Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker introduces an exciting new baddie: Allegiant General Pryde. Played by Richard E. Grant, the First Order officer is icy in a way that recalls Grand Moff Tarkin — the complete opposite of Grant himself. The actor, recently Oscar-nominated for 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, is a Star Wars super fan, and speaks about his experience on Episode IX with awe.
Polygon spoke with Grant prior to the film’s release, learning a little more about the mysterious Pryde as well as how working on Star Wars is like stepping into The Wizard of Oz.
Polygon: Up until this point you’ve said you couldn’t say much about the movie out of fear that you would get fired. It seems like at this point they can’t fire you anymore. Is there anything you can say about exploring your character and what happens in the film?
Richard E. Grant: I think that what’s extraordinary about what J.J. [Abrams] and Chris Terrio have done is that they’ve really delivered something that’s so unexpected. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, never mind being in it, it sort of emotionally wallops you. You feel delivered by the end of it, in the most cathartic sense of the word. I had reservations about how they would be able to integrate previously shot [footage] of Carrie Fisher, who I knew very well, into the movie, but it’s seamless, and it seems like it was specifically shot for this movie and that’s a testament to the writer-director team.
With regards to your character, the Imperial forces and First Order have, up until this point, broadly been space Nazis. Is your take on General Pryde in that vein, or maybe something a little fresher than that?
I think that if you’re playing somebody who is malevolent incarnate — i.e., somebody who has no sense of humor whatsoever and is determined to take advantage of every opportunity to step on somebody else’s feet, heads, and take their position — it’s a very clear line of what to do. There’s a certain droll sort of undertone to some of the lines I was given the opportunity to deliver. But otherwise, the trajectory of somebody who is basically an SS officer all the way up in the Nazi Party, it’s not a huge amount of room to maneuver.
It was fairly straightforward in the way that that malevolent evil, ambitious trajectory in any job is. It’s the normalization of evil that makes it more frightening because there’s no shouting, or you don’t see people being beaten up, but you know that this person has the iron will to carry out or give orders to other people, underlings, to do that on his behalf.
Just seen the 1st cast screening of @starwars #THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. What it achieves, weaves & resolves, is a total emotional meltdown & resurrection of the Spirit. Bravo to @jjabrams & his astonishing cast & creative crew pic.twitter.com/EwtYghYTXK— Richard E. Grant (@RichardEGrant) December 4, 2019
Did you end up meeting any of the droids while you were on set?
Yeah, I met all of them. I went to watch Anthony Daniels shoot scenes. I wasn’t in any scenes with him directly, but I would watch him do the scenes because, again, you feel like you’re a kid in the kind of Disneyland version of this. The sets were so astonishingly detailed, and I had imagined that it would be green screen and that everything would be computer-generated afterwards. But almost with no exception, everything that you touch, every button, every corridor you’ve walked down or things that explode, happened. There was a part with the galaxy starscape that you see beyond the windows of the spaceships, that was the only green screen. Everything else was sets for real, hydraulic doors closed. Just like they do [in] the movie.
How deep are you into Star Wars lore? Were there Easter eggs that you were able to pick out on set, or was it the sheer awe of being on practical set?
It felt more than anything like being — you know that moment in The Wizard of Oz where it goes from black and white in the end of the tornado, and the door opens, and suddenly everything goes to Technicolor? You watch these movies all your life. You then walk onto a set and onto this spaceship, and there are stormtroopers and lightsabers — all of these things for real. That’s what it felt like. It is for real and therefore utterly surreal at the same time.
I understand you saw the first Star Wars movie when you were still in drama school. After that, did you keep watching them as they came out or was it catching them when you had the time?
I’ve seen all of them as they’ve come out, and I’ve got all the toys that I collected, and the figures, and all of that. I’m a decadeslong Star Wars fan.
Are there any toys or memorabilia that you have that you’re particularly proud of or that you treasure the most?
No, I think that would be like trying to say which children are your favorite. I like all of them.
What the first thing that you bought?
I can’t remember what the first thing was, because I got a whole bunch at the same time.
Besides watching the movies, I’m curious if you played any of the spinoff games or read any of the books that came out as the series kind of grew bigger and bigger?
No, I’ve not done that. I’ve never played a video game in my life because I’m probably the wrong generation. I’ve never bought the books, either. I’m a movie addict, so that’s where my passion has stayed — true to the movies.
The prequels have stirred up the most discussion among fans as to whether they’ve stood the test of time. What do you think?
Ah, I think that the originals have stood the test of time
Out of the entire series, do you have a favorite Star Wars villain?
Oh, Darth Vader, yeah.
Have you been watching The Mandalorian at all?
Not yet, no.
Have you seen Baby Yoda?
I have not.
Have you heard anything about him?
Yes, I’ve heard. I’ve heard and I’ve read, but I’ve not seen it. I’ve been doing a TV series [AMC’s Dispatches from Elsewhere] with Sally Field and Jason Segel in Philadelphia for the last five months. I’ve been cocooned from Baby Yoda.
Do you have any opinion on the porgs?
Yeah, I love them.
Would you eat one?
I’m gonna let you decide.