Exclusive Interview with Jonny Mathers: The Next Chewbacca?
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We had a chance to chat with Jonny Mathers. He has become somewhat of a news spectacle because he is vying for a role in the next Star Wars film, Star Wars Episode VII. Mathers is exactly the same height as Peter Mayhew who played Chewbacca in Star Wars Episodes III-VI. He has not spoken to anyone officially yet, but he’s hoping someone will give him an audition for Star Wars as he’s exactly the seven feet three inches tall, perfect for Chewbacca and a long time Star Wars fan.
Listen to the full interview on this week’s upcoming Now, This Is Podcasting! and check out the transcript below.
Remember to share Jonny’s Facebook page to learn more about his quest to be in Star Wars Episode VII!
Jason: We think it is really cool that a Star Wars fan has the potential to actually be cast as the new Chewbacca in the new film, if they are casting Chewbacca. It looks like that’s probably what its for. You fit the bill perfectly!
Jonny: Yeah, I mean to be fair, I can’t think of what else it would be. It seems to coincide quite well as that’s exactly what they’re looking for. But yeah, it would be cool. I mean, it is something I think anyone who is into Star Wars would dream of being part of one of the films.
Jason: Oh yeah, definitely. I think all of us on the playground played some kind of Star Wars character at some point. But to actually get to a point in life where it could actually happen is pretty exciting, I’d say.
Jonny: It is pretty exciting. As a kid it was always because I was quite a bit taller than the rest of the kids in the playground, it was always a case of, if we were playing Star Wars, I’d either get Chewbacca or if I wasn’t with the popular kids, I’d end up being Threepio, because I could put on a posh accent. It was one or the either, really. (Laughs)
Jason: Never Darth Vader?!
Jonny: No, I never got to be Vader! I don’t know why that was really. Where I come from, it was always cool to be nasty. So… ah.. (Laughs)
Jason: That’s great! So as a kid did you relate to Chewbacca and Peter Mayhew growing up?
Jonny: I think as a kid, especially being as tall as I was, from quite an early age I was a lot taller than the other kids. At the age of four, I was as big as most of seven year olds. I was always about a head higher than everybody else. So relating to a tall figure or a tall idol was a major thing in any kid’s life. I’ve never been into sport, I don’t relate to sport. To be honest, if you’re into sport, you should be playing it not sitting around and spending a fortune on merchandise for some team that get over paid.
Jason: Right! (Laughs)
Jonny: So for me it was all about, like, films and comics and sci-fi and Star Wars just one of the things I got into pretty early. I remember at age four I first saw Return of the Jedi in a cinema. But before that over in England it was quite common for at Christmas to play Star Wars: A New Hope on TV. Every Christmas, Star Wars would be on. I will always remember, I was obsessed with it and my grandad he had a little tape recorder with one speaker and a microphone. He kicked everyone out of the lounge one Christmas. He let everyone sit in the kitchen while he recorded the sound off the TV of the whole Star Wars film on to cassette. He paused it when the adverts were on so I could listen to it all the way through and I used to walk around with this tape recorder in my hand, blasting the soundtrack to Star Wars out daily. It drove my parents and family insane! I just wouldn’t leave it alone! So, yeah, it is just one of those things. I think a tall person like Peter Mayhew is one of those guys that he is a gentle giant and I can relate to that because a lot of people see my size as one of these things that .. he’s got to be a nasty person, ya know?
Jason: You and me both, brother!
Jonny: Yeah, I got this skinhead thing going and people sort of go “that’s a bit scary.”
Jonny: But I’m not like that at all. Peter Mayhew was a pretty good idol to sort of follow. The guy came from nowhere. He did a part in a Sinbad film first and then he go the casting call for Star Wars and I think the story goes that he sat in the room waiting to meet the producers, George Lucas and Gary Kurtz walked in and he sort of stood up to say “hello” and George Lucas said “I think we found him (Chewbacca).” That’s pretty cool for a guy that was a hospital porter in London. He stayed pretty grounded as well. He didn’t let it go to this head. As soon as he finished filming Star Wars he went right back to work in the hospital. People like that I think are good role models, you know? They don’t let things go to their head.
