For voice actor Stephen Stanton, the opportunity to play Admiral Raddus in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was like many of the roles he takes on: shrouded in secrets so deep he didn’t really know the character he was playing until he got the job.
Stanton is a veteran in the entertainment business who has done everything from voicing the late Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in the “Star Wars Rebels” TV show to legendary film critic Roger Ebert for the 2014 documentary “Life Itself.” And in his experience, the bigger the project, the less information you’re given to create a voice to get the job. That’s exactly what happened when his agent called him in August to audition for a “secret project.”
“There was no mention of Disney or Lucasfilm, I didn’t know what studio was involved,” Stanton told Business Insider. “I wasn’t even told it was for a feature film.”
What Stanton was told was to come up with a few versions of a voice that would be a cross between Winston Churchill and General George S. Patton and that the character was a military leader. That’s it.
So Stanton went online and listened to a few speeches given by Churchill and Patton for a reference point and then created a voice he describes as “a mashup” of the two iconic military men. He then sent to his agent multiple versions of the voice delivering lines of dialogue for a character named “Admiral Haggis” in the script he was given.
Days after doing the audition, Stanton got the call that he get the role for the upcoming “Star Wars” movie “Rogue One.”
Whether Admiral Haggis was just the name Lucasfilm put on the dummy version of the script used to audition talent or if that was the character name at one point of production is unknown. But in the finished version, the Mon Calamari character would be named Admiral Raddus, the leader of the Rebel Alliance during the Battle of Scarif at the conclusion of “Rogue One.”
Though Stanton has been working on “Star Wars” projects for years, either for the cartoon TV shows or video games, voicing a character on one of the franchise’s feature films was the equivalent of a baseball player being called up to the major leagues (he’s seen the movie three times since its been out in theatres).
But he was still unaware of many aspects of the character going into the recording — like what Raddus looked like.
The two-day recording session happened on the ADR stages on the Disney lot in Burbank a few days after getting the role. It was there, while the sound editor was preparing the recording, that Stanton got his first glimpse at Raddus as rough footage appeared on the screen in front of him.
Stanton’s task was to synch the voice he created for Raddus with the lip movements already filmed on the soundstage in London by actor Paul Kasey, who was inside the Raddus suit, and a team of puppeteers who moved Raddus’ lips during filming.
“It’s just like doing a voice match, because I have to record to picture,” said Stanton. “So the scenes are done up to a certain point, not all the effects were in place yet, I was looking at a lot of things that were green screen and partially finished sequences. But they would show me the scene and then they would show me a little bit ahead of it so I knew the context of what it is that I was trying to record.”
While looking at the footage on screen, the production team in London were on speaker phone giving Stanton direction. Stanton said Tony Gilroy, who headed the film’s reshoots, and executive producer John Knoll, were among those on the call. He wasn’t sure if director Gareth Edwards was present.
“They would guide my performance as I was working on the timing, trying to make sure what I said matched what was shot on the stage,” said Stanton, who during the recordings had two microphones in front of him and one taped to his chest so the sound editor had numerous recording options. “I’m making it match and they would tell me to try this emotion or that emotion.”
Once Stanton got some knowledge about Raddus, he became instantly aware of his species’ significance in the “Star Wars” saga.
The Mon Calamari in “Return of the Jedi,” Admiral Ackbar, became a sensation by the time internet memes came around with his now-legendary “It’s a trap!” line from the movie (he also appears in “The Force Awakens”). And audiences have quickly taken to Raddus (who is a different colour than Ackbar because Raddus is from the polar region of their home world Mon Cala), particularly because of his different style.
“Ackbar in ‘Return of the Jedi’ is more of a sceptic, he wasn’t sure they could pull it off, Raddus is aggressive, he’s a bulldog,” said Stanton.
In “Rogue One,” Raddus implores that the rebels fight the Empire once they get word that it’s building the Death Star. Then, when Jyn Erso and her Rogue One team leave the rebel base to steal the plans from the Death Star, Raddus quickly leads a squad to assist.
“It’s always surprising to me what audiences will react to,” said Stanton about watching the Raddus scenes with an audience. “It’s often a small line that you think is a throwaway and the fans go crazy for it. Raddus’ last line really gets people in the heart.”
If you’re hoping for more Admiral Raddus in outtakes/deleted scenes that might show up on the “Rogue One” Blu-ray, don’t get your hopes up. Stanton said pretty much what he recorded is in the finished film.
But he’s not ruling out Raddus showing up in another “Star Wars” movie.
“I don’t know” if he’s dead, he said. “I know as much as the audience knows, and Lucasfilm knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat about your character.”
A voice actor’s job varies on every job, but often their involvement is insulated from the entire scope of the project. That’s one of Stanton’s favourite aspects of his profession, the fact he gets to see the finished version with fresh eyes.
“I wasn’t aware how the whole thing fit together so when I finally saw it, yeah, I was aware of the emotions that I brought to the scenes I was in, but I didn’t know what happened up to and after that,” said Stanton about “Rogue One.” “I’m rooting for Raddus and what will happen, like everyone else, and that’s a thrilling feeling.”
“Rouge One” is currently playing in theatres.
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