Director Gareth Edwards is living the dream. Imagine being a Star Wars fan and then be asked to be a director in the film of the franchise. Now that is amazing. Gareth sat down with us, full of energy and dimples that made you want just to squeeze him. He shared some great stories with us about what it took to get the perfect cast to make a great movie.
Director Gareth Edwards
Gareth was walking in as Riz Ahmed walked out of the room.
I just passed Riz and he said they are all so nice!
He then jokes as he introduces himself.
I play Gareth Edwards, the director of Rogue One.
I saw a featurette that said if you had known you were gonna direct this movie, you would have prepared for it your whole life.
What is something you would have done to prepare for this film?
I probably would have every single day been a nervous wreck, and not do any homework or schoolwork, and I probably would never have had a job. I would have sat and prepared it for 30 odd years. And then the day it began, I think I would have brought in everything saying okay, I know exactly what to do. It starts off with this shot and then becomes this shot. And then I realize I would have wasted my entire life.
So you’re glad you didn’t know.
Yeah! ‘Cause I think… There’s something about the organic process of making a film. Like, if you are a dictatorship, like the Empire, and you say it’s gonna be this, this, and this, I don’t care what I see, I don’t care, you know, what the actors do. This is what it’s gonna be, I think you limit how great the film can become. And so it was trying to become much more of an organic process where even when we were filming, the director of photography’s, you know, the guy in charge of the camera, we had an agreement, even though it was a massive, massive movie, and there’s all this pressure to have a specific plan, we were gonna keep it incredibly fluid. And so we had 360-degree sets where we could, film in any direction.
And I remember on day one in this one set called, Jeda, which is one of the cities that we go through where the force believers are, we started filming, and the actors could do what they want. And I just happened to pan left or something. And there suddenly was all these crew members in the shot that suddenly ran out of frame scared. And then the next day came and the same sort of thing happened where I pan left. And the crew were there. But this time they’re all wearing Star Wars costumes.
And so they’d all learned to put robes on and that way, wherever the camera went, they could be in it if they had to be, and they secretly loved that. Like, there would be days where they would turn up with a rebel outfits, like rebel pilots. And you’re going, why are you wearing that? Well, in case you film us. And it’s like, I’m not shooting that way. And they’re like, well, it doesn’t matter. You know…
Just in case.
Even on days we weren’t even filming, like, on the day after meetings, they’re just there in costume.
How difficult, or intimidating, was it to tackle a property like Star Wars knowing the rabid fan base will scrutinize every word and action? How did you overcome that?
There’s a line in the original where Luke Skywalker, and I grew up watching it every day. And it probably is the reason, well, definitely the reason I got into filmmaking. And Luke is doing the attack run on the Death Star through the trench. And he’s got the computer, and he turns it off, and it goes weeee. And someone goes, Luke! You’ve turned off your computer! And he goes, it’s okay, I’m all right. It’s kinda like that. He trusts the force. And, and so literally you = turn off your computer, and not look at the internet. And just believe, like, you can bullseye this. You’ve just got to keep going! And just, you know. Everyone’s shooting at you. But just believe in yourself, and then… and then go for it. To me, that’s the takeaway from the original film. Like, if you believe you can do something, and you never give up, then you can achieve anything. I guess I took it too literally. Like, I want to make Star Wars films. You know. But it applies to everybody. Like, people who do way more important things than me.
What was the casting process like for you?
You try not to think of anyone to start with, ’cause you try and think these characters. And then it’s really difficult to keep talking about someone, and not being able to visually picture them. And inevitably, you end up going you know, like so and so. And sometimes they’re like, a character from a film. You know, like so and so from that movie. Or this, this person. And you start to take on, like, specific people in the world. I know definitely for things like Saw Gerrera and Krennic.
Ben Mendelsohn and Forrest Whitaker, like, just popped up straight away. I’ve seen Ben’s work. And as we were trying to figure out this character that was starting to happen called Krennic that he plays, I loved Animal Kingdom. I thought it was one of the best films in a long time. And then forgot about it. And then watched a film called Startup. And I just came away that night going we’ve got to call this guy. This guy is Krennic. We’ve got to try and get him. And as I came into work, I was already gonna pitch this to the producer. I’m gonna try and sort them into it. And as I walked into the office, which is right here, (in Lucasfilm) Simon, one of the producers, went, can I just stop you a second?
I went, “No. I want to talk to you about Krennic.” He goes, “I’ve got the guy. He’d watched a totally different film, and he said, Ben Mendelsohn. And I was, like… I was about to say, Ben Mendelsohn… It was weird. Like, genuinely weird. And then from that point on, we were not gonna take no for an answer. And thank God Ben’s a massive Star Wars fan. And I met him on a rooftop in LA, which sounds glamorous, but it was raining. And, we’d already organized to meet there, so we did. And we wanted to be away so no one could hear so that you could talk. I would get really paranoid about waiters and things, ’cause, you know, once you say the word, like, Darth Vader or something, they’re gonna pay attention. As soon as I talked about Star Wars, he was just giggling and going, like, hehe hehe. And I was, like, you’re a fan? He’s, like, I love it! I watched it all the time as a kid; it’s why I got into films. And so I was thinking, okay, we might be all right. And, and same with Forrest. He is not his character, but he has done amazing work outside of acting. He’s a phenomenal human being. And I think just before we met, he’d just done a talk at the United Nations. And you sort of feeling, like, oh my god. I don’t really deserve to be talking to this guy about a role in a film because he’s the real deal. He’s incredibly humble and peaceful. But you see him in his roles, and he can be intimidating and aggressive. But he’s more like Yoda when you chat with him. And in a way, Saul was a little bit like, you know, the mentor in our movie. So he’s like the Obi-Wan sort of Yoda-type figure. And so it made a lot of sense.
