'Star Wars' stunt co-ordinator Eunice Huthart on code names and keeping secrets (exclusive)
Eunice Huthart has revealed she struggled to keep secrets on the set of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — as one of the few people to have read the entire script.
The 53-year-old Brit — who got her start as a contestant-turned-Gladiator on Gladiators — said she found it “exhausting” to keep track of the many secrets she had to maintain.
As stunt co-ordinator, Huthart was granted access to the entire script and worked closely with director J.J. Abrams throughout the production.
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Huthart said she was one of the few people on the closed set for Harrison Ford’s — code-named “The Pilot” — cameo and struggled to remember to refer to Palpatine by his code name of “13”.
She added: “There are so many people on that film who will go and watch it and then it will all come together because, at the time of making it, they wouldn’t have known what they were making.
“It’s probably the film I’ve made where the least people had read the script.
“It was hard for me actually because sometimes I didn’t know what other people knew.
“Some people were getting doctored parts so they thought they knew what was happening, but that wasn’t the case. I’d be looking at them like ‘do you really know?’.”
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Huthart has worked on major franchises including James Bond and Harry Potter, but described Star Wars as the “most rewarding” job of her career and said she wasn’t surprised by the divisive response to The Rise of Skywalker.
She said: “We’re now fed so much visual effects stuff and the bar is set so high now to come up with something unique and different that the audience is going to like, I don’t think you’ll ever please everybody. I don’t think that’s possible.”
Read the full interview with Eunice Huthart in which she shares more Star Wars secrets, discusses her career on Gladiators and reveals her close bond with Angelina Jolie...
Yahoo Movies UK: In your career in the stunt world, you’ve worked on so many huge franchise. But is there something extra special about Star Wars?
Eunice Huthart: When I was a kid, it was films like Tarzan and Star Wars and Indiana Jones and King Kong even. These were the films I fell in love with. Me and my mates would be in the street, picking up sticks and practising fights and pretending to be the characters. We’d live the scenes we’d just seen in the cinema or on TV.
For me, it’s part of my childhood so by far, of the franchise I’ve worked for, this is the most rewarding.
Was there a particular moment on this film that you’d consider to be a highlight?
It was when Chewbacca first walked on set. It blew my mind. I had a smile on my face all day. And also, we had one day shooting with Harrison Ford. I was being his ‘safety’. I didn’t have to be. I could have put one of the guys in but, for me, I had to do it.
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I was standing next to him all the time while he wasn’t actually filming on camera. We had him at such a high set piece. It was amazing. He just chit-chatted and told me old stories about the early filming years and Indiana Jones and everything. It was absolutely amazing.
And how secretive was his involvement?
There wasn’t many people We did a closed set and, because we were shooting outside, we put giant green screens up so nobody riding their bike nearby could get a sneaky picture. Only those who had to be there were there. I had to be there because we had him on a safety wire and a couple of the actors knew, but not many. There was a sort of circle of trust, let’s say.
And what’s that like, having to keep secrets from so many people?
I’m useless, I have to say. I’m the worst. We had code names for some of the big, top secret characters, like Palpatine. His code name was “13”. I’d be on set with J.J. and I’d go “oh J.J. I had this idea for if Palpatine does this” and it’d go dead silent around me and everyone would look at me because I was supposed to say “13”.
I was the world’s worst at it. I think they stopped telling me stuff for that reason, if I’m honest.
Were there any other fun code names? Did Harrison Ford have one?
He did. I’m rubbish at remembering them though. I couldn’t even remember them when we were filming. [Huthart later emails to tell me that Ford’s code name was “The Pilot”]
One of them was that the spaceship that Chewbacca got captured in was called “The White Van”. Someone said to me “Eunice, the White Van’s on the backlot if you want to go and have a look” and I was like “why do I want to go and see a white van?”. So I was walking around the backlot looking for a white van. It got really crazy with the code names.
One of the big things in this new Star Wars trilogy — especially for J.J. — is that, as much as these are big CGI spectaculars, they also like to do extensive practical effects on set. How much of that stuff were you able to be involved in?
Well, everything I did was for real. It was brilliant. For me, it’s one of the most real films that I’ve ever done. Nothing was CG, but anything that was enhanced like the creatures, we had life-size, puppet creatures for actors to interact with. Even when it was something that was super-imposed on a CG environment, it was still for real when we were shooting it.
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It was great because we just got to play a lot more and we got to do stuff for real. The stuntmen were delighted because we were doing that many real gags with people. It was really exciting.
We spoke about keeping secrets. We hear a lot about people only getting certain pages of the script on these movies. How much of the wider story were you allowed to know?
I knew everything. I had to because we had to be setting the action beats towards it and the arc of the characters was really important. So I did know everything.
It was quite exhausting because they would only let certain people read the script. There are so many people on that film who will go and watch it and then it will all come together because, at the time of making it, they wouldn’t have known what they were making. It’s probably the film I’ve made where the least people had read the script.
So it was exhausting. Sometimes I’d be talking to somebody and then I’d have to consider what I was saying because they weren’t to know what that would lead on to. It was hard for me actually because sometimes I didn’t know what other people knew. Some people were getting doctored parts so they thought they knew what was happening, but that wasn’t the case. I’d be looking at them like “do you really know?”. It was really weird.
It sounds like a totally unique experience. There have been lots of reports about it being at times quite a difficult and chaotic set. What was your experience in that respect?
We’re so well-rehearsed in the stunts because I have such a fantastic stunt team. The only time I felt added pressure was when we were in Jordan. We had such a set timescale to get exactly what we wanted. We couldn’t afford a curveball or a late start or anything. And we were always chasing the light.
