Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

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Lord Tyranus's picture
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This topic can stay for the movie discussion, but I was going to ask if anyone knows any interview or article where Christopher Lee gives his opinion on the movie and the character he plays (Count Dooku / Darth Tyranus).

Here's an article from Star Wars Insider (the official Star Wars magazine):


Christopher Lee Summons the Force

December 11, 2001

Details of Lee's prequel character are still under wraps, but he is known to play a key part in the development of the plot of Episode II. And it's safe to assume that, judging by Lee's phenomenal body of work, his new Star Wars character will be another unforgettable creation from the man who first gained fame as Dracula and, at age 78, is still going strong with a role in not only the new Star Wars trilogy but also the upcoming three-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Among Lee's most memorable performances are Rochefort in three Three Musketeers movies, Sherlock Holmes, classic James Bond villain Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (Lee's cousin, author Ian Fleming, created Bond), and, of course, nearly every classic monster in the book for Britain's hit Hammer horror films of the 1950s and '60s: his breakthrough role in The Curse of Frankenstein (he was the monster to Cushing's mad doctor); the title role in The Mummy; double duty as Jekyll and Hyde; and, most famously, his solitary yet deadly Count Dracula, whom he portrayed more than any other actor, beginning with 1958's Horror of Dracula, which pitted him against Cushing as Van Helsing, and lasting until 1974 with The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

But while Dracula put Lee on the map after a distinguished career in the British Royal Air Force and a string of bit parts in movies and television, the vampire also threatened to suck the blood out of Lee's career and overshadow his considerable talents. To escape type-casting, the actor sought out varied roles in diverse projects, including the cult classic suspense film The Wicker Man, A Tale of Two Cities, Steven Spielberg's comedy 1941, and the acclaimed sequel Gremlins 2. An accomplished singer who has records out in England, Lee also appeared on popular television shows like The Avengers, Charlie's Angels -- and Lucasfilm's Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in 1992. His autobiography, Tall, Dark, and Gruesome, was published in 1994, the same year he won a London Film Critics Lifetime Achievement Award.

Still, with over 250 credits to his name, Christopher Lee's career is suddenly hotter than ever. After an appearance last year in Tim Burton's blockbuster Sleepy Hollow (which also featured Star Wars stars Ian McDiarmid and Ray Park), Lee headed for New Zealand to play the wizard Saruman the White in the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy by director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, Dead Alive, The Frighteners), and barely made it home before turning around to join the Episode II set in Australia.

The Insider caught up with Lee just as his work on Episode II was beginning. The actor was articulate, generous with his time, and happy to talk about his memories of Peter Cushing, his classic roles, and The Lord of the Rings. But first we wanted to know more about the "charismatic separatist" he plays in Star Wars.

Episode II co-writer Jonathan Hales has referred to your character in Episode II as "The Perfect Gentleman."

Ah, how nice -- I will do my best to live up to that.

Your character has been enigmatically described as "A Charismatic Separatist." Can you elaborate a little bit on that?

I am a little amused at the description they gave me -- well, they're entitled to write that I'm full of charisma. It will be more than just another part, obviously -- it will be another arrow in my quiver. I'm looking forward to it enormously. But when people ask me whom I'm playing, I am simply saying to them, "I have signed a confidentiality agreement. I'm afraid I cannot tell you this. If you want more information, you must get onto Lucasfilm." And that will be my answer every single time.

I was the repository of many secrets during World War II, and if I talked, people died. I was in special forces intelligence, and I'm not prepared to say much more than that. I never have been. I signed the Official Secrets Act, which is for life. What I'm getting at is that I can keep a secret, and if I'm asked not to say anything, I don't. Ever.

Having kept secrets during the war with lives at stake, how does all the secrecy surrounding movies these days strike you?

I think it's very valid, because if you reveal what characters look like or how they behave or what they are, particularly in this kind of story, I think it will spoil it. It would take away the surprise element, which is enormously important, particularly with the public today. They will be going by the millions to see it, and they've still got to be surprised, which is one of the most important elements of any motion picture. You've got to surprise people with something they don't expect. I've tried to do that as an actor throughout my entire career, to do something unexpected, unconventional. And I'll continue to do so as long as I'm asked to do movies.

