"Whiphid Good"The Bothan Spy's interview with Tim Dry, published October 24, 2006
Every so often, we are lucky enough to learn more about the actors and crew members behind our favorite films, and every time I am fascinated by the lives and experiences of those involved. For me, one of the joys of being a Star Wars fan is to learn who's behind the character. Lurking behind many of the bizarre, briefly seen aliens in the movies are amazing stories, waiting to be heard. Having played a Whiphid and a Mon Cal Officer, Tim Dry exemplifies the fascinating life found behind some of our favorite characters. Mr. Dry was kind enough to share his memories with us and delve deeper into his truly unique life.
Let me start by saying thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. It is an honor to speak with you. You truly are an artist in every sense of the word--having been involved in acting (mime, theater and film), photography, music, and writing, among others. You originally studied in graphic design - Did you always know what direction you wanted to go in life?
I was always good at drawing and art from an early age and that was enough to convince me (and my parents) that I should pursue a career that involved those skills. So, going to Art School was the next logical step. Because most of my musical heroes had gone to Art School too (Lennon, Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Eno etc, etc) I assumed that when I finally got there, at the age of 18, that it would be filled to the brim with wildly experimental and coolly dressed dudes attempting to change the face of popular culture as we knew it. Sadly, that was not to be and I spent the next two years being frustrated, angry at my lack of ambition and wondering if I had made a wrong turn in my life. I should have done fine art instead of graphic design but I was too young and unformed to realize that a simple change of course could have made all the difference. I mean, learning how to design the ultimate packet for Kraft Cheese was not high on my creative agenda. So, I left. I became a hippie living in Brighton, England and devoting my time to exploring inner and outer space to try and find out exactly how I could fit it in to this brave new world. You have to imagine that back in the early '70s, we didn't even have TVs, let alone computers, iPods, internet, etc. So any info that we needed was gleaned from books, the occasional movie and by just talking to other people. In answer to your question above: No, I never really had any idea of the direction that I should be following. All I ever wanted to be was an artist. A person who creates stuff for others to hopefully enjoy and share amongst their friends. But I didn't know how to do that.
You eventually studied Mime and Physical Theatre in London - What lead you to this?
I was working as a graphic designer in 1976 for a company in my hometown (after my sojourn in Brighton) that produced edifying magazines such as Hotel International etc, and my job was to cut and paste layouts for this journal. It didn't involve any creativity whatsoever and I was bored out of my mind on a daily basis. I kept thinking, "I’m 24 years old. Bowie made Hunky Dory at this age and was planning his next venture that would become Ziggy Stardust. What the Hell am I doing here? And out of the blue a little insistent voice in my head said, "Why don't you go to London and study Mime?" That was a shock to my system, but after weighing up the good versus the bad, I decided to up sticks and go. I felt like Dick Whittington on a journey. I found a place called The Dance Centre in Covent Garden in central London that offered one class a week tuition in mime with the wonderful Desmond Jones. I grabbed it totally and became obsessed by this strange and mystical art form. I'd seen Marcel Marceau, Lindsay Kemp's stage shows and what Bowie was doing with mime in his stage performances and I thought, "This is ME! I’m going for it!" So, I did. One night a week turned into two, then weekends and then before I knew it I was part of a 9 piece Mime company rehearsing and doing shows in Arts Theatres etc. I was home and I felt so pleased that I’d got off my suburban arse and struck out for something better. It was the best thing that I've ever done, because everything good that has happened to me in my life stemmed from that one moment of clarity.
I understand you performed mime-work at various venues and festivals, while supporting yourself by selling homemade jewelry at Camden Market and shops around London. Could you tell us more about this time of your life?
I designed and produced a series of brooches of clowns, pierrots and harlequins that I would sculpt in this material called DAS (that could be molded into shape and would then dry like clay) and that could then be cast in rubber molds in liquid resin, painted by hand when hardened and have brooch pins glued on the back. I started taking samples around to leading shops in London like Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Harrods, as well as top level toy shops and started to get a lot of orders. It became a great way to fund my mime explorations. I'd met a beautiful young Canadian girl named Barbara White at mime class one evening and we embarked on a relationship together. She moved into my London apartment and as well as becoming lovers and members of the same mime troupe, she worked with me co-producing this increasingly popular range of jewelry. This was in all honesty the happiest and most uncomplicated period of my life and for that I shall be eternally grateful.
