Actor Peter Mayhew has portrayed Chewbacca, the lovable “walking carpet” from the Star Wars films, since the original film. He took a moment to speak to Motif writer Mike Ryan about his upcoming visit to Rhode Island.
Motif: How did you end up living in Texas?
Peter Mayhew: Well, I’m from the U.K., but I married a Texas girl, so here I am.
M: Are you looking forward to RI ComicCon?
PM: It’s fun to go these events – I’ve been to conventions all over the world, and you see people you know and people you like. I usually find it easy to get along with everybody.
M: What is it about Chewbacca that’s made him such a fan favorite?
PM: You know, I’ve been wondering that for 30 years. I think it boils down to how he looks after everybody. He is a teddy bear. He’s loveable and cuddly in a lot of ways, but he’s also always looking out for his friends. He’s got their backs. He’s a good listener. And he can fly the Millennium Falcon, which is pretty cool.
M: How do you get into character?
PM: Something happens every time I put on the mask or get into the costume, and Chewy just comes out. He sort of has a life of his own. And I’m amazed and grateful that after all this time, he still comes back. Which came in handy when they had me play him again in the “Return of the Sith” (Star Wars episode 3, released in 2005).
M: How did you get the role of Chewbacca?
PM: I was working in a hospital as porter. A local newspaper did an interview, and someone associated with “Sinbad and the Eye of Tiger” saw my picture. They were looking for a Minotaur. My role in that film led to Star Wars.
M: What’s it like to work as such a non-verbal character?
PM: You look at things differently. I think that if I hadn’t become an actor, I would have liked to be a puppeteer. I really enjoy finding ways to express things through body language, through movement.
M: Did you do the vocals?
PM: In the movies, the voice was added afterward. Then, later, I was doing a public interview and they asked me to do the voice. I did, and I ended up being cast to do the voice in the Clone Wars animated series. So I have done the voice of Chewy.
M: From an actor’s perspective, was the filmmaking experience different on the newer films?
PM: It was slightly different. In the newer films, there’s a blue screen and you’re reacting to objects or things that the director and crew have suggested are there. In the original, they were there.
M: Were you surprised to learn that Chewbacca was old enough to appear in the newer set of movies?
PM: It was great when I found out I’d be able to play Chewy in the Return of the Sith. I did know he was old enough – Stewart Freeborn, the amazing make-up artist who created the masks, told me he was making Chewy old enough to have a chance to be in the prequels.
M: What do you do when you’re not roaring at Stormtroopers?
PM: I have a couple of children’s books out – they help young people to accept their differences and be happy with who they are. And I work with the Peter Mayhew Foundation, which works with the 501stcorp of Stormtroopers and other people from the science fiction realm to help with events that benefit a number of good causes. It’s very rewarding.
M: How tall are you? Is your height related to the messages in your children’s books?
PM: I’m 7’2”. And yes, that’s part of what makes it important to me for people to accept that you are who you are. You know, I’m friends with Kenny Baker, who played R2. When we would hang out, it attracted a lot of funny glances. And my wife is 5’2”. Don’t ask how that works.
But when we walk across a room, you can see people noticing, and wondering, “How tall is he?” and then when we get closer, it can be funny to watch their faces.
M: What do you like to watch?
PM: Crime Procedurals. I like anything with a scientific element, like CSI.
M: What do you do for fun?
PM: My wife and I have a cabin we go to on the countryside. We have parrots, goats, pecan trees, four dogs.
M: Any final thoughts?
PM: Come visit us all at the ComicCon!