×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

What You Don't Know About The New R2-D2

Rumors that Jimmy Vee was poised to take over from Kenny Baker as R2-D2 were rife after the little-known Scottish actor was spotted on location with Mark Hamill in late 2015, and now the worst kept Star Wars casting secret since Alden Ehrenreich has finally been confirmed. While slipping into a hollow frame and rolling around on camera isn't quite as glamorous as playing the young Han Solo, Vee will still get the chance to (quite literally) step inside one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars canon.

Playing the famous droid will represent the pinnacle of Vee's career to date—but this isn't the first major franchise the 59-year-old has been involved with. In a colorful career spanning three decades, the self-proclaimed wee-man has worked alongside Oscar nominees and taken on one of sci-fi's most beloved heroes, and he's never been afraid to take advantage of his frame away from the movies, either. From his questionable Star Wars knowledge to his run-ins with fellow small actors, this is everything you need to know about new R2-D2 Jimmy Vee.

He's the exact same height as Kenny Baker

When Kenny Baker passed away in 2016 after losing a long battle with a lung condition, the Star Wars community mourned the loss of the man who had been the soul of R2-D2 from the first film in 1977 to The Force Awakens in 2015. "He brought lots of happiness to people," Baker's niece said in a statement soon after his death, "and we'll be celebrating the fact that he was well loved throughout the world. We're all very proud of what he achieved in his lifetime." When it came to replacing him, Disney were left with two choices—go down the CGI route (which Baker hated) and risk ruining the droid's legacy, or find someone capable of performing inside the custom-built R2 prop. Vee fit their profile perfectly: standing at 3'8”, the Scottish actor is the exact same height as his predecessor and slips right into R2's shell with no trouble at all.

Baker taught him the 'tricks' of R2 before he passed

The little actor community is tight-knit, so it won't come as any surprise that Baker and Vee knew each other on a personal and professional level. The pair both worked on Willow, the 1988 sword-and-sorcery fable that served as George Lucas' first project after the original Star Wars trilogy. After Baker's passing, Vee released a statement through his production company Oh So Small (the self-proclaimed international home of short, dwarf and tall actors) commending his late colleague and promising to do his most cherished role justice. "It's been an absolute pleasure to have worked alongside the legendary Kenny Baker," Vee said. "Kenny was a fantastic actor and taught me all the tricks on how he brought R2-D2 to life, which I will continue to portray in his honor. I'm so excited to be a part of the Star Wars universe and can't wait for everyone to see what we've been working so hard on for the last year."

He already played R2-D2 in The Force Awakens

The project Vee has been working so hard on is of course 2017's Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, which will be his official debut as the loveable little astromech droid, though in truth Vee has already performed inside the R2 suit. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Vee actually helped bring the character to life in previous installment The Force Awakens, though his contribution wasn't recognized in the credits. This wasn't the first time Baker's level of involvement in Episode VII was called into question. C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels (who famously feuded with his onscreen partner for years) revealed that Baker wasn't able to reprise his role for the new trilogy and that his name was only on the credits to appease the fans. "He's not actually on set," Daniels said. "I haven't seen him for years. His name is on the credits as a sort of... I don't know, a good luck charm, a courtesy. He's a talisman."

He auditioned for the role of Willow

As previously mentioned, Vee and Baker became acquainted while working on Ron Howard's Willow, though neither of the actors were credited for their parts. Baker was invited onto the set to perform a cameo role as a member of the Nelwyn band (he can be seen playing the bongos front and center during the festival scene), though Vee had his eyes on the main prize. The diminutive Scotsman was asked about his best and worst auditions during a Q&A session at the Midlands MCM Expo in 2008, and he revealed that he lost out on the lead role of Willow Ufgood to one of the most accomplished dwarf actors in the industry. "I went for the part as Willow when Willow came out... I ended up playing stunt double for Mr. Warwick, who's out the back somewhere." Vee is of course referring to Warwick Davis, whose impressive filmography boasts numerous Harry Potter and Star Wars movies, including 2016 anthology film Rogue One.

He's a Doctor Who veteran

While Warwick Davis has Vee comfortably beat in terms of Harry Potter and Star Wars appearances, one long-running franchise that the Scot has over his friend and rival is Doctor Who. Davis has just a single appearance to his name (he guest starred as Porridge in 2013 episode "Nightmare in Silver"), whereas Vee has made several appearances since he debuted as Mox of Balhoon in 2005's "The End of the World," playing several villainous monsters and aliens—including his personal favorite, Bannakaffalatta.

"Working on Doctor Who is fantastic," Vee told onlookers at a convention in the UK. "You meet a lot of great people. I mean, since the series started five years ago I've been with Chris Eccleston, Billie Piper... you name them, everybody's there." Vee struck up a friendship with the show's two former stars, and even came to their defense when rumors of an on-set affair surfaced in the media. "Billie and Christopher have been nice and we tease one another on set. We have a carry-on, but there's been no time to go on nights out. I've not seen any naughty business on set, no affairs."

