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The Man Who Detached the Cable!

The Interview with Ian Liston.

  Ian Liston is a film and theatre actor, a writer, a producer, and also a founder of The Hiss & Boo Company - for more information on this click here: the proper site.
He was in many serials and TV plays as well as cinematic pictures. His full filmography is available here : filmography.

He played in The Empire Strikes Back the character of Wes Janson - a rebel gunner who together with Wedge Antilles knocks one of the Imperial Walkers down. He was also one of the AT-AT drivers. Here you can find the website fully devoted to Wes Janson : this and that about Wes.

This nice and extraordinarily kind to Polish fans one-man band agreed to an electronic interview below:

Before you performed in The Empire Strikes Back you had already had a successful artistic career. You had played in many films; you had already been the founder of The Hiss & Boo Company. Which of the roles was the most satisfying for you?

I was lucky to be able to combine producing with acting and writing. I've written several broadcast radio plays.
Of the actual parts I played, I appeared in a BBC film called 'Joey', directed by Brian Gibson, in which a played a young soldier.
The film was a great success and did my career a lot of good. 90% of my work was in TV plays and serials and I enjoyed the variety and challenge of many different roles. - I've always enjoyed the physical process of film making: before I became an actor I worked behind the camera on various jobs such as a 3rd Assistant Director, Location Manager, camera assistant.

As Hero in Dr Who - 1979.

It was ironic that one of my first jobs in the film industry was as a runner at Elstree film studios and the very same block of sound stage were I was, a 7 years later, to film Star Wars!

That's an impressive and varied activity! It's no wonder that in one of the interviews you described the role in TESB as simply another job.
How do you assess the result retrospectively?

When I was asked to play the AT AT Driver I was told that is was "cops and robbers / cowboys and Indians in space" ! Although the first film had been successful none of us could ever have anticipated the groundbreaking movie that TESB was to become.

Did you see Star Wars before you played the role in TESB?


What was your reaction after you have seen the film?

I was gob-smacked (as I think everyone was) at the special effects and the thrill and adventure of the storyline.

Does this type of science fiction match your taste?


Yes. It's a credible adventure which requires no suspense of belief.

Did you enjoy watching yourself as a rebel gunner?

Yes, but I was disappointed (as actors always are!) that various bits had been cut and that we'd had our voices dubbed.

Was it not you who said "Cable detached"?

My lines were dubbed later by an American actor.

Do you perhaps remember which fragments with you in were cut out?

Not after 30 years, sadly no.

Has acting in one episode of the saga made you watch the continuation - "Return of the Jedi" ?

I couldn't wait to see it and lived in hope that there might be a part in it for me but sadly I was on a long term contract on a TV series and probably wouldn't have been free.

What was your work like on the set of the Empire Strikes Back?


The first scene we see you in TESB, is when you pilot an imperial walker (as an AT-AT driver) and only shortly after we can see you as Wes Janson. Were these scenes shot in chronological order?

Yes. The AT-ATs were filmed a few days before Wes's scenes. We actually shot the cockpit stuff several times over a period of weeks as the original shoot didn't give them the picture quality they needed for the blue screen. They brought a special Mitchell camera over from the States and reshot using that one. Rumour had it that it was the camera used on principal photography for "Gone with the Wind". It was certainly old enough!

Were you employed only to play Wes Janson and did you play AT-AT driver "by chance" or did you know from the very beginning that you were going to perform these two tasks?

I was asked to play the AT AT driver first. It was a fill-in for me between jobs, a favour to the casting director who said they wanted an actor, not an extra, because actors were better at taking direction. I knew it wasn't a 'featured' or named part.
After I'd spent three days on set (originally it was only meant to be one day, possibly two) I was leaving the studio when the gateman stopped me and said they wanted me back on the sound stage. Thinking "yippee, another day perhaps?", I was pleased and surprised when they told me that an actor originally booked to play the part of Wes the next day was ill and couldn't work so, as my face hadn't been seen, did I want the job? The rest is history!

It is wonderful that the Polish fans owe the interview with "Wes Janson" to some virus ;-) But let's come back to the AT-AT driver part for a moment. What was the set like where the scenes on board of AT-AT were shot? Was it some small room or some kind of a model in a big hall?

It was a cockpit mock-up on one of the sound stages.

Were the scenes, when AT-AT drivers are shown in front, shot at the some location as the ones where we see their backs?