Jonny: It is an opportunity and if you see an opportunity you take it. My mom and dad phoned me “we heard about this Star Wars-thing. Apparently they’re looking for a seven foot three bloke! Why don’t you apply?” I was like “yeah, whatever! You’re talkin’ rubbish!” They were saying “no, no, check it out!” I went on the internet, I went on a couple of the forums and the leak thing was out on what they were looking for. I was like… okay. So I started looking up a casting agency that were meant to have put this out and my wife Beth and she’s like “What are you doin’?” Then I told her. She said “that’d be amazing!” And I said “yeah, but I’m just looking into it. I don’t think it is going to go anywhere.” Because that’s what happened when they were looking for tall people for Episode III. I tried everything. I literally spammed emails to anyone I could think of and didn’t get anywhere. So I.. you never know, I’ll just try and get ahold of this casting agent. The next thing you know this phone went off next to me. “You’ve been invited to a group “GET JONNY INTO STAR WARS EPISODE VII.” I was like “what the hell is this?!” She (wife Beth) was like I started you a fan page. I was like “What the hell are you doin’!”
Jonny: It just sort of spiraled from there. It just got a bit crazy. The last week has been absolutely insane.
Jason: Well, ya know.. your position isn’t all that different from Warwick Davis. Ya know?
Jason: He was just a little guy his grandmother said “wow they’re doing these Star Wars auditions, you should try and get in there.” And it ended up happening. I think your situation in some ways in nearly identical to his. It could happen for you…
Jonny: It would be nice to think it would. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a few.. not hate mails as such… Kinda like genuine fans who are like “Peter Mayhew’s the real Chewbacca and George Lucas said he’s the real Chewbacca and no one can replace him! I total get that.
Jonny: I can relate to that as well. The guy has got such a way of acting because he’s inside a furry suit. It can’t be the most easy thing to relate a character through that. He does it in such a way, he does look like a gentle giant on screen. His mannerisms, to things like how he turns his head, he puts acrossed that character. Until you see the parts where Chewbacca gets aggressive and you’re like “Whoa!” You don’t want to be anywhere near him. (Laughs)
Jonny: I can relate to that. I know Peter Mayhew recently put out a thing saying he’s gonna go for the role again. Even if this is a case of they’re looking for someone stand in or they’re looking for someone to…. Peter Mayhew, the guy is sixty nine, ya know?
Jonny: He’s just had double knee replacement. And as a tall person, I can relate to the problems tall people have. Unlike many tall people my size, I don’t have any of what they class as the height related diseases or issues. I’ve been tested for everything known to man, I think and prodded and pricked. Put through scanners and I have issues sometimes with my legs and things like that you know and it ain’t easy. With that operation, that is pretty painful. But obviously if you look at the style of film they did with A New Hope to Return of the Jedi and then you look at the style of film Phantom Menace to Revenge of the Sith, the action’s completely different.
Jonny: You don’t know what they’re going to do with these next three films. They might just want another Wookiee! If they go into the Expanded Universe realm and pull a few things from there, there’s was Chewbacca’s nephew Lobacca. It could be anything, I don’t know! It would be nice to think it was Chewbacca. But I would be just as happy if they gave me a role doing something, do you know what I mean?
Jason: Oh yeah, of course. Even in Revenge of the Sith, there’s Tarfful, a Wookiee actually bigger than Chewbacca! Some of your size? Who knows. Maybe you’ll be in the next Darth Vader?
Jonny: It is possible! But you know, I think it is a little too much plastic and metal for my liking. I know in my music and that, it kind of relates to that side of my image, but fursuit relates more to me than the armor. Who know?
Jason: I think everyone would like Peter Mayhew back in some way. I understand how people say “he’s the eyes,” when you actually look at Chewbacca there’s those piercing blue eyes. But as you’ve pointed out, he can’t be Chewbacca forever. It might not be a bad idea to get someone else who could start to transition into Chewbacca to carry that role on. They’re supposed to be making Star Wars films for the next ten years.
