I was invited by Disney on an all-expense paid trip to cover the HanSoloEvent. All opinions are my own. While I was in LA for the red carpet premiere of SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY, I had the chance to sit down with Joonas Suotamo who plays“Chewbacca”! How cool is that?!
“The mighty Wookiee is nearly two centuries old, but he has fallen on hard times during the age of the expanding Empire. When fate has Han and Chewbacca cross paths, Chewbacca embarks on a long, loyal and trusting friendship that he could have never expected.”
When Joonas came into the room to interview he said hello and then he spoke to us in wookie!!
How long did it take you to learn to speak Chewbacca?
When they told me I’m gonna meet Harrison Ford the next day [He laughs], it took me that 24 hours.
So, what was it like meeting Harrison Ford?
It’s great. And I think I was so nervous that I told — my first thing when I saw Harrison was, Harrison, “oh, boy, I wasn’t even born when you guys made these films”. And he did not like that very much. But we were able to climb over that hurdle and start again. It’s great. I’m so glad Alden did such a great job in embracing this character and becoming Han Solo for us in this wonderful story.
How did you make the jump from pro basketball player to starring as Chewbacca, since this is your third film as Chewbacca?
Yeah, I got the role out of the blue sky came a call one day from the Finnish Basketball Association, who had received a request for a person who has blue eyes, is seven feet tall. Yeah, anyone [he said laughing] could find that guy. And so the casting was pretty desperate at that point to find one. And they called me and I said immediately I’m interested. Didn’t take a second to think about it. And we didn’t know what the role was. So I just said yes, whatever it is I’m in.
And I filmed a video of me playing a caveman half naked in my old high school gym [LAUGHS]. Just the kind of video where I’m playing this caveman who gets shot in the knee with an arrow and stuff like that. They wanted to see if I could do the acting required for the film. And then four or five months it took to really go through the process. And at the end of it, I received a call, congrats, you are playing Chewbacca.
How did basketball help you with your role in this film?
I think basketball certainly gifted me extra body awareness. I met so many wonderful players and people. And I grew up to become a very social guy. And I have always observed movements and I have always observed — because we had guys on our team who run with a very specific kinda way, and I’ve always loved the fact that we are different as humans. And I’ve always tried to imitate, in a very loving way, my teammates and how they run. And growing up with dogs and observing them when I was a kid but secretly prepared me for the role of playing Chewbacca. And on top of that, we Fins have a very rich sauna tradition. So, I can withstand heat exceptionally well. So, I was — basically you could say I was born to play this role.
What was your biggest challenge with the Chewbacca costume?
I think it’s the fact that every day you need to have someone poke your eyes with makeup. With rich black makeup just to hide the white of my eyes. And get into the suit that’s, while lovely, is also filled with hidden dangers, like hair coming through like between the mouthpiece and the suit and going into my mouth and stuff like that, that you don’t really like. And also my eyes constantly — Maria Cork, who’s my handler on set, she has to be with pinchers to be getting those hairs out of my eyes.
The biggest one probably is just respecting the legacy of Chewbacca, because he was played by Peter Mayhew, the legendary, original Chewbacca. I want it to be so that the fans going to these films see the same Chewbacca who was in the original films because Chewbacca is so loved and I would not want there to be a feeling that Chewbacca somehow feels different this time around.
Did you consult with Peter Mayhew who played the original Chewbacca?
Yes, I consulted with Peter. I had a week-long — we called it the Wookie Bootcamp. And he showed me the original films and clips. And we looked at his walk, and he told me why he did it such a way and what he did and what was he thinking at the time. It was so helpful because I had done some studying up myself previously. And to hear from the master himself how and why did he do those things helped me tremendously in preparing for this role.
Chewy has the bag on at all times. What was in your bag? Mainly it’s empty, but on certain days when kids come visiting the set, I usually put some chocolates or some sweets so that I can then — after they’ve come back — after they run away frightened when I appear –they come back. ‘Cause some kids are scared. And I think it’s the ones who don’t know the character that well. But when they come back I usually bribe them with sweets.
Action scenes can be difficult enough to film. Does the Wookie suit make it even more challenging?
The main obstacle is the heat and the endurance throughout the day. But also it’s the fact that I gotta be careful with the suit. They don’t want me doing everything I can. If I would make a roll suddenly on the floor, Maria would be very, very angry with me. So, I have to be careful. But I also have to do what’s required of me by the director. And that’s something, because you gotta constantly be aware of the suit, how it moves and how it looks on camera. So, that’s why I have to go and look at the screens and after the takes and making people think that I’m sort of a diva or something. It’s just really I wanna make it look right. And I trust the directors, but I still want to see and if I could do something myself to improve the next take. And that’s maybe the hardest thing. Because the moves of Chewbacca are very much something I can do as a basketball player.
What was it like stepping out of Millennium Falcon for the very first time, and how was this Millennium Falcon set different?
Well, the first time I stepped on the Millennium Falcon was on THE FORCE AWAKENS when Harrison Ford was doing — it was the first day of Harrison on the Millennium Falcon. And there were people crying. And I didn’t cry. I held the tears back. After you heard what happened initially, this was couple hours after that. So, I wanted to be on my good behavior for the rest of the day. And it is just the marvelous thing because you know — your mind goes back to the times you saw the movie and the first time Luke put on that helmet and battled against the floating ball, which I still don’t know how they did that. It’s wonderful to be there because it’s part of everyone’s childhood and memories, those places. And now when the Millennium Falcon is new and well-kept and there’s a mini bar in the corner, there is a cloak cape closet –which is more like a luxury room than a closet, it’s just wonderful to see that difference. And it goes to deepening my appreciation for the ship because it has a history now. And, boy, I just hope nobody ever tarnishes that very sweet décor on that ship. But I guess that’s a wish that’s not gonna come true.
You’ve played Chewbacca before, but how is it different in this film playing a younger Chewbacca?
Because this movie happens in a time where the empire is expanding. And Chewbacca is in a very bad situation at the start of this film. So, I approached it as Chewbacca is very much looking for a way out and going on his own somewhere. ‘Cause he has a family. He has a commitment to his tribe. And I was very much looking forward to this because he’s very different. He walks around with worry on his shoulders, because he doesn’t know where this road will take him. And this movie also shows what that new life for Chewbacca is going to be and if he will take that. And it was very interesting to do because he doesn’t have any kind of structure in his life at that point. And we talked with Alden. We talked a lot about the arc of their friendship and how to start that journey together so that the audience will see the development and also the downs and the ups of that relationship. And it was very important to get right because we all wanna see how that relationship started.
Joonas was such a kind guy and a pleasure to talk with. And look how tall he is standing next to us all! SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY opens in theaters this FRIDAY! Get your tickets now!
Watch the trailer…
Also, check out…
- My interview with Alden Ehrenreich who plays “Han Solo”
- Talking with Emilia Clarke about her role in SOLO.
- Sitting down with Director Ron Howard about SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY.
- From Vision to Villain ~ Interview with Paul Bettany for Solo.
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Visit the official SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY website
“Board the Millennium Falcon and journey to a galaxy far, far away in SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY, an all-new adventure with the most beloved scoundrel in the galaxy.