There doesn't seem to be any shortage of offers.

It's a strange thing, but after 53 years in the film industry and something in the region of 250 credits, I'm now actually turning down more work than I've ever been offered in my whole career. I'm busier than I've ever been, and I'm very grateful, because there are not many people at my age who are as busy as I am. For that, I'm extremely grateful. I'm delighted that I'll be working in Episode II. I mean, after The Lord of the Rings, plus Sleepy Hollow -- I'm lucky, certainly.

Were you surprised when you were asked to join the cast of Star Wars?

Yes, I was surprised, and very pleased. I had no idea this was going to happen, absolutely none at all. My agent in London received a query -- would I be interested in appearing in the next Star Wars film? To which I said, "Yes, I would indeed." That was the first approach. I met Robin Gurland in London. We did not discuss the character. She wasn't even here for that purpose -- she was here to cast a young boy. I met her with my agent, and we had a very pleasant conversation over lunch. We did not go into any details, and there was no discussion of any story or character or part -- and there was no offer made.

When I did tell her that I would be interested, then queries started coming through about availability, about wigs, clothing, dates. There were various inquiries as to my appearance at different ages, photographs, measurements, where my wigs would be made.

Then I had a long conversation with George Lucas, and he said to me, "We're going to have a lot of fun," and that's a word that should be in capital letters. When I did 1941 with Steven Spielberg, we had a lot of fun. When I did Gremlins 2 with Joe Dante, again demanding in many respects, we had a lot of fun. When I did Sleepy Hollow, we had a lot of fun. Similarly, we had fun on The Lord of the Rings, which is a colossal epic. But in order to have this fun, you have to be able to relax, and it comes from the top. It will undoubtedly be the same thing on Star Wars, I know that.

It's wonderful when somebody says to you, "We'll have a lot of fun." Lucas has said that to me, Burton has said that to me, Dante has said it to me, Spielberg has said it to me -- four of the biggest and most successful directors in the cinema. They are wise enough to know that it is absolutely vital that you should be able to relax. You don't relax when somebody says, "Action." But between takes, you can sit on the set and have a laugh with someone. It doesn't happen that often these days, with people rushing onto a set looking at their watches.

What are you most looking forward to about shooting Episode II?

Well, obviously being in a film that just about everyone is going to go and see. That's one thing which is very important for an actor. But I'm also looking forward to working in a medium with which I'm not all that familiar. I have been in science-fiction things. I appeared as an alien on a television series with Martin Landau called Space: 1999, and I did that in 1974. But I'm really not familiar with making this kind of film.

Also, I will be meeting people whom I've never met. I don't think there's anybody in this picture that I've ever met before. I'm looking forward to that very much. I haven't met Samuel Jackson -- I respect and admire him as an actor. I haven't met Jimmy Smits, whom I also respect and admire as an actor and I've enjoyed very much over the years. I've never met Mr. Christensen, I've never met Ewan McGregor, and I've never met Natalie Portman. I probably won't be working with all of them, but I'm looking forward to meeting them.

How long are you shooting in Australia?

About three weeks, and immediately after that I have to go down to Wellington in New Zealand to do my ADR [additional dialogue recording] for The Lord of the Rings.

It must feel good to be so in demand.

Well, it does and it doesn't. Nobody likes to say no. But if the material is something that you've done before or it's not worthy of your consideration, the answer is no. And of course the more often you say no, the more the price goes up. Fortunately, I've never been controlled or manipulated by how much I'm being paid.

But I don't think you could pick two more mega-productions, or two productions that would have a greater worldwide appeal -- in totally different ways. I think the world's filmgoing public is in line for two tremendous treats -- well, more than two, actually, because as far as The Lord of the Rings is concerned, there are three separate films.

Are you in all three Rings movies?