Jonny: I sort of looked into it a bit and they’ve definitely confirmed they’re doing these three films, they’re talkin’ about spin-offs. I’m sure at some point there will be all sorts of things relating as there are rumors they’re looking at doing a Han Solo story.
Jonny: There’s all sorts of things. It could go on for like another ten years, it would go on for another twenty years. Lets face it, Star Wars has been going on since 1977, ya know?
Jonny: Two years before I even became a twinkle! It could go on forever. They’re always going to be looking for new people, I suppose. It just seems too good of an opportunity to waste to just sort of… how often are you looking at an advert that is describing you? The only thing that has come up, especially by the wife, she tends to point these things out… They’re looking for someone who is slim, that sort of build, and I’m not slim. But I’m not overweight. I’m probably bit a broader than what they may be looking for.
About four years ago, I was twenty eight stone. Which is pretty hefty. I lost six stone in the space of like a year for personal issues, well the wife left. But I lost a lot of weight but I never put it back on. I probably put a stone on. If it comes to a point where they’re going “well, you’re a bit heavy” I know I can lose that off. People are saying “you got a bit of a belly on you.” But it is like, I can get rid of that! I’m not too worried about that. Just a little careful eating! The problem is 7ft people love their food. You can’t stop us eating.
Me and my new wife, Beth, we went to Vegas on our honeymoon. I don’t know how you all cope over there, I really don’t. Because I was in food comas for two weeks! (Laughs)
It is just amazing. You can walk into a restaurant and just keep eating. The reason I kept eating was because the food was so damn awesome.
Jonny: Yeah, that’s what we did. I was like I’m going there for the food and the beer and that’s what I did.
Jason: Yeah, me and my wife got married and honeymooned there as well. (idiotic laughter)
Jonny: One thing that got me when I was over there was I was expecting a lot more tall people. I didn’t really see that many tall people, I was still kind of like head and shoulders above everybody else. Everyone was like “do you play ball?” I was like, “no. No I don’t play ball.” Then I kept getting called “kush.” Does that mean anything?
Jason: I don’t know! I’ve never heard that.
Jonny: Everyone just kept calling me “kush.” Random blokes would just come up to me and be like “how you doin’, Kush?”
Jason: It almost sounds like it might be a UFC fighter or something.
Jonny: I don’t know! But I went with it and I got a few free drinks out of it. So we’ll just roll with that.
Jason: nice! (laughs)
Jason: So if things should happen with Star Wars Episode VII, is acting something you would like to have in your future? Are you into acting or do you just have a connection with this role (Chewbacca)?
Jonny: It is two things really. I’ve got a connection with the role. Because Star Wars has been a part of my life since I can remember. As for acting, it has always kind of been there in some way shape or form. When I was younger, I tried getting involved in as many productions as I could. Because of my size, I wouldn’t always get picked. When I was really young, I got picked for a play at my school where they were doing a thing like Noah’s ark, a comedy version. I got cast as one of Noah’s sons. I got put in this horrendous combo of a wooly cardigan and a pair of denim shorts. Every time there is a role if they want a big dumb looking idiot, they would pick me. (laughs)
I got involved in a few different drama things. I was in a small play when I was in my teens for a local company which was a historical sort of thing. Because I don’t actually come from North Somerset, I actually come from the North West, close towards Scotland. I come from a place called Cumbria, well I actually come from Lake Windermere. It is a tiny place. Really big for tourism. It is where Beatrix Potter was written and things like that, so you can imagine, so it is really small. It takes me three miles to walk from my house to the nearest pub. So there wasn’t a lot of acting opportunities (in the area).
I went to art college and I pursued a degree in animation. So I’m actually a qualified animator. My special is 3D model building and costume design. I did that and I then I had my own film company for a couple a years. So it has always kind of been there (the desire to make films). But then obviously real life kicks in. You gotta get a real job because you can’t get your dream job. It is only since I’ve been with my wife now, Beth, that she’s heavily involved with amature dramatics. She’s part of a society here at home. I do a lot of their backstage crew work. Mainly because I kind of know what I’m doing and the brought me in as a sort of helping hand. I help build sets and because of my size, I have this great opportunity of being able to go on stage quickly all in black and move a whole set by myself! It is great for theater because they can’t tell what the hell is going on. How has that house moved? I’m involved in that in ways, but acting would be a great thing to do. I really enjoyed it when I did it. But like I said, there’s not a lot of calls for seven foot three blokes!
