I have met Ken Colley once before. On that occasion, I proudly told him that he was my favourite Imperial. He seemed unimpressed by this announcement, but agreed to a photo after signing a picture of Piett for me anyway. I was thinking back to that meeting as I researched Ken Colley’s career, trying to find something more to discuss than the luckiest man in the Star Wars galaxy, Admiral Piett. Reading through an IMDB resume that comprises a who’s who of British TV from the 70’s right up to 2017, one role leapt out at me. I was stunned. How did I not know that…
“…You were Jesus in Life of Brian?” Yes, that’s me right there he said, stabbing a finger at a stack of pictures of Jesus, giving his famous pep talk, piled up waiting to be signed. They rang me and said would you come and be Jesus? I said i dont know, I’m not going to make fun of him. They said, no we want an absolutely straight down the line Jesus, and I said okay, that’s fine. “Were you concerned about being involved in the project,because it was quite controversial at the time?” I’m not particularly, formally religious but i didnt want to be involved in as it were, knocking somebody elses beliefs, making fun of it, you know. But that’s not what that was about, it was about misunderstanding, that scene. Ken is absolutely right in what he says, but even more, I think misunderstanding is the entire point of the movie. And the irony, is that this point is often misunderstood by people. But that’s a topic for another site to tackle.
“Congratulations on the new action figure” I said referring to the just released Black Series Admiral Piett. “Oh I haven’t yet seen that, Ken replied. The figure looks very good, and everyone’s been very excited on the Internet about them. “Well I guess I’ll see one or two.” Do they let you know when these things are coming out? “No the fans turn up and they’re there, it’s really a surprise. I meet them at the coal face so to speak.”
“Can you tell me about playing Admiral Piett did they give you instructions of what they wanted or did they let you create the character yourself? There’s a sort of vague outline in the script, but when I met the director he said I’m looking for someone that would frighten Adolf Hitler and I think you’re it, and I thought well if they want to pay me ill do it. Did they leave it at that or were they guiding you through the performance? “Anything else you find yourself.” I think Captain, and later Admiral Piett seems like a nice guy trapped in an uncomfortable situation. that’s all I ever play, Ken replied. The world calls Piett evil, not me.
“I played Hitler once”, said Ken, which bookends the career as succinctly as anything I could have researched. From Jesus to Hitler. How do you go from the nicest man in history, to one of the worst? “You have to find the man inside the role”, Ken replied. In the case of Admiral Piett, it was me. I suggested to Ken that Admiral Piett was a very lucky man given what was going on around him. “Piett was walking a very thin line between being lucky and unlucky, because if he makes one of those mistakes he would share Admiral Ozzel’s fate.”
Do you think Vader favoured him, or was he distracted by other things that allowed Piett to escape punishment? Vader took the opportunity to display his power to others to make sure they stayed in line, which worked. “Remember, Piett’s death was an accident, it was nothing to do with Vader, so presumably he could have continued on provided he toed the line.” Possibly, I said, but at the end of empire it seemed Piett was about to be punished… “Yes, but he survived because he was a survivor.”
You have reprised the role for Lego Star Wars would you be interested in coming back as Piett for other Star Wars projects? “Oh yes, if they want to, i cant see that happening though.” They’re doing much more animation these days I said, so don’t rule it out. “Lets see what happens, write them some letters, do your bit.”
In a career stretching from Coronation St and Eastenders, to Macbeth and Les Miserables, do you have a favourite role? “It’s always the next one. the experience that was the most joyous was playing Jesus, with the pythons, they were just a joy to be around whatever you were doing so that was a bonus.” If you weren’t acting, what would you have been doing? “I would have been in an asylum or in prison”, he laughs. “I had an apprenticeship in commercial art, but I was always going to be an actor. That was a role the world put me into, not the one I wanted to go into. It’s a very simple thing, acting is my calling, not my choice.”
You had some roles as recently as last year is there something else coming up that we can look for you in? “Well, there is a possibility, but there’s a superstition in my game, you never mention anything in case it drives them away, thats all I can say.” And that indeed, is all he did say. I was happy to meet again with my favourite Imperial, but in speaking with Ken, I began to understand what he meant. I was not only meeting Ken who played the Admiral, I was finally meeting the man inside the role, and that is what really matters.
You can meet Ken yourself at For The Love Of Sci Fi, in Manchester Dec 1st and 2nd 2018.