Hi Mr. Smith! My first question for you: Could you tell how you got started in the movie business?
I initially got inspired to be an actor by watching countless episodes of a show called Daktari as a kid. Daktari, Swahili for “doctor”, is an American children’s drama series that aired on CBS prime time between 1966 and 1969 in the United States. The series, an Ivan Tors Films Production in association with MGM Television starring Marshall Thompson as Dr. Marsh Tracy, a veterinarian at the fictional Wameru Study Centre for Animal Behaviour in East Africa.
However, it wasn’t until many years later that I actually walked onto a movie set for the first time.
Whilst completing my MBA (Masters in International Business and Economics) at UCLA – University of California, Los Angeles, a professor pulled me over after giving a presentation with my group and told me that I was a pretty good presenter and had I ever thought about acting. He suggested that I do so and wrote down a few names and numbers that I could call (this was before the internet took off), and gave them to me. So I contacted them and one thing led to another and I ended up on a movie set.
To be honest, I don’t actually remember what movie or TV show was my very first. I just remember calling the numbers my professor gave me and sending my photos in to them in the mail. Then I got a phone call one day and was asked to come into an agency in West LA on the Sunset Strip (Hollywood Boulevard). I registered with the agency and from that moment on I was on many productions.
I quickly earned my way into the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA) and was able to gain more respect by building my portfolio and ultimately landed a legitimate Hollywood “acting” agent/manager.
Can you tell how you got cast as a Resistance colonel for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? How did the casting process go?
It was my destiny. I came to the UK in 2012 for the Olympic and Paralympic Games after closing out and selling off my successful outdoor and adventure business in Belgium (think The North Face, Arc’teryx, etc.). I was hired on for the last 7 months as an event manager for The Games. My contract ended after The Games finished and I decided to stay in London to look for work.
So, one day I simply Googled acting agencies in London and a plethora of agency names came up. I registered with a few of them and was asked to come into one of them for a registration day. They said they were a new agency representing SA’s but had extensive contacts in the film industry. I didn’t think much of it nor did I hear anything from them for ages and then one day I got an email informing me that I had been chosen – from my picture – for a new movie and asking my availability for the summer months.
There wasn’t much of a “process” really. I was chosen from my picture, although I heard that there was a casting for some supporting actors. Once my availability was considered to be sufficient, I was informed that I would be a “pirate” in the anonymous movie. This is the 1st movie that I had been in for many years since I left Hollywood and when I heard “pirate” I immediately thought that the movie was a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel or something along those lines.
I then went to a fitting at Pinewood Studios where they took very accurate measurements.
I was not initially cast as a Resistance colonel. I was a basic Resistance fighter fitted into a standard Resistance “pirate” military outfit. On the first day of filming, I went to wardrobe and my costume was fitted on me. I, as did everyone, had to be inspected and given the personal approval of Michael Kaplan, Head of Costume Design. He looked me up and down, through his big black-framed glasses, and he very quietly and calmly told his assistant standing next to him to upgrade me to a Colonel.
How did the filming of your scenes go?
I was in multiple scenes both on location at the RAF Greenham Common – the Resistance base on D’Qar – and at Pinewood Studios.
In general, the filming was quite intense because I had to focus on my performance as an actor as well as concentrating on other things going on around me such as health & safety as well as other personalities and the absolute awe of being on the set of Star Wars with the original cast and incredibly talented crew, technical specialists, artists, creatures & robots.
It was imperative to be absolutely focused on your role at that moment. It can be quite distracting to be standing next to a 7 foot Wookiee as BB-8 scoots past you or Admiral Ackbar positions himself next to you in the War Room. Not to mention being in the same room with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and many others. So total FOCUS on the task at hand and staying in character was key and it was very important not to get star struck. I carried on performing as if it was just another day at the office.
My scenes started filming late spring and early summer at Pinewood Studios. However, as we all know, Harrison Ford broke his leg on set and many of my scenes were postponed until late summer after Harrison returned back from LA fully recuperated. Upon our return in late summer, as you can imagine, the emphasis on being SAFE on set could not be over emphasized!
You were there on the set with some Star Wars legends like Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and new stars Oscar Isaac and John Boyega. How were they and did you get to interact with them?
