Without props or costumes, Charlie Ross has performed his one-man Star Wars show more than 4,000 times in about 400 cities. Prior to his March 23rd performance in Ottawa (one night only), Ross sets the record straight about meeting George Lucas and shares a few highlights about his 15-year adventure playing all of the main characters from the original Star Wars trilogy [1977-83] on stage.
Apt613: According to a video from 2008, you met George Lucas when you packed up your 1977 Honda Civic and drove from British Columbia to California — where you found him and explained how you wanted to turn Star Wars into a one-man show?
Charlie Ross: [laughs]. That story is a load of crap! This actually aired on Sydney television in Australia and the promoters of the comedy festival said ‘we want you to make up a story about how you met George Lucas and about how you got permission [to do your one-man Star Wars show]’.
You can swear on television in Australia. So at the end of this story, I said ‘okay, that’s a load of bullshit. It didn’t actually happen that way but I am allowed to do my show and here’s what it looks like.’
That was actually how it ended but for some reason, somebody took that YouTube, or that clip, and they cut off the end of me saying that it’s a bunch of bullshit. And so people are asking me about this fascinating story and I’m like; I cannot believe that load of crap is in fact what is more interesting than what really happened.
What did really happen?
What really happened is that I started doing this show and when I started it, it was a little tiny 25 minutes. It was just the first [Star Wars] film. I really didn’t think it would work. And it really did work. People were able to follow it way better than I thought they’d be able to and then I expanded it to be a longer show that was the whole trilogy…to an hour-long show. And then I started to tour it, at the beginning, at the fringe festivals.
I’m always afraid to actually say that this is my career but when I face the truth of it, yes, this is the biggest thing I’ve ever done.
[Ross explains how he was contacted by LucasFilm while touring in Chicago].
I didn’t actually think that I’d have to get permission because it was such a rinky-dink show. But in the end, they weren’t so concerned with me getting a license. They were more concerned with what I was doing.
Their lawyer sorta precipitated this need to get a license from LucasFilm. So that’s kinda the long and short of it. They were really cool. Much cooler than I thought they’d be when I first contacted them and they contacted me. I had to submit all of my materials to them. A copy of the show. A copy of the script. And I think if I would have actually asked for permission at the beginning, to do it, they never would have given me the opportunity to do it. But there’s the whole saying that ‘it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.’
It’s gonna be the show’s 15th anniversary later this year. Was there a moment, I’m assuming there was one, when you just took a step back and said ‘this is gonna be my career. This is working,’?
I don’t know if I’ve ever been able to come to terms with it. It’s a pretty crazy thing to sort of plan on. I’m always afraid to actually say that this is my career but when I face the truth of it, yes, this is the biggest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve had other shows but nothing has been as popular as this. And that’s completely due to Star Wars. How lucky am I to be able to have latched my career onto this massive star and been given the opportunity to sorta leech onto it.
Do you have a ritual or a tradition that you do, either before or after the show?
There’s stretching. Vocal warm-ups, really simple stuff like that. When you’re gonna do a show for an hour, you need to make sure that your voice is sort of warmed up.
Just trying to keep the body nimble. It’s more preventative stuff, actually. I can’t do anything like skiing. I can’t go hang gliding or wake boarding. I can’t do anything fun because if I bust something, I have no job. I have nothing else to sort of fill in the blanks.
It’s really the stuff that most people do when they’re sort of a hypochondriac performer. You kinda have to baby yourself, and nurse yourself all the time. Which is annoying but like I say, if you’re doing a solo show and no one else can do it, who else is gonna fill in for me?
In a recent interview with George Lucas, he said that Star Wars isn’t about spaceships. It’s ultimately a soap opera about family problems. What is Star Wars to you?
That’s exactly what I think these films are about. It’s only because of the episodes one, two, and three that you really see that thought-line. But the films, the way [Lucas] put them together, is about family ,and about family actually enduring, and overcoming evil and adversity by staying together as family. And that doesn’t mean just blood family but [also] the family you discover and make yourself.
