Features | Written by Andrew Dex 10/06/2020

Chris Bartlett | THE MANDALORIAN

We talk with THE MANDALORIAN actor CHRIS BARTLETT to learn more of his STAR WARS journey in front of the camera, from professionally performing as C-3PO to his roles as The Ferryman, Zero, and a Death Star droid (which he made himself!), and what it’s like to work with the likes of show creator JON FAVREAU, Lucasfilm legend DAVE FILONI, and Mando body double BRENDAN WAYNE….

STARBURST: How did you first get involved with the Star Wars franchise?

Chris Bartlett: I had built the suit that we use on TV. I had worked on it just as a passion project for myself. When Lucasfilm found out about it, they invited me to Lucasfilm to finish building it there, which I did. Then we went on our first event, which was in Australia. There was a voice track provided, and I performed as C-3PO in the suit. A few years later and after I’d been doing TV appearances, Disney World contracted me through Lucasfilm to come out and do an appearance with Anthony Daniels, where he would be doing a show, talking about his career as C-3PO. He would be appearing on stage for the first time in public ‘with’ C-3PO, because Anthony Daniels ‘is’ C-3PO. He is the one who really created the character that we all love, so he wouldn’t appear with C-3PO because that’s him. However, Disney wrote a story, this show, then he decided that he liked the show, and that he would do it with C-3PO. He talks about his career for about 25 minutes, then in the last 5 minutes he goes behind the curtain, you see his silhouette, the light goes down, then the light comes back up. It’s the silhouette of C-3PO. C-3PO comes out, and then Anthony comes out, and they both see each for the first time. It’s a really emotional and cool moment for the audience. You can feel the audience have that nostalgic, really special feeling. In preparation for that, we had some rehearsals, where it was just him and I. He recorded lines for it, and I did the performance in the suit, but we worked out some timings.

Was that the first time you met Anthony Daniels?

No, years before that, the very first time I had finished building the suit, just as a fan I appeared at The Boston Museum of Science, where they have the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit. On the opening day, Anthony Daniels was there. I heard he was going to be there. There were stormtroopers etc, and I thought it would be fun to appear in the costume, with the other costume characters. Anyway, he was backstage with us, when we were suiting up. This was the first time I met him, and he gave me some tips, like when you move you isolate your motion. The torso sever from your legs, sever from your head, arms. That really gave me the biggest tip on moving/performing as C-3PO. That was really useful. It’s not big sweeping motions, it’s individual parts that are moving. So that was cool. He was just giving me advice as a fan. Neither of us knew that later on I’d be performing as the media C-3PO for Lucasfilm.    

How did C-3P0 lead to The Mandalorian?

I got a call to go down for a fitting, as a droid. By this time I’d been performing as C-3PO for twelve years. On TV, in commercials, etc. Not just for fun! This was performing work. They knew about that, and they called me to go down for a fitting for a droid at Legacy Effects here in Los Angeles. They only had the costume from the waist up. They gave me some spandex to put on, then I put on the suit from the waist up. When I put it on, it was way more comfortable than C-3PO. It wasn’t so restrictive. They knew that I had a lot of experience as a suit performer, as a creature performer, and in small confined helmets. So once we put it on, I got to see the concept art, that you see of the crew at the end of Chapter 6. I saw Zero in that piece of art, how he was standing. Kind of standing like Boba Fett. So, I put on the costume, and we did a screen test on a grey background. I just moved around, initially like Boba Fett mixed with C-3PO. Where you have these droid motions, but a cold calculating motion also. They gave me a pistol, it wasn’t the one I used in the show, but I did some poses, and looked around, and they said “OK.” We did that for about 20 minutes, then they took that footage and sent it to Jon Favreau. I didn’t hear anything for a while until I got this call to come down for another fitting. For what they called The Ferryman. I said, “Oh, so I guess I didn’t get the droid that I auditioned for?” and they said “No! You’re going to be doing that too!” I said “OK great, that’s awesome news, because I really like that one!” I had no idea what The Ferryman was going to be. I said, “What is that character?” as I was picturing a shirtless, half goat creature, with ears. In my mind I was like “This doesn’t sound like Star Wars!” So I asked if they could tell me some more, in which they replied by saying “You’ll be playing the flute!” So, I guess that’s what it is! Anyway I got the email confirming my appointment to go down for that fitting, and it was spelled “Ferryman”, and I was like “Oh, Ferryman!” A guy who guides someone across a river maybe? I still had no idea what that one would look like. When I got down to suit up it was a character that looked a lot like the Garindan character from A New Hope who lets the sandtroopers know where our heroes are going to go. I just thought that was so cool. Again, it’s a confined mask, but that has its whole story as well. Back to Zero, they said I’d be flying The Mandalorian’s ship! All of a sudden my whole life rewound to when I was a seven year old in 1977, pretending in cardboard boxes to fly ships! So I really couldn’t wait for that day on set. I didn’t know that that would be until four months later, I thought that every time I had a scene as Zero I was going to be flying the ship. So that day was unforgettable. 

