Puppeteer and voice actress Shirley Henderson talks about bringing the diminutive star of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Babu Frik, to life.
Vanity Fair: What was your introduction to Babu Frik?
Shirley Henderson: One evening I was sitting in a hotel room, about to get into my pajamas and head off to dreamland, when Nina Gold, the casting director, phoned me and asked if I would like to meet J.J. Abrams and audition for him. I asked what the part was, and she said she couldn’t tell me. It’s a big secret. “No clues at all?” I asked. Nina then muttered something under her breath that sounded a little like, “maybe small, maybe old, maybe a workshop.” I thought about it for one second and said, “Yes, please! I would love to meet J.J. Abrams!”
So you just knew you would be playing a small, old creature? Not even that it was a puppet?
Then the day arrived. I was taken into J.J.’s office and we said hello. Still, there were no real clues—so I just hunched down on the ground and made myself as small as I could and started talking as I thought the character might. Minutes later, J.J. brought in a tiny model of an old man, set it down on the coffee table and said: “This is Babu Frik.”
The creature and puppet was already designed when you came aboard?
That was my first introduction to him. At that stage, he was still a work in progress, but very similar to what he finally ended up on the big screen. It was an exciting and fun interview, and such a thrill to meet J.J.—and, of course, Babu.
How did Babu evolve as you got to work? Were there changes to his look, size, or behavior as you consulted with J.J.?
It was months later that I arrived at the studios to start to become Babu. The engineers and designers had created a model that the puppeteers and myself could play with to learn and discover how Babu moved, and the kind of voice he had and the language he used. As a team, we would offer up little sequences for J.J. to look at and give feedback on before we ever got to the actual set for filming. It was precious time for the puppeteers to find a rhythm with the model and what it was capable of—and for me to learn the workings of the mouth, and to play with vocal ideas.
Read the full interview here.