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Interview: Tim Dry

Tim Dry’s own bio describes him as someone “with a very low boredom threshold.” A quick look through his long, diverse, and very much ongoing career would certainly seem to point towards someone with a weak tolerance for standing still.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. His body of work, encompassing film (including, perhaps most famously, a credit for Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi), music, photography, music, mime, and writing, is fascinating. No matter which aspect of his creative resume you happen to pay attention to, whether it’s his work as a writer, a photographer, an actor, a musician, or whatever he’s up to (a current collaborative project, The Lenzkirch Advent, combines potent horror elements with music, writing, animation to create a fascinating, bizarre anti-advent calendar), you can be sure it’s going to leave an interesting impression on your psyche.

Although he is primarily writing these days (upcoming pieces include his novella, Ricochet, and a short story offering in Dean M. Drinkel’s Demonology anthology) his music remains one of the most distinct, unique aspects of his career. Anyone fortunate enough to witness the dance/music/theater/burlesque/what-the-hell-did-I-just-watch troupe SHOCK in the 1980’s (a group that included Barbie Wilde) will tell you that Dry’s musical imagination is a very bizarre, rich territory indeed. You don’t need to look any further than Tik and Tok, an extremely successful mime and music duo he co-created in the 1980’s (and who resurfaced in 2007) with Sean Crawford to get a sense of what Dry has accomplished in music alone. He seems to prefer working with others on music projects, including his current venture, TIMANDMO, with guitarist Mo Blackford, but Dry’s mark on every musical project he has ever been involved with has been distinctive. It has revealed his dry, unapologetic sense of humor, his penchant for making strange look as casual as breathing, and his incredible capacity as a storyteller.

Because of that strong narrative quality that informs his music, his transition to music makes sense. His work as an actor is impressive, yes, and has included dozens of commercials, a ridiculous cult horror classic (Xtro), and a couple of hosting gigs. The best of his work as a performer continues that trend of being able to tell a story. But as comfortable as he might be on stage or behind a camera, I have to admit that so far his writing is what I’m enjoying the most in his oeuvre. Besides his 2005 autobiography, Falling Upwards, Star Wars fans can check out his e-book, Continuum,detailing his experiences with Return of the Jedi, and with Star Wars fandom in general. Visit his Facebook page, and it won’t take very long for you to want to read those, or anything else he might release as a writer, for that matter. In his non-fiction, he has a fantastic knack for telling humorous stories filled with wit, intelligence, and a remarkable memory. And that’s good, because a career such as his is going to have a lot of stories to go along with it. He’s told quite a few so far, but something tells me he has a hell of a lot more to relate to us. I’m okay with that. Every story of Tim Dry’s that I’ve read so far has simply served to make me up for another one. He also has a habit for crafting stories that make me wish I had been there to see them unfold.

*An uncut version of this interview will appear in the first issue of Drunk Monkeys magazine, available on the Amazon Kindle store March 3, 2013*

Drunk Monkeys: I suppose the first thing people would want me to ask you about are your experiences from working on Return of the Jedi. I’m aware that you have a book coming out on the subject, but do you think I could compel you to tell us a little bit about it anyway?

Tim Dry: In January 1982 I was asked by my mime teacher to come to an audition at his London school. He’d been contacted by one of the Producers of the third Star Wars film as they were looking for mime artists to play alien creatures in the employ of an intergalactic bad boy named Jabba the Hutt. Myself and six or seven others got the job. I was enormously pleased because I absolutely loved the first movies. Filming was hard work but great and exciting fun. Sean and I were like kids in a sweetshop. We even bought our primitive (at that point) musical equipment into our dressing room so that we could play around with some sounds in between set ups. We got on well with Mark Hamill, as he was closest to our age. We directed him towards a couple of London nightclubs of the alternative kind that we thought he’d enjoy visiting. He did!

Image © Lucasfilm

Image © Lucasfilm

[In writing the book], I wanted to set down, in my own way, what it was like to be a performer in one of the biggest grossing movies of all time. How it was filmed, the costume, the mechanics of film making on a vast scale, the star system, the sets, George Lucas’ vision, how I got the job in the first place and more. Then moving forwards to recount some of the things that I did creatively afterwards, because life didn’t cease once I’d wrapped on Jedi, and then to describe the wonder and insane surrealism of being an autograph guest at Conventions all over the world.

DM: Something I loved about the biography available on your personal site was the line about having “a very low boredom threshold.” Why do you think that is?

TD: I suppose that I’ve always wanted to just glean what I feel to be useful from a discipline or a technique in order to try and do what I see in my head and then to move on before things become stale and repetitive. But, for me personally, it seems that I master enough to make the impact but never enough to truly become greatly proficient in any one medium. I do see it as one of my many failings in fact. I have a great fear of repetition. I realized that when I had to take menial jobs in school or college holidays. For example: peeling endless potatoes in a cold water sink in the kitchen of a hospital, loading mailbags onto trains, filing tax forms into cabinets. Oh, it’s a long list.