From there, you joined the music troupe "Shock" in 1980, and later formed the robotic mime and music duo "Tik & Tok" (along with Sean Crawford - "Yak Face"). You recorded albums and even toured with Gary Numan. What prompted your move into the early 80's music scene?
Way back in 1979 Barbara (or Barbie Wilde as she would shortly become) and myself were employed to act as 'living mannequins' in the window of a trendy clothing shop in the King's Road, Chelsea. Dancing inside the shop in a kind of mad and berserk way were a couple named Robert Pereno and L.A.Richards. We chatted and got on well and exchanged phone numbers. A few months later Robert called us and said he'd now got this dance troupe called 'Shock' and would we like to join? We said yes and so we did. Because Robert seemed to know everybody in London on the 'scene' we found ourselves working every night in clubs for the rich and the very well connected. Suddenly, we were approached by a couple called 'The Hudsons' who'd recorded a backing track at their Mayfair Studios for an Electro version of the old Glitter Band song 'Angel Face'. Would Shock like to front it for promotional purposes? By the way, it would mean signing to RCA Records as an act. Were we interested? Urh – YES! So, suddenly we had ourselves a record deal with the same company that had not only Elvis, but Bowie too. Not a tricky choice that one! Then Shock became part of the whole 'New Romantic' fashion and music scene in London in 1980. That clique then spawned bands that really did change the face and sound of music globally and it was great fun to have seen it all from the inside.
What are some of your memories of this experience?
Full On! 24/7 performance, publicity and social madness! Shows in New York, Thailand, Holland and all over the UK. We supported Gary Numan at his farewell concerts at Wembley Arena, London in 1981 to 30,000 fans. Plus shows with Adam Ant, Ultravox and Depeche Mode. Our sixth member was a beautiful young girl named Carole Caplin, who history tells us went on several years later to become Life Style advisor to Tony Blair (UK Prime Minister) and his wife Cherie. Wow! Who would have guessed that one huh? We were a strange but totally exciting hybrid of Mime, Dance, Cabaret, Press Darlings and Rock ‘n’ Roll. And we did it brilliantly and coped with it all too! I don't remember sleeping for two years. Sean joined Shock in late 1979 as the 3rd mime artist and somehow we got together on our own in slack Shock moments in 1980 and created this wonderful robotic and musical entity called "Tik & Tok". Suddenly Shock had split up and Tik & Tok were off, pursuing their own goals of Electronica music and visual entertainment. It worked brilliantly and we became very, very popular.
I'd been playing lead guitar since I was thirteen, had a couple of bands in the '70s who used to jam endlessly ... but ultimately were going nowhere, so I left playing music behind pretty much. It was only when I wrote some songs for Shock with our producer Richard Burgess that the avenue of musical creativity opened up. Sean and I bought some primitive synths and a 4 track tape recorder and started to play around with electronic music for us as Tik and Tok in 1982 and then found ourselves signed to an English indie record company named Survival.
In 1982, your talent in mime-work led you and Sean Crawford to featured roles in Return of the Jedi. If we could, I like to spend a few moments discussing your Star Wars experiences. How did you wind up performing characters in Return of the Jedi?
Because of our mime training and our Tik and Tok ventures, we were given an opportunity to audition and show our skills in front of one of the major Star Wars producers at Desmond Jones’ Mime School in London in 1982. We got the job and were hired to play two members of Jabba the Hutt’s entourage of bad boys. Namely (in later years) me as 'J’Quille – Whiphid' and Sean as 'Yak Face – Saelt Marae' (although at the time of filming, we did not have actual character names.) We were not extras. We were credited cast members. It was about 3 weeks filming for the scenes in Jabba’s palace and a few more days on his sail barge too. Sean had a good little scene with C-3PO that was sadly cut from the final print. We were also given roles as Mon Calamari officers for some extra days (mainly because we created a kind of 'squid' Mime movement ... but also, if the costume fitted we got the job!). It was really the most extraordinary experience and we loved every second of it!
Were you familiar with the Star Wars movies at that time?
I remember Barbie and myself in 1977 watching some movie in a big cinema in Leicester Square, London and before it started there was this trailer for a new movie called Star Wars. And I thought, "Wow! this just looks exactly like the sort of film that I'm gonna love!" It had everything ... total dark and evil baddie, a spiritual subtext, a young, innocent but soon to be wise hero, the glamorous heroine, and above all stupendous starship battles in space. Just the sound and the visuals of that trailer enticed and entranced me. So imagine how excited I was to actually be a part of the 3rd movie! The Empire Strikes Back came out a couple of years later and that drew me deeper in to the saga. It (the saga) was like every western that I'd ever seen played out against a background of deep space. Plus, I loved the spiritual and metaphoric aspects to the tale as well. I grew up reading Sci-Fi and Science Fantasy, and here it all was ... in one magnificent story.
