|IN THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE
From: "Star Wars Insider #35"
Written by Scott Chernoff
Submitted by James Sparkman
Kenneth Colley remembers clearly the day he reported for duty on his second Star Wars Film, Return of the Jedi. As the actor who played the mercurial Imperial officer Admiral Piett stepped onto the dazzling set of Jabba the Hutt's palace he was greeted enthusiastically by "a whole bunch of creatures and masks waving weapons and tentacles at me, yelling Kenneth!" It was wonderful to be welcomed back by the family" he recalls "But I had no idea who was inside the costumes! That's typical of Star Wars and that's what's so wonderful."
It was another day on the job for the British actor, who gained fame in the Star Wars Universe for playing the only Imperial officer to appear in more than installment of the trilogy - and playing him well.
As Piett, the captain who is made admiral at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back after he locates the Rebel's secret base on Hoth, and Darth Vader becomes less pleased with Admiral Ozzel, Colley put a human face on the evil empire. When Vader inflicts his force-ful death grip on Ozzel, we can see Piett struggling not to watch, and in his eyes we see fear turn to pride as he realizes that Ozzle's loss is Piett's gain.
It's a subtle piece of acting rooted in Colley's training with such British acclaimed theatre troupes as the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Lawrence Oliver's National Theatere Company. "I've been around the block a few times," chuckles the 59 year old Manchester born actor modestly from the Kent home he shares with his wife Marry, whom he desrcibes as a "keen gardener."
Colley Has played many roles in his life, including a cameo as Jesus Christ in Monty Python's Life of Brian, but most of them, like Piett, have been villians. He was KGB Colonel Kontarsky in Clint Eastwood's 1982 Firefox, Nazi Col. Paul Blobel in the 1989 ABC mini series War and Remberance, and even the world's most real life villian, Adolph Hitler, in more than one British production.
But Colley says he doesn't mind being type-cast as the bad guy. "It's fine by me," he says "because villians are more fun to play, they're the ones you latch onto" (except for of course Hitler). "The only thing that frustrates me," he continues,"is if they're portrayed as ciphers - cardboard cut outs. If you can burrow in deep and find some life there - it's a trusim of acting: when playing a evil person, find a little of good in them. That makes it interesting - you want to know more about this uniform."
That approach served Colley well in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Piett seemed to be in just slightly over his head. But fear that underlined Piett's authority in Empire seemed to vanish in Jedi, whith Piett appearing quite more comfortable with his role as Vader's second in command.
"They left it to me, and I think it was a natural progression," Colley explains. "He had learned to survive around Lord Vader. He was used to being Admiral and having that power- but he he still always had to have one eye on Lord Vader to see if his brow was furrowed." In fact if it had not been for Colley's nuanced approach to his character, Admiral Piett may have never returned for Jedi. "My character was not originally in Jedi." Colley reveals, "But George Lucas said, 'Ken, I've got a whole bunch of letters from people wanting to know more about Admiral Piett, and I want to put him in the movie. I have no idea what your going to do but will you do it?" Naturally Colley's answer was yes.
"I got there and sat on the Jabba the Hut set," he continues, "and George wrote my first scene as I sat there. He handed it to me and said, 'Here there will be more."
What Piett ended up doing in Jedi was not just letting Han Solo's rouge shuttle onto the Endor moon and ultimately perishing when his Star Destroyer crashes head-first into the the Death Star, but also providing a crucial link between Jedi and Empire, making him something like the Wedge Antilles of the Imperials.
When he arrived on the Empire set, he was indeed impressed with how it looked. "The sets were like small towns in their own right." he marvels. "I rember I once had a very simple scene, reporting to Lord Vader. It took two days to shoot because of the sheer complexity and size of the set, but director Irvin Kershner was brilliant - he was sophisticated and knew exactly what he wanted from it."
Colley says he grew to like the actor he worked with most, David Prowse, but "I couldn't afford to like him too much, or else it would come into the scene." Still Colley says the man who played Darth Vader, " underneath that rubber suit is a real nice guy."
It's seems that for Kenneth Colley - who will next appear with Michale Cain in the movie Shadow Run - Star Wars was just a part of his acting destiny. "I'm still getting mail form kids," he says. "My involvement was nearly 20 years ago, but as they say, once you get into Star Wars, it goes on forever." For Kenneth Colley Fans that may not be long enough.