Secret star of Star Wars
PUBLISHED: 13:17 03 February 2016 | UPDATED: 13:17 03 February 2016
Southend's Mike Edmonds is one of the world's most secret movie stars. Having featured in the original Star Wars trilogy, Harry Potter and on stage with the RSC, Mike's life is set to be the subject of a new film, sharing the secrets of his success. Words by Sylvia Kent
Over the last century, Essex has been home to many remarkable people prominent in the world of music, sport, art and drama. The majority of these can be recognised immediately from photographs or their media presence. However, Southend actor Mike Edmonds has been working on some of Hollywood’s biggest projects in a non-stop career, and yet recognising him is quite another matter.
Many of the parts he has played in top movies, such as Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, Time Bandits and the Harry Potter film adaptations, have called for spectacular prosthetic special effects, often taking hours in the make-up studio and encasing him in masks and uncomfortable costumes. Born in Writtle with achondroplasia (dwarfism) in 1944, there is nothing small about Mike’s acting ability and huge personality, which have contributed to his long-standing career. Looking back to his happy childhood spent in his first home at Laindon Common in Billericay’s Little Burstead countryside, Mike remembers good times spent with friends, including his neighbour, the late Richard Johnson, who himself became a distinguished film actor with Metro Goldwyn Mayer in Hollywood. He remembers meeting Richard’s first wife, the actress Sheila Sweet, prior to his wedding to American star Kim Novak. Mike always kept in touch with Richard and they met backstage for a drink whenever they were in London.
Many Billericay residents will still recollect Mike’s parents acquiring the shop at Hart’s Corner (now a garage) in 1958 before they took over the Lake Meadows Café. Schooldays were fun with plenty of pals at the Billericay School. Some of them worked with Mike after he moved to Southend in the 1960s, when his parents bought and ran a Southend hotel.
Mike remembers: ‘As a teenager, I worked with my Southend mates organising discos for weddings or bar mitzvahs – in fact, all sorts of gigs before going into acting. Then, one day, I saw an ad in The Stage newspaper advertising a part in the upcoming Ken Loach film Black Jack. Off I went for the audition, got the part and enjoyed my first film, which followed the life of the travelling circus where I was part of Tom Thumb’s Army. The film came out in 1979 and is often repeated on TV.’
It wasn’t until Mike had reached his thirties that he discovered his acting talent and began forging an impressive career — one that has seen him working with Sir Laurence Olivier, touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company and entertaining millions of children as the pint-sized Little Ron in the much-loved BBC series Maid Marian and her Merry Men.
For many years, Mike was a favourite on the Christmas pantomime circuit too, playing in Dick Whittington, Jack and the Beanstalk and Snow White. At one time, he was booked to take part in an unusual musical version of Snow White before Belgian audiences. As the true performer that he is, Mike learnt his part and delivered it in Flemish, performing his role with aplomb.
Mike adds: ‘Being small has never been a problem. When I record radio plays, I’m as tall as I choose to be. People seem to remember me and I value many wonderful friends in show business and around the world.’
Just a few years ago, Mike began rehearsing for his part in the critically-acclaimed Paul Elliott play There’s No Place Like A Home, in which he joined a prestigious cast including Gordon Kaye, Don Maclean, Ken Morley, Sue Hodge, Brian Cant and Peter Byrne, who first made his name in the unforgettable film The Blue Lamp. The play, which made its successful debut in Southend, became a great hit and toured the UK before returning to Southend’s theatres.
Now Mike’s amazing life is to be celebrated in a new documentary film, Under The Radar: the Mike Edmonds’ Story, produced by award-winning Essex-based Red Stable Films under the helm of director Simon J Frith.
‘Mike’s life has been remarkable,’ Simon comments. ‘He’s a great actor, stealing scenes in some of the most iconic movies ever made – from Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (playing the none-too-bright Og), to Return of the Jedi (as ewok-shaman, Logray). But other credits include Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Legend, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Dark Crystal and The Empire Strikes Back.
In this frank, funny and fascinating documentary, Mike talks about his Essex childhood, his early breaks in film and the many high points he’s enjoyed, while providing his own unique perspective on the actor’s craft. Friends and colleagues, past and present, line up to reminisce and give their views on what makes Mike such a brilliant collaborator with contributions from Terry Gilliam, Jeremy ‘Boba Fett’ Bulloch, theatre producer Paul Elliott and BBC director David Bell.
Mike is held in high regard by producers and fellow actors alike, as Terry explains: ‘Mike seems just to bounce through life; all sorts of things hit him or knock him back, but he bounces back. There’s just such a positive energy coming off him. He’s a bundle of laughter and joy, and that’s why I love him!’
Robert Watts, producer on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, adds: ‘Mike’s had a brilliant career, really. With me he did three separate films, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But of course, he’s gone way beyond that. He had a wonderful role in Time Bandits and he’s worked with the RSC. He’s done theatre, he’s done television and he’s done film.’
Mike’s career is certainly one worthy of recording and that’s why Under the Radar is such an important project for Simon. ‘Mike’s condition (achrondoplasia) means that he’s now often in pain, undergoes frequent spine operations and has difficulty getting about,’ says Simon. ‘This film is as much about Mike’s positivity dealing with this as it is a celebration of all that he’s achieved. If everybody in the world had Mike’s outlook on life – it’d be a much better place.’