Did you spend very much time on the set during your roles as J’Quille and a Mon Cal? Were they both filmed at the same time?
Jabba’s scenes were filmed first over about a three week period because of the complexity of the sets and the shooting angles. We were on set pretty much for all of the scenes in the palace ... whether we were visible or not. So we were there for all the scenes with Boba Fett, Oola, Luke in disguise, Princess Leia chained to Jabba, the band playing, Bib Fortuna etc. Our key moments came when Han Solo wakes from being frozen and you see Jabba and his henchmen leering and laughing in the background. A bit later we were filmed as party guests on the Sail Barge (those scenes were much less complicated to film). The 'Mon Cal' scenes were shot a while later on just one set so they were comparatively simple for us. Although the mask heads meant that we couldn't really see what we were doing at all! Strangely enough, Sean and I ended up playing both 'bad guys' and 'good guys' in the same movie. That's something you don't see everyday.
Were the characters you played full size costumes (i.e. big rubber suits), or were they life-size puppets like some of the aliens?
Full size, heavy rubber, foam and fur costumes in segments with us inside them. We were hired because we could bring some sense of realistic movement to the characters within the costume because of our Mime training. And yes, it was hot in the costumes! So much so that assistants had to remove our heads between takes and blow cold air down in to our suits so that we wouldn't hyper ventilate. Oh, how we suffered!!
Could you tell us more about your time on the set and the filming process?
It was hot. It was very exciting and Sean and I turned our dressing room into a fun palace for any visitors that chose to pop by. We had party tricks, surprises and all of our musical equipment set up in there so we could work on some Tik & Tok music between scene set ups. We had to be at Elstree Studios very early every morning, driving out of London at about 6AM. But being young and dangerous boys we'd be out clubbing the night before until 2AM or coming home after a days filming and going straight into a recording studio. We certainly weren't the sensible sort who’d be tucked up in bed by 9PM.
Did you get to meet or work with George Lucas, or any of the stars? Do you have any interesting memories of the cast and crew?
We never met George Lucas personally (although we saw him on set a few times). I asked Harrison Ford for his autograph for a girlfriend who was a big fan, and then managed to lose it a few days later! I was too embarrassed to go to him again for another. He was quite distant from the others in the cast and we thought he should lighten up a bit! We liked Mark Hamill. We took him to a club in Chelsea one night and he had a great time. He was closest to our age so we got on well together. Never really made contact with Carrie either sadly. Sean and I were existing in our own little Tik & Tok bubble at the time, which protected us. We didn't feel a need to socialize with the other mimes. So, it's quite funny to hear their take on us as a duo 24 years later when we meet up at Star Wars autograph conventions! I remember that everyone involved in the film was professional and friendly and that made the whole working process very easy and enjoyable. We just loved walking around and exploring the sets. The attention to detail was incredible.
Thank you for sharing your Star Wars memories with us. Moving on, you began doing more mainstream acting following the dissolution of Tik & Tok in 1984. You have been featured in over 90 television commercials in the UK and Europe, as well as roles in film, TV, and "Off-West End Theatre." Are there any commercials fans in the UK or Europe might recognize you from?
Well, in the UK I was very recognizable for quite a while because there was an advert that I did for ‘After 8 Mints’ that was shown every Christmas for five years. Plus when you have an unusual face like mine, people tend to remember it if you're on TV every night. I did ads for newspapers, banks, cigarettes, confectionery, beer, cars. You name it, I promoted it. It was amusing to be standing on Victoria station in London one day waiting for a train and realizing that a lot of passersby were looking at me quizzically and smiling. It was only when I looked up that I saw that I was unknowingly standing beneath a 20foot long poster of me advertising 'Silk Cut' cigarettes! There were only 2 ads I did for the States, one you may remember. It was for 'Timex' watches, and featured me as a psychic in a laboratory successfully bending (with the incredible power of my mind) a door key and a fork, but not able to create a change on the watch that they'd placed in front of me. The tagline was: "Timex. It takes a licking but keeps on ticking!" Ha ha! The irony was that Uri Geller (the famous 'Spoon Bender') saw it, thought it somehow defamed his act and tried to sue. He lost the case. I was very visible in Germany too for a moment as I did 4 commercials for McDonalds (lip syncing to German dialogue) and 4 ads as Robocop for a free magazine called 'Kino News'. I did a few for France and Italy too. It was a great time both financially and on a "travel the world" level. My favourite commercial was for 'Ford Fiesta' cars for Germany. It involved 6 devils and 6 angels being instructed by God to go and create the ultimate motor car (the new 'Fiesta' natch). I was the head devil, clad head to toe in black leather complete with horns, long serpentine tail and evil fingernails. It took 6 days to film at Pinewood studios outside London and involved 3 huge sound stages. It really was just like a very expensive movie. Upon its release, it got banned in all the Catholic countries for supposed blasphemy!
