This post contains spoilers for “The Mandalorian” season 3, episode 3, “The Convert.”
Forging beskar armor, sharing ancient wisdom — for Emily Swallow’s Armorer on “The Mandalorian,” “this is the way.” Everyone’s favorite smith returned to kick things off in the season 3 premiere after the show’s two-year hiatus (not including a notable appearance in the spin-off series, “The Book of Boba Fett”). After forging a cute junior-sized helmet for a mini-Mandalorian, the Armorer led her clan in a baptism of sorts to initiate the new family member. Unfortunately, the rite was interrupted by a hungry sea monster, and the Mandalorians found themselves in a fierce battle against the massive Crocodylian beast. Luckily, Din Djarin arrived in the knick of time to save them. Returning in episode 3, “The Convert,” the Armorer shocked everyone by welcoming back the freshly redeemed “apostates” into the clan — Bo-Katan Kryze included.
The Armorer, who leads Din Djarin’s Children of the Watch tribe, is one of the most interesting and memorable original characters to come out of Jon Favreau’s Star Wars show. She debuted in the series premiere, offering wisdom and guidance to her people — and a healthy amount of exposition for audiences. Since that first appearance, the character has been a welcome recurring figure whose strength, support, and stoicism always makes for an interesting scene.
With Emily Swallow set to appear at this weekend’s Toronto Comic-Con, /Film spoke with the actress about her work on “The Mandalorian.”
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
‘It Required A Lot Of Stillness’
You play the Armorer in “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett,” and you not only provide the voice, but you also do the live-action work as well. What’s the most challenging part of acting through that mask, and how do you approach the body language of your character differently?
To be honest, the most challenging part is not tripping over everything. It is such a wonderful challenge. It’s honestly been such a great journey for me that goes beyond just trying to communicate as the character. I have found that in understanding the language for her, it winds up being a tremendous lesson for me in trust, just overall, because what I have realized is that simplicity serves her so well. It’s been remarkable for me to notice the difference between when I was first working on her [in] season 1 and when all of us were trying to find the language of communication for any of the Mandalorians who were helmeted. We were getting wonderful feedback from Dave [Filoni] and from Deborah [Chow] when we were [filming] — because we were shooting episodes 1 and 3 at the same time — and we were all sort of just experimenting and seeing what translated.
But it was such a strange feeling inside the helmet and inside the suit. I knew what it looked like and I could see that this beautiful costume that I was wearing conveyed a very specific idea, but it felt incredibly awkward in there. And there was this feeling of, “Wait, but do you know what I’m trying to tell you?” And I mean, you can see within 30 seconds of talking to me in my normal day-to-day life that I’m somebody who gestures a lot and I use my face a lot. So there was this feeling of like, “Well, what if I don’t communicate anything?”
When you’re wearing one of those helmets, and especially when you’re shooting it on camera and you’re so focused on it, every little movement becomes magnified. So it can be very distracting if you do too much. Especially for me as The Armorer, because she is somebody whose power, I think I realized, lies in being very simple, often being very still. She is somebody who is constantly watching what’s happening around her. She’s observing, she’s taking things in, she’s reading a lot from other people, and she’s seeing what they need. I think she’s constantly getting a read on others to see what they need from her and how she can best respond to them. So it required a lot of stillness.
For me, that meant I just needed to trust that I could be still and that I didn’t need to immediately go to somebody else and then check in with, “Are you understanding me? Do you get it? Do you get it?” That has become such a gift in playing the character. Playing her, I’ve learned to carry that trust into other things that are going on and to really let that simplicity stand on its own and let that faith that … yes, what I am feeling is coming through, what I am thinking is coming through.
It’s a lot less uncomfortable now when I step into that suit, because I have gotten to see it. Going back to do that episode of “The Book of Boba Fett,” I had the experience of having seen season 1 and to see that does translate and that it is communicating the way I am hoping that it does. So it’s been a really, really interesting journey.
‘I Like Collaborating’
She does have a real stoic quality about her, doesn’t she? In the way that she moves and she talks. I know you also do voice acting — you were the mo-cap and the voice in “The Last of Us: Part II.” You also did some voice acting in “Castlevania.” How does that compare to doing the voice for the Armorer?
