If you’re a real movie nerd, chances are you get as excited when you see a supporting character with a familiar face as you do when one of your faves is the star. Let’s celebrate these heroes!…
Back in the early World Wide Web days, defunct site Fametracker had an awesome column called “Hey, It’s That Guy!”, celebrating character actors and actresses from all your favorite things. So we’re showing our love for that idea every so often in our Friday Five by doing the same, and this week we’re doing things slightly differently. You may not recognize these faces, as they were all part of the process behind the scenes to bring the creatures you know and love from the Henson classic The Dark Crystal to life. Find out how they connect to other pop culture touch-points in interesting ways!…
Lisa Maxwell (voice of Kira)
The task of healing the crystal may fall to Jen, but his newfound friend Kira’s story is hugely important too. While the woman who gave voice to The Dark Crystal‘s Gelfling heroine isn’t particularly well-known in the United States, Lisa Maxwell is quite visible in her native Britain in all sorts of television appearances. She’s been a cast member of several long-running UK television shows including cop drama The Bill and soap operas Eastenders and Hollyoaks, and she’s appeared as a presenter in various types of shows from pop music (No Limits) to children’s programming (Splash!) and daytime talk (Loose Women). Also, an interesting factoid: She might have been more well known in the U.S. if Maxwell had won the role Daphne Moon in Frasier, which she auditioned for but lost to Jane Leeves.
Barry Dennen (voice of The Chamberlain)
While several actors provided the voices for the evil Skeksis in the film – including Jerry Nelson, a long-time Muppeteer perhaps best known as the original Count von Count on Sesame Street – Barry Dennen has arguably the longest and most impressive CV. The man who voiced the extra-evil, throne-usurping Chamberlain amassed a huge list of stage and screen credits over several decades, from Broadway (he originated the role of Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar) to movies (he appeared in The Shining, Trading Places, Superman III, Titanic and more). Dennen was also a prolific voice-over actor you’ve absolutely heard, particularly in animated shows (Animaniacs, The Last Airbender, Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and video games (Metal Gear Solid 2, Fallout: New Vegas among others). Tragically, Dennen died last year at the age of 79 after a fall at his home in Los Angeles.
Billie Whitelaw (voice of Aughra)
With her gravelly grumpiness and weirdly wonderful removable eye, the astronomer Aughra who guards the crystal shard awaiting Jen the Gelfling’s arrival is definitely a fan favorite. She’s also voiced by hugely renowned British thespian Billie Whitelaw, who first came to prominence collaborating closely on the stage with playwright Samuel Beckett. In geeky circles, of course, she’s most recognizable for her scene-stealing role as the diabolically evil nanny Mrs. Baylock in The Omen. (“Have no fear, little one… I am here to protect thee.” *shudder!*) That performance was such a favorite of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, they cast Whitelaw as one of the village elders in their second Cornetto Trilogy flick, Hot Fuzz – which would be her final performance before she passed away in 2014.
Toby Philpott (performer, The Alchemist)
Many of the Jim Henson workshop stalwarts, from Henson himself to Frank Oz and Dave Goelz, performed the intricate character puppets in The Dark Crystal, but with an entirely creature-ified cast there were definitely many supporting roles to fill. One of those supporting puppeteers in the film – he played the Mystic known as the Alchemist – was Toby Philpott, who has had a wide ranging career that also included Labyrinth, Little Shop of Horrors and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?…but he’s got an especially starry credit we wanted to single him out for! Though multiple puppeteers did the work of animating Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi, Philpott was the man behind the enormous puppet’s left arm, head, tongue and body. So next time you watch Princess Leia get her revenge on Jabba and see that gangster scum choking in closeup, remember that’s Toby Philpott’s puppetry magic!
Kiran Shah (movement performer)
Ever notice how in some shots of The Dark Crystal that are filmed from a distance – such as when Jen is hiking through the mountains on his journey – the character’s movements seem much more fluid and human-like? This is through the use of scale doubles, the same process used in Lord of the Rings in certain shots to demonstrate the smaller stature of Hobbits. As it turns out, Kiran Shah fulfilled this role in both The Dark Crystal and the LOTR films! The Kenyan-born Indian actor is among the most prolific small-statured talent working in films in this capacity, having also done stunts and appeared in Superman, Superman II, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Aliens (where he was Newt’s stunt double)…the list goes on! Most recently, he was the scavenger Teedo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and if you want to check out a rarer instance of Shah appearing before the cameras, revisit Ridley Scott’s Legend where he plays a wayward elf named Blunder.