Of the various forms of acting you've pursued, do you have a favorite? (Film, TV, theatre, etc.)
Theatre was quite intimidating, especially in very small venues where the audience are so close to you that you can almost smell what they had for supper! I never really enjoyed having to repeat the same performance night after night as I'm much more of an improvisational performer and found that a bit restrictive. Plus, after 4 or 5 years of live rock 'n roll performances it seemed too quiet, too low-key.
Film is exciting after the event when you see the result and I love the technical and creative aspects of it ... but the endless waiting around is duller than a dull thing. On a 3 week shoot it's 2 days work and 19 days waiting! TV I found more immediate. You're kind of in and then out before you know it. The money's not brilliant either unless you're lucky enough to land a regular part in a long running soap or drama series. Nope, I have to say that for me I enjoyed the whole process of starring in a 30 TV commercial. My best acting now takes place in real life. I'll leave you to puzzle that one out!
In 1997, you landed a role co-presenting "Feast," a food and drink series for Channel 4. How did you wind up in the enviable position of being paid to eat?
Back in '96 I started writing and recording music with the extremely talented composer Georg Kajanus (ex Sailor, Eclection and Data) and one of our first creations was a very catchy piece of electropop called "Walking". We got ourselves a one-off singles deal with a German record company named Koch who released it and paid £25,000 for us to go to Munich to make a promo for it. That was subsequently shown in the UK on a programme called "Top Of The Pops II". The director who was putting together ideas for this avant garde food and drink programme saw our clip and thought, "Hey, these guys in their black suits, shades and co-respondent shoes, miming to their own music are just what I need to give the show a new and exciting twist!" So, we were hired to go to Paris, Barcelona, Hamburg and Amsterdam to walk around the streets in synch to our song "Walking" (with new 'Foodie' lyrics for the verses) and then to be filmed eating in as many local restaurants as possible. Then the producers of the show thought it a good idea to have us actually presenting all the different segments and links of the show in various locations around the UK. Like in Tik and Tok in the '80s I find I work at my best with a creative partner, and Georg and I complimented each other perfectly. It was only one 6 part series but without a doubt it was the best job I'll ever have. The only worrying drawback was how much can you physically eat on camera in one day before you explode like Monty Python's 'Mr Creosote'?
In addition to your acting, you are an award winning photographer/digital image-maker, whose work has been exhibited worldwide. Many of your amazing photographs can be seen on your website. What led you to photography?
A friend at the time (1990) had bought himself a Pentax SLR camera. A grown up one, not an autofocus, point and shoot job and I found myself with a need to purchase the same and just start experimenting with light and subject matter. I felt that mastering this new art would compensate for my early failings as a graphic designer. Soon I had built a darkroom in my apartment, bought extra lenses, filters, lights etc and discovered that I did actually have an aptitude for this art and set about photographing everything that caught my eye. I enjoyed manipulating prints of my work in a fairly dangerous way, ie scratching them with sandpaper, varnishing them, spraying inks over them. Doing anything in fact to make them look less like photographs and more like distressed old paintings. Then I started to focus on bringing out people's character through the medium of portrait photography. With a combination of charm, humour and quite often a liberal amount of alcohol, I was able to release the subject's inhibitions and achieve a pleasing result. Especially with beautiful young ladies ... as they see me more as a friend and confidant than an old lech behind the viewfinder. Also, my years of having my own portraits taken gave me an insight into what works best for the subject.
You've photographed a number of well-known personalities, including Mick Jagger, Joan Collins, Steven Berkoff, and Rupert Thomson. Are there any interesting stories you can share?
