I am ever grateful to Disney for inviting me on an expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to attend the #HanSoloEvent and #ABCTVEvent in exchange for coverage on my blog. No other compensation was provided. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
Even though SOLO is mainly a story about how Han Solo became “the” Han Solo, it is also a movie about the relationship between Han and Chewbacca – how it developed – and how Chewbacca’s character developed. Joonas has played Chewbacca before, but I was wondering how is it different in this film playing a younger Chewbacca, who was in the process of becoming the Chewy that we know.
Joonas agreed, “Right, he becomes the character. 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.
“Kind of 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.”
I know that the budding relationship between Chewbacca and Han Solo was one of my favorite parts of the movie. I certainly didn’t expect the situation in which they met for the first time! I can’t wait for my family to see the movie this weekend (opening May 25!) so we can discuss.
How Joonas Suotamo Became Chewbacca
What a fun (and unconventional) story! Joonas explained, “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 could find that guy. And so the casting (department) 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. 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. Just the kind of video where I go like [GRUNTS], just playing this cave man 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 gonna play Chewbacca.”
After he got the role, we wondered how long it took him to master speaking Wookiee? Luckily Joonas is a fast learner. He responded, “When they told me I’m gonna meet Harrison Ford the next day, it took me that 24 hours.”
Speaking of meeting Harrison Ford, Joonas described their first encounter (before filming The Force Awakens), chuckling, “It’s great. I think I was so nervous that the first thing (I said) 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.”
Just a few hours after initially meeting Harrison Ford, he walked on the set of the Millennium Flacon for the first time. He said that many people on the set that day were crying, but he held back the tears. He was very conscious of how his first encounter with Harrison had gone, so he was extra careful to be professional and on his best behavior.
Other than the fact that the set smelled oddly of a hardware store, Joonas said that exploring the Millennium Falcon for the first time was “…just the marvelous thing, because 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. And it’s, you know all the angles that they used. And 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 (in Solo) 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.”
From Basketball Player to Chewbacca
So how did a basketball player become Chewbacca, one of the most well-known and beloved characters ever? I never would have guessed how a sport could prepare a person for an acting role, but Joonas explained how his years as a basketball player shaped him into the right person to take on this character.
He said, “I think basketball certainly gifted me extra body awareness. And also the trips I made with various team and the national team of Finland and everything. I met so many wonderful players and people. And I grew up to become a very social guy. And I have always observed movements — 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 that has more than anything alongside with growing up with dogs and observing them when I was a kid but secretly prepared me for the role of playing Chewbacca.”
Joonas’ next “secret” of how he was ripe for the role of Chewbacca cracked me up. He said, “We Fins have a very rich sauna tradition. So, I can withstand heat exceptionally well. Basically you could say I was born to play this role.”
Meeting the challenges of playing Chewbacca
Joonas said that one of the hardest things to get used to playing Chewbacca was being constantly poked in the eyes, since the costume is so elaborate.
But on a more serious note, he said that his biggest personal challenge with his role was “just respecting the legacy of Chewbacca, because he was played by Peter Mayhew, the legendary, original Chewbacca. And 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.”
I could tell that Joonas felt very privileged to have had the chance to train and consult directly with Peter Mayhew. He explained. “I had a week long — we called it the Wookiee Bootcamp. (Trademarked, not to be used by — no, I’m just kidding.) 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. And 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.”
It was wonderful to hear that Peter and his wife Angie met Joonas before he filmed his first Star Wars film, embraced him, and gave him their blessing. Joonas said that it was a “huge deal for me, because Star Wars is so beloved that I would hate there to be any kind of bad water when we do this. Because it’s a very significant thing and (it would) be hard to let go of something that you dedicated your life to and when the fans love you so much. But I’ve assured them that he’ll always be the original Chewbacca and there’s no one who can take away from him.”
Getting the “moves” right, especially with all of the action scenes in this and previous Star Wars movies, was very important to Joonas. He said, “The main obstacle (with the Wookiee suit) 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 make 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 if I could do something myself to improve the next day. And that’s maybe the hardest thing. Because the moves of Chewbacca are very much something I can do as a basketball player.”
Have you noticed that Chewie is always wearing a bag? Have you ever wondered what was in his bag? Wonder no more, because I’ve got the answer!
Joonas revealed, “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 when — after they’ve come back — after they run away frightened when I appear — when they come back I usually bribe them with sweets.”
How fitting is it that Chewie’s bag would be filled with candies for kids visiting the set?!
Be sure to catch him in SOLO: A Star Wars Story, opening in theaters everywhere on May 25!
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