A couple of years ago I got approached by a casting agency. They wanted me to play the part of a doorman, in a film. They were looking for someone excessively sized. One of the wife’s friends passed my name on. It was just a two minute bit and it was purely because they wanted someone that was for the doorway. But yeah, acting, I’d love to do it. But I do realize that if I end up in acting, I’m going to end up in a rubber suit ninety percent of the time. I’m probably going to be some green snot colored alien with stuff dripping out of me, so…
Jason: Do you see a connection between the acting you have done and your band? Gel…
Jonny: Yeah, it is a bit of a name take on a demon out of Dogma (Kevin Smith). I’ve been in bands since..1998 was my first band. I was in a punk band.
Jonny: We did terrible. I got into the metal scene at South Wales when I was at uni. I was in a band called Twelve Inch Ninja. I got into this thing where on stage you can just push your boundaries a bit more and be more yourself. Because I’m a quiet person in general, I’m not that aggressive, on stage I can batter all that out. It is kind of nice to go up there and just be someone different. Getting on stage is kind of a scary thing. I remember the first time I did it, in Wales, the first proper gig I ever did, I froze! I sort of stood there playing the bass, looking like a complete wally. My band is jumping around and I’m just stuck like someone’s stuck my together. I could just move my fingers. But when we got to the second gig, we just went mental! Even to the point where the singer was like “you gotta calm down, dude! You’re knocking me over!”
Jonny: I had a long break from bands and the Gelgothen thing came up through a mutual friend of my wife. They were like “we need a bass player!” So I said I play bass and they said “what kind of bass do you play?” They said they do Death Metal. I said I don’t really do Death Metal. It isn’t really my cup of tea. So they said “just give it a go!” I went in and we sort of jammed a bit and I realized it isn’t the sort of music I listen to, but it is the kind of music I like to play. It is aggressive and it is thrashy. I can put myself all out there, you know what I mean?
Jason: Yeah, full energy.
Jonny: Yeah, it is full of energy. We’re not a quiet band. We got a bit of a stage presence. I haven’t got any hair compared to the rest of them. They all thrash their heads around. I tend to dominate the stage a bit. If you look at that video of what was meant to be our last gig, but wasn’t, we got back together, you can tell I’m at the front and everyone else is behind me because I just need to project it forward. I just kind of get lost in it really. I relate to the fact I can just be somebody else. To be Chewbacca would be pretty cool. Because I could be him, ya know? To actually be the person I pretended as a kid…
Jonny: No, it is funny you should say that. Every now and again I get a post on Facebook, someone has made a Millenium Falcon toy into a bass guitar.
Jason: Yeah! Yeah! I’ve seen that…
Jonny: Someone always posts “you need to buy this!” Yeah, yeah, maybe someone day…but you need to quit!
Jason: So in closing here, If Lucasfilm should be listening what would you like to say to them to let them know you’re right for the job?
Jonny: If you are listening, Lucasfilm, or Bad Robot, or whoever is in charge of this, because it seems to be a bit confusing, give me a chance. It is something deep down I have always wanted to do. Now is an opportunity to do it. I fit the size requirements. I’m quite happy to spend hours studying the footage how to act like him (Mayhew) and how to be like him. I think it is better to have someone who has a real passion for Star Wars to take on a role like that. An iconic role. Rather than get someone in who fits the height requirements but is not really interested. I think it is really important that anyone involved with Star Wars genuinely loves Star Wars. Not just loves it, they live it. Everyone that I know that’s into Star Wars over here it is just a massive part of their lives. Most of us have got Star Wars tattoos or are planning Star Wars tattoos. Not just having the films and a few toys and stuff, they collect posters, laminates from conventions, any scrap of Star Wars they can get a hold of. Everyone seems to sort of cling to it and cherish it.
Jason: It is sacred.