Yes. It was all done with blue screen.

What was the filming on board the AT-AT Walker like? Were you there all the time - also when we only see General Veers talking with the Vader's hologram or with the leader of snowtroopers?

We were in shot as and when required but I don't remember too much about it.

Were you the AT-AT driver who is giving the distance to the Power generators? Is it your processed voice that we hear?

We didn't have any lines or script for the AT-ATs. They were added later by 'voice' artistes.

In the film we can only see the upper part of the AT-AT driver character. Did you (despite of it) have the full costume, including appropriate boots? Were the costumes made to measure?

The grey suit was like an all-in one industrial overall but I don't remember wearing any boots .

The action with snowspeeders starts in the hanger - the pilots in the orange uniforms are taking seats in the vehicle cockpits. Did you take part in the making of these scenes or was it only extras?

No. That was extras mainly.

What was the shooting of the scenes you appeared as Wes Janson like?

Hot! - There was a lot of light to illuminate the blue screen.

Could you say something about the set, please? Did you sit in the cockpit of a snowspeeder model or was it just some kind of representation of the interior?

It was a mockup of the cockpit without glass and the whole thing was quite high off the ground and built on a platform that had shock absorbers so that the whole structure could be rocked.

Were the scenes where you play with Denis Lawson shot at the same time or maybe you did not meet at the set and they were put together later separately?

He was there when we shot the snowspeeder sequence.

Wes Janson's face show emotional involvement. While acting in the cockpit scene, did you imagine the events we could later see in the scene of the fight with AT-AT machine?

The director, Irvin Kershner, explained the set up and situation and we took it from there. Very few people saw a script of anything other than the actual scenes they were in.

Did you know what the vehicle you 'piloted' would look like?

Yes, there was a full size snowspeeder on the soundstage.

Did you know the setting (the snow planet)?

No, not in any detail at the time

More Hot(h) wallpapers

How what you later saw in the cinema match with the vision you had when acting in the scene?

It was a bit of a surprise! They'd done a fantastic job with the special effects.

Was somebody shaking the cabin you were in to create the impression of an unstable operational flight?

Yes, quite vigorously!

Talking about special effects. What is your opinion on the changes that have happened in the film industry in recent years? Do you think that the introduction of computer graphics, virtual characters was good for the film or maybe it destroys the spirit of inventiveness that was present in older films, where traditional visual effects were engaged?

I think that's the best description I've ever heard: "it destroys the spirit of inventiveness that was present in older films where traditional visual effects were engaged" - There's no mystery anymore: we know how the tricks are done and we cease to be amazed.

Which actors did you meet on the set?

The main activity on one of the other soundstages was in the huge swamp which they'd built. There were other scenes being shot and I recollect meeting Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

While making the film, did you have any contact with George Lucas?

Yes, George was very involved with the setups for the blue screen material and he worked very closely with the director, Irvin Kershner. He devised the effects with ILM and knew in his head exactly what he wanted.

Could you sense some difference of attitude towards the issue between Lucas and Kershner, or did they seem like a monolith, speaking in one voice?

Not that I can remember. To someone coming in for a few weeks it all seemed to be a very happy unit, totally committed to the job in hand. In professional film making on this scale there never was - is - room for big egos.

Was the cooperation with Kershner a pleasant or rather difficult thing for you?

He was one of the nicest directors I've ever worked with. Caring for the actors. Making sure that we didn't get overheated, that we had water etc.

Did you have to make many doubles of a given scene?

I don't remember the number of takes - I've always prided myself on being a "low-takes" actor but, when you're dealing with blue screen (/ green screen as it is now), you have to do it until everything is technically perfect. That's just part of the job.

Did you attend the premiere of TESB?

Not in London because I was working on a TV series ("Crossroads") in Birmingham and couldn't get down to London although I had been to the cast and crew screening the week before. - I was a special guest at the opening night of the film at the Odeon Cinema Birmingham.

Did you encounter any warm reactions towards you from the fans just after the film was shown?

No, not as much reaction as we now get. The reall interest there has been in the last 10 years.

Do you find the interest around your person stronger now, as opposed to just after the film?

Much stronger. Mainly because the character of Wes Janson features so much in the books of the expanded universe. He's a very popular character and has a wicked sense of humour.

Did you happen to read any book set in the "Star Wars" world?