Droid mercenary Q9-0, aka 'Zero', pilots the Razor Crest

You act as The Ferryman in Chapter 1, alongside Brendan Wayne and Horatio Sanz, what was that particular scene like to film, and what do you remember the most from putting it together?

That was my very first day on set. Yeah, it was with Brendan Wayne who is the double for The Mandalorian. So most of my work was with Brendan, the grandson of John Wayne. It was just so cool to be able to work with him. All I’m seeing on set is his helmet. His manner - where he has to radiate through a faceless mask - was so cool! I’m a huge fan of Boba Fett, so I was in awe when I looked at this mask for the first time. Going to the moment, imagine you get the call to be in Star Wars, and you’re a huge fan of Star Wars, going all the back to your childhood. Inside you feel like there’s this massive dynamite that’s about to blow up with excitement! You can just imagine how that would feel, but you have to maintain your cool, because you need to be professional. You have a character to play, and a story to tell. You don’t have time to bubble around the set, being all excited. On the very first day they don’t give you your lines until you arrive at the set, so you only have a short amount of time to prepare. I was sitting in my room, going over my lines, which ended up being alien language anyway! They were English lines on paper. So, I was memorising them, doing them all correctly, saying them in the suit. They said “OK Chris, Dave Filoni is going to come in and go over your lines with you.” So Brendan and Dave came in, and Horatio Sanz who is the character from Chapter 1 in the first scene. They don’t give you any direction/background on this character, what his motivation is, what he sounds like, what he’s doing there. It’s just like we’re going to do the scene, and these are your lines. As an actor you have to bring something so that there’s not nothing there! I came up with the voice. I thought about how he’d be lonely, sitting out there on the ice, frozen ocean, he doesn’t get a lot of visitors, so he’s probably depressed, frustrated. I sat down with Dave - who I’d met before as C-3PO through Lucasfilm - and he was talking about what it was like to make Star Wars with George, and then Jon Favreau walks in. Now, this was the first time I knew Jon was even going to be there or that I’d ever met him. He walks in, just like a regular guy, your neighbour and says “Hey guys!”. I stand up and I’m like “Oh, hi - I’m Chris!”, I held my hand out, and Jon’s hands were full, with books, and a water bottle. He’s trying to shuffle his stuff to shake my hand, and I was thinking “Abort!” I felt like I was making a fool of myself. So I just stood there, and he did shake my hand, and we did the scene. Anyway, I thought that I’d ruined all of my chances by inconveniencing him. Then we did the reading, and again I just brought my voice. I imagined this frozen wasteland, like Siberia, maybe this guy has like a Russian/alien voice. In the scene, The Mandalorian asks for a speeder, and The Ferryman doesn’t like it, because Mando says no droids. My guy says “Well I assure you, this speeder is brand new”, and Jon goes, “That’s good, but let’s cartoon it down a little?”, and then Dave says “Would we even do an English for this?” and I was like “I don’t think so!” I talked about how fans would like it to be an alien language, then Jon was also saying the same thing, how this should be an alien language. It was cool to be able to see them make creative decisions that really affected the character you see on screen right then. It was neat. Then when it was time to go out on set, I had been anticipating this moment since I was seven. When they said “OK, it’s time to go out on the set, take your place up on the pier” literally as I was stepping up on to the pier, the whole thing flowed way down, my boot touching the pier, there was snow and wind blowing, there’s water on the pier that’s frozen. My whole life was rewound to when I was little. It was emotional. I was so excited to be there, but also scared, as I didn’t want to mess up this opportunity. We got up there, and the wind’s blowing, then The Mandalorian is walking towards me. I was like, “This is SO awesome!” I just couldn’t believe it. So I did my scene, my English lines over and over. Then we got the shot. The set was like this cylinder, from floor to ceiling, of monitors, that projects the environment all around you. It looks so realistic. There’s no green screens. The light & colour, bouncing off the characters, makes it look like they are really in that environment. It makes it so easy for the actor to feel like they are part of that real environment. It was an amazing experience. Something that I could never imagine. 

