At Film & Comic Con Birmingham I was privileged to speak with the man under the mask of Moloch from Solo : A Star Wars Story, Harley Durst
Harley, you’ve worked on movies for Star Wars, D.C. and Marvel, who does it best? “Oh look out”, Harley replied with a smile. Disney owns Marvel and Star Wars now, so they’re both on that level. “Working on Thor Ragnarok was an incredible experience. Partially because it was shot in Australia, and the Kiwi director Taika Waititi was amazing. I have had a lot of fun working on Marvel projects.”
And D.C.? We still like Batman right? “I don’t think I’ve had enough experience on it, the cool thing about Wonder Woman, we were doing all live action scenes, it was legitimate and another amazing film to be a part of. It’s definitely a new era of stunt performance, live action performance, creature performance. Doing live action creature animatronics, that’s really exciting!”
Looking at Moloch, the face comes quite far forward, what can you see inside the costume? Do you have eyeholes or do you just trust everyone to point you in the right direction? “With the Moloch animatronic head I couldn’t see anything at all. I actually had video goggles, modified to be low profile and sit behind the animatronic. We tried a range of cameras mounted in different places, and the middle of my chest was the only way that I could function. Moloch had to go down stairs and navigate through water. I had to be hitting my mark after walking through a crowded room, and then find two specific stormtroopers and have a conversation with them. I got to know everybody on set looking at them from their waist down.”
“A funny thing happened when we did the costume test for the producers and creatives. We didn’t have the camera system at the time, and I was in quite a small room with a mirror at the end because they wanted to see how I could walk. so I put it all on and couldn’t see a thing. Somebody said I’ll make sure I tell you when to stop so I set off walking down this room. Nobody told me to stop and I walked straight into the mirror! All I could see through a tiny pinhole when my face got squashed into the animatronics, was a figure in front of me. I apologised thinking I’d run into someone, but I had just run flat out into a mirror in front of a room full of fifty people.”
So when you’re pointing the gun at Han for example, you can’t see him, but you can see his boots and hopefully that’s good enough? “Yes, that was basically it. Qi’ra was a little bit harder because she was shorter so I had to figure out where my arm would be relative to everything else around. Sometimes I could see my arm, and sometimes I couldn’t. Even when I could, I was looking from the camera at my chest height so my perspective was totally off. There would be times when a little voice in my ear would be saying ‘to the left to the left’.” Is that why she grabs the gun or was that an acting choice? “No that was part of it, that was all choreographed, and she made sure to be in the right place for that to happen.”
The scenes that we see Moloch in the various places around the movie, were they Ron Howard scenes or Lord and Miller scenes? “The Mother Proxima scene in the white worms den was 100% reshot, and that was because they completely rebuilt, and modified Mother Proxima, and I was certain that Moloch was going to be cut. Ron Howard liked the character of Moloch and kept him in there and made him more of a feature, and wrote another scene featuring Moloch when he captures Han. We reshot all of Mother Proxima, we did the whole thing twice.”
Were you involved in the speeder chase? “That was live action, that was a real vehicle that they built, absolutely wild and amazing. They used a professional stunt driver Rob Hunt, he makes The Stig look like a florist. What he can do with a vehicle that size is amazing. So they wouldn’t let you have a go? Nooo, I’m a veteran stunt guy of thirteen years, and I drive, but when I saw that thing I said no way, I can’t do what he does. They had an incredible gimbal set up with me in for passing through fire, but all the physical driving which was done live was by Rob. When the chase completes at the spaceport, they had me climb out of the speeder with the costume on, with the prosthetic mask. That sequence was filmed in several different locations, much of it built as actual sets in the Crawley power station. When the Speeders stop, that part is an alleyway built in a studio, and they actually built the entrance to the white worms den in an underground section of the power station too.”
You have many credits as a stuntperson, but have you ever been presented with a stunt you felt you should refuse to do? “I’ve been lucky, and have now had the experience to definitely say no to something. But saying no isn’t a bad thing, it usually means I think it can be done better, or safer. It’s usually the smaller gags that bite you on the arse. The big ones, the dangerous ones, theres usually a lot of time, planning, and rehearsal goes into them. Often (stunt) doubling like I do, it’s more about managing how you can make a stunt as safe as possible in rehearsal so that the actor can do it themselves, because most actors will want to do it themselves.”
Do you think we will see Moloch again, or would you be open to returning as Moloch for future movies? “Yeah, well, Moloch survives right? He’s one of the only villains from the whole film that survives so I’d like to see him back.” He might be holding a grudge? “Yeah absolutely he’d be holding a grudge!”
If you want a chance to meet Harley yourself and get your Moloch figure signed, Harley will be appearing at London Film & Comic Con (Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th July).
Click here to read my review of the Moloch 3.75 action figure.