I am certainly in the first two. I'm not sure about the third one. I'm bound by a confidentiality agreement -- I have a similar obligation for Lord of the Rings as I do for Star Wars, to the extent that I will not reveal anything at all. What is known, of course, is the character I'm playing -- Saruman the White, a great wizard. What I'm not allowed to discuss is what I look like or what I do, or what anybody else does, or how the story goes. I'm not allowed to discuss that, and I won't discuss it until I'm given permission to do so, which will probably not be until some time before the release of the first film, which is December, 2001. Star Wars won't be out until 2002. Then the second film of Lord of the Rings is December 2002, and the third film is December 2003.

Were all three Lord of the Rings movies shot at the same time?

I would go as far as to say that they were filming the entire story. I really can't say more than that. They are filming the entire story, which takes the form of three separate films. From what I've been involved in myself, and from what I've seen of the action, I would say it is going to create as big an impact in motion pictures as Star Wars has done. They're both epic films, but they're not in the least bit similar, because one is in outer space in an undefined period of time, and The Lord of the Rings is on earth, although it's described as Middle Earth -- in, again, an undefined period of time. But the fact that there are no times or dates given to any of these productions is the only thing they have in common.

I'm a big fan of Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. Are you one, too?

He's extraordinary. He really is the most remarkable director, and I've had the privilege of working with some very remarkable directors.

Now as far as The Lord of the Rings is concerned, of course, what Peter Jackson is doing is taken from the mind and the work of another genius, Tolkien. Jackson is an amazing director. His intuition is extraordinary -- all outstanding directors know exactly what they want and they know how to get it. They don't always succeed; which they would be the first to admit. But Peter Jackson's intuition in terms of how to deliver dialogue and play a scene is faultless. He always seems to know exactly what he wants -- when he says, "Right, let's print it," you know that's as good as it's going to be, which is very encouraging.

You filmed most of Lord of the Rings outdoors in New Zealand, but much of your work for Star Wars will be with bluescreen indoors. Is bluescreen new to you, or old hat?

I think almost everything I have to do [on Episode II] is interior. I wouldn't say it's old hat, because everything changes. The technical and scientific advances in film are incredible, and something new seems to crop up every year. I remember doing a picture for Disney where the screen was yellow -- that was some years ago, of course. So I'm very familiar with what we used to call in the old days back projection. We went from black-and-white movies to color, and that of course went onto yellow screen and blue screen, and now what they call CGI -- well, it's all magic.

You've seen a lot of change over the years, but what about making movies hasn't changed?

I think what hasn't changed, to put it very simply, is dedication. Any actor or actress who is worth their salt cares about what they do and always has. Your dedication to your craft, your involvement in your work, your instinct, your powers of imagination, call it whatever you like --these have not changed in the case of the true professionals, and I'm now talking about both sides of the camera.

Could anything surprise you about making movies anymore?

No, nothing can possibly surprise me in the motion picture and television industry, the entertainment world. Some of it is so degrading. Some of it is so distasteful. Some of it is so dishonorable. But there are a great many people in show business, particularly in my profession, I would say the majority, who are decent, loyal, hardworking, very intelligent people. They are the majority but you don't hear about them.

They say you have more credits to your name than any other living actor.

Well, I'm not sure that's true. I did three pictures with Anthony Quinn, who is now 85, and I'm fairly certain he's done more films and has more credits than I have. I think what is true is that I have more credits than any living British actor.

You've played so many famous roles, from Sherlock Holmes to Rochefort of the Three Musketeers to James Bond's nemesis Scaramanga. But is Dracula still the role you're most associated with?

I think it was. I'm not so sure about now. When people meet me in the street a few things happen -- they say, "Can I shake your hand," and, "Can I have your autograph?" And then it's always the same line: "I enjoy your movies." It's hardly ever specific.

Dracula was very important to me, because every actor needs a launching pad, and it certainly did that for me -- it launched me into international recognition. We all need that. But there's always the other side of the coin, and it happened to many of my distinguished predecessors and some of my contemporaries: the media, not the public, like to pigeonhole everyone. I did the first Dracula 43 years ago, and the last one was 28 years ago -- and I only did more than one because the head of Hammer Films told me I would put so many people out of work if I didn't. That's the only reason I did it after the first one -- I wasn't going to deprive people of employment. But I did become progressively disenchanted, because it got further and further away from the character.

