No performance from 2016 was met with quite the fascination of Guy Henry’s turn in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — and he wasn’t even one of the few actors not involved in the film’s worldwide media blitz.
The British actor was tasked with playing Grand Moff Tarkin, with his performance capture work and visual effects wizardry helping resurrect the character played by the late Peter Cushing in 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope. Rather than recasting the role, Industrial Light & Magic recreated Cushing’s actual likeness for a performance not quite like any in film history.
Reached by phone in Great Britain Friday, Henry spoke about the unprecedented responsibility he felt to honor Cushing (“It was genuinely frightening”), his offer to let director Gareth Edwards recast him (“I won’t be offended”) and speculation that the story of Carrie Fisher’s Leia might continue through such technology. (He declined to comment on Fisher, but did offer this of the technology: “I think and hope it won’t be a commonplace thing.”)
During the 18 months you kept this a secret, did your family know what you were doing?
The very, very closest of my family and friends — I graciously allowed them into the secret, because I think I would have gone mad otherwise. My name began to be associated with it occasionally. People would ask. At work, [the team behind the BBC One series] Holby City had to know I was doing something in it, but even my agent, when I was asked to meet Gareth Edwards, she didn’t really know why. They didn’t tell her. It was quite a responsibility really, and I’m glad it was kept secret right up until the very last moment.
How did Gareth Edwards and Industrial Light & Magic’s John Knoll convince you this would all work out?
I felt I couldn’t feel too responsible in the sense of the way that it looked. I had to trust John Knoll and Gareth and the team, who were convinced they could make it work. Vocally, I’m not a mimic. I’m genuinely not an impressionist. I’d be doing my very best to do my Tarkin, the rolled “r” and the voice as best I could, and Gareth would say, “OK relax on that. Just be a bit more Guy now.” I had to trust that they saw something in the reel of my work that convinced them it could be the tribute to Cushing everyone wanted it to be. It was very, very frightening, in all seriousness.
Did the reshoots affect you much?
Because the story was changing all the time, I kept thinking I had finished. “The responsibility has lapsed. Thank God, I can lie down.” Then they’d say, “Actually, can you come in next week and do half a line here and half a line there?” It was genuinely frightening, because I didn’t want to let down a huge movie, and equally, I didn’t want to let down Peter Cushing.
Do you remember much about what changed and when you finally ended your work?
It was quite difficult to remember what the last bit was. I would literally be called back to do half a line a bit differently. Half a line that had a bit more stress to it because something else had altered slightly what had happened to a different character. It was immensely detailed. It’s something of a blur.
Did you have doubts this would work?
Normally as an actor, you are you pretending to be another person. Here, I was me pretending to be Peter Cushing pretending to be Tarkin. I said at one point, “I won’t be offended if you feel the voice isn’t good enough or isn’t right or is too young.” There is a famous impersonator here called Rory Bremner. I said, “I won’t be offended if you want to get him. I just want it to be good. Don’t worry if you have to ditch my voice.” They stuck with me gamely.