That Phoebe Waller-Bridge walked into her audition to play a droid in Solo: A Star Wars Story without any clear concept of what that actually meant has become a thing of immediate lore, a talk-show anecdote aggregated around the world. What has gone less remarked upon is that, once she did discover that she was, in fact, trying out to play a robot, nothing about her approach to the character really changed anyway.
"Phil [Lord] and Chris [Miller] were like, 'Wow, you're being very loose with the whole droid idea,'" the actress recalled with a laugh in a recent interview with SYFY WIRE, referring to her first meeting with the Star Wars prequel film's original directors. "But then, weirdly, I think that kind of worked in my favor, because that was already in their imagination — that she was looser, and that just really helps with her attitude as well."
Waller-Bridge was brought on board precisely because she brought a different perspective to the droid character, which has largely been a loyal, subservient sidekick in the multi-platform franchise. She is an auteur in her own right, the star and creator of the Amazon comedy Fleabag and the executive producer of the hit BBC America show Killing Eve, as unique in her POV as Lord and Miller. And despite some on-set turmoil that ultimately ousted the LEGO Movie filmmakers, when Ron Howard took over as director, Waller-Bridge was still empowered to give her own spin on the material — as well as her own physical approach to the character.
Which was a very fortunate thing, because playing Lando Calrissian pal L3-37 like any other previous droid would have been just about impossible. Unlike a solid protocol droid like C-3PO, L3 pieced together her own body through scrap parts, making for a very compelling but rickety and ill-fitting physical appearance — and an incredibly imposing challenge for a motion-capture performer.
"The movement was really dictated by the costume, because, I mean, I really couldn't move when I first put it on," she said, laughing. "I was really wobbly, because there's platform shoes with kind of half-moon shape and I was like five or six inches off the ground, and everything was really heavy. The legs were really heavy, and because her legs are so much longer than my legs, the joints aren't where your normal joints are. They wanted a droid to be really flexible, and because she'd created herself, she had created joints that could move in all directions and she could cross her leg and sit slouched in a chair."
As she got used to the motion-capture costume, Waller-Bridge says the filmmakers "actively encouraged me to have more swagger, to walk kind of like in a blokey, rougher way," which was, again, easier said than done.
"It felt really good when I could get a bit of speed up and I could take the bigger leaps — OK, not leaps, that too much to say — but the longer the stride," Waller-Bridge continued, laughing. "I felt more powerful, and I would get so much momentum doing that, then I had to take four steps and then stop. I mean, I was just hopeless. I would just go straight into the wall because the machinery behind me would propel me forward."
That the filmmakers wanted the droid to have more swagger, to be a tough and "blokey" presence, is particularly interesting given the historic nature of this particular droid. L3 is a revolutionary character in many ways. She is the first explicitly female droid (robot gender is still largely an unexplained and unexplored concept), the first socially conscious droid, and the first droid to show any sort of sexual awareness. More on that later — no spoilers here, don't worry — but L3's wokeness was especially important to Waller-Bridge.
"What I loved about her is that she has an agenda, and that she is disgruntled by social injustice," Waller-Bridge says. "It will always be relevant and always be inspiring to see somebody turning themselves into a warrior. But I like that she's starting in kind of a scrappy stage at the beginning when she's just on the ground, just trying to help single little droids in droid battles, and then as we go on she becomes even more revolutionary, and the ideological belief system gets more violent."
Again, no spoilers — though L3 would likely scoff at the sensitivity of fans.