Ms. Shah, what or who made you decide to become an actress?
When I was at school, I very much enjoyed drama and always enjoyed watching films, however I ended up studying business. It was when I graduated from my degree, my year tutor said to me “Arti, I can see you working in the media industry”, which gave me the encouragement to go back to what I enjoyed. So, I moved to London and started to follow my passion.
How did you get cast for The Force Awakens?
I was recommended to do some puppeteering on the film which then lead to a meeting with JJ Abrams about Maz, where I would also motion capture this wonderful character with Lupita Nyong’o.
Were you a Star Wars fan before you got cast?
I suppose my relationship with Star Wars while growing up was on and off. When I was a kid, I’d obviously seen the film and was blown away by it. But as I grew older my interests changed. I was very much aware of Star Wars during the prequel era, but my focus at that point in my life was on other things so it was more about nostalgia for me back then, rather than full on fandom. But, when I was asked to come in to meet with creatures about Episode VII, I went back and saw the films again. Marathon sessions, although for me I feel it’s better to do marathons of each trilogy rather than attempting all 6 in one go! There’s just too much to take in! My superfan boyfriend, Rutvig, has helped me gain new insights into the films as well. Now I’m hooked again!
Do you recall the first time you saw a Star Wars movie?
I hope I’m not showing my age here now but, here goes. The first time I saw Star Wars was on television at Christmas in the early 80’s. Replete with adverts! I was very young but I recall feeling completely exhilarated by the experience. I’d never seen anything like it and as you can imagine, for a child to see such fantastical things on screen; it just made me feel so happy and opened up my imagination. I think it turned me on to what film and moving images could be. And to be honest, that’s probably where my interest in filmmaking and wanting to be an actress started.
At San Diego Comic Con a special behind the scenes reel was released. Millions saw you in your Gonk droid outfit -with a huge smile- (of course because you’re in Star Wars). I’d like to know what you felt when you saw this clip for the first time. Was it a surprise they included you?
So, the clip was shown on a Friday evening in San Diego and in London we’re 8 hours ahead. I was asleep when it was shown. When I woke, I went on my Facebook page and saw that I had been tagged in a YouTube clip and that there were a couple of screen shots of me in the Gonk. I was super happy and so surprised at the same time.
In The Force Awakens you performed as the body double for Maz Kanata. Did you get to play Maz in all her scenes in the movie? In other words: every time we see Maz we see you (with added CGI effects)?
Yes, I did get to play Maz in all the scenes with Lupita, so you see both of us with the added CGI effects every time.
The voice and facial expressions of Maz were done by Lupita Nyong’o. Did you meet her and talked about Maz and this role?
I was very lucky to have met Lupita, she was such a pleasure to work with. She would tell me how she wanted Maz to come across and also she would ask my perspective with regards to Maz’s height and how quickly she would walk. As a small person, I tend to take small but quick steps.
Can you share some of your memories regarding the time you worked on The Force Awakens?
I played a character which was nicknamed a “Fueller”, I don’t know the official name for this just yet, as soon as I do, I’ll put it onto social media. This character can be seen in D’Qar, near the Millennium Falcon and an X-Wing. I’m wearing a mustard cloak and have a gas mask on my face. I had to wear a fat suit to make this character look unique. Every day after lunch, everyone would say to me “Arti, you’ve had a big lunch”. I found this to be very funny!
Talking about other characters: Gwellis Bagnoro was also played by you. I’ve seen the costume and headgear, this character doesn’t appear to have a mouth! How could you breathe and perform in that costume?
Ah Gwellis…The creature creators, who are all very talented, do take into consideration breathing and air. So I had little holes that I could breathe out of. It was a very comfortable costume to wear.
How was JJ Abrams to work with?
JJ was such a nice director to work with, he spoke to and treated everyone equally. He was always so encouraging and you could definitely see his passion for the film come across when he was directing.
The big question everyone wants to know: will we see you again in Episode VIII and/or Rogue One?
All I can say is maybe, as I am not sure. Sorry!
Ms. Shah, many thanks for this interview. Hopefully we’ll see you again in a Star Wars movie.