The showrunner, who crafted a critically acclaimed show by encouraging people to forget they were working in a galaxy far, far away, recalls advice to his collaborators: "You're here because we want you to be real."
When Tony Gilroy joined the Star Wars galaxy to reconfigure Rogue One, he was unafraid to make the tough choices. His superpower, as he called it, was that he wasn’t a lifelong Star Wars fan, allowing him to take some big swings such as sacrificing Rogue’s main characters. Gilroy certainly became a fan of the franchise during his time on Rogue, paving the way for him to join Andor as creator/showrunner once previous development stalled.
When the series eventually entered into production, Gilroy noticed that his collaborators were altering their behavior and performance because of their nostalgia for Star Wars. So he had to encourage them to put aside their fondness as best they could.
“In every department, we’ve had all kinds of people come in, and they know it’s Star Wars, so they change their behavior. They change their attitude. They change their thing,” Gilroy tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And you go, ‘Wait, no. Do your thing. You’re here because we want you to be real.’ So it’s a testament to the potent power of Star Wars. It really gets into people’s heads, but to change the lane and do it this way, it takes a little effort.”
Gilroy, who’s directed thrillers such as Michael Clayton and The Bourne Legacy, was originally going to helm a portion of Andor season one until Covid-19 upended that plan. There was also a hope that he was going to be able to direct a block of season two, but he admits that the job of showrunner is too demanding of his time.
“I am not [directing in season two]. I can’t. This job is just too huge. I don’t have the time to spare. It’s a really poor use of my time,” Gilroy says. “[Director] Ari [Ariel] Kleiman is out in Pinewood. We start shooting in November. He started prepping three weeks ago. He’s got his hands full out there just to get to November. There was some fantasy that I would end up doing the last block, but I just can’t, to be honest with you.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Gilroy also discusses the ambitious Andor “manifesto” he wrote for Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy, at a time when the company had cooled on a previous creative team’s iteration.
Well, Tony, Andor is exactly what I’ve been waiting for from Star Wars.
Wow, let’s just finish there. We’re done.
Have a nice day!
So I used to believe that Star Wars filmmakers needed to be lifelong Star Wars fans, but thanks to you, I no longer hold that opinion. Andor feels wholly unique to Star Wars, and I think it’s because you’re not coming from a place of nostalgia. So do you still believe that not being a lifelong fan is your “superpower”?
I think it imprinted on Rogue because that was my point of entry. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it. It just wasn’t on my radar. I wasn’t in awe of it. So when I came in here to futz around and repair [Rogue One], I knew I’d do my thing. I was going to bring my thing here. And it worked. We won, and then everybody was incredibly euphoric and everything. So my sort of imprinting experience was, “Well, that’s how you do it.” And that’s what I do. That’s the way to go. So I didn’t have to relearn that.
It’s really fascinating. We have this experience all the time. In every department, we’ve had all kinds of people come in, and they know it’s Star Wars, so they change their behavior. They change their attitude. They change their thing. An actor will come in off a Ken Loach movie or something, they’ll put on a Star Wars [costume], and all of a sudden, this great actor, who auditioned for you and didn’t know what it really was, starts acting differently. And you go, “Wait, no. Do your thing. You’re here because we want you to be real.” So it’s a testament to the potent power of Star Wars. It really gets into people’s heads, but to change the lane and do it this way, it takes a little effort. It’s interesting.
I just referenced your conversation with writer Brian Koppelman in 2017, and at the time, it sounded like you didn’t expect to return to Star Wars. What brought you back?
They tried to do a couple different versions of this show along the way. I wasn’t really interested, but the people that were trying it were feeling a little bit trapped in what we just discussed, this reverence for Star Wars. But they were also kind of inhibited because the economics weren’t really in place for large-scale streaming at that point. The economics to make a show like this, there wasn’t anybody who was going to spend that kind of money on a show. Now, there’s a bunch of aircraft carriers that are floating around; this is becoming a normal thing. (Laughs.)
But along the way, Kathy [Kennedy] sent me one of the pilots that they were thinking about, but had grown cool on, and she asked what I thought. And in some sort of … I don’t know. I had time. I was in some sort of manic thing, and so I just got on it for a couple days. So I wrote this big manifesto for her. “This is what your show should be like. This is what you should never do. This is why this doesn’t work.” So it was a crazy thing, and it was wildly ambitious. And they were like, “Well, that’s really great. Thanks for helping us know what’s wrong, but we could never do this.” Then they tried a couple other things, and when everything had gone cold, there was a moment where, my God, streaming was whoa. Now we can really do it.
So they went back and pulled this old memo, and they were like, “We want to do this now.” They wanted to be that ambitious on this scale, and the timing was right for me. I had a bunch of other things fall apart. I was getting a little tired of things falling apart, and the one thing that they definitely have is an audience. So it wasn’t an overnight thing that you tiptoe into. It takes a long time. Everybody tiptoes forward, but that’s how it came to be.
The Volume is amazing technology, but nothing beats the old ways of building sets and shooting on location. Thus, Andor’s production value is immaculate. Did you lobby to shoot on location and build massive sets? Was that a prerequisite for you?
It wasn’t really an issue. When I came on, Sanne Wohlenberg was the producer of record. She came with the existing pieces of the show. So Sanne was there, but I didn’t know her. She had just done Chernobyl, and it was sort of a shotgun marriage. So here we were together, and I had no idea that she was just going to be this rockstar producer.