Someone previously asked you about fans and you mentioned one fella named Richard who accompanied you to more than 120 shows as a Stormtrooper?
He’s this amazing guy from England.
He kinda just fell into doing StormTrooping, as they call it. He was at a convention for TV and he had come there because he’s a fan of Doctor Who. But there was a door prize, and that’s how he got his armour for the first time. The door prize was one of these really, really fancy Stormtrooper outfits. And when he won it, it was given to him by the guys that do this StormTrooping and they just got to chatting and they said ‘well, you know, if you want to just come out in costume, we do children’s charity events and stuff,’ so Richard tried it and when he did, it just turned out that he quite enjoyed it.
And when he had the mask on, and some people can do this, when they have the mask, they kinda come alive. Even though they’re being hidden, there’s the part of them that’s a comedian or the part of them that’s an entertainer that is given free reign because nobody can see their face, nobody can judge them by the way they look. They can put on a costume and they can become a character.
And he just ended up coming to one of my shows in England. And then another one, in costume. And another one.
Flash-forward a couple of years later when I was doing my third or fourth tour, he was just part of the crew. He would take his vacation [to tour with us] and he was Trooping.
People often tour looking for a revelation, or an answer, or something. Are you running because you’re afraid or are you afraid because you are running? You have to decide what it is that puts you in motion. And he seemed to be getting something out of being in costume and Trooping for my show and almost getting to be a celebrity while he was touring with my show because everyone wants to be around the Trooper and get photographs.
I think he was looking for something. And he found it. He clearly did find it because my last tour I did, he didn’t come out to Troop and he was totally cool. We saw him a couple of times on our trip but he was done. He was done with touring. And I thought that was really neat that he obviously found something and it fulfilled his weird mission.
…there’s crappy parts of my impressions and there’s good parts of my impressions. And that’s what makes the show work.
If someone went to see your show when it first started off in 2001 and they went back now, would they see any difference?
Oh, absolutely, my goodness. Things have gotten slicker. The jokes have gotten more refined over time. I’m much more controlled in what I’m doing. It’s almost like a dance. The choreography is sharp, for the most part. And I do actually have more of an ability to play around now too — cause when you’ve done a show thousands times — anything new that happens is not an interruption, it’s an addition.
Can you give a few examples of those interruptions?
If a cell phone went off at the right time, that could be a real pisser but if it’s done at a time when I can blend it into the show, fantastic.
Same with somebody who is sneezing or if they get up at some point really obviously if they’re in the front row, either during the show or during one of my two little water breaks. I can integrate that type of thing into the show. It keeps it alive. It keeps in real.
And children. Children always say the wackiest crap. They’ll just blurt out something. This one kid, I was doing my Chewbacca impression and did the [sound] thing, and this kid goes ‘finally.”
I said ‘can I hear your Chewbacca?’ and he did his best little Chewbacca.
Kids, often times, if they don’t like something, they’re not going to tell you they do. They’re not worried about making sure that you feel okay. They want to feel okay. And I appreciate that honesty.
Being put down in front of a crowd is kinda cathartic. It’s lovely because [laughing] there’s crappy parts of my impressions and there’s good parts of my impressions. And that’s what makes the show work.
It’s almost charming because an eight-year-old kid would happily reenact whatever they really feel excited about but it doesn’t actually make it good, or perfect. It makes it real. And that’s what keeps the show real and interesting.
Apt613 has two tickets to give away for this show. To enter, send an email to email@example.com with the subject header “Chewbacca”. We’ll pick a winner by random draw on Monday, March 21 at noon. Good Luck!
One Man Star Wars visits Ottawa on Wed. March 23, 2016 for one night only as a special performance fundraiser in support of the 20th Ottawa Fringe Festival (June 15–26, 2016). The show is happening at the Centrepointe Theatre (101 Centrepointe Drive) at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $45 and are available here. One Man Star Wars is suitable for ages six to Yoda.