What does it take to be Han Solo?

'Act first, and deal with the consequences later'

He’s one of the most iconic characters in cinema history, but who IS Han Solo? Well, that’s the question that Disney are currently seeking to answer in making the Star Wars origin story of the young captain of the Millennium Falcon.

Last month, Ron Howard was named as new director of the upcoming Han Solo spin-off movie – after original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller left the project due to “creative differences”. It was claimed that the axed directors ‘turned solo into Ace Ventura’, and that Lucasfilm bosses ‘disappointed’ with the young lead Alden Ehrenreich’s performance as Solo.

So what does it take to BE Han Solo? To find out, we spoke to actor Dominic Leeder – who literally became him for the long run of playing the rebel in the immersive experience of ‘Secret Cinema‘.

What did you have to do to audition for Han Solo?

“I was asked to meet with the director at the secret location where the show was taking place. I’d worked with him before so he knew my personality which he obviously felt fitted Han. He’d asked me to prepare a few scenes from The Empire Strikes Back and started by just reading them with the assistant director. Then he had me doing the scenes while storming through the many corridors and floors of this huge building. He then asked if I would continue acting the scene while bursting into the production office and continue out the other side…I had no idea how many unexpected people were going to be in there. Needless to say, they were a little shocked.”

How long were part of the Star Wars Secret Cinema for?

“The production went on for 100 shows.”

Dominic Leeder

Dominic Leeder. Credit: Peter Simmons

How was it to embody a character like for so long in such an immersive experience?

“It was incredible but tough. Being in character wasn’t the tough part though. That was a dream come true and a lot of fun! It was the unexpected nature of the audience that was often exhausting. Some of the people were true hardcore fans that had flown in from around the world for it, and often it was to get a piece of either Han or Chewie. Mix a die-hard fan with alcohol and his dream evening…It can be a scary sight! Nine times out of 10 though, the audience were incredible and got really involved, which made my life a lot easier as I could just enjoy every improvised moment with them.”

What would you say lies at the essence of his character? What drives him?

“I only had to worry about his character from his early life leading up into The Empire Strikes Back. I guess it would be ‘act first and deal with the consequences later’. He’s a survivor that used to only look out for number one but gets into conflict with himself when people start to come into his life that he cares about. During the time of his life that I was playing, his drive for me was to make money and stay alive, he played up on his arrogance as a defence but I had to remember that it wasn’t what defined him. He did have heart and wasn’t as self-obsessed as he might lead you to believe.”

The cast of the Han Solo film

The cast of the new Han Solo film – with original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Did you find it easier to lean towards acting like Harrison Ford’s Han or create a new version of the character for yourself?

“Our first bit of direction was ‘this isn’t comic-con – you don’t need to be Harrison Ford’. I found it a good tool to watch Harrison Ford’s portrayal, but I’m not Harrison Ford. If I played it like that it wouldn’t be real. I had to find what was real in his character for me. I think that is what the audience responded to the best. I wasn’t about to try to imitate Ford’s characterisation so I found my own. You’d often see similarities as there his characteristics but it will always be different whoever plays him. Needles to say, I loved it.”

The new spin-off movie is about the origin of Han. How would you go about portraying him as such a young man?

Wookieepedia. It’s the most incredible source for Star Wars information collated from all the movies, comics and cartoons. Everything – and I mean everything – you need to know is on there. I’d find myself looking into the Kessel Run and 30 minutes later I would be reading what a Wookie’s favourite seed was. All his early life is in there. So it’s a matter of researching it, then taking what you want from it and making it real for you.”

Essentially, what does it take to ‘BE’ Han Solo?

“Ha! Good question. From my point of view, it’s not falling into the trap of just playing a selfish, misogynistic smuggler. Remembering that the world has made their own assumptions of who he is, but that is not necessarily WHO he is. Why not use Leia’s words: ‘He’s a scoundrel!’ He is however, a hell of a lot more complex than some may first think though.”

The currently untitled new film will star Alden Ehrenreich succeeding Harrison Ford in the iconic role and Woody Harrelson playing his mentor. Donald Glover, Fleabag‘s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emilia Clarke and Michael K Williams are also co-starring.

The movie is scheduled for a May 2018 release.