I remember feeling a little bit of pressure in Jordan, but that was the only time. The rest of it, I felt like we were very well-rehearsed. When we were performing all the stunts and the fight scenes, the actors were well-rehearsed and the stuntmen were too, so it was okay and I didn’t really feel the pressure.
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Were there any scenes you were part of and were particularly proud of that ended up on the cutting room floor?
One of my favourite scenes, funnily enough. I was obsessing that when we really see Kylo Ren for the first time, he’s like a machine. We always had a scene where he was going to fight these aliens and the environment kept chopping and changing. But we finally settled on this environment and Adam Driver worked so hard. I think it was good for him to do it.
We shot for three days on a fight that should be maybe 50 seconds in the movie, but unfortunately it’s only 10-15 seconds. I think it was just because of time and they just have to consider what’s more story-related. But I’m hoping that fight will be in the director’s cut.
When the movie came out, I think it’s fair to say the response was quite divided. Was that something that you guys were ready for and expecting?
It’s hard really. I think that, because we’re now fed so much visual effects stuff and the bar is set so high now to come up with something unique and different that the audience is going to like, I don’t think you’ll ever please everybody. I don’t think that’s possible.
So for me, it was important just to honour the Star Wars fans. I just wanted to hold the integrity of the characters and to make the fight scenes as exciting as possible. My favourite of all of the Star Wars films is Empire Strikes Back. That’s my favourite, and it still is now. I don’t think you can ever please anybody now.
It’s like Mission: Impossible. You’ll please the action guys because they love it, but you don’t believe any of it because it’s so far-fetched and not one bullet will hit him. I admire Tom Cruise a lot, but I don’t like the Mission films because I’m not attached to the character at all in any way. It was important for me in Star Wars that we cared about our characters. We had seen the vulnerability of Kylo Ren and we cared about Rey. As long as people took that from it, I’m happy.
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I wanted to talk a little about your story. When you first appeared as a contestant on Gladiators, did you ever dare to believe you might one day be on the set of a Star Wars movie?
No way. I am very competitive and, when I went on that show, my state of mind was just to win the competition. To me, I wasn’t on a show. I was in a competition. I think that probably benefited me. I did clown around in front of the cameras at the right time but, when I was in an event, I was competing and that was it.
If someone had said to me “make sure you do well in this show because it’s going to lead to this”, I think the pressure would’ve made me attack it differently and I probably wouldn’t have done so well. So I’m glad I wasn’t aware of what doors it was going to open for me.
And what was it like to be invited back to become a Gladiator? Did you have any input on your persona?
I didn’t really have any input. I wanted to have an aggressive name and be called “Rage” with a costume to suit that. But no, they called me Blaze. Unfortunately, I only did live events as a Gladiator and the audience just kept chanting “Eunice” all the time so the producers decided it might not have been a good option anyway.
Obviously, from there, you got involved with James Bond in GoldenEye. What was it like to make that jump to being on a major movie set?
I wouldn’t have said I was overwhelmed by it, but I would say it was definitely surreal. What broke a lot of barriers down for me was that, when I went along for the audition, the stunt co-ordinator Simon Crane took me off to meet Martin Campbell, the director. He was so lovely and I’d never met a character like him. He ran over to hug me and I clenched my fists thinking he was gonna hit me. Honestly, it was so weird.
Then, straight away, they took me to meet Pierce [Brosnan] because I was going to do a lot of my fights with him. I went and met him and he said: “Oh my God, I’ve just been watching you on the television on Saturday night with my son.” Then it became even more strange because I was standing in front of Pierce and he was asking me for my autograph so he could show his kid. It was just weird. How can you do that? I’d gone from flipping burgers in McDonald’s in Liverpool and now Pierce Brosnan was asking for my autograph. It’s mental.
I wanted to ask about the importance of Angelina Jolie to your career also. How significant has that relationship been for you?
It was great. With diversity now, they are making more women into leads but, if you still look at the ratio, there might be one women to every six male leads. Wonder Woman is probably one of the most effective films at creating roles for women.
But for me, when I did Tomb Raider, because the lead woman did all the action, I just got to showcase what I could do as a stunt performer. You don’t get many occasions as a woman to actually showcase what you’re capable of because the men tend to do it all — the James Bonds, the Batmans, the Supermans. It was an opportunity for me to showcase my physical ability and they got me more work.
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Intertwined with that, Angie loved the way I would respect her character. She went on to do a lot of action films, which again helped me develop in understanding where cameras go. I think for about six years I saw more of Angelina than I did of my own husband because we were working back to back movies together.
It was very influential. I probably would never be where I am now without the knowledge and the learning arc I gained throughout all of those movies. We’re great friends as well. All of her kids are Liverpool fans and that’s what’s more important.
Just before you go, is there anything left in your career you really want to achieve?
I’d love to do a Tarzan film. I’d love to do a dinosaur film like one of the Jurassic World films, and I’d love to do a King Kong film. I think I just want to tick boxes of the ones that are dear to me because they’re the films I fell in love with as a kid. I literally used to stay underwater as long as I could because Tarzan could swim for ages underwater. I think those films because it feels like I’m paying homage to my childhood.
Then there’s the great directors I’d love to work with — the Scorseses of the world — just to see how they work and their creativity. I’m not finished yet. There’s no way I’m finished.
From flipping burgers in Liverpool to fighting dinosaurs, it sounds good to me!
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives digitally in HD and 4K Ultra HD™ on 13 April, and physically in 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray™, 3D Blu-ray™ and DVD on 20 April.