Star Wars is obviously known for its huge costume, and puppeteering workshops. So, can you tell us about what it's like to see their epic workshops in real life, and how they’ve been applied to constructing the world of The Mandalorian? 

Legacy Effects were the ones that did the vast majority on the episodes that I worked on. The Child/Baby Yoda was there of course, everyone knows this one! I saw him on the first day, and I didn’t know that he was going to be such a central part of the story. It was more adorable than I thought any Ewok could be. Shortly after that, someone said that that was the bounty, that’s what The Mandalorian is searching for, and that’s what he is protecting through the whole season. It was a major thing that we had to keep quiet. I had seen all of the different variations of the armour for The Mandalorian, and I didn’t understand why there were so many different types until I had seen some scenes, where he was upgrading his armour. Stepping onto the set and seeing IG-11 lying on the table, which is from the last episode, where Kuiil was restoring him. That was the first time that I had seen him, laying on the table. I was going “Oh wow, that’s IG-88, he’s in this too!? That’s amazing!” Then as I was performing more on the set I realised that there were a lot of things on The Mandalorian that we recognise, that we are meant to possibly relate to because we’ve seen this character before. However, almost none of them are the real thing that we are thinking. For example, IG-11 looks almost exactly like IG-88 but he is just another one. IG-88 isn’t the only robot in the galaxy that looks like that, just like R2-D2 isn’t. I really like that about the show. There are a lot of characters, and creatures, droids, that we can relate to or remember. Like an R5 droid that appeared in The Gunslinger chapter. It could be R4 etc or just another one. It was just really neat to see it in real life. Jon and Dave have made a lot of effort. In the show they’ve dropped a lot of things that we remember from our childhood. It’s really cool, and Dave and Jon are the best people to be on this. They are just like us, lifelong Star Wars fans that just want to make more of it. You can see their love through the work. 

The Ferryman prepares safe passage for the Mandalorian

Which costume took the longest to get ready in?

Zero was pretty quick, because it was only the top half. The bottom half was CGI legs, so I’d be wearing spandex. I could sit down which was something that I could never do with C-3PO. The death star droid that was in the cantina in The Reckoning, I built that one. That was originally supposed to be a black protocol droid, very C-3PO looking. They knew that I built protocol droids, and wanted me to build one for this scene. I said that I do do that, but just on my own, I had just finished building my own Death Star droid. We had sculpted the head and the body, and had just finished the mould. I hadn’t painted it, or had it chromed just yet. So I said “Yes I could make you a C-3PO but I’m also making this, what do you think?” I got a note back from Colin Wilson, the Executive Producer, saying that they were really excited about the Death Star droid, and would like to use that one for the cantina. They said that they’d put me on a call tomorrow with Doug Chiang! I was like “Wow, Doug Chiang!” I had been following his work since 1999 with his concept artwork for the prequels. So I talked with Doug specifically about that one. Going back to your question, the Death Star droid took the longest. Normally my wife goes with me, she’s an actor herself, but also a character performer. She’s an expert at costuming. She worked for Disney for 13 years as a character performer. She is the one who usually travels with me, and dresses me up. She wasn’t with me on this one, but I did have Don from Legacy Effects. She helped me dress up as Zero and the Death Star droid. She did a great job putting it on, and taking it off. I was in great hands with Don as well. The Death Star droid was just more involved, as it fits together like a puzzle. All together it took about half an hour to put on, just because it was a new person. 

Bartlett's home-built Death Star droid tends bar

You played Zero in Chapter 6, what was this robot like to play, and what did you enjoy the most about working on this episode in particular?

