Earlier this year, after having the most unlikely chat that's ever occurred in a barber's chair, I went on the hunt to track down the man beneath the mask of one of the Star Wars universe's most well-loved characters – Boba Fett. It may feel like it all happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away now, but with Star Wars: The Force Awakens just hours away from hitting cinemas nationwide, it feels like the right time to revisit this incredible encounter.
What follows is, to the best of my memory, a transcription of the last conversation I had with my barber, and how I found out that I live a few streets away from the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy.
“Hello Gerald, alright mate?”
“Yeah, good thanks Tony.”
“Usual. Leave the fringe a bit long so I can pretend I'm still in a band. Have you seen the new Star Wars trailer yet?”
“Oh yes! With the little football robot and the three blade sword thing. It's good that one. My mate was in Star Wars...”
“Oh wicked. Was it a little part in the background or something?”
“Oh no. My mate Jeremy. He's Boba Fett.”
For most, a chat with their barber may stretch, at best, as far as a brief discussion about upcoming holiday plans. Maybe the trials and tribulations of another hellish work week. At worst, you'll come to the subject of your thinning hair, which is just awkward for all parties involved.
I, through the will of some higher power (let's be honest, it was the Force) had been gifted the information that Boba Fett, the Boba Fett, second only to Darth Vader on the intergalactic ass-kicking scale, lived in my quiet corner of South London.
The bounty hunter that bested Han Solo. The “secondary” character that's inspired more fan devotion than many other films' leading players have. He may only say two lines in the whole of the original trilogy, but you can't get a pair of Captain Jack Sparrow-themed trainers, can you?
The original trilogy. That's an important distinction to make. I'm not talking about Jango Fett from Attack of the Clones, or his “Baby Boba” son. I'm talking the the THE Boba Fett – he who packed up and shipped off Han Solo inside the sci-fi equivalent of a man-sized cooler bag, he who met his demise inside the sandy jaws of George Lucas's most oedipal nightmare creation, the Sarlaac Pit, he whose popularity has sparked rumours that he may well be getting his own Star Wars spin-off movie.
What was I to do? Naturally, I web-stalked the man.
“Oh it's nice here. I didn't even know this was here,” says Jeremy Bulloch, the man behind Fett's permanently-scowling visor, shaking my hand as we sit inside Streatham's jazz cafe.
Tony's seemingly-far-fetched story proved true – after finding his fan site and Facebook page, a brief pre-Christmas email exchange confirmed that Bulloch is indeed a local and, a few short weeks later, I'm sat beside the man, sans-Mandalorian armour, sipping a coffee.
“It's nice to be able to come for an interview so locally – most want to go to Oxford Street or somewhere busy.”
Tall at around 6 foot, but as softly spoken as he is in manner, you'd be forgiven for questioning whether Bulloch, smiling warmly as he discusses Christmas dinner with his grandchildren, could ever have been darting around the deserts of Tunisia (or Tatooine, if you prefer) with a jetpack strapped to his back. But it's a role that Bulloch is obviously immensely proud of.
“He stalks around, he’s dangerous; it was just the perfect part,” says Bulloch.
“You have a lot of parts to play in a career, and I’ve enjoyed every one. I’ve enjoyed my career. With Boba Fett and Star Wars, I can’t think of a better film, or series of films to say, well, thank you very much indeed. It’s one of the nicest jobs I’ve ever done.”
But it’s also a role that very nearly passed Bulloch by altogether. Pushed towards the role by his half-brother and associate producer Robert Watts, Bulloch was working on stage at the time of The Empire Strikes Back’s production.
“I told Robert, ‘I’m in the theatre at night, I can’t really do both, it’s just impossible,” says Bulloch.
“But then finally my agent called, who said ‘Dear, there’s a days work, not too sure of the character, I don’t really know anything about it, doesn’t speak much.’ By this point it had gone on for three weeks and I’d forgotten about it. But then finally I was invited to the studio and tried the costume on. It fitted like a glove.”
Bulloch’s first meeting with director George Lucas was a particularly memorable one -- not least of all because of Lucas’s initially-dismissive attitude towards the bounty hunter. For a character that’s played a significant role in lining Lucas’s pockets, even the Star Wars creator obviously didn’t anticipate Boba Fett’s eventual popularity.
“They were doing the scene with the Wampa snow monster, and I walked on the set after getting dressed in the Boba Fett outfit, helmet on and everything. I was standing waiting to be introduced to George, and I remember looking over at the Wampa and being blown away -- I’d been a fan of the first film, all so new and exciting.
“Then there was a slight push, and someone said ‘George is over there’, so I walked up with the gun. I could just about see out of the T-shape in the helmet -- not easy -- and I leant forward. And George looked and went, ‘U-huh. Hot, huh? Hmm, well it’s not a big role but welcome aboard’!”
With the costume filled, Boba Fett’s presence was felt immediately.
“The first day I went on set, I could see people under the misty visor just stop when they saw me. It had an effect straight away. It was an amazing day.”
Buoyed by a menacing onscreen performance and extensive appearances in the Star Wars extended universe, Fett went on to become a fan favourite.
“One day grew into two days, grew into two weeks -- I remember my wife getting upset and saying ‘Two days work, is that all?’ when I first got the part,” smiles Bulloch, now enjoying his 35th year as the fans’ preferred incarnation of Fett.
“I was terribly lucky to get a little part that, even then, was growing into something. Now, even all those years later, I’m reminded of it probably every other day. It’s incredible the fan favourite thing.
“But as we all know now Boba Fett doesn’t speak much. It was a shame I couldn’t show them my Shakespearean tones!”
Sometimes appearing at as many as three conventions a week during busy periods (while still acting and doing voiceover work), Bulloch admits that the finer details of the character’s life in the vast Star Wars extended universe has at times passed him by.
