Celebrate Star Wars Day, Game of Thrones, Marvel superheroes, Dr Who and more at Portsmouth Comic Con this weekend
On this year’s Star Wars Day (May the fourth be with you...) where better to be than surrounded by likeminded souls at the second Portsmouth Comic Con?
Following last year’s successful inaugural event, which saw 5,000 fans descend on the Guildhall, it is back bigger and better.
And among the many guests slated to appear is Brian Wheeler, who has appeared in several of the biggest fantasy films of all time, including Return of The Jedi and several in the Harry Potter series.
The then 20-year-old Brian took the path into acting after spotting an advert in his local paper looking for people under 4ft 6in. It was 1982 and the film it was for was Return of The Jedi – the final part of the original Star Wars trilogy.
‘I used to live in Hertfordshire – it was filmed in Elstree – and I guess they wanted as many small people as they could find.
‘I rung up, and they said: “You’ve got the fitting tomorrow”.’
The role was as an Ewok, the fierce teddy bear-like creatures who aid the rebels in their final assault on the evil empire.
‘Fortunately I got the time off work and went for the fitting.’
And he must have done something right, as he got moved on to an extra role as a Jawa, a race of tiny scavengers.
‘There were 50-60 of us as Ewoks, but being moved on to Jabba The Hutt’s palace, there were only four Jawas, so that was quite nice – it was something extra.
‘It was surreal. ‘At first we didn’t meet anyone we were just practising running around and moving in those costumes, because it was quite difficult – we had six inches of foam all over us.
‘When we were on set, we were moved around and told where to go and suddenly Mark Hamill (the saga’s hero Luke Skywalker) turned up.’
Brian admits to being starstruck.
‘You were already in awe to start with - it being your first time in a film.
‘Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) were brought into the village – Mark was just absolutely a diamond, he was lovely, just chatting all the time. Being my first filming, I went around and got all their autographs and he wrote, “To my co-star Brian, thank you very much, Mark Hamill”.
‘Harrison Ford was excellent too – but he was more aloof. He’d been around a bit and was a big star. And seeing Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) in the flesh, she was gorgeous.’
But because he spent so much time on the set, he lost his day job. Brian, though, had got the acting bug and never looked back.
‘I stayed in the business and kept an agent. I did corporate gigs and things like that, then I did NeverEnding Story. I was told: “Get a passport, you’re going to Germany”. I met up with six other small people at the airport and filmed that, It was an absolute cracker – it taught me so much about life and about filming and how to behave.
‘I was with one of the older lads, Albert Wilkinson, who’d been an Oompa Loompa in the original Willy Wonka, and I talked with him loads, he’d been in the industry for so many years, I just sat down and listened and learned. I didn’t have any acting school learning, so I had to learn on the job.
‘NeverEnding Story was quite an amazing one because it’s such a big part of so many people’s childhoods.’
And he was also in several of the Harry Potter films.
‘My first one was Goblet of Fire and I was a cheerleader in the Quidditch final, then I got asked to do the Half-Blood Prince, which was four hours of full-makeup as one of the bankers.
‘Then in Deathly Hallows, I was Warwick Davies’ understudy, which is quite funny, because he’s quite a bit shorter than me.’
But his favourite film role was in the 2004, Gerard Butler-starring adaptation of The Phantom Of the Opera.
‘Joel Schumacher was an excellent director – every morning he came and said “hello” to me. I was the only small person on that one, and I was on it for months.
‘I had my own dresser and everything.’
Other guests at the Comic Con include Will Simpson, the lead storyboard artist behind medieval fantasy epic Game of Thrones, as well as major names from the world of comics, Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Tommy Lee Edwards, Tomm Coker, Declan Shalvey, The Etherington Brothers, Kieron Gillen and many more.
There will also be a carnival of cosplay for those who want to dress up, with sections dedicated to film, comics, gaming, and a Stan Lee tribute.
PORTSMOUTH COMIC CON