I just have a short attention span. Somehow I’m like a magpie, just flitting from one glittering artifact to another in order to furnish my creative nest. I have to say that this weakness has played havoc with any form of financial stability over the years and has been the ruin of quite a few relationships with the opposite sex too. Ho hum! Maybe it’s because I’m an only child and was never really disciplined in the way that perhaps I should have been?

DM: I know you’re primarily writing these days, but what would say is the most satisfying aspect of your career?

TD: I am pretty much satisfied with some, but most definitely not all, elements of every little venture that I’ve undertaken over the decades. Be it in performance, music, photographic art or writing. But there is a part of me that will never, ever be completely satisfied with anything that I create. Maybe that’s the same for any creative person? Or is that just my own particular cross that I’ve chosen to bear? But the great thing is, is that you can pour your true feelings, fears and emotions into an artistic medium and there will always be an audience for it. However small!

DM: Tell us about your experiences studying mime in London during the late 70’s. What attracted you to this aspect of performance?

TD: In the first half of 1972 in suburban London I was privileged enough to witness two live shows by David Bowie just before he became Ziggy Stardust for real. In these shows he’d already fused tight rock ‘n’ roll music with an unbeatable image, spacey and dystopian lyrics and a galactic beauty and haircut that transcended anything that had come before. I was absolutely blown away by what could be achieved by introducing theatricality into Rock performance. I discovered that Lindsay Kemp had trained him. I’d been aware of and much admired Marcel Marceau before this as the consummate and now sadly clichéd “Mime Artiste”, but Lindsay showed us that mime and dance could be sexy, dark, dangerous, balletic, decadent and poetic all at once. I was hooked by his shows ‘Flowers’ and ‘Salome’ that were shown in London in ’75-’77. I saw them many times.

I also saw The Rocky Horror Show in a tiny theatre on the King’s Road in Chelsea, London in 1975 with its attendant outrageousness and I thought: “I want some of this. Where do I sign up?” So I found out. And I was off! I moved to London, trained with a wonderful mime tutor named Desmond Jones and also did classes with the mighty Lindsay Kemp too. In 1977 I was a VERY happy boy! I’d left my hometown again, was in London and passionate about this wonderful, pretty much unknown art form.

DM: It was at least partially your work as a mime that led you to join the group SHOCK in the early 80’s. Can you tell us how that came about?

TD: Sometime in ’79, Barbie and I were asked by a friend of ours who had a boutique in World’s End, King’s Road, Chelsea called ‘The Liberated Lady’ to be living mannequins in the window to promote their relaunch. As we literally lived just around the corner we agreed. So we did our stint in the window, and then had a break. During which we watched in wonderment as this young couple were energetically doing some kind of pervy and very loose form of jive inside the shop. They managed somehow not to maim each other or indeed anyone else. They looked great and had enormous energy. We were most impressed! B and I then had to do a couple of mime pieces on the tiny, tiny stage inside the shop. All I remember is that I was wearing a pair of skin-tight, leopard skin, Lycra leggings and a black top. Don’t even ask, okay? What Barbie ended up in I can’t recall. Anyway, the dancing couple revealed themselves to be Robert Pereno and his blonde girlfriend Lowri Ann Richards. They were ex-drama drama students from the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. We were impressed. And so were they with us. Sweet!

A couple of months later I’m at home alone, B was visiting her folks back in the US, and the phone rings. It’s Robert. He says that he’s got this disco/dance group called Shock together but someone’s left and would I be up for doing a couple of mimey things with them NEXT WEEK at this major funk club in a posh part of London’s West End? Oh yes, absolutely! We rehearsed, did the show; everyone there loved the combination. Robert demands that I join Shock. I say yes, but only if Barbie joins too when she’s back? Okay! We are OFF!!

DM: Any experiences from your time with SHOCK that still stand out to you today?

TD: Supporting Gary Numan for three nights at Wembley Arena on his ‘Farewell’ dates in April 1981. 7,000 people per night. Being asked to support newcomer Prince at The Ritz in New York during our 12-day stay. Ten days in Bangkok in a nightclub atop a tower block. The promoter ‘Mysteriously shot himself in the leg’ the week before we got there. Uh huh! A Lieutenant in the local Thai Police Force letting me fire his .44 Magnum and offering Robert and myself to pick from a cluster of satin-dressed hookers in the hotel lobby. We declined.

DM: Believe it or not, but I actually do know some people who remember the movie Xtro. How did you come to be involved with that?

TD: Why you say believe it or not cheeky boy? Xtro is becoming big news! In the US it’s a cult! I’m going to be doing a voice over commentary for it shortly for ‘Without Your Head’ with Annabelle Lecter and Neal Jones. And that’s apart from appearing at Horror Cons signing myself as The Alien on pictures and impregnating young women who will shortly thereafter give birth to a fully-grown man.

