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Toby Philpott Interview with Star Wars Jabba Puppeteer

Today my guest is Toby Philpott.

Toby Philpott is an English puppeteer best known for his work in motion picture animatronics during the 1980s in such films as The Dark Crystal and Return of the Jedi.

Thank you Toby for your time for the fans.

How did you get involved with Return of the Jedi?

I had been working on The Dark Crystal for several months, animating big creatures, working with Jim Henson, and learning all about puppets and film (up until then I had worked as a comedy juggler, clown, acrobat, etc.) Dave Barclay came from a puppeteering family (like me) and he was given the job as Chief Puppeteer for Jabba, and chose me as his co-pilot.

You role as a part of Jabba gets you in one of the best scenes with Leia,the tongue was done with your right hand and so you can lick her. How was it playing this, i would love to say ,funny part?

Well, the original script did not include licking Carrie Fisher, and it isn’t in the finished film. I was only supposed to threaten her in a disgusting way, with that slimy, old tongue. However, I believe in one of the takes, the tongue did lick her face. I can’t be sure, as I couldn’t really see what I was doing!

What is the best part about your involvement with Return of the Jedi?

So much of my work in live street and theatre shows, as a juggler, fire-eater, etc was not recorded (this was long before people had mobile phones and uploaded to YouTube) that it is fun to have done something which is so iconic, and can still be watched and enjoyed by people now. And will outlive me.

How about Your relationship to Star Wars fans? Do you often go to Star Wars conventions to meet them?

I do chat to fans by email, Facebook and so on. I have done podcast interviews, video, radio, newspapers and all sorts, but going to conventions is the most fun, to meet people face to face. I don’t do many in a year – I have a day job, dogs and other things that limit my travelling – but maybe do three or four each year, and they are great fun. Plus I get to meet up with the other actors and old friends.

After playing in Star Wars you also work in some other great movies like Labyrinth or Who Framed Roger Rabbit but What are you doing these days? Can you tell us something about your current and future projects?

There was that short period when films used practical effects, before cgi became available, when I had fairly regular work. Before that, however, I had worked in Fringe Theatre and had spent my time promoting circus skills as a healthy hobby, and as a profession. After the film business let me go I did work on developing circus training buildings, running workshops and passing on those skills. Some of my students formed their own non-animal circus – NoFit State Circus – and I spent several years touring and performing with them. Right now, I am working on creating an archive website for them, to capture those 30 years of fun and adventure. They are now a multinational touring company. I might write a book about them later, but right now the plan is to finish writing my autobiography.

Before you worked in Star Wars you played in one of my childhood movies: The Dark Crystal. What can you tell us about this movie and your part in?

My mime teacher recommended that I apply for that job, which initially involved operating the big creatures (Mystics and Garthim). We were also assigned to a Muppet puppeteer as support crew, and I was honoured to be chosen as part of Jim Henson’s personal team (these complex puppets often needed several people to operate them). So I am also helping with Jen and The Ritual Master. On top of that, we all played a variety of background creatures, so there was never a dull moment. I worked on it from day one to the Wrap. What I learned there really helped with Jabba!

One last Question,Star Wars VII and J.J. Abrams coming soon, what do you think about and will you watch the next generation of Jedi Knights?

To be honest, I am not a great Star Wars fan myself. Not to the extent that many fans are, anyway. I prefer the Original Trilogy, and don’t have a lot of interest in the others (too much cgi for me), and I don’t play computer games. However, it sounds as though JJ might reboot the material, and he is returning to practical effects, which is exciting, so I feel sure I am going to enjoy this one.

Thank you Toby Philpott and when you would you can say some last words to your fans.

Thanks to you all for appreciating the work we did so long ago. 33 years is a long time, and my memory fades, but it seems Jabba will forever live in people’s imagination. I hope we get to meet some day, at a convention near you. Be brave, be kind, and have as much fun as possible.

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