The entire cast and crew were incredibly nice. As well, I will take a moment here to mention that the Director, J.J. Abrams, was (is) an incredibly talented, patient and all round nice person and extremely fun to work with. I am NOT just saying this just to be saying it. I have worked with a lot of directors and A-listers and believe me they are not all so patient and fun to work with!
Yes, I got to speak with many of the Star Wars legends, but not at great lengths except on one occasion.
One morning on location, I was asked by an AD to follow him. He brought me close to the Millennium Falcon and then asked me to stop and wait there until he came back. Then, after about 15 minutes, he came back and asked me to follow him closer to the Millennium Falcon. He brought me right under the spaceship and then I started seeing familiar faces like Carrie Fishers stand-in and Harrison Ford’s stand-in. Then J.J. emerged out of a crowd of activity under the Falcon where it became apparent to me that they were preparing to film a major scene. The AD put his hand on my shoulder and said “this guy” and J.J. gave a quick sign of approval then spun around and disappeared into the busy group behind him. The AD just walked away and told me to stay where I was standing.
It was about 9am by this time and the sun started burning its way through the early morning mist. About that time, a group of very nice wardrobe and make-up ladies approached me and started pulling out their sewing needles and make-up kits and went to work on my uniform and my face making sure everything was perfect. Not long after that, Admiral Statura (Ken Leung) approached me from the same group that J.J. had disappeared into. He said that we would be doing a scene together with Harrison and Carrie. I didn’t have time to get nervous or think about how incredibly cool this was. So Ken and I stood there together about an hour talking and getting to know each other in the warm morning sun. A very pleasant experience. Turns out he is from the same part of the States I am from and we just couldn’t stop talking. He even told me that his closest childhood friend in New Jersey was called “Gerard”! We had a lot of fun talking while waiting until everything was set. In the meantime, the lead photographer and his team also came over to us and took like a zillion photos.
Finally, Harrison and Carrie came out under the Falcon to rehearse their roles. Carrie’s action was to come to Admiral Statura (Ken) and me after her intimate moment with Harrison. So before we formally started rehearsing, she came up to me, reached out and shook my hand and said hi and asked me how it was going. We talked for a while in the morning sun with Ken and then Daisy Ridley came bounding over to say hi. She was smiling from ear to ear and very jubilant. Extremely nice and you get a very sincere feeling about her.
Ken welcomed me to the Star Wars family and made me feel very at ease. Carrie talked to me about many things and was explaining to me about her dog before J.J. came over and got her and asked her to go back to Harrison that we were ready to start filming.
After a few rehearsals, J.J. walked up to Ken and me and gave us a few suggestions to nail the action. Then he shook both of our hands and emphatically said let’s do this as he walked away.
I spoke with Harrison Ford on a few other occasions, mostly at craft and about coffee, but he was rehearsing the details of his scene with J.J. whilst we were all talking.
What great/funny/remarkable stories can you share regarding your time on the set of Star Wars?
I don’t know where to start (or stop). I couldn’t possibly explain them all here, so I will only select a few. The entire experience was amazing. From the outset of filming, J.J. Abrams made us feel like “part of the family”. Sometimes J.J. would take a moment at the beginning of the day and give a short impromptu speech about how he was really happy to have us ALL working together and that we should ALL feel as one family and that we indeed ARE all one family!
I guess one other remarkable moment was when, as if it couldn’t get any better, I had to step out of the scene for a few minutes while some cables were being moved in the place I was standing. So I was asked to step off (and down the steps) to the ground level. I just stepped into a group of onlookers and didn’t really look anyone in the face until after. So a few minutes went by and I decided to look quickly to my left. So, standing directly next to me was Kathleen Kennedy (President of Lucasfilm), Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg. Kathleen looked back at me and said “Hi” and Tom looked over and gave me a friendly nod while Simon Pegg kept staring straight ahead in total amazement of the set and what was going on.
The other truly remarkable thing about Star Wars and my time on the set was the SET itself!!! The set design and all of those absolutely incredibly creative people that helped make that happen is truly beyond comprehension! I couldn’t help just looking and studying (on my down time) the intricacies of the set design of the Resistance base! Incredible!
What is the best or most precious memory you have regarding The Force Awakens?
I am not sure if it’s the most precious moment, but it’s the one that I think about almost every day and that’s when I was selected to be in a scene with Han Solo, Princess Leia and Admiral Statura in front of the Falcon Millennium. It’s the scene I just described 2 questions prior to this one.
