Garrick Hagon talks with Jedi News’ John “Dak” Morton about Star Wars and Biggs Darklighter’s career—before and after A New Hope. This Jedi News interview is a companion to Dak’s recent interview with Biggs for StarWars.com: http://www.starwars.com/news/being-biggs-conversation-with-garrick-hagon. For a full bio and more details on Garrick’s many activities visit his Web Site at http://www.garrickhagon.com.
John Dak Morton: Garrick, lets get into some of your backstory since fans already know a lot about you as Biggs Darklighter. You were raised in Canada by a Canadian mother and British father. You came to London in the early sixties, already a well-established Canadian actor. Those were exciting years. How’d you get started at the Royal Court—where you first landed?
Garrick Hagon: Well, through working at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Ontario, I got a scholarship to study in London at the Court. That was a great time during the days of the great George Divine and Bill Gaskill. I got a scholarship to study anywhere I liked and I chose London over New York, since I had admired so many British actors while I was playing at Stratford for four years. I worked with some famous private teachers in London and Bristol and then luckily was told that the Royal Court Theatre in London was setting up a course for professional actors with some of the leading directors and teachers in England—all of them discovering new techniques and approaches in improvisation, mime, mask, music and acting. In addition to Devine and Gaskill, we had teachers such as Yat Malmgren, Doreen Cannon and Keith Johnstone. Theatrical legends.
John Dak Morton: I knew Bill Gaskill. George Divine was before my time, however. The Court launched the postwar revolution in British theatre, Look Back in Anger, John Osborne and all the writers of the kitchen sink dramas.
Garrick Hagon: So many talented playwrights. I was able to take up these classes again, in between the acting jobs I started to get out on the repertory circuit around the UK, often acting with Liza.
John Dak Morton: Liza Ross, your wife.
Garrick Hagon: Yes, we met at the University of Toronto. We married when she came over to study and work at the Bristol Old Vic. Every now an then we’ve had roles together on screen. In 1989, we were in Tim Burton’s Batman together, and years ago we were with you in the BBC’s Oppenheimer as a husband and wife couple. We shot on location together in Colorado. I don’t think you were out there with us though.
John Dak Morton: No, I was out there, but in Colorado Springs, shooting the exteriors for when the scientists were conducting the first atomic explosion in Alamogordo. I was in four of the later episodes. You both shot in Boulder where they did the earlier episode exteriors for Oppenheimer’s time in Berkeley. Everyone’s favorite stormtrooper Tony Forrest would have been with you for that.
Garrick Hagon: That’s right.
John Dak Morton: So, back to London in the sixties. You and Liza did the rep circuit which was how everybody got their start as Equity actors in those days—40 weeks on provisional Equity contracts, right?
Garrick Hagon: Well, yes, but we also did a lot of the exciting experimental stuff too. In the late sixties, we’d go out to the very alternative Mickery in Amsterdam.
John Dak Morton: Everybody of our generation in London theatre loved and knew Ritsaert [Ritsaert ten Cate, the Mickery Theatre’s artistic director].
Garrick Hagon: Of course. And Charles Marowitz and Thelma Holt’s Open Space in the Tottenham Court Road that really was part of the start of the fringe theatre movement in London. That was another place where Liza and I worked together. And The Stables Theatre Club, this experimental theatre company that was in Manchester and connected to and financed by Granada Television. My working at Stables and Granada was what got me into film and the work with Chuck Heston in Antony and Cleopatra. I played Eros. We shot in Spain.
John Dak Morton: That was in 1972 which was the year of your real move into film.
Garrick Hagon: Yes. I went from Antony and Cleopatra into Some Kind of Hero where I played the lead, a character that was a Vietnam War deserter living in London. The film was financed and directed by an American director, Marvin Lichtner. My co-star was the Irish actress Mary Larkin. The character was not really likeable though, and I remember John Cassavetes seeing a version of it and offering to do a re-shoot to make my character more noble once he went to prison, but it never happened.
John Dak Morton: Biggs has always been my favorite Rebel pilot. You probably don’t know, but I wrote about your romantic swagger in Star Wars Insider, Issue 157. I named you as one of my Red Fives, from that legendary Rogue Squadron call sign that stands for anybody who’s on the team, fighting in his or her own way for the cause. Your cape really does it for me. It recalls Eddie Rickenbacker in The Great War, flying his biplane in his open cockpit, his white aviator scarf billowing behind him. Did you bring to the part a little of your RAF dad?
Garrick Hagon: Could be. My father was actually in the RAF during the War.
John Dak Morton: You’d worked as a lad with Alec Guiness at the very first production ever at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Ontario. The play was Richard III. He was Richard, and you were his Prince of Wales. Did Guiness remember you in Tunisia?
