If you haven’t guessed already, Chewbacca will be one of your favorite characters in SOLO: A Star Wars Story. He’s probably already your favorite character in the Star Wars Universe, but Joonas Suotamo will solidify that for you in this film. Who is Joonas Suotamo? Well, he’s Chewbacca! Joonas, a sweet, funny, former Penn State University basketball player, plays Chewbacca in SOLO: A Star Wars Story. He also played this lovable character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. We had an exclusive interview with Chewbacca — I mean, Joonas — during the Han Solo Event.
How Joonas Became Chewbacca
Learning the process actors have to take to achieve these iconic roles in the Star Wars saga always intrigue me. Joonas’s process was truly unique; it started with a casting call and caveman video.
“Yeah, I got the role out of the blue sky. In came a call one day from the Finnish Basketball Association, who had received a request for a person who has blue eyes, and is seven feet tall. *Chuckles* Yeah, anyone could find that guy. So, casting was pretty desperate at that point to find someone. 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.’
I filmed a video of me playing a caveman, half naked in my old high school gym *chuckles*. Playing this caveman who gets shot in the knee with an arrow. Just for them to see, because they asked for it. They wanted to see if I could do the acting required for the film. 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.’ ”
Challenges In The Chewbacca Suit
Joonas has to do quite a bit of stunt work when playing Chewbacca, and all of that maneuvering is done in a very heavy, very hairy, suit. We wondered what his challenges were when filming in the suit, and if they were things that fans of the franchise may not realize might be difficult. Joonas says the application of the black makeup to his eye area can be very uncomfortable. He also talked about the hidden inconveniences of the Chewbacca suit.
“The suit that’s, while lovely, is also filled with hidden dangers; like hair coming through between the mouthpiece and the suit, and going into my mouth. Maria Cork, who’s my handler on set, had to use pincers, to get those hairs out of my eyes.”
Chewbacca Bootcamp With Peter Mayhew
Peter Mayhew, the original Chewbacca, was extremely helpful when Joonas needed to study and train for the role of Chewbacca. Joonas wanted to get this role right for not only the fans, but to pay respect to Peter.
“(I want to respect) 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.”
Joonas and Peter had a week together, a fun time they called “Wookiee Bootcamp”, where they were able to talk about what works within the role of Chewbacca, and Peter could pass on some of his tips for hitting the mark as this character.
“Yes, I consulted with Peter. We called it the Wookiee Bootcamp. 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, what he did and what he was 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 he did those things helped me tremendously in preparing for this role.”
We has such a great time talking to Joonas, and enjoyed how dedicated he was to playing the role of Chewbacca.
SOLO: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on May 25th!