The Rise of Babu Frik: How Shirley Henderson Brought the Smallest Fighter of the Resistance to Life

The Harry Potter universe is pretty cool, obviously. But Star Wars is also pretty awesome. With May the Fourth just behind us, it seemed like a decent time to talk about one more important character from the Star Wars franchise.

In the latest chapter of the series, The Rise of Skywalker, Babu Frik is a small but mighty character and is voiced by the one and only Shirley Henderson. Henderson is known for her portrayal of Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter movies. In a recent article from Vanity Fair, Henderson talks about her adventures as a tiny space creature and how she brought Babu Frik to life.

To become Babu, Henderson was put in a unique position behind the cameras. Normally, with animatronics on movie sets, a special effects crew will work the mechanisms of the creature to capture movements, the voice actor will speak their parts, and everything is added together to form the version we see in theaters. However, on the set of The Rise of Skywalker, Henderson was tasked with both jobs – at the same time. She says “it was a bit frightening” learning it all since she didn’t know it was going to happen. Babu is controlled with what looks like a really big remote control. Joysticks control the head, arms, mouth, and neck, moved by Henderson. While she moves Babu, she speaks his parts at the same time. It’s probably easier said than done. But with a little practice and help from her dialect coach, Henderson was able to get the part down pat.

Being introduced to the character was a big secret until Henderson met with J.J. Abrams, who directed the film, to audition for a part.

Then the day arrived. I was taken into J.J.’s office and we said hello. Still, there were no real clues — so I just hunched down on the ground and made myself as small as I could and started talking as I thought the character might. Minutes later, J.J. brought in a tiny model of an old man, set it down on the coffee table, and said, ‘This is Babu Frik.’

It took several months of work and stages to get Babu movie ready.

It was months later that I arrived at the studios to start to become Babu. The engineers and designers had created a model that the puppeteers and [I] could play with to learn and discover how Babu moved and the kind of voice he had and the language he used. As a team, we would offer up little sequences for J.J. to look at and give feedback on before we ever got to the actual set for filming. It was precious time for the puppeteers to find a rhythm with the model and what it was capable of—and for me to learn the workings of the mouth and to play with vocal ideas.

Babu Frik’s voice is something very original in itself as well. Working with J.J. Abrams and a dialect coach is what really brings the creature to life.

I worked with the very brilliant [dialect coach] Jill McCullough on the voice. As with J.J., I would offer up vocal suggestions and sounds and ticks, and she would remind me of them and help me to hold onto them so that we could, on any filming day, source all these bits of Babu at a second’s notice. His voice was just a feeling I looked for inside when trying to speak as him.

Shirley Henderson definitely let this little space creature make a big impact in the movie world. May the Force be with you all!

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