And so the first decision you have to make is who’s going to be your production designer. Even in writing, my first call is to the production designer, because everything we do has to be designed. So we put a marker down. It was kind of a test for Disney: “How serious are you?” We didn’t want to go with any of the traditional Star Wars people. We wanted [production designer] Luke Hull, who was like 12 years old and had just done Chernobyl. He’s just a fricking genius, but non-Star Wars in every way. So we brought him over. As I was doing the [series] bible, I wrote the first three episodes as a sort of a test.
In a perfect world, we’d be able to shoot location and shoot old school, and then we’d use the Volume when we want to use it. There are times when the Volume would be really good for us, but the technology doesn’t exist to do both. You have to make a choice at this point because of the workflow on the Volume. All your post-production has to be done beforehand. You have to shoot all of your plates. Everything has to be done. When you go in the Volume, everything’s done. You’re just adding the actors.
Our system is completely different. We shoot everything with the actors, and we build out from there if we need to build out. And those two systems, maybe there’s somebody who’s doing it, but economically, you can’t do [both]. So, automatically, we were just like, “We have to be a build show.” It wasn’t a controversy, really. I saw it get turned into a controversy the other day, but it’s not like that at all. There are times where we’d love to use it. It does some great things.
When you invent the past, you recontextualize the future. So will this story change the way we look at Rogue One?
Yes, definitely. (Gilroy smiles.)
Cassian not only owes money to people, but he’s also in a situation where the walls are closing in on him. And so for anyone who’s familiar with your past work, they know that this is right in your wheelhouse. Do you recognize any other through-lines?
Oh my God, yeah. I haven’t changed one single bit. I do the same thing I’ve always done. From the moment I figured out how to really do it, or evolved into it, I’ve never changed my process. I bring my game and my system. I haven’t changed to do this.
Stellan Skarsgard’s character, Luthen Rael, is already one of the most fascinating characters in Star Wars. My favorite moment of the series so far is in episode four, when Nicholas Britell’s theme plays over him as he readies himself on his ship and cracks a wry smile.
Oh my God, isn’t that gorgeous? We just finished the score three weeks ago. [Writer’s Note: This interview took place on Aug. 5th.] We just finished mixing episode 12 the day before yesterday, and people are going to flip out over what Nick has done. This job is just so intense, and there’s so much going on. Nick lives 11 blocks away from me in New York, and so I would just go to his house to work. For two years, we’ve been doing the music, and going to his house is really like going to church. We’ve just had so much fun. Seven hours of music. It’s an entirely new vocabulary for Star Wars, and I’m really proud of the score.
Luthen is the noble Gus Fring of Coruscant, I suppose. How did he come to be?
That man is really tricky. In the beginning, you’re like, “Oh God, secret identity. How are we going to do it? It’s going to be cheesy. What do they do?” Stellan’s character has two personas. He owns a gallery in Coruscant, and he’s an aesthete. He’s a courtier in a way, and then he’s natural Luthen out in the world.
One day, when we were developing the whole thing, Stellan goes, “Ah, the wigs … It’s really just the hands.” And I go, “What do you mean?” And he goes, “Well, natural Luthen is this, and Luthen of Coruscant is this. That’s all it is.” (Gilroy mimicked Skarsgard’s voice and mannerisms.) So it was one of those things that I was really worried about and nervous about. It’s always the case on every show, but the things you don’t worry about are the ones that bite you in the ass. So I was really, really worried about this, but all those issues took care of themselves along the way. That, very elegantly, worked out. Yeah, I love Luthen of Coruscant.
There are characters on Andor who weren’t in Rogue or the original Star Wars movies, so some viewers will mistakenly believe that they all have to die to explain their future absence in separate stories written long before this one. However, life can exist off screen. So what can you say about the fates of these new characters?
We literally have around 200 speaking parts in the first 12 episodes. When I figured out season two, I had to make about 30 phone calls to the actors that I knew were going to go forward. I had to call them up and say, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking. This is when you live. This is when you die. This is how many episodes you’re in.” I mean, the body count is high all the way through, but people live. It’s a revolution. It’s a very intense period of time. People are doing very dangerous things. Some people live and some people don’t. How do we know who lives or dies at the end from the previous Star Wars? You wouldn’t know. I mean, there’s people buried in Yavin. Who knows who’s there.
Are you going to direct in season two?
I am not. I can’t. This job is just too huge. I don’t have the time to spare. It’s a really poor use of my time. Ari [Ariel] Kleiman is out in Pinewood. I was out there this morning. We start shooting in November. He started prepping three weeks ago. He’s got his hands full out there just to get to November. I have all the rest of the things I have to do. There was some fantasy that I would end up doing the last block, but I just can’t, to be honest with you.
So the directors who’ve come in have all been great, and they’re really ambitious. They’re really greedy. You need an extra retrorocket to go off when it’s time to direct. When someone else comes in and says, “Man, I want to make this great. I want to make it better,” it’s really exciting. So I can say that I’m not directing. I’ll be here [in Pinewood], but I’m not directing.
You often work with the brothers Gilroy, but I somehow didn’t realize that Dan was also involved as a writer. Did he take to the Star Wars galaxy pretty quickly?
Yeah, Dan Gilory can do anything. He’s a freak.
Andor’s first three episodes are now streaming on Disney+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.