After Dracula, you played so many different, varied roles. Was that a conscious effort to get away from the horror film image?

Yes, that's right, and particularly what I did in the States when I went to live there. Everybody in the motion picture industry said to me, "You're wasting your time staying in the UK because the casting directors just don't have much imagination, and they're just going to ask you to do the same thing. Come to America and you will find more opportunities open to you, different sorts of stories and different parts."

I think the most important thing I've probably ever done in my career was to host Saturday Night Live in 1978. It was the third-highest rated show. It made a tremendous difference to me. There were 35 million people watching -- it had a 39 [percent] share. And people said, "Oh, he can be funny." I would have never had that opportunity here [in the UK]. Never.

So why did you move back to England?

I had nothing more to prove, quite frankly. I am a European, and one returns to one's roots. I went for a purpose, and I achieved that purpose. I made it quite clear that I was no longer typecast, and the people I'd worked with and the kinds of films I'd done were so varied.

Is there a favorite film you've done that's gotten overlooked?

I've been in so many cult movies -- films that either became cult movies rather quickly or in a few years. I've always said I think the best picture I've ever been in was probably The Wicker Man. Even though it was slashed to bits, it's still a remarkable film. To this day, there are books coming out.

But I think probably the most important film I've done, which has not yet come out, and the one in which I had the greatest challenge, was a film I made in Pakistan. I played the founder of the nation, and the name of the film is the name of the man: Jinnah. I think that was probably the best thing I've ever done. It's already premiered in Pakistan, and it's been received with the most amazing acclaim.

Is it true that you knew descendants of the character you played on Young Indy?

Yes, I did. I played Ottokar Graf Czernin -- he was the Austrian Foreign Minister, and he tried to keep the last Emperor of Austria from sending this letter to the Kaiser seeking peace. He was a very devious, sharp, slippery customer. I knew many members of the Czernin family, one in particular called Manfred Czernin. He was in an organization in World War II called SOE, which stands for Special Operations Executive. I was in it myself. It was the British equivalent of OSS. And he was operating with the Italian partisans in Northern Italy around 1944, and I, with the pilot, went and collected him, and he came back to our Air Force base. I got to know him very well after World War II.

So that was my first contact with a member of the Czernin family, and there I was playing one of his ancestors. I played him in this castle outside Prague in the snow in the winter, and I was very glad to do it. I thought everyone was very well cast and very good in it. It was directed by a man called Vic Armstrong, who I used to know as a stuntman.

He was the stunt double for Indiana Jones in the films.

That I didn't know. When I did Bear Island up in Alaska in the winter of 1979, he was one of the stuntmen, and it wasn't very amusing to parachute in a wet suit into the sea in Alaska in the winter, but he did.

Your image is fairly strong among most moviegoers. Is there anything about you that we don't know that we might be surprised to learn?

Well, a lot of things -- but I'm not going to tell you! [Laughs] I'm sure there are all sorts of things people would like to know about me, which they're hopefully never going to know!

You did write an autobiography.

Yes, it's available in the States. But that's as much as I'm prepared to tell people about myself. We all have two lives, particularly in my world: one is professional, the other is personal. As far as the professional life is concerned, the world has a right to ask questions, because they put their money down when they go to the movies. As far as my private life is concerned, they have no right to know anything at all, unless I make a fool of myself and behave badly, in which case it's my fault. It's amazing how frequently in films and television, and particularly pop and rock, one's life is an open book -- and a pretty dirty one sometimes, too.

What do you do to relax?

I relax by pursuing my vocation. I think it was Brando who said an actor is only truly himself when he is acting. If it's working out correctly and properly, it's enormously relaxing afterwards -- not when you're doing it. I love music. I'm also a singer, and I've been making quite a few records recently, because I can sing opera as well as Sweeney Todd -- in fact I did that not very long ago. I did The King and I, I did It's Now or Never.

