"The key to hunting Jedi is patience. Jedi cannot help what they are. Their compassion leaves a trail. The Jedi code is like an itch. They cannot help it." And with those ominous words in the first Obi-Wan Kenobi trailer, we were introduced to the live action incarnation of the fearsome Grand Inquisitor.
Originally seen on the animated Star Wars Rebels, the force-sensitive dark side Jedi hunter is now making the leap to live action on Disney+'s Obi-Wan Kenobi, premiering May 27, and we were granted an exclusive audience with the man playing him, Rupert Friend. In his first sit down interview discussing the role, Friend explains how the Grand Inquisitor's backstory makes him a worthy adversary for Jedi-in-hiding. The actor also goes into the character's relationship to other dark side figures — including how he might stack up in battle against Darth Vader — and if this might just be the start of his Star Wars journey.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How big a Star Wars guy were you when you signed on for this?
RUPERT FRIEND: I mean, I don't know anyone that doesn't love Star Wars, to be honest. It's just the most richly textured, layered world that has possibly ever been created for us to enjoy. So the idea of getting to be a part of that world is just a complete boyhood dream come true.
I'm going to ask you a lot of technical questions about your character in a minute, but before we get to all of that, did you ever just geek out being on a Star Wars set?
Oh my God! All the time! mean, the first time somebody handed me my lightsaber, I nearly fainted. You're just like, this is my lightsaber and we've never had this lightsaber in the Star Wars universe before. And I was getting to play this guy that's never been in the live-action Star Wars, so there was a lot of firsts for me. And then standing next to Obi-Wan Kenobi himself is pretty amazing.
It's a pinch-me moment.
It really was.
Let's start broad and then dive in a little more specific, but what can you tell us about the Grand Inquisitor, especially for people that maybe aren't familiar with his history from the animated series?
Okay, so basically the Grand Inquisitor is the chief of the Inquisitors, and he reports directly to Darth Vader. He's a pretty powerful member of the dark side. And some people who aren't familiar with Star Wars may or may not know this, but he used to be a Jedi. He used to fight for the forces of good as a temple guard. And he also is one of the people who trained Jedi in fighting styles, so he knows all the things that they know about fighting, and that makes him a pretty fearsome opponent.
Did you go back and watch any of Star Wars Rebels to sort of see your character in animated form or did you just want to kind of take it fresh with the live action?
I really wanted to honor the character as I saw him, and so I almost deliberately did not see the animated interpretation. Myself and [director] Deb Chow and [writer] Dave Filoni and all of the guys really wanted to do something fresh that honored and was faithful to the spirit of the character without doing a kind of impression of anybody else's interpretation.
Is his Jedi background something he's going to talk openly about using to hunt these Jedi down?
All will be revealed in a couple of weeks, but I can say it really helped me to have as my backstory this sense of awesome power and knowledge where he's effectively hunting the folks he once was. So he has all this insider information on them, and on the way that they might fight or evade capture, and that just brought an enormous kind of feeling of power beneath the performance.
Talk a little bit about his techniques. This guy's obviously very effective at what he does. How does he achieve his results?
Obviously, he's the master of the Force. But to me, it's that economy of power that demonstrates a truly powerful figure. As in, he's not running around like a headless chicken chasing after people left, right, and center. There are plenty of lower minions who can do that. He's the one who's trusting the Force, trusting his gut. And he honestly, like a kind of expert rat catcher, just really feels he can sniff out any Jedi hiding anywhere, anytime. So if I were a Jedi and I were being hunted by this guy, I'd be pretty afraid.
Tell me about the lightsaber. It looks awesome.
It is phenomenal. It's double ended, as you've seen in some of the early-release artwork. So he can use it with one or both of the ends. He can turn it into a whirling blade. He can fly with it. It's pretty kick-ass.
What's lightsaber training like?
Lightsaber training is amazing. I mean, the stunt guys on Star Wars are the best in the world. So every time you show up to play, as I call it, it's like playing in the best sandbox or the best adventure castle in the world. Because I think that everyone understands that people that fight with these techniques, people that have studied the way of the Jedi — there is a smooth, silent, deadly efficiency to everything.