Absolutely! I think some of the books are terrific! I've read most of them in the X-Wing series. The Starfighters of Adumar is a favourite as well as Wraith Squadron and Iron Fist. All by Aaron Alston who I have met several times and is always a great chap to have a chat with.

When did you realize that Star Wars is not just any film, but a timeless phenomenon which - not the most ambitious undertaking you took part in, though - would bring you popularity all around the world?

About 10 years ago when I started to get invitations to conventions and signings. .. and I've enjoyed every moment of it. I've traveled all over the world and had chances to go to places that I would probably never otherwise have visited. Japan was a fabulous trip. I was looked after very well by my host Abbe and saw so many sights and events that will forever stay in my memory.

How did your adventure with fandom start?

I was first invited to a convention on the Isle of White by Michael Sheard in about 1997. - Michael lived on the island. He became a good friend and he is sadly missed since he passed away. Other conventions seemed to flow from that.

Do you enjoy being in touch with fans? What is your opinion on the Star Wars phenomenon at the moment? What do you think about it?

Yes, I like hearing from fans and I still get quite a lot of letters which I will always try and answer if they have reply coupons or UK postage stamps. - It would be very costly if I had to pay for all the return postages! I don't like it when people send or request lots of pictures because I don't charge . but then they appear for sale on ebay and the like.
Although I don't charge I always ask the recipient to make a small donation to a cancer charity in their locality.

More at Rebelscum

Do you like various Star Wars merchandise and memorabilia which present different images of your character? (e.g. CCG card "Wes Janson" or an AT-AT driver figure?) Do you have any of such among your souvenirs?

I'm always interested to see what's out there and I'm very much looking forward to July when the first ever Wes Janson figure is released by Hasbro.

It's taken 30 years but worth the wait. The modellers took lots of pictures of me at Celebration IV in LA in 2007 and there is a passing resemblance to my facial features. I have a few souvenirs from fans and my pride and joy is an AT AT quilt made and given to me by a wonderful lady in the USA.

In the film A Bridge Too Far, where you played Sergeant Whitney there is also a character of General Sosabowski shouting "shnoor, shnoor" (rope, rope) :) Have you had any other contact with the Polish language, or maybe the Poles?

I was living in Ealing, West London, when we filmed Star wars and I had neighbours who were Polish.
They introduced me to various Polish dishes such as (I may have the wrong spellings!) Ushka, Pazki, and Bigos. - I occasionally make Bigos if I can get the proper sauerkraut. I also liked the way they served Herrings.

Being active as the founder of The Hiss & Boo Company is probably a very time-consuming endeavor. Do you manage to find some time for any pleasures, a hobby maybe?

I enjoy running the Hiss & Boo company as a producer and I have an excellent team of people who work for the company. We mainly produce pantomime, a traditional Christmas entertainment for children in the UK. We also produce plays and revues which tour theatres in the UK and overseas. I've always had a lifelong love of theatre and you could say that my work is my hobby.
I also like messing about in boats, traveling and cooking .

You encourage fans to support charities fighting with cancer. You are also devoted to the fight with the disease yourself.

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003. It was fairly advanced and had gone too far to have the prostate removed so I had a sequence of hormone treatments which stabilized the disease for a while. It started to show signs of returning in 2005 and I was able to get onto various clinical trials of new drugs which helped to varying degrees. In late 2006 I began taking a new developmental drug called Abiraterone and that has done wonders for me with few side effects. I must pay tribute to the fantastic team at The Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, Surrey, who have looked after me so well.
Touchwood, things are relatively normal and I go about life in a fairly happy and carefree way: and let's hope it stays that way.
One thing I would say, as it's probably blokes who may read this, never ignore "men's health" issues. If you think something's wrong or isn't working as it should be with, for example, the waterworks, go and see your doctor. These things are usually easily treated if caught early.

Thank you for the warning on behalf of all male SW fans. Probably in the Star Wars world a bath in the bacta would be enough. However, till we live on Earth one must simply be careful. Thank you very much for an interesting interview. I wish you first of all good health and many successes in the sphere you find most interesting! Thank you again on behalf of all Polish fans that you wanted to give us some of you time.

It's been a great pleasure to answer some very interesting and perceptive questions.
Thank you . and my best wishes to everyone in Poland. - I'd love to come over to meet you some day soon!

Ian Liston
West Sussex, UK
1st May 2008

Questions : Kuba Turkiewicz.