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The Mandalorian's Emily Swallow on the Armorer's secrets and the Baby Yoda puppet
The Mandalorian has come, and it has conquered. The first Star Wars live-action television series has proved to be a fantastic addition to the lore of the galaxy far, far away, and it has done it in only three episodes.
One of the more interesting characters featured thus far is the Armorer, a mysterious Mandalorian "blacksmith" who specializes in forging Beskar armor and knows far more than she lets on. She's played by Emily Swallow, who lent her talents to Castlevania and Supernatural before boarding the new Disney+ series.
SYFY WIRE caught up with Emily Swallow on the latest episode of our podcast about Star Wars, Jabba the Pod, where the woman behind the studded helmet talked about how her theater background helped her emote through her Mando helmet, inspiration from Deborah Chow, Baby Yoda, and much more.
*WARNING: There are spoilers ahead for Chapters 1 and 3 of The Mandalorian. If you are not caught up and do not wish to be spoiled, consider this your official spoiler klaxon.*
Despite playing a mysterious character in an incredibly secretive show, Swallow was able to glean a lot of information early on in production.
"First I had the scenes and no bigger script, and then I was allowed to read the script for my episodes, and then I was allowed to read a few more scripts," she says. "But most of what I got came from talking with John Favreau and Dave Filoni, and they didn't go so far as to assign me like, okay, this is exactly like where your armor came from and where she's going. But they told me a lot about where the inspiration for the character came from, which was incredibly helpful to me."
While she adds that she is glad that the character "knows so much and she's revealing so little," she admits that the practicalities of filming with two or more fully armored and helmeted Mandos — which adds to the characters' mystery — on one set can get a little silly.
"It's ridiculous. I keep saying, I really hope that at some point they release a blooper reel, because when you put like two or more Mandalorians in a room together, chaos ensues, because we have no peripheral vision," she says. "I was wearing those fantastic gloves for welding, but it was so hard for me to actually pick things up. There were so many times when they needed me to pick something up and I just couldn't get a grip on it, or I would drop it. So it was really to my advantage that the armor does move very slowly, because that kept me from quite as many collisions as I might've had."
Despite these challenges, Swallow is able to convey a huge amount of character from behind her visor, and a big theatrical background (as well as some mask training) definitely helped with that.
"We were shooting those at the same time," Swallow explains. "Both of those directors really gave us time and space to kind of learn the language of these masks and this armor, because we did learn very quickly that, the obvious thing that you can't emote with your eyes or your face or anything, but also that like really tiny movements could have great value, and that can be wonderful or that could be potentially very confusing in a scene, if you had a little twitch that draws the eye could wind up totally distracting from what you're trying to do in the scene. I feel like we all learned the language of the Mandalorians together and what we're capable of with the masks and what kind of the rules that we needed to play by."
When it came to Deborah Chow, Swallow definitely drew some direct inspiration from the way Chow handled a set. "There was this ease that I saw to the way she directed that I think just draws people to her," she says. "I think I saw that in her, and I recognize that that could be useful to the armor ... especially in that scene in Episode 3 when there's this fight breaking out right next to her, a lot of metal armor clanking together, guys being guys ... she doesn't raise her voice. She sits there and lets it play out. She stops it at exactly the right moment, and she's able to calm everybody in that room down without being forceful. And that, I think, is something that I saw Deb do."
Though (as yet) we've only seen the Armorer in her foundry, Swallow did say that she was able to visit many of the other sets for the series. For the first episodes she was working on, they had two soundstages with sets in them. "I definitely got to see a lot of tunnels and sewers and stuff," she says. "And then I got to see one of the soundstages where they had his ship, and they had a lot of the green-screen stuff that they were doing with that when he lands in different places."
"I remember there was a day early on that soundstage," she adds. "I remember seeing this really cool ship that we've all come to know now, against this green screen. And then George Lucas had come to set that day to surprise John for his birthday, and he's standing there holding court ... telling some stories about when he was making the movies, and he's surrounded by people who are just completely caught up in what he's saying. And it was just incredible to see him standing there, to see this awesome ship that they built against a green screen, because who knew at that moment which world the ship was sitting in?"
"It kind of took me back to like being a little kid when I first saw those movies, and that was the feeling that was so special to onset," she continues. "It sort of felt like we had incredible craftsmen working on the props and working on the costumes and working on the sets."
Some of the incredible crafts and props (and puppets), of course, include the now-famous Baby Yoda, who Swallow got to meet in person.
"I fell in love with it like everybody else," she says, adding, "And it does look so real. It's so deceptive."
And if the Armorer were to create some Mando armor for the Child? Swallow admits that the armor would likely be cute, because, "how could it not be ... on that little creature?"
For our entire interview with Emily Swallow (as well as some additional Star Wars news and information on The Mandalorian), listen to a special bonus episode of Jabba the Pod, which is embedded below. This is the way.