It's not two guys brawling in a bar. These are master, master swordsmen, masters of pretty much all the martial arts you could imagine rolled into one. So there's almost a balletic quality about it that I find very, very beautiful.
I want to talk about the look of the Grand Inquisitor because it's clearly striking. What was the makeup process like? Is that a combination of makeup and prosthetics? What's going on there and how long did that take to get on you?
It was four hours a day. And I worked with the most incredible team of prosthetic artists, as well as makeup artists, as well as prosthetic makeup artists. So I had, most mornings, six hands on me from 3:00 in the morning until 7:00 when the rest of the gang arrived. And it was just such a thrill to see this extraordinary creation come to life before my eyes each morning, from within my own head, if that makes sense.
And I'm sure it helps you just looking in the mirror, getting right into character. And you have the suit, as well. Tell me about the suit. And how'd you like rocking a cape?!
Well, the cape was extraordinary. All the armor together weighed about 45 pounds. So having that kind of just sitting on you, again, it's this feeling of immense potential that ripples underneath. The cape itself is weighted with chains, basically so that it moves in a badass way. And yeah, you feel pretty invincible with all that stuff on.
So when you're wearing a 45-pound suit and you've got a heavy cape, and you've got all the makeup and prosthetics on, are people running over to you with fans to cool you off between takes?
Actually, yes! There are amazing neck fans that they've invented. But you know, there was nowhere to really blow me because … I guess my mouth and nose were my own, so they could keep those cool. But you basically just sweat.
Tell me about the voice. It's so ominous in that first trailer. How'd you work on the sound and coming up with how you wanted to give this character life through the voice?
It was interesting because, as I say, I deliberately didn't want to sort of use anybody else's interpretation of this character. So it was really something that I felt very instinctively when I read the script. And one of the lines that [Joby Harold], the writer, had written was when the Grand Inquisitor speaks, he's a being who enjoys the sound of his own voice. He's one of those guys who, if you didn't stop him, would just talk and talk and talk. And I'm not giving anything away by saying we're going to experience that in the show. He has this very juicy way of enjoying himself. And I just thought, what does the guy who enjoys the sound of his own voice sound like? And that's what we got.
What was it like working with Moses Ingram and Sung Kang on team Inquisitors?
Oh, it was great. What a fearsome trio. When you see them in that second trailer coming off their jump ship, you can just feel the whole of Tatooine kind of cowering. But I also loved how the three Inquisitors are so distinct. Their weapons are different from each other. Sung has that incredible kind of helmet thing. And then Moses brought such an original take to her character. So we were a happy, bad gang.
What is the Grand Inquisitor's relationship like with Darth Vader? In terms of, he's sort of the Grand Inquisitor and leading these Inquisitors, but if there's, like, the HR chart, you have Vader above him. So what's their relationship like?
Well, obviously with the rule of two, in the HR chart, you've got the Emperor first, then you've got Vader. And I'd say [The Grand Inquisitor] is right there, I wouldn't even say below. In his mind, he's on a par with Vader. He's not. Obviously, Vader would probably kill him. But I think it would be quite an interesting fight. Because you've got this idea of a fearsome guy, this Grand Inquisitor, who yes, reports to Vader. And I do think he respects the hierarchy and the order of command. But I think if there were ever a slip-up, he would be waiting in the wings.
We know the Grand Inquisitor is out there up until the time of Star Wars Rebels so has there been any talk about you potentially showing up elsewhere in the franchise beyond this series at some point? Is that something that's been discussed or you've thought about?
Well, it's a really good point because one of the things I'm loving about seeing the Star Wars universe unfold and expand is that crossover thing. It's seeing characters who are in a limited world, are crossing over into a movie or back into a game, even. And I think that the characters are so thoroughly created and so exciting to watch that the world lends itself to that sort of crossover.
So I would be completely open to it. I loved playing the part and would love to see what happened if he were to interact. Or, if you read his kind of timeline, there are some really fascinating things where he is turned into a hologram, and he decides to jump to his own death because he says that there's some things that are worse than death, referencing Vader's punishment. And obviously our period doesn't cover that. So if they decide to explore that, I would think that would be pretty thrilling.
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