I love books, I love to read. I love to do absolutely nothing sometimes, just look out of the window. I don't like going for walks, but I love walking on the golf course, because I love golf. Swimming I enjoy when it's hot and there are not too many people around. I don't like crowds and I never have. I love travelling to places I've never been to, particularly the north of Europe, like Norway and Northern Finland and Sweden, which I love, Because you don't see anyone for miles and miles -- emptiness, I love that. I relax by going to other countries I've never been to with my wife and seeing things that I've always wanted to see. I relax by listening to music or going to the opera, occasionally going to the theater, very seldom going to the cinema -- I prefer to see it in private, on video.

What was your impression of Star Wars when you first saw it?

I think the word is magic. It's as simple as that -- or as complicated. It appeals to the imagination of the audience, and the audience is frequently portrayed as not being over-intelligent. I think they're much more sophisticated than some people give them credit for, and they can detect an insincere performance or an inadequate film pretty rapidly.

I saw the first three when they came out, and I'll never forget seeing the first one. I was amazed by what I was seeing on the screen, and I couldn't understand how they did it. There were the aerial battles, which were quite phenomenal. The thing that struck me as being so extraordinary was the wizardry -- because that's the word. In The Lord of the Rings I'm a wizard, but in a Star Wars film, I am part of the wizardry and magic of the whole thing.

They created a whole new era in the cinema. They were not the first stories to be set in space, but the scale of imagination and the scale of production, and the impact it had on the whole world, every nationality and every language, was a first. There will ultimately be six, and it will be like a Homeric saga, on a vast scale.

Did you talk to Peter Cushing about acting in Star Wars?

Oh, yes I did. I remember when it came out, I wrote him a letter saying, "What on earth is a Grand Moff? And why is he called Tarkin?" He wrote back and said, "I have no idea!"

Were you and Cushing close off camera as well?

Very. He meant a great deal to me in my life, not just as an actor but as a person. We were very close friends, and I still miss him very much. That will be one very important reason why I will be so happy to do this picture. Because I will be following him.

by Scott Chernoff and Pablo Hidalgo


Here's a small article from Homing Beacon #62 (the official Star Wars email newsletter):


Making it Count

June 13, 2002

Joining the pantheon of such dark side villains as Darth Sidious, Darth Maul, Darth Vader and the Emperor is Christopher Lee's Count Dooku, or Darth Tyranus. The conceptual exploration of a new Sith villain for Episode II meandered through many iterations -- including gothic vampiric female warriors and half-cyborg samurai. The end result, though, of a rogue Jedi of stately menace could only have been accomplished by an actor of Lee's presence and history.

"He's fascinating," says Writer/Director George Lucas. "Christopher plays it so you don't quite know if Dooku's disenchantment with the corruption in the Republic is valid -- because it is valid. It's all valid. He plays it like: is he really a villain or is he really just somebody who's gotten disenchanted and trying to make things right? He was Qui-Gon's master, and his feeling of loss at Qui-Gon and thinking about him is real. He's not just a monster that, say, Darth Maul was."

In addition to the screen presence Lee brings to the charismatic separatist character, he also brings with him decades of martial skills. "He's a really brilliant swordsman," says Lucas. "He's done more sword-fights than any other actor. He was doing sword-fights back when the films that we're trying to mimic were the real films!"

"This is a different kind of sword-fighting, so he had to learn a new kind, and he's very good at that. And we had a really good stunt double that is a world-class swordsman. Through digital technology, we were able to take Christopher's likeness and put it on the stuntman, so the stuntman looks exactly like him. We combined the close-ups of Christopher and the stuntman, which is what you normally do in a movie, but now we were able to do it more precisely, so it's more seamless."


Here's another small article from Homing Beacon #85 (the official Star Wars email newsletter):


In Dooku's Own Words

August 22, 2002

One of the most enigmatic characters to arise in Episode II was Count Dooku, a fallen Jedi and the latest Sith Lord revealed in the saga. Through Dooku, important concepts are introduced to the growing story: that a Jedi could indeed fall from the light, and that a Jedi Knight could take up arms against his former master. For all his impact, the character is still shrouded in mystery. The actor who played Dooku, the legendary Christopher Lee, offers his insights.

