel and Wicket dancing in the snow. Those are some that I remember but there might be one or two more.
JN – In the beginning of Caravan Mace doesn’t like the Ewoks at all. Was that hard to play and didn’t you fear that some people may have disliked the character because of that?
EW – Yes. I did not like that he was so mean. Believe it or not Mace being a brat got toned down a bit. But you’ve got to understand, Mace did not trust the Ewoks, because he did not know them. Here he is separated from his parents trying to take care of his little sister who was sick. Like I said he was a lot worse like the deleted scene I already mention where he snaps a tree branch to knock down Wickets two older brothers. I am glad that scene was deleted.
JN – Mace was killed very early in The Battle for Endor. How did you feel because of that? I always thought that was really unlike Lucas to do that. I would have loved to see Mace evolve in another adventure. Now that many years have passed, how do you look back at that decision to kill of Cindel’s family?
EW – It was a terrible one decision to kill the entire family except Cindel. He did not have to do that. He could have just sent us away on a mission to get a part to finish fixing the Star Cruiser leaving Cindel with the some of the Ewoks to take care of her. It would have created a better story and a story within a story that they cut back to every once in a while. Then have us all return or help at the end letting us all leave with Noa. It would have achieved the same thing Lucas wanted in creating a Star Wars version of Heidi.
I am sure if anyone asked Lucas about it now he would say he regretted it because I believe that he is a humble man. When Battle for Endor came out it got very bad reviews here in the USA. No one like the fact that he killed off the entire family and my character Mace when he spent so much time setting up everything in the first movie. In fact one reviewer said you just killed off your main audience. It also had much lower ratings than Caravan of Courage and did not make as much money overseas in the movie theater as the first one.
JN – What did you think of The Battle of Endor?
EW – I really liked Aubree and Warwick’s performance and thought Teek was cute. It would have been a great movie on it’s own if it was the first movie and not the second one. Then nothing would have been lost. They spent more money on the second movie on the special effects with a lot more actors and it showed on screen. It is a good movie but would have been better if it was on its own and was not a sequel.
JN – How did your class and schoolmates react when you had the part of Mace? Were they supportive?
EW – The day after the movie came out it was pretty interesting. Not just with my schoolmates. The Ewok Adventure was the name of the movie in America not Caravan of Courage. It was one of the biggest movies of the year with over 65 million people watching it. Every I went people recognized me from the Market to a Restaurant. That sure is a different feeling to wake up the next day and be a little famous.
My schoolmates who were already my friends and were very supportive and we went on like it was just another day. Other kids who were not my friends since I went to a school with over 1000 kids were also nice but mostly asked questions or made statements like you look taller in the movie. Well yeah, duh, I was surrounded by little people in Ewok costumes. Of course I did not tell them that but that is what I thought. LOL.
JN – In Europe both Ewok TV movies were released in movie theatres. Wouldn’t you have preferred that instead of the release on television
EW – Yes I would have preferred that since I saw it in a movie theatre. It was much better in a theatre than on television. But that was never the plan. It was supposed to be George Lucas’s first movie for Television not the other way around. Even in the commercials it would say watch Lucasfilms first movie for television. I still have a lot of those commercials today.
From what I remember is that the movie went over budget about a few million dollars, so they decided to release it in the movie theaters overseas to make some of the money back. But as I said after seeing it myself in the movie theatre, I would have liked to see it that way in America as well
JN – How do you feel about the fact that the Ewok TV movies have not received the amount of respect they deserve throughout the years? For instance: where is the Mace Towani action figure? Why haven’t the movies received a more decent dvd release with extra’s
EW – I am okay with some of that. These were television movies and just that. Yes I would like to see an action figure for Mace. I understand someone in Europe made a few and was selling them. Maybe in the future if enough people write in asking for it they will make one. They did have some merchandising but mostly with books that were for kids.
As for the DVD release they should have delayed it and done it right. Even the fans were upset because they knew it could have had a lot of extras
JN – Have you collected any Ewok TV movie related merchandising
EW – Yes I do have still most of the related books and other things that were made
JN – After the movies were released, did you stay in touch with Aubree and Warwick
EW – I stayed in touch with both Aubree and Warwick for a few years. Aubree Miller got an agent in Los Angeles and visited me a few times when she was here on auditions. She was offered a part in a series on television with Wilfred Brimley (Noa) but her parents overprotected her and turned it down as well as other offers. This is probably why the only movies she did were the Ewok ones. With that I am not sure why they bothered to even get her an agent. But that is how things are sometimes.
Warwick also visited me when he had to come to Los Angeles to meet Ron Howard for a screen test regarding Willow. Then Warwick and I lost touch as we became adults for a while until we both went to a Star Con convention in Holland in 2001. A few years ago Aubree and I finally got in touch after a long while and we both attended a convention in Ohio.
Aubree looks very different and you would not know it was her. A lot people said they knew it was me because I still have the same face. But Aubree looks totally different as an adult. It was fun to see her again. There are pictures from the convention of us on my website www.ericwalker.net
JN – After the Ewok movies, you appeared in several films and TV series. What other projects have you been doing during the years
EW – I have produced, directed, and edited several projects. One of my last ones was a documentary I did in Canada about a family who migrated from Ukraine to Canada in the early 1900’s. How god has led their family through the generations. I also wrote the music for the film as well. It is called God’s Leading Through The Generations.
I am currently working on a Star Wars book about my adventures in the Star Wars universe called Growing Up on Skywalker Ranch that I hope to have released by the end of the year.
I continue to work on my music and plan to have my second release Pandora released later this year
JN – What can you tell us about your CD Tangier Dream?
EW – Tangier Dream is my first music cd. I have very vivid dreams sometimes and I wake up with a melody in my head that won’t quit so I go to my keyboard and start working on a musical track. Music is something that has been a big part of my life for the past 20 years from the time going to the music room to practice on the piano one hour a day instead of eating lunch up until now. It is something a lot of people don’t know about me except friends I have worked with. I finally decided it was the time to make that dream happen, so I released a CD. I actually wrote over 20 songs for it and I narrowed it down to just 12.
One of the songs on Tangier Dream is a tribute song to Star Wars and my days on the forest moon of Endor entitled Return to Endor. The cd is available on itunes for download or on my official music site www.ericwalkermusic.com for CD purchase. I do ship overseas and have gotten a lot of CD orders from all over the world. It’s a great feeling to have so many people appreciate your music and I am thankful for it.
I am also currently working on my new cd called Pandora which will be out by the end of the year.
JN – Do you still follow what happens in the Star Wars universe nowadays?
EW – I still talk with people from time to time and hear stories from the Star Wars universe. I am in the loop just as much as I want to be but I am busy working on my own projects. Some of what I have heard will be in my book. There will be lot’s of information and some info that no one has heard of until now. The book will also have a collectible section written by German Star Wars writer Marco Froemter who has become a good friend over the years. He is a brilliant writer and I look forward to his contributions. The book will have it’s own website as well for updates at www.skywalkerbook.com.
This interview was originally published in issue 54 of TeeKay-421 magazine. You can visit Eric’s website here.
Eric Walker Interview Copyright 2011 TeeKay-421 Magazine. No part of this interview can be reproduced without prior written consent from TeeKay-421 Magazine and Jedi News.