New to the autograph show "scene" in 1997 is Star Wars Uncle Owen, the scowling, careworn moisture farmer who ekes out a living on the desert planet Tattoine (with the reluctant help of footloose nephew Luke Skywalker) in the opening reels of the 1977 space saga. Fans line up for actor Phil Browns signature, hear his memories of the making of Star Wars, peruse his résuméand try to read the film titles that have been crossed off this list of credits. In this interview, Brown remembers Star Wars, the 1940s horror movies hed just as soon forget (Weird Woman and The Jungle Captive), and describes the real-life horrors of his brush with the House Un-American Activities Committee.
How did you land your part as Luke Skywalkers uncle in Star Wars?
Im a working actor who lived in England for 40 years and worked there a lot. George Lucas came over to England to cast a lot of the roles in Star Wars, and in the normal course of events I went around and met him and he said, "You got the part."
What were your first impressions of this project you were getting involved with?
Well, I didnt really know. The script was kind of minimal, because a lot of the stuff was going to be put in as special effects and so on later. So [in the script] you had short bursts of scenes. The whole section that Im in, the early part, was all spelled out in dialogue and where we were and why we were there and so on. But then, as you got further on into the script, into the big battle sequences and so forth, it was kind of minimal. I didnt get an idea of the shape of the whole thing until...well [laughs], until I saw it on the screen!
Your desert scenes were shot in Tunisia.
I had known Alec Guinness before Star Wars, and we just happened to end up together on the plane which was taking the few [actors] who worked in Tunisia, plus the whole crew. I sat next to him and we were chatting, and we both said, "Whats it all about??" [Laughs] It didnt seem quite clear at the time; as I said, it wasnt clear to me until I saw it. It was just a job for me, that was alljust another job. Im grateful it turned out so nicely.
Your impressions of George Lucas?
George is a very interesting man. Hes a genius, as you knowhe has a special genius for inventing and putting together these fantasies. And then theres his great knowledge of the technical side of these things. He is not a great "actors director" (and he doesnt claim to be), so you are allowed a great deal of freedom as to what you do. He was very pleasant to work with, but he was shy, and I didnt spend a lot of time with him off-screen, at the hotel. But he was busy anywaya directors always twice as busy as all the actors put together! So I didnt get to know him terribly well, except that hes a very nice man. Thats about the size of it.
"Uncle Owen" is a "moisture farmer." What exactly is a "moisture farmer"?
I wish you knew. If you find out, tell me [laughs], cause I dont know! Its a question I didnt ask! I just played a man who had certain characteristics which I could get my fingers on easily enough. I didnt ask a lot of questions, Im sorry to sayI suppose I should have! But I didnt think it was going to help my performance, lets put it that way. I had scenes to play with human beings, thank god: My wife [Shelagh Fraser], my charge Luke Skywalker [Mark Hamill] and so forth.
What was Mark Hamill like at that point?
He was a very nice chap. To me, he seemed terribly youngwhich he was! I was 60 or 65, and he was barely 20. He seemed very nice and lively and brash, and very talented, pleasant to work with.
Uncle Owen is a gruff character. Was that spelled out in the script, or something you brought to it?
No, no, it was pretty much there in the script, he plays that function in the storyline. He has to be gruff with this young man, trying to prevent him from going off to join the wars. Hes selfish, because he wants to boy to stay there and help him work. And he is trying to convey that idea to the boy, and make him feel its important. So he comes out as a gruff man.
Any memories of the various actors playing the Jawas?
The Jawas were little Tunisian kids.
The interior scene, where the family is eatingwhere was that shot?
The interior was shot back in London, after we got back from Tunisia. You made your entrances and exits through holes in the ground or holes in the wall in Tunisia, and then you came out in London [laughs]!
What did you think of Star Wars when you first saw it?
Oh, I was enormously impressed with it. Since George had not bothered to detail (and why should he?) the special effects things, it all came as a great surprise to me. I was very impressed with his inventiveness, his ability to imagine all these technical things, and then to cause them to be conceived, and then get em made and put it all together. I think its fantastic.