"He's very aloof, very self-contained, obviously completely fearless," describes Lee. "He is extremely intelligent, perhaps more so than almost anyone else. He's obviously a man of immense power. I don't suppose that the question of moral values enter into his head. He's not immoral -- he's amoral. Morality is a word that doesn't figure in his vocabulary at all. It's power. Which is something that exists very much in our world today."

But was Dooku always like this? New fiction from the Expanded Universe will soon shed light on Dooku's younger days. The forthcoming Star Wars: Legacy of the Jedi, by Jude Watson and Scholastic Inc., tells a tale when Dooku was a noble Jedi Knight. Like his pupil, Qui-Gon Jinn, he will be headstrong and unorthodox for a Jedi Knight.

"Maybe at one time when he was younger, when he became a Jedi, I'm sure he did behave in a totally moral and correct way," speculates Lee. "Probably like the old Knights Templar when they started in the 12th century, they started as very good people to protect all the pilgrims on the Crusades. But gradually over the years they disintegrated morally, spiritually and in every way. I know that because I played the Grand Master of the Templars in a film. Eventually, their whole order disintegrated. Who's to say that this isn't going to happen in the third Episode?"


If you know more, post them here.

Thanks in advance.

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Brandon's picture
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Great article!  Thank you so

Great article!  Thank you so much!

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Lord Tyranus's picture
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You're welcome.

I recently bought a book called 'Mythmaking: Behind the Scenes of Attack of the Clones', hoping to find some more information about Christopher Lee's work on the movie, and more specifically, the reason for his curved-hilt lightsaber. I think I heard that it was inspired by Christopher Lee's fencing background, but unfortunately I can't recall the source. If someone could help me get some information about this, it would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

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Brandon's picture
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I know a wee bit about Star

I know a wee bit about Star Wars... I know the curved hilt supposedly had something to do with the style of lightsaber dueling that Count Dooku used.  I don't know if the lightsaber was designed specifically for Sir Christopher... It would be curious to know if he had anything to do with "picking" his lightsaber.  I know Samuel L. Jackson specifically wanted a purple blade, and for whatever reasons, he got one.  wink

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Lord Tyranus's picture
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Yes, I know the "in-universe explanation", but that's not what I'm after.

I recall reading somewhere that the curved-hilt lightsaber was designed based on Christopher Lee's fencing past, but I can't find the source anywhere. If this is indeed true, then I would be very happy that they made such unique lightsaber based on Christopher Lee's career.

If you (or anyone) happen find some information about this, please let me know.

Thanks in advance.

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Brandon's picture
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Oh okay... cool... Let me see

Oh okay... cool... Let me see what I can find about it  (if anything)  laugh

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This was all I could

This was all I could muster:

"Due to Lee's fencing background the lightsaber hilt was themed accordingly and he approved. Likewise Sam Jackson also picked out the purple lightsaber color for his." -Skywalker Ranch press release during interviews with the stars, 2002.

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Lord Tyranus's picture
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Great. Do you have a link?

Perhaps Juan could help clarify this.

Thanks for the help.

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Brandon's picture
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I found that off the Sword

I found that off the Sword Forum International... bunch of Star Wars fans there.  Juan might know more about it... especially if he could ask Sir Christopher.  Wink

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Lord Tyranus's picture
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Today is Attack of the Clones' 9th anniversary, for those who would like to know.

Oh, and regarding the lightsaber: I've spoken to Juan, and apparently the curved-hilt lightsaber was probably based on the Saber of Charlemagne, of whom Christopher Lee is a direct ancestor:


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Brandon's picture
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That is very cool indeed! 

That is very cool indeed!  Thanks for letting us know Tyranus. 

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WOW I did not know this about

WOW I did not know this about his sword in the movie. Thanks for this its very intersting.

Laurel

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Lord Tyranus's picture
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I've updated the topic with a small article titled 'Making it Count', where George Lucas gives his impressions on Christopher Lee and his character.

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Brandon's picture
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Thanks for the additional

Thanks for the additional info Lord T... I was always fascinated by Sir Christopher's very interesting Sith saber!  Smile

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