Jonny: Yeah, it is sacred! I don’t know anyone that doesn’t have Star Wars stuff out as ornaments. Not just tucked away in a room somewhere, I mean out by their TV. Posters by the front door! One of my mates has got a remote control Artoo-Detoo he’s turned into a drinks carrier. It is a big part of my life and it is a big part of everyone’s life. I think you have to be passionate about it. To take on a role like this, I think you have to be passionate about the film, about the whole genre. In some ways it has become a way of life for some people. People live their whole lives by Star Wars and get so involved with it down to the cosplay stuff. The 501st Legion people, jeez. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen some of their costumes and I’ve seen some of their stuff they make and those guys are really dedicated.
Jason: Very passionate!
Jonny: So passionate. It is unreal! I went to Cardiff in South Wales, we were just driving through. There were these guys on the side of the road advertising a convention.
Was it always in the back of your head you could potentially one day play the iconic role of Chewbacca in a Star Wars film? There a Boba Fett and Darth Vader. A couple a Stormtroopers and a guy dressed up as a Tusken Raider. The guy who was being Boba Fett stood on the door of the hotel. Just like he stood next to Jabba in Return of the Jedi! Just casually nodding at people as they walked past. That was really scary because you really thought if you stepped in the wrong way he was going to shoot you. He was freaking out these kids because he kept nodding at everybody.
I think for me, if they (Lucasfilm) are listening, I am passionate about this. I really want the opportunity to do it. Trust me, I’ve sent off the emails. I’ve done a bio. I’ve done casting shots. So it is just kind of a wait and see what happens… Any more support is gratefully recieved. Anyone who can hit up a “Like” on my Facebook page… in the first 48 hours it went up to a 1000 likes. It has sort of gradually gone up. In the last couple of days the local press have started to get a hold of this. It has gone a bit mental. This afternoon I got someone coming to take photographs from the local paper. Yesterday without me even knowing, I’m in the local paper, a half page sort of story. They haven’t spoke to me. Someone called me and said “do you know you’re in The Post?” Am I?! He’s like “yeah, yeah. In The Post there’s like a half page of you!” Really!? People are genuinely behind this. That’s probably because I am that passionate about it. I am a Star Wars fan. I think that’s the main thing. This kind of opportunity doesn’t come around that often, especially when they’re looking for someone my size.
Jason: Yeah, you fit it perfectly.
Jason: You’ve convinced me! I was casting (it) you’ve got the role! (Laughs)
Jonny: Thanks! I do appreciate this, I never expected it to go this far. It started out as me and the wife having a laugh about it. She started the page half passed even on a monday night, last week. Tuesday morning, I have 300 likes! We had a phone call from an internet news thing saying “can we do a story on it?” Then the page kept steadily getting more and more likes. Then we got an email from Yahoo Film saying “can we do a story on it?” Yeah, if you want to and he took a couple of quotes. By Wednesday the wife was like “Look you got people sending you emails, there’s casting links here, and people trying to get a hold of you, radio stations want to speak to you” and I was like “really? Why? Do you really think this is going to happen?” She was like “well obviously somebody does.”
Jason: Well, hey, you fit the bill. We are rooting for you. For people who want to support Jonny, got to Get Jonny in Star Wars Episode VII on Facebook. Lets just hope someone from Lucasfilm or someone from Bad Robot hears Jonny’s interview somewhere or sees Jonny and says “ya know, he can be something in this film!” I don’t see why you couldn’t. I’ve seen ya, and I don’t think you’d look terrible in a Wookiee costume!(Laughs) I’m a critical fan and if I thought you’d look horrible in it, I’d say lets not get Jonny into that Chewbacca costume but you would fit the part and I hope someone is listening and I hope if Peter Mayhew can’t do it or they do this Han Solo movie and they need someone to play Chewbacca in physical running scenes, things like that, it would be great (to use Jonny). It would be great to have someone as passionate and knowledgeable about Star Wars as yourself
Jonny: I appreciate that, I really do.
Jason: Thanks for talking with us, we really appreciate it a lot.
Jonny: Thanks for getting in touch, mate! It really means a lot!