Garrick Hagon: Well, when Anthony Daniels introduced me to him out there, I reminded him that we had worked together in Stratford on Richard III. He said, very slowly in his way, “That was a long time ago.” I waited for more, and nothing came.
John Dak Morton: Garrick, you just voiced that not so much as Guinness as Obi-Wan, as you did Guinness as George Smiley. Very opaque.
Garrick Hagon: Well, yes. I really have no idea whether he remembered me or not. At any rate, I felt very at home in Tunisia, after having worked for thirteen months in ’74 on The Message. I was used to the heat. I could speak a little Arabic. I felt like an Arab. John Mollo [Star Wars costume designer] got my costume from Angels, the London costumers.
John Dak Morton: He got an Oscar for Star Wars.
Garrick Hagon: He did. Well, Biggs’ black cape was like an Arab’s. In fact, I bought one when I was in Morocco. The trousers were leather jodhpurs. I felt like a swashbuckling character on horseback. I actually did a lot of riding on The Message.
John Dak Morton: Who were some of the folks with you out there, whom we sometimes forget to mention? One or two perhaps.
Garrick Hagon: Let’s see. Koo Stark. She had a lot of presence, despite the fact she was quite young. I suspect she was about 20 at the time.
John Dak Morton: Of course, Koo Stark then famously went on to be romantically attached to Prince Andrew.
Garrick Hagon: Indeed.
John Dak Morton: How about Robert Watts [production supervisor] who must have kept all the trains running. What was it like working with him?
Garrick Hagon: Oh, he was a tremendous spirit and a wonderful organizer. We’d do anything for Robert.
John Dak Morton: You’ve worked with a lot of great directors, Sir Richard Attenborough in A Bridge Too Far, Tony Scott. What are your takeaways?
Garrick Hagon: Some treasured moments have been working with Tony Scott on Spy Game and recently with his brother Ridley on a TV film in Rome. They were supreme technicians, worked quickly on set, gave actors a hell of a lot of energy and kept the actors free. It meant a lot to me to work with them. Sir Richard Attenborough too was a master organizer, knew actors inside and out and was an extremely observant teacher. He got rid of actors’ tics. Charlton Heston taught me to “hold the tears and let the audience cry.” And I loved Tim Burton’s laid-back approach. Actors love having space to invent and improvise. In China, I worked with Xie Jin one of the great survivors of three generations, pre-Mao, Mao and post-Mao. The Opium War in 1997, which I did on locations all over China for six weeks, was his last epic made to commemorate the handover of Hong Kong. Xie Jin spoke no English but conveyed so much just by look and gesture.
John Dak Morton: So, what do you remember most about George Lucas as a director?
Garrick Hagon: On the set, the modesty and quietness of his approach, getting his incredible vision across quietly without dictatorial histrionics and being very open to actors’ suggestions. I wish now he’d not allowed Mark and I to cut the line in the hangar scene: “We’re a couple of shooting stars who’ll never be stopped.” It was a good one, and even now, when I’m signing at conventions, I like writing it on photos.
John Dak Morton: In recent years, you’ve been involved in another legendary series, Doctor Who. That sure has a convention presence now on both sides of the Pond.
Garrick Hagon: Yes. I like to say I did Doctor Who in two centuries, in 1972 with Jon Pertwee, in The Mutants episode, and again in 2012 with Matt Smith, in one called A Town Called Mercy.
John Dak Morton: What’s a typical year for you these days?
Garrick Hagon: I continue to work, mainly doing voices and reading and producing audiobooks for many publishers and our own company, The Story Circle. We’ve produced some 200 books and worked with a diverse group of people: Joan Collins, Ian McKellen, Diana Spencer’s brother, Charles, Simon Callow, Leslie Phillips, Dan Stevens, Sylvester McCoy, Ruth Wilson, Julian Glover. I could go on, but I’ve really enjoyed my audio work, producing and editing audio books. Liza proofs. Our third partner was the American voice actor Bill Dufris who is now in Portland, Maine. He’s left us to do the X-Files with Gillian Anderson. It’s a major part of our lives. Liza still does a fair amount of film too.
John Dak Morton: Before we go, Garrick, I must ask you one final question on Rogue One? Did they get the Darklighter swagger?
Garrick Hagon: Well, I know that Diego Luna sports a moustache…but a silent Biggs is there somewhere sporting his original one.
John Dak Morton: As well it should be, Garrick. Nice one that we’re doing another interview together. Keep on keepin’ on, as they say in the gospel music world. As always, Biggs. May the Force be with you.
Garrick Hagon: And also with you, Dak.