Equality on the big screen: An interview with a Stormtrooper
Image by Willrow Hood / Shutterstock, Inc
We love Star Wars at People®. Not only do we provide their special effects company (Industrial Light and Magic) with modern HR software, but we’ve also been known to turn Darth Vader quotes into lessons about HR software.
To prove our love for the movie franchise, we have a very special guest on our blog today. Talking to us about everything from equality to Ewoks, Verona Blue is an actor with a unique claim to fame: she was the voice of the first ever female Stormtrooper to be portrayed in any of the Star Wars movies.
An exclusive interview with Verona Blue – the first ever female Stormtrooper
Verona, it’s lovely of you to share some of your time with us. To begin, I’d like to clarify exactly what your role was in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
So let’s forget Captain Phasma for a moment – she doesn’t count as a Stormtrooper because she doesn’t wear the white plastic suit we all know and love. You, Verona, did the voice work for the very first, classic, clone-based female Stormtrooper.
How does that feel?
“Hi! Thank you for having me! Yes, I was the voice of the first ever female Stormtrooper in Star Wars, and it’s a huge honour. I am a Star Wars fan, and in particular I have a love for Stormtroopers. I joined the 501st (Imperial Costuming Club) way back in 1999 with a classic Stormtrooper costume, and I have a tattoo sleeve that tells their story. So needless to say I’m excited that I am now part of it.”
“Female Stormtroopers clearly have better aim”
One of my colleagues is a huge Star Wars fan. She says that unlike in the original films, where the Stormtroopers struggled to hit any of their targets, the Stormtroopers in The Force Awakens actually had pretty decent aim. Do you think this was because they hired women?
“Clearly. Women are more accustomed to being able to complete complex tasks while wearing uncomfortable, impractical outfits, designed by men.”
Gender equality and “The Hollywood Pay Gap” – women need to be hired, not groomed
We hear a lot about gender equality on the big screen – in particular, about two actors with the same skills and prestige, being paid different amounts based on their gender. This is often called the “Hollywood Pay Gap”.
Do you think this might be caused by how underrepresented women are in Hollywood? Especially behind the scenes – for example, Forbes reported that women account for only 1.9% of directors, 11.2% of writers, and 18.9% of producers.
“The pay gap in Hollywood is a complex problem. It’s the job of agents to negotiate the best possible rate for their talent. Not only does this benefit the actor, but the agent also gets a cut. So it’s better for the agency if they negotiate a higher rate.
Unfortunately, the “shelf life” of actresses in Hollywood is short compared to their male counterparts. I think that a lot of agents are aware that they have a limited window to get the absolute highest amount of earnings out of an actress, without rocking the boat and potentially interfering with future relationships.
“Women need to be hired. Not groomed, not tested, just hired.”
In addition, when diverse talent (including women) are not adequately represented on screen they are more easily ignored behind the scenes. Despite the quality of work and acceptance rate of women directors into top tier festivals, only a tiny fraction of those women are given the opportunity to direct a large scale studio film. Meanwhile, many men will excel even if their movies aren’t as highly acclaimed.”
So, what do you think needs to happen for women to get better recognition, and more fair pay, in the movie industry?
“Women need to be hired. Not groomed, not tested, just hired.”
A more diverse workforce could improve your company’s performance
You make it sound like such a simple solution. Do you think your advice applies to a non-Hollywood workforce, too?
“Of course! Hiring women (and people of colour, or whatever) into growth positions, including upper management positions, improves companies. Diverse perspectives give you a larger breadth of experiences from which to pull new solutions and different ways to approach challenges.”
“If you have two web developers who do the same job, pay them the same amount. Don’t be a dick.”
In the UK, the government is working on plans to enforce something called “gender pay gap reporting”. This means companies of a certain size will have to report on the difference between men and women’s aggregate hourly pay within their company.
Do you think this is a good move in the right direction? Or is it perhaps too passive to make any real difference?
“I am a fan of companies being transparent with their pay scales, and paying people the same amount for the same job regardless of gender (or colour, or whatever). If you have 2 web developers who do the same job at the same company, they should be making the same amount. If you hire a new employee at a higher rate, bump everyone up to that rate. Don’t be a dick.
I don’t know any of the details about this UK initiative besides what you’ve just told me, but on the surface it sounds like a good start and will hopefully force companies to be more transparent about how their pay their employees overall.”
Better female representation makes a lot of economic sense
To me, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” seems to mark a big jump forward in terms of female representation in Hollywood. We have Captain Phasma – who I believe is the first female villain in the Star Wars franchise. And of course, we have you – the first female Stormtrooper.
Do you think this is a sign that the “powers that be” in Hollywood are shifting towards a more fair and inclusive attitude? Or do you think it’s just a case of people trying to tick boxes?
“JJ Abrams has stated that he wants gender parity within his company Bad Robot, and Disney has a very strict policy about diversity in casting. So I think there are people in positions of power who are actively working to improve inclusive workplaces and develop inclusive media.
“Whatever your own hang-ups about diversity may be, the bottom line is that diverse projects make money”
From an economic standpoint, movies about women and directed by women pull in huge amounts of money. So the people who don’t understand that there is a diversity problem, or people who don’t care that there is a diversity problem, and don’t care about diversity from a “fairness” or representational perspective, should be able to look at the numbers and accept that whatever their own hang-ups about diversity may be, the bottom line is that diverse projects make money.
Resistance to diversity seems to be mostly from people who have never had any trouble finding themselves represented on screen (aka white men), and so they have a harder time understanding why representation is important.