He started acting because he was bored

Vee spent many years working as a TV electrician to put food on the table for his two children, never really considering a future in acting until he noticed an unusual job listing. While flicking through the pages of a Scottish newspaper, he came across a casting call for a Hollywood production. "I didn't really mean to get into acting but I was bored one day and saw an advert in the Daily Record looking for people to audition for Willow," Vee revealed. "Since then I've been offered lots of parts, but I don't take everything. It depends what comes along and if the price is right. I'm more or less game for anything."

And when he says anything, he means anything. Vee has taken on a few roles that some people of his stature might find distasteful or even offensive, like the part of Midget in the 2009 short film Kilt Man, but he doesn't see the harm in poking fun at his size. "I am the first actor in my family and I now have an agent to get me parts. I don't mind if people call me a midget or vertically challenged because as far as I'm concerned, I'm a wee man and there's nothing I can do about it."

He used to work as a bouncer

Yes, you read that correctly. Club Noir has a reputation as one of Glasgow's most unique hot spots and claims to be the biggest burlesque club in the world. The Scottish city is one of the UK's party capitals, and Club Noir co-founder Iain Singleton was on the lookout for ways to make his venue stand out from the crowd when he started it up in 2004. What he came up with was a little person working the door, and that's where Vee came in. "At the start it was Iain that got in touch with me," Vee told STV Glasgow. "I'm not actually sure where he found out about me. But I just got a phone call saying the new club was starting up and would I be interested in doing the door for him. I went from doing the door to doing some of the things on stage." Vee returned to the club in 2014 to take part in the tenth anniversary Halloween party, appearing on stage as the compère's sidekick.

He played a goblin in Harry Potter

Vee's first actual movie appearance came in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, though his work as one of the Gringotts goblins in the first instalment of the franchise went uncredited. All the major acting roles for small people in the films that followed were snapped up by Warwick Davis, who played charms professor Filius Flitwick, the teller at Gringotts and Griphook, the treacherous goblin who helped Harry and friends sneak into the heavily guarded wizard bank. Despite not being offered any further work on the films, Vee was given the chance to reprise his Gringotts role in Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, a POV-style ride at Universal Studios Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Vee joined Potter stars Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon and Helena Bonham-Carter to film scenes for the ride's narrative, which sees guests enter the bank's vaults at the same time as the break in from The Deathly Hallows: Part 2. He also features in the park's Hogwarts Express ride, where visitors are transported from King's Cross station to the famous wizarding school with a stop at Hogsmeade along the way.

He didn't even know what a lightsaber was

When Vee was spotted filming alongside Mark Hamill on Skellig Michael, most people came to the conclusion that he was filling in for Baker, whose age and ill health would have made traveling to the remote Irish island nigh on impossible. As Baker was still officially supposed to be playing R2-D2, however, the Scottish actor said he was unable to "confirm nor deny the Star Wars news" but felt comfortable enough to discuss the franchise. Unfortunately for Vee, his interview highlighted just how little he knows about George Lucas' space opera. "I've watched two or three movies but nothing much. Compared to some of the fans of Star Wars I couldn't tell you anything. I said before I know there's a guy with a sword in it and I think that's about it." When asked by the reporter if by sword he meant lightsaber, he replied "There you go. It shows you how much I know about it."

He already has blockbuster experience

Vee already has experience working on a large scale fantasy, and we're not talking about his stunt double shift in Willow. He previously played pirate henchman Lofty in the 2015 fantasy epic Pan, an alternate origin story following J.M. Barrie's most famous character from his humble beginnings in a London orphanage to his aerodynamic adventures in Neverland. A role in a $150 million production was a huge gig for Vee, who appeared alongside Oscar nominee Hugh Jackman (Blackbeard) in a number of scenes, though unfortunately for both actors the film became one of the biggest box office flops of the year and is remembered as an epic failure. Director Joe Wright and his bosses at Warner Bros. (who had already posted massive losses after Jupiter Ascending bombed) watched with disbelief as the numbers came in over opening weekend, with Pan just managing to edge over $15 million. In the end, the film couldn't even break even in the overseas market, killing any hopes the studio (and Vee) had of future sequels.

He's set to star in a Lord of the Rings-style epic

One movie that apparently will be getting sequels is upcoming afterlife fantasy Dark Ascension, described by director Gene Fallaize as an epic Lord of the Rings-style event. The British helmer said "Unlike a lot of trilogies which have to come up with sequels after the release of the first one, which can lead to some unusual storylines and continuity issues, Dark Ascension was written as one larger story spread over three films, but with the first one written so it also works as a standalone film."

During an appearance at Edinburgh Comic Con 2016, Vee revealed he will feature in a demonic role as a holy war rages in purgatory. "It's based between heaven and hell," the actor told the Sci fi Fantasy Network. "The gates open up, so we've got the heavenly Gods and the heavenly angels fighting the devils... again I'm cast as the evil one, for some reason!" While both Vee and Fallaize clearly have high hopes for the project, the cast assembled so far (Tara Reid and Bruce Campbell are both on board) has a definite B-movie feel.