When J.J. Abrams came over and shook my hand before we started to film that scene, I knew that it was a special moment. It was even more special after we successfully completed the scene and J.J. came out and was smiling and said, jokingly, “if it didn’t work it was all Gerard’s fault” and was smiling from ear to ear looking at me!
In a previous scene on another day when Princess Leia was giving a speech to all of us inside of the Resistance base, J.J. came out from behind the camera between ‘takes’, walked towards the edge of the platform where we were all standing and looked at me and asked me what my name was in front of all of my Resistance Alliance Rebel colleagues. I told him my name was “Gerard”. He said, hi Gerard, and politely asked me if I could stand more “straight up” in the group rather than leaning slightly to one side because it didn’t look right on camera. I was embarrassed like hell but my fellow Resistance fighters were like, he spoke your name! What an honour to have J.J. Abrams actually speak to you!
Star Wars VIII is currently filming and Rogue One will be released in December. Will we see you in one of these movies (or in both)?
No, I was not involved with Rogue One. “They have contacted me to be involved in Star Wars VIII, but of course, I can’t disclose much about that now. Plus I don’t know anything . . . It’s really on a “Need to Know ” basis, even for some cast members and walk-on actors like myself. ”
Besides Star Wars you have acted in a lot of popular movies and series: SPECTRE, Blade, Babylon 5… what is your own personal favorite of all the things you’ve been in?
I really enjoyed working on Blade. That’s the most memorable for me. We filmed most of the vampire scenes in the San Fernando Valley in an abandoned factory building. Each day we had to walk through a huge “shower” and get covered in artificial blood before filming. That was after getting our vampire fangs fitted and special shoes. Each day we had new shoes and new clothes as well because they were ruined by the fake blood and impossible to clean it off. Every day after filming we had to take a shower before leaving (obviously).
Since I do some martial arts, and the director liked my look, I was upgraded to do a fight scene with Wesley Snipes. Since I had to work with the fight choreographer, I was invited to go behind the factory where Wesley’s trailer was. They had built a mini-outdoor gym on the side and so Wesley told me I could pump a little iron if I wanted. So that was cool.
Unfortunately, the entire fight scene that I am in with Wesley did not make it to the final edit. But it was really cool to have done it anyway.
I read you once helped Arnold Schwarzenegger move his furniture out of his house. I just have to ask: how did you get into a situation like that? Helping out ‘The Governator’?
It’s an amazing story really. As anyone that knows me can tell you, I am a huge fan of everything Terminator, so when I first met Arnie on the set of Batman and Robin in 1997 on the Universal Studios lot when he was Mr. Freeze and I was a Gotham City wealthy patron, I was very pleased to say the least. He was full on in his outfit and stepped out to have a puff on a cigar. I had “seen” him a few times since I lived in Venice Beach and joined Gold’s Gym on Muscle Beach where he used to pump iron out in the open Californian air. He passed by there every so often. He also owned a restaurant and Austrian beer house in Santa Monica called “Schatzi’s” where I used to frequent. So I had seen him a few times, but never met him until on set.
In addition to doing the acting thing, I was also an event and party manager at a VIP party service to the stars based in Beverly Hills called The Party Staff. They regularly sent me out to great locations such as The Playboy Mansion and other residences in Beverly Hills. On one occasion, I was assigned to Arnie’s house to manage one of his many charity events he was putting on. So that’s how I ended up in his Beverly Hills mansion moving furniture with him. It wasn’t a lot of furniture or big stuff. Just a few tables in the den. He asked me to help him move them out so that when the guests arrived, they wouldn’t be tripping over things and more space would be available for guests to congregate in the den if they so desired.
My final question: Could you say something in Dutch to all the Dutch Star Wars fans out there?
I am honoured to be a global citizen of the world and to represent the Netherlands in such an iconic movie as Star Wars! As a teenager, I was scolded once by my science teacher in school that I was a “dreamer” and was told on multiple other occasions to stop looking out the window and daydreaming. The creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, was in fact a dreamer. The creative team that Lucas initially set up in the summer of 1977 got together to “dream” of the worlds that Lucas had created to help bring the movie to life. So if I can say just one thing, that’d be “STOP NOOIT MET DROMEN!” (“NEVER STOP DREAMING!”)
That’s a great advice! Thanks for the interview and I'll see you in Star Wars VIII!