After the first sitting I went home. I was talking with my friend, Dee Tails, who is a character/actor and suit performer in The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, Solo, Rogue One. He plays droids, and other characters. So he and I just connected on Facebook a while ago. I was talking with him, and we started talking about bugs. I was asking him for advice, on how he approaches characters, because he has done a lot of films. He was so helpful, and he was really my mentor on doing a new character. He even came out to LA, we got together, went out in the mountains and talked about acting as droids/creatures. How to approach each role. He’s an amazing individual and performer. We started talking about treating the character like a bug, because he kind of looks like a praying mantis. So I researched the praying mantis, how they moved, and how they keep their head still. They can twitch their head real fast, and look. So I looked at a bunch of praying mantis videos. You can see this when Zero walks down the ramp for the first time. When he is being introduced by the crew to The Mandalorian. When I first walked down the ramp, my eyes as a regular human are looking where I’m walking, so I don’t fall down the ramp, and ruin the scene. As I was doing that, I was thinking about how a droid wouldn’t watch where it was walking, its sensors would know where it was walking. So I made the decision to keep my head facing the crew, until I got to the bottom of the ramp, but the problem was that I couldn’t tell when I was going to get to the bottom. I was just hoping that I wouldn’t stumble. I did it once, I stumbled a little bit, and then we got it. Staring at them while my body is walking down the ramp. It made it look more robotic. You can also see when I’m looking for The Child, how I would snap my head when I look around. That came from a bug kind of approach. The eyes were really cloudy, and I could only see through these two tiny slits right in the middle of the face, that you can’t see. It made it a real challenge. Another thing that I did for the character was that I tried to come up with a voice for it. He had a lot of lines, and I learned all of the lines, performed all of the lines while I was in the suit. I also brought my own microphone and amplifier so that people could hear my voice. I mounted those. I wouldn’t drink water before I was going to go out onto the set. My idea for this character was that he was a more sinister C-3PO, maybe he’d be British - sorry! -  and have more of a gravelly voice.That’s how I did it the whole day. Then later when they got Richard Ayoade to do the voice, he did a gravelly British accent! I was so happy with his performance, he sounded great. It felt like we were on the same wavelength in regards to how this character might sound. When I was going around on set, talking to people, I tried to stay in character a little bit, not to be annoying, but just because I wanted them to feel that this was a robot. I did get a lot of comments, like “How am I doing this voice?” because people weren’t expecting a voice to come out of it. Another thing that I would do when I was walking is that I’d turn my head and stare at people, it had this real sinister feeling. I had no idea how cool this character looked until I saw it on the show, because I was inside it right, there were no mirrors on set. I was just trying to do my best.

Mando interrogates Zero

You may have noticed that this costume appears in Chapter 3, it’s in a couple of fleeting shots. It’s in the scene where all of the bounty hunters are descending upon The Mandalorian. When he’s got The Child in the street. I appeared in the costume in that as well, and they gave me a different weapon. It was like a Boba Fett EE-3 carbon rifle. It was foam, really light weight. So when we filmed, during the shoot out, it was easy to carry it around, and pretend to shoot. Then, in this different episode they gave me a weapon that felt like it weighed 20 pounds. I don’t know what it was made made out of. You can see the weight of it when I’m carrying it, but it was so heavy. When I was carrying it around in the ship, we had to do some tricks. For example when I crawled down the ladder to the cargo hold to look for The Child, there’s a guy at the top of the ladder holding the rifle, so I could just pretend like I was holding it the whole time. I could just reach up and come down. There was no way I could bring it down, because I would just fall to my death. Which, eventually I did, when The Mandalorian shot me. Actually, while filming this show I died twice in one week, two different characters. You’re in shoot outs, it’s all the stuff we pretended to be when we were kids, running through the streets/neighbourhood with cardboard weapons. It was all that, but real explosions, amazing costumes, super realistic environments. It was just a dream come true. 

How would you describe The Mandalorian to someone that's never heard of Star Wars?

It is a lot like the old Clint Eastwood-style westerns, but in Star Wars. Just like George always called Star Wars a space western or space opera. This really feels literally like how George was describing it back then. If you go and watch the High Plains Drifter or Pale Rider, these films where a loner walks into a town, where it’s been terrorised by robbers or whatever. He has a special set of skills, they realise that, and they ask for his help, and he helps them. He is so helpful that they ask him to stay. Maybe there’s a widow that likes him a bit more than everyone else, maybe he’ll stay for her, but no he just can’t because this place isn’t for him. It’s like taking a familiar story, and then putting it into Star Wars to make it totally new. This is what I was talking about before, everything is familiar but everything is new. It just makes it something that you really connect to. It’s something you feel like you’ve seen before, but it’s something that you’ve never seen before. Plus, it’s Star Wars. If you don’t know anything about Star Wars, George always described it as a morality tale for the rising generation. Star Wars was always made for 7-12 year olds, a rising generation learning the difference between right and wrong, how to make a choice, seeing good triumph over evil. Those hopeful lessons. That’s who it is for. If you are ever watching a piece of Star Wars and it feels a little too childish, just remember that that’s who it’s meant for, for young people. However, Jon and Dave have taken something that although it’s meant for young people, there’s also an adult generation that love this world as well. They have put everything in it that they can, to make it a hug to that generation as well, and say that this was made for them also. That’s what really makes it special. The other thing is that there’s droids, creatures, ships, space, explosions, shoot-outs! It’s so fun, and the cool thing about it is that you don’t have to have seen Star Wars to enjoy The Mandalorian, because it’s action as well as a message and story that people can relate to.

All episodes of THE MANDALORIAN are available exclusively on Disney+