I got the job in the movie, along with Sean ‘Tok’ Crawford, back in early ’82, after we’d done Return Of The Jedi, because we were doing our Robotic Cabaret at a very trendy cocktail bar in London’s West End named ‘Coconut Grove’. Two of the producers of what would become to be known asXtro, saw our act and told us of this film that they were putting together. It would involve Aliens, sex, prosthetics, transformation, death, rebirth, clowns, black panthers and – Whoa! Yep, got it! We’ll do it! And so we did. It was a miserably under-financed and ill-scripted venture by people too stoned to care better. So what? If people like it now I do not have a problem with that!

I co-host a fortnightly film club in London’s Soho with Robert Pereno, who was also in SHOCK andXtro, and on February 4th we’re showing Xtro and on the same evening we’re having a book launch for Barbie Wilde and her book The Venus Complex. Fangoria magazine are doing an article on the movie and will be interviewing me for that, so people are interested again.

DM: What are some of your favorite, or perhaps simply the most interesting, acting gigs from over the course of your career?

TD: To be honest I didn’t actually do that much proper acting. SON obviously is most current. I performed and produced a heart- rending one man play by Steven Berkoff called Harry’s Christmassome years back and I was very, very pleased with that. I did several what we call in the UK ‘Fringe Productions’, kind of off-off-off Broadway, I guess, but I always preferred film and TV. And I especially loved being featured in Commercials. I did over 90 of them and I just really enjoyed those 30″ or sometimes 3′ mini-movies. I have played devils, vampires, businessmen, gigolos, artists, aliens, nerds, burglars, chefs, odd husbands, jesters and many, many more. I have done my token 2 or 3 lines in UK TV shows like EastendersThe BillCasualtyDempsey & Makepeace and many more, but there’s no real satisfaction to be gleaned from that type of work to be honest. I’ve never really seen myself as an ‘Actor’. That’s what grown-ups do! I’m much more of a physical and visual entertainer.

DM: You worked again with Sean on the TIK & TOK CD ‘Dream Orphans’. Any chance that we’ll get to see you crazy kids get together a third time?

TD: Sadly not. After releasing Dream Orphans through our website and having done a couple of PAs at Electronica nightclubs in London, we realized that there’s pretty much nothing else that we can bring to the table now. Personally speaking, I’m always up for anything but Sean has family and work commitments and I have to respect that.

I am very, very proud of what we managed to achieve in the ’80s and the fact that people still remember us and talk about us is very gratifying indeed. We’ve become a little part of England’s media and fashion history. I’m very pleased with Dream Orphans. I think it’s a great album and as some reviewers said in many ways it carries on from where we left off back in 1984 but brings it bang up to date. The album is like a journey; it starts laid back and ambient, and then builds to a full head of electronic steam!

DM: Tell us a bit about your upcoming novella, Ricochet, and your short story for Dean M. Drinkel’s Demonology anthology. Is there anything else we can look forward to?

TD: Ricochet can be described thus: And of course everything, everywhere happened and will continue to happen at exactly the same time. A graphic novel without any pictures! A series of random events that may or may not be connected.

Dean asked me if I’d like to contribute a short story to his upcoming anthology Demonology because I’d sent him an extract or two from ‘Ricochet’. He liked them enough to want me on board. And I’m very grateful for that. Because it shows that I can write fiction as well as just writing about my past experiences and myself. Next up, and also for Dean M Drinkel, is a short story for his soon to come anthology titled Phobophobias. I have been assigned the letter ‘N’ and my story will be a twisted tale of a phobia that starts with that letter. This is a sequel to the previously published and successful collection of short stories called Phobophobia from 2011.

And apart from the aforementioned contribution from myself to The Lenzkirch Advent I have ideas for more short stories that I hope will be published in various collections in the near future.

DM: What would you say has most influenced your decision to focus on writing at this point in your career?

TD: Well it’s very portable! I don’t need masses of equipment, a stage, an audience or instruments, cameras, darkrooms, make-up, costumes or other people! But most relevant is the fact that right now I do feel that I have explored to the best of my ability the other creative areas in which I’ve worked. I’ve always written, ever since I was a young boy and it’s a medium that I feel strangely comfortable with. I’ve written the lyrics for pretty much every song that I have been involved in recording since 1981. Although writing is by nature a solitary creative activity it does grant me a degree of comfort and privacy. I can do it whenever and wherever I want and I guess it’s that mobility that enchants me. And after all, should I create despicable characters or disgustingly sick turns of events, they are luckily removed from my true self and therefore I am not accountable and am free to take them to the limits. I’m pretty sure that writing stories for children or those of a weak disposition is not a foreseeable option. Luckily!

Follow Tim Dry and all of his upcoming projects on his website.

An uncut version of this interview will appear in the first edition of Drunk Monkeys magazine, due out March 3, 2013.