On The Force Awakens my role as the female Stormtrooper came about because Bad Robot realised, during a sound mix, that having Phasma as the only woman in armour made no sense. She must have moved up through the ranks and it was only logical that there were other women under the helmets. Lucky for me!”
How Verona landed the role of the first female Stormtrooper
So, I did some digging, and I found a clip where Kylo Ren is walking away from two Stormtroopers. As he is walking away, one of them says to him something like: “Sir, sensors triggered in Hangar 7 18”. I believe that was you! Am I right?
“Yes that’s me! Wahey!”
You probably have that saved as your voicemail message or something, right?
“I mean, I sound like that all the time. They didn’t even filter my voice, it’s just how I sound. So my voicemail is technically always a Stormtrooper now. But now that you mention it I should probably add it to my voice reel.”
So tell me, how exactly did you land that role?
“I worked on The Force Awakens as part of a “loop group”, which is a group of voice actors who create atmosphere sounds in a film. All the crowd scenes, aliens, screaming, background chatter and other secondary dialogue is recorded after principle photography and editing is done.
The group was hand-picked by the team at Skywalker Sound from some of the best voice actors in the business (I am not one of those best actors, incidentally) and people who are close with the Star Wars family. Every single person who worked as part of the group is a massive Star Wars fan. On the day only men recorded Stormtrooper dialogue.
After the initial session I was invited to come back in and record about 6 pages of dialogue. Stormtroopers, officers, and pilots. In the end, one Stormtrooper line, and I think one officer line, ended up in the final mix.”
“Captain Phasma must have moved up the ranks. So it was only logical that there were other women under the helmets!”
I believe your voice also shows up in Star Wars: Rogue One. Doesn’t it feel, like, reaaally cool to have been involved in not just one, but two Star Wars movies? I’m super jealous.
“I did work on Rogue One as well! I was, again, part of the loop group, and this time I scored a sweet part as the voice of the antenna computer on Scarif.”
“When Jyn transmits the Deathstar plans, she sticks the hard drive thingy into the antenna and then realigns it. All those “Antenna realignment” and “Transmitting” lines are me!
I am so so so so grateful that I was asked to work on another Star Wars film. I would LOVE the opportunity, of course, to be on screen in one as well, but to be part of Star Wars history forever, with my name immortalised in shimmering bluish white text in the credits, is the coolest. It’s really a dream come true.”
What else is in the pipeline for Verona?
I’ve watched some of your demo reels. I think you’re awesome. What else do you have in the pipeline? Should we be looking out for you in any future titles? Or is it all “hush hush” at the moment?
“I have a recurring role in the upcoming season of the Amazon Studios show “Bosch” which is a very cool film-noir style crime drama that takes place in LA. The primary cast are incredible and it was a really terrific set. The writers and show runner went up to bat for me on this one and I am incredibly grateful for that.
I also worked on a film last year that I think is finally going to air… I don’t know when, but I think on SyFy channel. It’s a post-apocalyptic explosion-fest called Drone Wars, starring Corin Nemec.
Attention Mad Max casting: please put me in a Mad Max film. Thank you!”
Five quick questions about Star Wars
Finally, you’ve made it more than obvious that you’re a massive Star Wars nerd. So let’s finish with a few fun quick questions about the films, starting with the obvious:
- Which is your favourite Star Wars movie?
“Return of the Jedi jockeys for first place with The Empire Strikes Back. There’s a lot about ROTJ that I love, like the funeral pyre. And honestly? I like the Ewoks. On the other hand, The Empire Strikes Back has so many iconic moments between Luke and Vader. It’s a tough call.
I really loved both The Force Awakens and Rogue One for different reasons. The pacing of TFA is really good for me. I love Rey as a character, and I am hooked by her journey very early. Whenever she has a win, my heart feels very full. I’m positive that part of this is because she is a woman, and having her as the primary character really connects with me.
In Rogue One I was so moved by finally knowing the sacrifices of the Rebellion on a more personal level. A lot of the violence in the original trilogy was sanitised. Alderaan explodes, but you don’t see anyone die. In Rogue One, the violence is very palpable and, frankly, upsetting.
I don’t love the prequels.”
“I love Rey as a character. Whenever she has a win, my heart feels very full.”
- Who is your favourite Star Wars character?
“As I get older I think it becomes Leia, more and more. She is so independent from the outset. She has a steel spine and stands up to the Empire over and over again.”
- If you had to spend the rest of your life as an Ewok or a Wookie, which would you choose?
“The Ewoks have a pretty charmed existence. I don’t know how smart they are but they seem pretty happy.”
- If you could use “The Force”, what would be the first thing you did with it?
“If I could use the force I think I would just become really lazy about fetching items. If I wanted a drink I’d just force-get-it from the kitchen. I would also never touch door handles ever again.
- Would you like your own personal robot like C-3PO?
“C-3PO would drive me crazy. He’s very needy.”
Verona, on behalf of all my colleagues here at People®, thank you so much for spending some time with us. I’m sure our readers will enjoy your answers, and we wish you the very best of luck with your career.
“Thank you for having me!!”
About Verona Blue
Verona Blue is a classically trained actress with a Mohawk. Originally from Toronto, she arrived in Los Angeles by way of Bristol and London, where she received classical voice, movement and text training.
Verona is not exactly the girl next door. Unless you’re the Addams Family. If her bright blue hair isn’t enough to shock you, then her weapons and combat training will. Or perhaps she’ll just play the flute for you – she plays it exceptionally well.
Verona Blue is represented by Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & associates
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