Discretion and the possibility of a massive lawsuit prohibits me from telling you anything. No, seriously they are all generous, photogenic and enormously talented people whose work I admire greatly! Meeting Mick was a bit nerve wracking as I'd been a Stones fan since 1964 and here I am burdened with the enormous responsibility of photographing him in the flesh. God, please don't let my nerves screw it up! Luckily, they didn't and I got the shots that his record company wanted. When you meet a long time hero or heroine, your mind is full of a 1,000 questions that you long to ask but don't. I guess in some very, very small way when Star Wars fans meet people like us in the flesh, they become mentally tongue-tied too. Bless 'em!
You also continued to write and record music. You worked extensively with composer Georg Kajanus under the name Noir from 1994 to 1997. More recently, Tik & Tok have reformed and you and Sean Crawford are working on some new music. Could you tell us more about this and what the future holds for Tik & Tok?
It was mainly through meeting up at Star Wars conventions a couple of years ago and playing Sean some of the music I'd been making for myself that sparked off the reunion. I'd wanted to do it years before as I felt that there was still interest in what we did back in the '80s. But you can lead a horse to water, you can't make him drink. So I'd kind of abandoned the idea until one day in 2004, Sean phones me up and says, "Do you want to do something new as Tik and Tok?" So we started just talking through what music we liked, what we felt we could achieve by doing it again (with the life experiences between us being taken into account) and we realized pretty quickly that the bond and the magic between us was still there. That is the most gratifying experience I can tell you! Proof that one should not say "Never again". We now have an album's worth of new material ready for release and are currently working on trying to find a suitable means of getting it out to the public. This time round there's no compromises in terms of trying to create a 'pop single', it's just us making the music that we like to listen to. And for that reason we feel that it’s much more honest and instinctive than what we had back in the 1980s. It's Sci=Fi music in many ways, music to watch as well as listen to. Oh, and you can dance to some of it too! It’s electronica and we have some samples up on our page. The new album will be called "Dream Orphans" and should be out in early November this year. We've done a handful of low key live performances over the last year to see if we can still cut it. We can. We're also working on trying to get to perform a short live show at next year's Celebration 4 in the US. We're building up a new fan base as well as consolidating our old one. It's exciting when that train comes past again. Grab on to it and hold fast! Who knows where it'll take us?
You've also written an autobiography entitled "Falling Upwards - Scenes From a Life," which I'm sure contains some fascinating stories. What's it like writing about your own life? What can readers expect to find in your book?
Well, at least I don't have to worry about plot and character development! They always say that you should write what you know. Well, I know me pretty well by now so it was an easy flow of memory. I deliberately chose not to make the book chronological in content, that way you can dip in and out as the mood takes you. This is the pitch that I've used to market the book:
"It’s been a mostly amusing but sometimes frightening role, guest-starring in this strange performance called my life. The Beatles, Kate Bush, George Lucas, Mick Jagger, Bowie, Duran Duran, Gary Numan, Lindsay Kemp, Joan Collins, and Her Majesty The Queen have all figured in it somehow.
And if you add sex, drugs, rock 'n roll and a visit from a UFO, you'll see that I'm spilling beans of a very unusual kind. So come with me, fasten your brainbelt and take a trip with someone old enough to know better but young enough not to care."
Falling Upwards is available now on Amazon.com and from Exposure Publishing.
Do you have any other upcoming projects, acting or otherwise, that fans can look forward to?
Not really, apart from the above. I'll go wherever the wind takes me. I'm open and up for anything.
I'd like to touch back on Star Wars for a moment. Star Wars fans have shifted interest now from the first billed actors to people involved in all aspects of the filmmaking process. How do you feel about this new interest in people who played smaller roles, such as yourself?
Are you surprised by how popular Star Wars is today?
Not at all. The saga deserves ongoing viewing. Let's face it, the world is a pretty grim place sometimes and we all need escapism. These films have it all.
You've been attending conventions in the UK, Europe, and the USA. How do you like the convention experience?
I love it! Pure and simple.
Do you have any upcoming convention appearances planned? Do you have any idea if you will be attending Celebration 4 in Los Angeles next May?
We're open to offers...
I'd like to thank you once again for taking some time out to chat with us. It has been my pleasure talking with you. Is there anything else you would like to add? (Comments, advice, or wisdom for our readers?)
Keep an open mind and an open heart. Be vigilant but don't take things too seriously. Remember that you're not alone. Give joy to people and that’s what you'll get back. Have a good day! Oh, and buy some Tik & Tok music and a copy of my book please.
Thank you again, Mr. Dry, for this fascinating glimpse into your life. I know I'll be picking up a copy of your book soon, and hopefully a CD too. With any luck, maybe you’ll run into some Bothans at an upcoming convention.