“I play Gareth Edwards, the director of Rogue One,” Edwards said, laughing, as he said down. Though he doesn’t have a long history in Hollywood, the buzz that has been created around Rogue One so far proves that he was the right choice for the job as director of the new standalone Star Wars film.
Edwards described his directing style as more of an “organic process,” saying that too much of a rigid plan can limit the creative process of filmmaking.
“Even though [Rogue One] was a massive, massive movie, and there’s all this pressure to have a specific plan, we were gonna keep it incredibly fluid,” Edwards said about filming what’s sure to be the hit blockbuster of the year.
“We had 360 degree sets where we could film in any direction. And I remember on day one, in this one set called Jeda, which is one of the cities that we go through where the force believers are,” Edwards explained, “we started filming, and the actors could do what they want. And I just happened to pan left and suddenly, there were all these crew in shot; [they quickly] ran out of frame, like scared. And then the next day we came, and the same sort of thing happened where I pan left. And the crew were there, but this time they’re all wearing Star Wars costumes.”
For Edwards and his crew, it was a definitive if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em moment.
“They’d all learned to put robes on and that way, wherever the camera went, they could be in it if they had to be,” Edwards laughed. “I secretly loved that. Like, there would be days where they would turn up with a rebel outfits, like rebel pilots. And you’re going, ‘Why are you wearing that? ‘ [they said] ‘Well, in case you film us. And it’s like, ‘I’m not shooting that way’ and they’re like, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter.’ You know… just in case.”
It’s obvious that Gareth Edwards is a director that cares equally about the project into which he’s put his heart and soul, as well as his cast and crew and their contributions to the creative process.
Edwards has himself been a lifelong Star Wars fan. There was much scrutiny surrounding his direction, especially when it came to reshoots, so we asked him how it was to work under such a watchful eye from the public.
“Oh, no pressure,” he said, laughing. “There’s a line in the original where Luke Skywalker – [and this is ] definitely the reason I got into filmmaking – is doing the attack run on the Death Star through the trench. And he’s got the computer, and he turns it off, and someone goes, ‘Luke! You’ve turned off your computer!’ and he goes, ‘It’s okay, I’m all right.’ It’s kinda like that. He trusts the force. And so literally, you turn off your computer… and not look at the internet, nd just believe, like, you can bullseye this. But just believe in yourself, and then go for it.”
One aspect of the process that Edwards has been praised for so far is the casting. Is this a cast he had in mind from the beginning?
“You try not to think of anyone to start with, and then it gets really difficult to keep talking about someone and not being able to visually picture them,” Edwards said.
Edwards said that the process is one that slowly happens, as if the characters develop traits that remind him of certain actors. Other times, it happened immediately. For him, Ben Mendelsohn and Forrest Whitaker where immediately on his mind for Director Orson Krennic and Saw Gerrera.
“Ben and Forrest just popped up straight away,” he said. “I’ve seen Ben’s work, and as we were trying to figure out this character that was starting to happen called Krennik. I loved Animal Kingdom. I thought it was one of the best films in a long time. And then forgot about it. And then watched a film called Startup, and I just came away that night going, we’ve got to call this guy. This guy is Krennic,” Edwards said about Ben Mendelsohn.
About actor Forrest Whitaker, Edwards was impressed with not only his resume, but also who he is when he’s not an actor.
“He’s a phenomenal human being. And I think just before we met, he’d just done a talk at the United Nations. And you sort of feel, like, oh my god. I don’t really deserve to be kind of talking to this guy about a role in a film, because… like, he’s the real deal. He’s incredibly humble and peaceful. But you see him in his roles, and… he can be intimidating and aggressive. But… he’s more like Yoda. When you chat with him. And in a way, Saul represents the mentor in our movie. So he’s like the Obi-Wan sort of Yoda-type figure. And so it made a lot of sense.”
Edwards is currently listed as number five on The Most Promising Directors list and number nine of Hot New Directors, but this mention wasn’t something he was thrilled with. He said he was embarrassed. He offered no weight to them, and instead dismissed them, saying “It depends on where you click” on the internet.
We’ll see how many more of these lists Gareth Edwards is added to once Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is breaking box office numbers and shattering records. So how did Edwards get his big break, leading him to Rogue One?
“I’m not really sure how that bit happened. But I think the big break for me… there was two,” Edwards said. “I went to film school. I wanted to make films; that’s all I ever wanted to do as a kid. I’d read all the Steven Spielberg story of how you make a short film, and then Hollywood calls and then you go off directing movies. And, I think they lost my number, because I never got that call,” he said laughing.
Edwards went to work in a supermarket, making enough money to buy a computer because he’d heard that’s how George Lucas and the team at ILM were making their films. He said he was sure it would take only six months to learn the software he needed to make a blockbuster film, but it actually took about ten years.
“And then one day I just thought, I’ve had enough. I can’t live with myself being an old man, having never tried to do what I really wanted to do, which was to become a director,” Edwards said. “And so I kinda quit my job.”
He and a few of his friends traveled around Central America shooting a film, editing it themselves, and even Edwards did his own visual effects for the film. The attended South by Southwest to show the film, but the projection broke down.
“And then at the end of the thing, this guy comes up to me and he gives me a business card. He says ‘I’d love to talk to you whenever you’ve got a moment.’ I was, like, okay. And we left. And then the next day, as if by magic, he turned up,” Edwards told us. “He said, ‘I’m from an agency in Hollywood, and I represent directors, and I’d like to represent you.’ And I said ‘Oh, okay.'”
The agent courting Edwards’ talents was also an agent for directors Quinton Tarantino and Tim Burton, so Edwards said he was stunned that he was even approached by him.
“And from that day on, my life changed. You don’t need to know anything about Hollywood. You just need to make a film, and then these people exist. And then, a few months later I was off at Godzilla. I don’t know how it really works. I think if I had my life again, it wouldn’t happen the same way.”
And thank God it did happen that way, because now, Gareth Edwards is living his dream and directing a Star Wars film.