It might be a little early to start labeling Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Orson Krennic as an “iconic Star Wars villain,” but when you’re in charge of the original Death Star, well, you at least have some pretty good street cred. And if you’re familiar with Mendelsohn’s work at all – in, say, Animal Kingdom or Starred Up or Bloodline – yeah, it makes perfect sense he‘d be cast as a leader in the Galactic Empire. (Maybe too much sense.)
I met Mendelsohn at Disney’s Times Square offices on a dreary Wednesday morning (if you’re reading this on Dec 7th, that’s this morning) and, in person, Mendelsohn is anything but a member of the Empire. Don’t get me wrong, he loves playing a member of the Galactic Empire (often referring to the Empire as “we”), but he’s (for lack of a better term) a total charmer. And (like Diego Luna) seems totally thrilled that he gets to be a part of Star Wars.
So much in fact, while engaging in “nice to meet you” small talk, I mentioned that the night before I had been playing as Orson Krennic in Star Wars: Battlefront. Mendelsohn, a self-professed gamer, immediately perked up, asking about his weapons. Ahead, much more with Mendelsohn on being a part of the Star Wars universe and he drops some hits on what Krennic’s relationship is to Grand Moff Tarkin.
I was playing a game called Star Wars: Battlefront last night…
Oh yeah! No, no, I’m a gamer.
The Rogue One portion was released yesterday and I was playing as Orson Krennic…
What are his moves like?
He has a special blaster that can kill on one shot through armor.
Yeah! That’s my blaster!
He has a droid that has a shield.
[Mendelsohn stands up and does a victory dance.] Snap!
You’re part of this now.
Yeah. I’m in Battlefront! Wow. What do you play it on?
Last time I spoke to you was on the phone for Slow West. There were rumors you’d be in Rogue One, but you were very coy and didn’t say anything other than a sly, “I hope they are true.” How does that work?
I think we were locked away by then. When was that?
April of 2015.
Yeah, we were there. I think it was October or something the year before?
But you couldn’t say anything.
No! And you just don’t. Sam Neill is the smartest at it. Sam Neill won’t say anything about a project until he’s nearly through it. Because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.
You don’t want to tell people, “And I’m going to be great.”
And then you’re cut.
And now you’re going to be this iconic villain now in Star Wars.
Well, we will see. Look, I’d like to think so. Look, anyone who built the Death Star rocks.
He’s got cred.
He has several areas of responsibility outside that. But, yeah, it’s pretty good to be on that team. You know? Because when you think about it, if you take Luke out of the equation, and you take Obi-Wan and Yoda out – you just take those guys out. And then you even take out Darth Vader on the other side, we’ll even it out a little bit. The Empire, we’ve got more bang for our buck. I mean, really, we have it. We have the Death Star!
I like how you say, “we.”
I think when you sign up to a side in the Star Wars universe, you want to stick to that side. I think the most troublesome ones are the ones who don’t know. I’ll even include Darth Vader in that. I mean, he was good once upon a time, so they say. You know, until he understood things when the Emperor brought him over. But I feel like yeah, I can say “us.”
There was rumors that you were going to play Tarkin, which didn’t make a lot of sense because you’re much younger than Peter Cushing was in 1977.
Still, they could have.
With makeup I guess? Was that ever a thing?
That I was going to play Tarkin? Was that ever talked about? No, as far as I know, that was never talked about.
What’s Krennic’s relationship to Tarkin? Who reports to who?
I mean, we’re both, you know…
So there’s equal footing? Is that fair to say?
Well, I think it would be difficult to say anything about the relationship between Krennic and Grand Moff Tarkin, because they’re in different films.
You’re giving me a “I’m being coy” face. I’ve only seen the footage, not the whole film, so I wouldn’t know.
That’s right! Yeah, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t, and with 30-odd years at the game, I’m not going to let the…
I swear I’m not trying to get a spoiler or anything like that.
I’m just wondering what their relationship is like. Is equal footing fair?
Well, I’m not sure whether they would be. I mean, a Moff, right? A Grand Moff!
We know that Tarkin exists in this world.
Absolutely. Of course Tarkin exists in this world. A Grand Moff, though, I’m unsure as to where a Grand Moff would sit alongside a Director.
You’ve got the better uniform.
Well, I think so.
When you first saw that, were you like this is snazzy?
It’s an awesome outfit.
I saw you wearing it at Celebration, and it’s intimidating.
How close were you?
I was pretty close.
So could you feel it when we came out? Could you feel it?
Yeah. You could feel it, right?
Yeah. People loved it.
That was awesome, that. It felt great. And it also felt like, look, it’s one thing to hear from the actors. But that’s its own type of enjoyment.
People weren’t expecting you to come out in character.
Well, you can thank Kathy Kennedy for that. She’s a wonderful, wonderful helmswoman.
As an actor, do you have to do something unique to integrate yourself into Star Wars?
Look, I think you do want to integrate into what you understand the Empire as it were to be. So I do think there are certain kind of tropes that – well, people like the Grand Moff himself sort of laid down in that first one as, okay, this is a senior Imperial, that’s a senior Imperial there. There’s another senior Imperial. So you just look at the guys that have come before you, and you just try and get a sense. And what I don’t want to do is go with a thick Australian accent, or something like that, and drag people out of that. So I’m conscious of the Empire’s legacy and I want to be in that world when I’m doing it.
Did you have to audition, or were you asked?
Gareth. No, it was Gareth Edwards.
And then you needed approval from Lucasfilm?
Well, you know, that’s the way the casting goes. I mean, that would always be the way the casting goes and it wouldn’t matter who it was from anyone in the world.
Orson Krennic, that just sounds like a Star Wars name.
What if you didn’t like the name? What if it were, I don’t know, Gordon Krennic?
Do you have the power to ask for a new name? Gordon Krennic doesn’t sound like Star Wars.
You’re damn right. And I’ll tell you what, that’s why you’re really good at this.
No, I’m not.
Yeah, you are. Because you’re right, Gordon Krennic? No.
I don’t fear Gordon Krennic.
Orson Krennic, there you go.
Orson Krennic is an intimidating name. But if it was Gordon Krennic, could you pull someone aside and go, “We need to work on this name”?
I suppose theoretically I could. I think that there are fine minds working on this stuff, and one needs to give them their due.
And if it’s Gordon, it’s probably Gordon for a reason.
I’ve taken this way too far.
Yeah, but I like the Gordon. You know, I think Gordon was the weaker one.
That’s Orson’s brother.
Gordon Krennic was just a simple moisture farmer somewhere and his brother built the Death Star.
Yeah, it could have been the Cain and Abel.
Gordon Krennic lived a peaceful life somewhere.
They could have been the Cain and Abel of the Krennic family.
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