Interview with actor/director Charles RossApril 1, 2016
A longtime Star Wars fan who confesses to have seen Star Wars: A New Hope more than 400 times, actor Charles Ross took that knowledge and love for the franchise and turned it into the hilarious One-Man Star Wars Trilogy show. Ross single-handedly plays all the characters doing voice impressions, sings the music, flies the ships, fights the battles in this impressive show that condenses the plots of the first three films into one unforgettable experience. Recently, we had the chance to talk to Charles about how this idea came about, the difficulties in pulling off a show like this and if he has any plans for more Star Wars shows based on other films.
Obviously being a fan of Star Wars was a big influence on your show. Can you give me some examples of how you began to put this show together?
Charles: The best example really, is that I sat down at a computer and wrote stuff off the top of my head, what I could remember of the story and that being lines from the film. I really tried to imagine that I was explaining the story using the lines from the film but to people who had never seen the film before and obviously making huge editorial jumps, which I thought would be difficult but it just turned out that my limited memory was actually doing the work for me. I remembered so much so I don’t think the process of making the script was as difficult as figuring out what else had to be cut out. What happens is you come up with a joke that you think is the best thing ever but it doesn’t really forward the story, it kind of hangs things up so you really have to be kind of cruel and it’s always good to have somebody who’s sort of in the role as director to help you be cruel, that way you can kind of shoulder the blame together.
Were you always good at doing voices and impersonations or was that something that you had to really work on?
Charles: You know, I don’t even know if I’m any good at doing impressions but I do like to make sound effects. I was always fascinated with people who could do impressions, it was really just figuring out what an impression is. I think the sort of definition of what an impression is that somebody will find a series of idiosyncrasies that is associate with a, usually a voice or a person’s personality coming out in the way they speak. Once that sort of idiosyncrasy has been nailed down and a person starts to repeat as they try and do the impression using those idiosyncrasies, that’s in fact breaking open the impression for everybody else to try and do an impression of, and what I mean by that is Will Ferrell did this wonderful impression of George W. Bush and then everybody started to do an impression of Will Ferrell doing an impression of George W. Bush, so that’s in fact what it is. I guess I had to work hard to do a fresh impression of say Luke Skywalker but I actually found that in fact, that wasn’t as hard as doing an impression of Yoda because my voice never seemed to lend itself to doing Yoda. It was a great frustration as a kid to have other people do Yoda so well and I couldn’t. I just realize that I was more of a Jim Henson than a Frank Oz.
Now between writing the script, doing the voices, singing the music etc., do you have a favorite part of the show?
Absolutely. It’s the whole thing that leads up to the Emperor, you know the Emperor’s sort of throne room scene where he tries to turn Luke to the dark side. I don’t really know why it’s my favorite part, it’s not just because it’s getting towards the end of the show and maybe the promise of a glass of wine, and that it’s leading up to this confrontation. I also find that it’s, from a personal point of view, the part I like to do the most because the Emperor is such a rotten bastard, you really get to sink your teeth into his performance, trying to do an impression of his performance. So I kind of feel like I get to let loose and enjoy myself, it is rather cathartic, embracing your inner complete bastard, which is really what I do in that part of the show.
Do you change anything in your performances, from day to day, city to city or do you keep things pretty much the same?
Charles: There are some parts of the show that are always affected by where I’m at during a certain time. It tends to be just a couple little jokes where I make reference to the place I’m actually in. I will say the tempo of the show will change depending on the audience. In that way, I sometimes see myself rushing through things, other things I savor, that’s where new jokes come out, when I’m actually savoring the show itself. If something happens during the show, like a cell phone going off I can integrate that into the show, and hopefully in a way that is done in the best way possible, try to twist things around a little, it’s kind of liquid, like if I’ve fucked up a line or just own up to the fact that I just screwed up.
The show actually made its debut in 2001, right here in Toronto, correct?
Charles: Yes, in sort of its infant form. The first time was here in Toronto and by the end of the year I had the full show pretty much down to what it was going to be. The script kind of existed for a long period of time, as far as trying to find time to really work out the bugs and get something that was easily repeatable. It did take a bit of time, just because I was living out in Halifax and my buddy, the guy who I sort of used as my director, PJ, he lived out in British Columbia so it took a bit of time for us to find ourselves in the same spot to work out the bugs. However, one the ball started rolling it kind of just felt like inevitable.
What was the audience’s reaction when you first brought the show out in 2001?
Charles: I think it was surprising for them. I’m assuming they must have thought it was rather absurd and in that way lovely, because here’s a guy up on stage who’s going to recite Star Wars, not verbatim, but way more material than you think a human being may retain but I think what was interesting for the audience is a lot of them didn’t realize how much they remembered themselves of Star Wars, and not just some little vague details but really specific and sometimes huge reams of script that people instantly remembered. I think the absurd qualities was also married to the fact that I was trying to use humor but also skill that I had, I did study theater so using controlled movement and throwing myself with controlled wild abandon around the stage to be all of these things. I think it was exciting and weird and potentially unlike anything people had seen up to that point so the surprise factor had a huge impact on the audience.
The show consists of material from the first three Star Wars films, episodes four, five and six. Do you have any plans to do another show using material from other Star Wars movies?
Charles: Well, I have thought of it. I think the reason why I haven’t really pursued it is because the original trilogy had a very honest impression on me and that I didn’t actually seek out and make it into a show when I was a kid, I never even tried to do anything with it, I just love the show because it existed. I kind of find that now I’m only able to enjoy something for what it is if I don’t try to imagine how I’m going to adapt it and put it on stage. I’ve actually kind of stopped shopping for shows and if something eventually strikes me as something I would like to, it has to actually naturally happen, like falling in love and not forcing it.
When did you realize that you’d have to get permission from Lucasfilm Ltd. to do this show and was that a difficult thing to do?
Charles: Well, I realized from the very beginning that if it had any shelf life that eventually I’d have to get permission. I didn’t how to do it, where to go to get permission, who to contact and as it turned out, they contacted me. It was actually advantageous because they took the tone of first contact and I was lucky in the sense that, because I’d sort of existed under the radar but I’d managed to garner decent reviews and some goodwill from the actual fans of Star Wars, that when they discovered me I actually had something to bring to the table, it wasn’t just some fool calling them up and saying hey, I want to do Star Wars on stage man, because why would they give permission? It was easier to ask for forgiveness then ask for permission, and that was in 2003.
Does doing this show ever get a bit tiring and what do you do to keep things fresh to avoid wearing out both mentally and physically?
Charles: The great thing is, I don’t have to do this show day in and day out. There is always a different amount of time between when I’m doing gigs. When I was in New York, and that was the longest run, over five months that I had to do it, the thing about live theater is the audience is always changing so it always makes for a different show, every single show. It can get a bit frustrating when you’re trying to figure out why this joke isn’t working, it works for two weeks and then suddenly takes a week off, the jokes just doesn’t seem to work so you keep thinking it’s you and then inexplicably the joke starts working again. Any time I began to think oh, I’m going to start getting bored of this show I always try and put myself into the hypothetical position of commuting to work to do a job that I don’t really feel passionate about. I’m very aware of the fact that I’m just lucky to be doing this period, I studied theater and that’s what I wanted to do and this isn’t typical acting but it is a show that I cobbled together and it’s had a great impact on my life. In fact, I think the shows bigger then I could ever expect to reach in my own personal career which is awesome that I’m allowed to be part of this, it truly is.
I want to thank Charles for taking the time to speak with us.
One Man Star Wars Trilogy is playing in Toronto from April 28th through May 1st
For more information go to: http://www.onemanstarwars.com/