A dog puppet and a wounded caveman helped Lucasfilm find the new Han Solo and Chewbacca
Dog puppets. Fake script scenes. A wounded caveman. A search for blue-eyed basketball players. A lonely roller coaster ride.
These are the elements of the broad search for a new Han Solo and Chewbacca.
With Solo: A Star Wars Story opening this weekend, EW sat down with Alden Ehrenreich and Joonas Suotamo to talk about how they won the roles of, as Lando puts it, “Hairy and the Kid.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So the audition process … Alden, you said you learned a little about how to make the Wookiee sounds beforehand. What was the audition process like for both of you?
JOONAS SUOTAMO: I was there when he came in.
ALDEN EHRENREICH: Yeah, I read with him on my third test.
How many tests were there?
EHRENREICH: I did six auditions. The second one was with a … [laughs] You know, you have to be really secretive in Star Wars and make sure no one knows any kind of spoiler stuff. So they had a dog puppet and a button that made a dog sound. And then I would talk to that. And I just couldn’t figure out what they were trying to simulate there. So I was doing this thing with the puppet, and the puppet was pretty good.
Then you got to act opposite the real Wookiee.
EHRENREICH: And then I had a third screen test with Joonas on the Millennium Falcon, and we had a good time. He was taller than I had realized. And then I tested another two more times. Then I got the part. It was like a six month process.
SUOTAMO: All right. What did you think when you came in, and I was there?
EHRENREICH: It was the middle of the day, and I’d flown to England the night before. My jet lag was really kicking in. Then Joonas came in with his eyes painted black looming over me in this furry suit and went “Hi,” and kind of went “Whoa.”
SUOTAMO: Did you think they were trying that dog thing again? I was doing all these [roars] and I think it was hard because it’s so muffled through the mask for him to hear me. But he did great, and it was so much fun seeing him in that Han Solo getup. The classic from original films.
EHRENREICH: Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I tested in.
SUOTAMO: I had a hunch we found our guy.
Were the lines from a scene that was actually in the movie?
EHRENREICH: No. They do dummy sides where they create a different scene. Some of them are scenes that are sort of in the movie, that they’ll change a little bit because you’re auditioning a bunch of people, and you don’t want that many people to have the actual scenes.
Do you remember what the actual drama was in that scene?
EHRENREICH: We were working on the ship, right?
SUOTAMO: It was a great scene.
EHRENREICH: We were trying to fix something. Yeah, it was funny. We were working on the ship and arguing about it.
SUOTAMO: Yeah, because I knew that this part would go there, and he was contesting that. Something like that.
EHRENREICH: That is a long time ago.
SUOTAMO: Actually, let’s not talk about it anymore, because we might see that scene one day. It was such a good scene.
EHRENREICH: Maybe. Yeah, it was good.
Joonas, you’ve had the job of Chewie since The Force Awakens. But what was the audition process like for you when you joined the Star Wars universe?
SUOTAMO: They basically found me through my basketball background. I think they were pretty desperate to find a 7-footer with blue eyes. There aren’t too many around. So they called the basketball associations of Scandinavian countries and found me through the Finnish one. They called me and asked if I’m interested in this big budget Hollywood film. That’s all I knew. I said yes.
What happened next?
SUOTAMO: That started a four or five month process in which I sent in my tapes. I was playing a caveman in shorts in my old high school gym, because I was teaching girl’s gymnastics at the time. And I just stayed back one class and played a caveman who gets shot through a knee with an arrow. They didn’t want to let on that it was Chewbacca that they were casting.
EHRENREICH: When did you find out that it was Chewbacca?
SUOTAMO: In the back of my mind, I wanted to be a caveman villain. I thought it was something to do with that. But when I went to Pinewood [Studios] for the first time to be measured up and everything, and I saw that they were working on a Chewbacca suit. And Neal Scanlan, the head of the creature effects department, says “Hey, it’s no secret what we’re casting you for.” Then I knew that was Chewbacca’s role.
SUOTAMO: I was always a Star Wars fan. Ever since I was a kid watching on VHS tapes, mouth wide open. I loved the Gonk droid, which I thought was a walking fridge, and I just had all these ideas about the films. Just illusions. Which kept me interested. And I grew up with it.
That moment when you find out you get the part, I imagine it’s such a mix of emotions. What do you do the day you find out, “You’re the new Han Solo. You’re the new Chewbacca”?
SUOTAMO: Open champagne? Play any kind of Star Wars-related game that you can find because you’re just so excited you want to drench yourself in the thing. That was what it was like for me. My back-then girlfriend, she said, “Let’s open the champagne bottle,” and that’s what we did.
EHRENREICH: You can’t tell anybody. I couldn’t tell anybody. So I had that news, and I didn’t even know what to do. So I just was like, “Well, it’s a big deal. I think I’ll go for a walk on the beach, maybe.” And then I found myself at this pier, and there were some rides. So I was like, “I guess I’ll ride the rides.” So I rode a roller coaster by myself. That’s some kind of metaphor.
SUOTAMO: Taking it in.
EHRENREICH: Yeah, just taking it in. Being like “Yay,” but I can’t tell anybody.
SUOTAMO: Did you at least have Star Wars music on the roller coaster?
EHRENREICH: I think I heard it shortly after that. When you hear that music for the first time after you got the part, that’s pretty exciting. And I asked for them to play it at one point when we were flying the Falcon. In the last scene of the movie … I asked if they would. It didn’t feel right to film the whole movie and never blast the theme once.
Previously from EW’s interview with Alden and Joonas:
Part One: How to speak the Wookiee language
Solo: A Star Wars Story