There are 73 screenplays that made this year’s Black List, Franklin Leonard’s annual compilation of Hollywood’s most-liked unproduced scripts. But the one that immediately captured the most attention is Chewie, a satirical look at the making of Star Wars told through the eyes of Peter Mayhew, the tall British actor who played Han Solo’s loyal Wookiee. Evan Susser and Van Robichaux, two 27-year-old newcomers and members of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles, wrote the script. Just hours after Chewie got the Black List bump, the pair got on the phone to share their excitement.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the spark that made you think this was a story you wanted to tell?
VAN ROBICHAUX: We had been talking to each other about stories we’d heard over the years about how the making of Star Wars had been sort of a nightmare and had almost fallen apart at every step along the way. So we were trading funny stories about it, and there was a line that we came upon that said, “Peter Mayhew, the British giant who played Chewbacca worked in a hospital before, during, and after the making of Star Wars.” And we just sort of were fascinated by this idea that he was trading his days back and forth between being on the set of Star Wars as Chewbacca and working as an orderly in a hospital.
EVAN SUSSER: Yeah, especially because we’re young and we have actor friends who are maybe doing guest spots on The Office and then it’s back to their day job as a waiter. And in Peter’s case, the day job was a hospital, which is life and death; and it’s not just The Office, it’s the most iconic film of all time. So we really had a handle on the story from there.
VR: Plus, we really fell in love with the character and the real person of Peter Mayhew, who’s this sort of gentle giant. He’s kind of a hard guy to get in touch with, so this year at Comic-Con, we drove down to meet him. We were about 65 percent of the way done with the script and we just had some things we wanted to fill out. We waited in line to get his autograph and we decided we could probably ask him one question — no matter how weird it was. So we asked him, “What did your father and brother do for a living?” And he just answered without even blinking, and then we figured, okay we’re on a roll. So we asked him, “Where exactly in London did you grow up?” “What was the name of the hospital you worked at?” And that really helped fill it out. Meanwhile the people behind us were like, “Ask about the Millennium Falcon and how fast it can go!”
At any point, did you get the impression that Mayhew was like, “Who are these guys and why are they asking such personal, specific questions?”
ES: We were so worried about that, but I think what happens is that Star Wars fans are so fanatical that he didn’t even blink, because he’s been asked it all [before].
Do you worship the Star Wars universe the way that a lot of fans do, or were you able to tackle this assignment from an objective point of view?
VR: I think it’s pretty hard to be objective about Star Wars. To a lot of people, including us, it’s the greatest movie ever made. It’s such a huge part of our childhood and of everyone’s that we kind of adore it.
ES: There are some people who are bigger Star Wars fans then us, who know the whole extended universe and have read all of the novels. But I can’t even count how many time we’ve seen the original trilogy. I saw all of the movies in one weekend when I was a kid. I saw the first one, and I was like, “There’s more of this?” I think I started watching the first one again that same weekend.
Does your script feature all the players that we would expect to see in a movie about the making of Star Wars?
VR: Yes. They’re all characters. They all appear and play important roles in Peter’s life and in the script. The relationship between Peter Mayhew and Carrie Fisher is something that people have really grabbed a hold of. Something that’s true is that they used to have lunches at the chinese restaurant near the set. She would still be in costume and he was about 7-foot-three, so they kind of really stand out in the middle of this chinese restaurant.
Oh, this is going to be so much fun to cast.
Did you write with actors in mind, or is that unnecessary because you have the actual actors firmly stuck in your head?
ES: We joked around that Mark Wahlberg would play Harrison Ford. But as you said, since we had the real people to keep in mind, we didn’t do that as much on this project.
My co-workers are hoping there’s plenty of Wookiee-speak throughout…
VR: Well, it’s funny because that Wookiee yell doesn’t exist until post-production. So they way that Chewbacca would yell [during the filming] would just be a guy in a furry suit yelling, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” But at the end, we added in one big moment with the Chewbacca yell, “Gggrrrrlllllllwwwwlll!”
The aspect I love about your story is the idea that Star Wars doesn’t exist yet. They’re making this film without any way of knowing what it will become.
VR: There’s sort of this feeling that it’s this big secret that the world doesn’t know yet.
ES: Yeah, what’s so fun to us is that at every turn, this thing that would become so iconic looks like it’s going to fall apart, and people don’t believe in it. But the stars eventually aligned for it. We just love that story.
George Lucas, of course, is very protective of his lucrative properties. Have you encountered that yet and do you expect to?
VR: As we understand it, for this movie to get made, George Lucas is going to have to give his approval. But we hope that’s it’s a loving enough portrayal of him and the making of the movie that they’ll get onboard. So we’re kind of waiting to hear if he says, “I like this, this is okay.” Or, “How dare you make me a character in a film!” We think it’s a very loving portrayal of a guy we really look up to. So we hope he likes it.
ES: On the other hand, we’re worried that Harrison Ford is going to beat us up.
ES: Well, at this point in time, he didn’t take acting quite as seriously as he does these days. He kind of goofed off a little bit during the making, and that comes across.
But that’s been documented a bit, no? It’s not like you’re picking on him.
ES: No, no, no. It’s just that no one wants Indiana Jones mad at them.
VR: He’s got a whip.