Playing the role of Chewbacca in "Star Wars" required many things of actor Peter Mayhew.
He had to sit in makeup chairs for countless hours. He had to stuff his 7-foot 3-inch frame into tight set spaces like the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. He spent time visiting zoos to study animal movements he would later apply to Chewbacca.
One thing he didn't have to do was provide the famous moan/growl of the fictional Wookie.
"It was later added to the film," Mayhew said of Chewbacca's voice. "It was actually the sounds of a brown bear and a dog."
But that didn't mean Mayhew remained quiet in the Millennium Falcon while seated next to Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).
"When we were filming, I'd have to make noises, which were taken out afterwards, in order to interact with the other actors," the 63-year-old said from his home in Texas.
"I knew my voice was never going to be used, so I'd have a bit of fun of it. With Carrie, Mark and Harrison around, that was never hard to do. I'd make weird high-pitched noises just to get a laugh out of them."
Mayhew is the man behind the mask, the actor who portrayed Chewbacca, a more than two-century-old Wookie from the tree-filled planet Kashyyyk, in four of the six "Star Wars" films. He'll attend an autograph session from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday at Acme Comics & Collectibles, 1622 Pierce St.
While Mayhew doesn't own a Chewbacca costume, he was glad to put one on again a few years ago to reprise the role in "Revenge of the Sith."
"It's a mohair suit and totally flexible. The headpiece was a face costume, which means I used my own eyes, mouth and I could hear, unlike other characters like Vader or C-3P0. It was hot and humid, but it wasn't that bad."
It was on the "Sith" set Mayhew was given the respect due someone who had battled the dark side of the force in the '70s and '80s.
"Most of the actors were young when 'Star Wars' came out and were fans before they ever became actors," Mayhew said, referencing 'Sith' stars like Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor. "There was a little bit of an edge to it as you are their icon or hero, call it what you want. It was very, very flattering."
Mayhew feels lucky to have landed the role of Chewbacca in the epic sci-fi franchise. He admits it was luck that led him to acting.
Mayhew was working at a London hospital as a orderly in the mid-'70s when his feet were featured in a newspaper article about men with large ones. By chance, the photo was noticed by the producers of "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger." Mayhew was soon acting in a bit role alongside Jane Seymour.
Then, super producer George Lucas came calling. Mayhew jumped at the chance to act again, but he wasn't initially too impressed with the "Star Wars" production.
"Think about it. This was a B-movie with a budget of roughly $10 million, which is insignificant compared to most films. Who knew back in those days what that particular movie was going to do?
"It was a question of getting the special effects right. We never knew how good the special effects would be until we completed most of the main shoot. It was a surprise to everybody what George and his team were able to produce."
Mayhew actually wasn't the first choice to play Chewbacca. The offer first went out to David Prowse, who eventually opted to play the man inside the Darth Vader suit (James Earl Jones' voice was latter added).
Mayhew has struggled to find acting work outside of the "Star Wars" world, but he doesn't have to. Nowadays he travels the world with his wife attending sci-fi conventions, nearly 30 a year. He enjoys interacting with the rabid fans who clamor for his autograph.
And for the record, Mayhew doesn't believe in "The Force."
"I really don't. I believe that certain things will happen and it's up to the individual to rise up and take advantage."