“You go to an event and maybe one of the 501st [a fan-run Star Wars costuming and cosplay organization .Ed] says, ‘Oh, Jeremy, have you seen the Fastnet Universe Race?’ I have to admit and say ‘Guys, I don’t know what you’re talking about’. I joke and pretend I’m deaf under the helmet!
“You have a fun chat with them though, there’s some nice stuff. Just recently there was the release of the new comics and they’re great.”
Despite perhaps being Harrison Ford’s most memorable onscreen nemesis, Bulloch never actually got to meet the Millennium Falcon’s captain.
“I only saw him in the carbon freezing scene, and I was a little bit away while he was doing that. But hopefully one day I’ll at least get to say hello!”
But Bulloch keeps in regular contact with other members of the cast including Paul Blake (Greedo) Mike Edmonds (Logray) and the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, David “Darth Vader” Prowse, with whom Bulloch enjoys a good-natured rivalry.
“I said to Dave recently, ‘Isn’t it funny? We’re almost as popular as each other.’ And he sort of looked at me as if to say, ‘No, I’m Darth Vader!’, he was twinkling as he knew I was having a dig! But we both agree, it’s amazing that there are certain characters that really push forward. When we’re all together it’s great fun.”
Part of the appeal of Boba Fett is his menagerie of gadgets and gizmos, designed to help him hunt down his prey. In the pre-CGI era of 1980s Hollywood, all Bulloch’s props were physically made. But tempting as it must have been, Bulloch never managed to sneak any home.
“If I’d been a thief I would have taken them all!” he laughs.
“But I’m not, it’s not in my nature. I’ve got a few Star Wars related gadgets at home which I’ve bought from dealers, and quite a few Boba Fett replicas. I ban the grand-children from coming up into my office where I keep them all! It’s not a huge collection any more (I used to buy rubbish!) but it’s fun.”
As for real-world gadgets, Bulloch’s not quite as handy as his onscreen counterpart:
“My wife is the typist, and if a message comes in early in the morning she snatches the iPad out of my hands. She’s brilliant at it, though I’m pleased when I can get the football or cricket results up. I’m not a gadget person at all, it’s awful, I should know more!”
With the exception of the professional life of Harrison Ford, Star Wars has overshadowed the careers of the majority of the franchise's leading lights. I ask Bulloch if the popularity of Boba Fett has ever felt like an albatross.
“No, it hasn’t”, Bulloch answers. “I think if it had been the first job I’d ever done, people may have said ‘This guy’s just come in and I could have done that’. I had one person at a convention about ten years ago ask, ‘Why did they choose you for the part?’ in a pointed, searching way. It wasn’t a light-hearted question. I just paused, and said ‘Talent’”.
Bulloch returned to the Star Wars universe more recently, with a cameo role as Captain Colton in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith prequel. Though there was a slightly different atmosphere on set, Bulloch believes the prequel trilogy got an unwarranted ribbing from the critics.
“People say ‘Oh they were terrible, I couldn’t watch it’. But I think they’re being a bit harsh, I really do. There are some parts in them that are beautifully shot. It’s what they were expecting, that’s the problem -- it’s terribly difficult to be that first Star Wars again. It’s very difficult to compete with that.”
Though Star Wars has been an undeniable professional high point, Bulloch, now 71, has enjoyed a varied and distinguished career both on stage and in film. He's no stranger to other franchise work either – Bulloch has appeared in classic Doctor Who storylines and had roles across the Bond series (you may recognise him as Q’s assistant Smithers in For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy). “One of the nicest people you’ll ever meet is Sir Roger Moore, he’s a very generous actor, a very funny man,” enthuses Bulloch, clearly pinning his colours to the wall on the Connery versus Moore 007 debate.
But with Disney now holding the rights to the Star Wars universe and a new entry into the veritable series due before Christmas, all eyes are back on a galaxy far, far away. With the franchise having a potentially life-changing effect on those that feature in it, I ask Bulloch for some words of advice for the young cast of Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
“I’d just say enjoy what you’re doing, and not to take for granted how exciting it is to be involved in the new film, this chance to start it all again. Just enjoy it, you have to! I used to love it, the laconic, slow movements of Boba Fett.”
Beyond Episode VII, Disney also has planned a series of spin-off films, based around popular characters from the franchise. While no plot elements around these films have been confirmed, naturally it’s Boba Fett who seems most likely to get his own movie. I ask Bulloch if he’d be tempted to suit up for one more journey in Fett’s Slave I ship.
“Yes, of course I would. That really would be awesome. I’m lucky, I’m getting older now but I am still fit; I’ve played football all my life. The lovely thing is, with the costume, you can walk around in it even if you’re 150! The slowness of Boba Fett -- it’s not that I’m just so tired!”
But for Bulloch, it’s now all about watching a new wave of younglings growing up as Star Wars lovers, and the enduring popularity that Boba Fett still has even among this next generation of fans.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the new films come when they come out,” says Bulloch.
“You’re getting the feedback through now from the really young ones like my granddaughter. She comes round and asks so sweetly ‘Grandad, can we just watch a little bit of Empire Strikes Back, the bits that you’re in?’ And I say of course! Especially with Grandad in it! She loves them. Apart from the bit when Boba Fett goes into the Sarlaac pit, that is!”
For more on what Jeremy Bulloch's up to, visit www.jeremybulloch.com, and follow him on his Facebook page. Bulloch also has a limited edition autobiography out now, “Flying Solo”, available exclusively from his website.
Tony’s Gents Hairdressing is on Mitcham Lane, Streatham. As well as a great haircut, your tenner at Tony’s gets you some out-of-this-world anecdotes, too.
This post was originally published on 6th February 2015