Paul Warren is an actor, creature performer and body double (the list continues) who has worked on some of the biggest franchises in cinema today. He’s also a massive Star Wars fan, which likely helped him when he won the job of playing Varmik in the Disney owned Lucasfilm blockbuster Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I caught up with Paul recently to chat about his career, favourite roles, and most importantly, Star Wars!
RV: Take me back to the beginning. When and where, what, how etc. did your love of Star Wars begin? What’s your oldest memory of Star Wars?
PW: I was 3 when Star Wars came out in 1977, so I was a bit too young to see it the first time around. But I do vividly remember my first viewing on the big screen a few years later at a Butlins holiday camp (For those unaware, Butlins is a British holiday tradition (pretty much). A self-contained resort of sorts. Fun for all the family! Right, enough of the free plug for Butlins – RV). The cantina scene and creatures had a massive impact on me and my imagination. I became obsessed with them. I liked Han, Luke and Leia etc., but my first and favourite action figures from the film were Greedo, Hammerhead and Walrus man.
RV: I absolutely adored the original names for those figures. So descriptive. Walrus Man! I think those were some of my firsts also. So, given how big of a fan you already were, how did you feel when you booked the TFA gig? Did you know you were going in for Star Wars?
PW: It felt very surreal. I wasn’t told what it was that I was being asked to go in for; only that the production was putting together a team of core creature performers for a film at Pinewood Studios. I had been recommended to them by creature designer and makeup artist Martin Rezard, who I had worked with previously on Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: The Dark World.
RV: Did you transition into the creature work or move straight into it?
PW: I began in the film industry as a body double for Daniel Radcliffe on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I had no plan or ultimate goal in mind. One job just led to the next. In 2007 I was recommended to the legendary Stan Winston Studio as a good choice to portray an emaciated version of the title character in The Deaths of Ian Stone. This was a role in full body prosthetics and was the job which ultimately led to a film career playing characters in heavy prosthetic makeup and creature suits.
RV: And you’ve played so many wonderful characters over the years. Can you tell us about some of them and which have been your favourite?
PW: Working on Captain America: The First Avenger was amazing. I was the original template for Skinny Steve Rogers. I worked closely with Christopher Townsend (Marvel visual effects supervisor) on the pre-production VFX head replacement tests and the recruitment scene you see Skinny Steve for the first time. Leander Deeny was the double for the rest of the production. My favourite though is Varmik in The Force Awakens.
RV: Varmik! Tell us more. Did you know which character you were going in for?
PW: I had no idea who I was playing until Neal Scanlan (Star Wars CFX supervisor) pulled out a Ralph McQuarrie book and was showing me the cantina alien painting from 1975. I’m a massive fan of McQuarrie’s work. I had that picture on my wall at home! Neal explained that JJ Abrams really loved it and wanted to bring the character to life in the film. I spent the afternoon posing like the image for photographs and having my measurements taken. It seemed I had the job. I thought I was just going in for an audition!
RV: Your character is essentially the audiences’ view point into Maz’s castle. Was that always planned with you in mind or a decision made on set?
PW: I think they always wanted to feature the character somehow, but I’m not too sure about how the tracking shot came about. I only knew about it on the day when JJ was directing us. We rehearsed it with our creature heads off a few times and then I think we did about 3 or 4 actual takes. I had been working very hard on the character movement months before shooting, then fine-tuned it on set with creature choreographer Paul Kasey. I love that fans of McQuarrie are recognising it in the film.
RV: Your character received so much attention in the marketing and other areas outside of the film; books, toys etc. How does that make you feel?
PW: It’s an incredible feeling. I really love what I do, so all of that stuff is an amazing bonus.
RV: Varmik is essentially the original concept design for Chewbacca. What are your thoughts on the repurposing of original concept ideas, particularly those of Ralph McQuarrie?
PW: Yeah, Varmik (originally known as Maz’s Castle Alien c069) was designed and sculpted by Ivan Manzella, which he based on the cantina alien picture and some Chewbacca concepts. McQuarrie was as much Star Wars to me as George Lucas. The two of them together created such a wonderful and iconic visual look for the universe; that going back to that well with the new films is very smart I thought.
RV: Since TFA came out, and Star Wars: Rebels was introduced, I’ve wondered: would Varmik and Zeb go for a drink together? They’re cousin’s right? Surely?
PW: (Laughs) I don’t know if it’s official, but would be great if the Hassk and Lasat species were related somehow.
RV: Favourite Star Wars character of all time?
PW: Greedo! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Paul Blake a few times now at signing conventions together. He is such a great guy.
RV: That he is! And finally, will we be seeing any spin off material for Varmik and his chums?
PW: You would have to ask Lucasfilm that, but I hope so!