So you don’t have a massive amount of directing credits to your name. But you’ve got a few good films. As of right now, you’re number five most promising directors, and number nine of hot new directors. Tell us how you got your foot in the door to become a Star Wars director.
First step. Feel really embarrassed about those lists now.
If it’s on the internet, it’s true. It’s on IMDB, by the way…
I’ve got to be honest, it just depends on where you click. You go, I’m just gonna have a quick look to see what they’ve written. And then scroll down. And there’s, like, over a hundred names, and you’re not on it, and you go, what?
But I think the big break for me, well there are two. I went to film school. I wanted to make films. That’s all I ever wanted to do as a kid. And graduated and I’d read all the Steven Spielberg story of how you, you make a short film, and then Hollywood calls and then you go off directing movies. And I think they lost my number? ‘Cause I never got that call. I had to go back to work in a supermarket. And tried to earn some money to buy a computer so I could learn software. ‘Cause it felt like this was gonna be the future of filmmaking.
That digital technology. It was all kind of developed here with ILM, and pushing the boundaries. I thought you could make a film from home, like, on a home computer. I just needed, like, six months and I could learn the software to go make one. It took me more like ten years to be any good. And I had spent, like, that time doing visual effects for things like the BBC and discovery channel.
Then one day I just thought, I’ve had enough. I can’t live with myself becoming an old man, having never tried to do what I really wanted to do, which was to become a director. And so I kinda quit my job with this company in England. They give us some money, and went and made a film where there was just, like, five of us traveling around Central America.
And I did all the visual effects myself and shot it. And… Thought the best thing that could happen, like, we were in that car, and as we were driving doing this road movie thing, I was, like, Okay, what, what needs to take place after this for it to be worthwhile? ‘Cause it was about two years of your life. And I said, if I get to direct a TV show that would be it.
We showed it at South by Southwest. The projection broke down… It was, like… Oh, man! And, and then at the end of the thing, this guy came up to me and he says… He gives me a business card. He says I’d love to talk to you whenever you’ve got a moment. I was, like, okay. And we left. And then the next day, as if by magic, he turned up. He just found me somehow. We sat down. He said can I just talk to you for a second when you’ve got a moment? I was, like, sure. And he said, uI’m from an agency in Hollywood, and I represent directors, and I’d like to represent you. And I said oh, okay. And then he said, do you want to know who else I represent? I’m with clients like Quinton Tarantino and Tim Burton, and I was, like, really? And you want me?
And from that day on, my life changed. You don’t need to know anything about Hollywood. You just need to make a film, and then these people exist. So they go, okay, we’re gonna make it happen. And then a few months later I was offered Godzilla, and things like that. I don’t know how it really works. I think if I had my life again, it wouldn’t happen the same way.
So it’s evident from the parts that we got to see last night, that you really put a lot of detail in there from the original movies. The blue drink. The setup of Jyn’s home. Did you actually get to use any props from the first trilogy?
I think it’s in the trailer. You’ve seen it. Obviously, they never anticipated that Star Wars would become this when they made it.
And so there’s sometimes not a record of what an object is. I can’t talk about some things ’cause they’re spoilers, but there was definitely on Yavin, which is the rebel planet, there’s a guy as the Millennium Falcon comes in, he sort of follows it, like, with this speed gun or something. Assume it’s a speed gun. He’s not gonna shoot at the Millennium Falcon. And we were calling up the art department. We have got no record of what that object he’s holding is. And so we called the guy that’s originally in the the bucket. And, I’m like, do you remember what that was? And he said, oh yeah! We didn’t have anything. So we grabbed a light meter for the camera. And something else and we taped it together, and I just held it. And we were, like, what were those objects? We just want to get those objects and do exactly the same thing. He’s like, I’m not sure! And so we kinda looked at it in high res, and tried to replicate it. And with the blue milk stuff, I’ve got a confession; I’m a massive Star Wars fan obviously. And for my 30th birthday, I went to Tunisia and woke up on the day I turned 30 in Luke Skywalker’s house.
Not by accident. It wasn’t like a crazy night out. And I took some blue dye with me because I wanted to drink blue milk at the very table where he does with Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen. And I actually made a blue milk glass drink and, and drank it. And then dropped it, and it went all over the floor and there’s this big blue stain now.
I felt really bad ’cause, this is cinema history. And then I was, well, you kinda left your mark.
That’s one way to go about doing it.
How does it feel to be telling a part of the story that’s arguably one of the most, if not the most, important events in the Star Wars canon? Because without those plans, the Death Star just destroys everything.
It feels like probably what the characters feel like in that we know. It was an impossible mission really. It was like something you’re not supposed to succeed at, or survive. Try and make a good, or great Star Wars film, or something that lives up to those masterpieces I grew up with; it is, like, nearly impossible. We became a band of rebels making the film, and we were rebellious! We did things we weren’t supposed to do. There’s a set way of making these big movies. Say the shoot was 10 hours long, or something, one day. The last hour was like a playground. And so we’d get what we needed for the scene. Then for last hour it’s like… okay, do whatever you want. And so we would just play around.
A lot of the stuff that was in the trailer came from things like that. Like the picture of Krennic in the white cape, and he’s sort of stood looking with the big blue sphere behind him. The planet and the Death Star. That was just messing around. Like, okay, we did this scene, but we never said cut. And we went on for another 40 minutes. And we would just whisper things to Ben and to the actors and move the camera around. Everyone’s like, well, where’s it gonna be in the film? And you think, oh, I don’t know! It just looked good. And, and then the trailers come in, and Disney shows you this is what we’re thinking for the trailer. And these shots start turning up. You go, oh, cool! See? We did that.
*I attended a Rogue One press event sponsored by Disney. All opinions are my own.