Well, there’s more differences in the final product than there are in my process, because whether I’m only providing the voice for a character or you’re going to see all of me, it still requires all of me to find the character. I can never separate my voice from my physicality. When I’m trying to find where that character’s located, I’m still using my whole body. No matter what’s coming out of my mouth, it’s connected to all of me. Voice is still a physical thing for me. I’m still asking the same questions of the character, I’m still exploring the script the same way. I’m still trying to find out what is that character’s story, what do they want out of this journey — but then the process of performing it is a little different because there’s a lot more freedom, I suppose, when you’re in the booth just doing voiceover. I feel like I can move any way that I want if I need to. If I need to relax and loosen up because I feel like I’m getting tense, I can do that.
Voiceover is sort of a strange thing these days because it used to be that you would be in a room with everybody else that was in a scene and you would be reading with the other actors. And more and more, because of the wonders of technology, you’re in a booth all by yourself. When I did “Castlevania,” thank goodness I knew Graham McTavish and I knew what a wonderful, wonderful, charming, warm, delightful human being he is, and he was my Dracula, because I never got to actually read with him until the very last episode.
Which is so nutso. So you’re sort of imagining how the other actor might respond to you, which I don’t love. I mean, I suppose some people might find that freeing … maybe it frees you up to make different choices and you’re not held to what another person might be doing. But I like collaborating. I like seeing what happens when someone gives me back something that I didn’t expect, and then that inspires something that I wasn’t prepared to do. I love that. I love the surprise that happens when two or more people are in a room together and they’re catching each other off guard and new discoveries are made.
To me, it’s very exciting to see what happens with the final product when I’m doing voiceover, because that’s where there’s the biggest transformation between what I put into it and what all the other amazing artists do before the last thing comes out. But in terms of my work, I don’t like voiceover as much because it just feels so much more isolated.
‘What Am I Running From?’
Well, speaking of collaborating with groups: season 3 of “The Mandalorian” opens with that really cool baptism scene, and you have a great moment where you’re running through the water at the giant space-crocodile dinosaur. What was it like filming that? What was going through your mind, running through the water?
“What am I running from?” [Laughs].
Oh my gosh, that was so amazing to watch it because there was nothing there when we were shooting it. They showed us what this beast was going to look like, but that was absolutely phenomenal to see the difference between what that set looked like.
We were on a backlot somewhere, and we had this not super impressive pool of water and a bunch of sand and a bunch of cranes that were swinging people around through the air so that they would look like they were flying. And then we had J.J. Dashnaw, who’s our incredible stunt coordinator and fight choreographer, he was calling out a bunch of counts so that we would know when there was a tail swinging across about to knock somebody over, when somebody was shooting their blaster, when different people had to go up in the air. That was one of the most exciting things to see, because it looked incredible. So many people have asked me, “What was that location? Where were you?” And I would like to go to wherever that place is, because it looks beautiful.
I would never have guessed that it was a studio backlot!
It was interesting.
‘The Heart And The Soul Of The Mandalorian People’
In the most recent episode, the Armorer actually welcomes back Din Djarin and Bo-Katan. Huge twist. The Armorer has been, I think, pretty strict with Din, but also very supportive. Without revealing too much, because I know you’re not allowed to, what do you think her motivation is?
I’d like to think she is somebody who upholds what is sacred and what is true. She’s the one who’s sort of been the heart and the soul of the Mandalorian people and reminding them what has held them together. The creed is something that many of them have felt not worth holding to, but through everything that’s happened, it is the thing that has held most of them together, and it is the thing that has seemed most true to them.
But she is also somebody who I think wants what is best for her people and is open to listening. We talked a lot about that while we were shooting this season, about the importance of being willing to listen to conflicting ideas. If nothing else, I think the Armorer is willing to listen. That doesn’t always mean she agrees, but she’s not afraid to listen to opposing viewpoints. I think she knows that’s an important part of dialogue and an important part of growth. She’s not afraid of conflict.
After that episode of “The Book of Boba Fett,” when I told Din Djarin that he was no longer a Mandalorian, so many people would approach me at conventions and they would say, “How could you do that? How could you kick him out?” And I had to point out, I said, “I didn’t do anything to him.” That was a creed, that was an oath that he had willingly taken. Then he willingly made the choice to remove his helmet. When you make a choice, there are consequences. That doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. We learn so much from going against decisions that we’ve made … he maybe didn’t fully weigh the pros and cons of that decision in the moment, but he knew there would be consequences.
‘I Love That I Get To Spend Time With Women Like This’
It’s part of his journey.
Yeah. And I think the Armorer knew that might be really uncomfortable for him to have to deal with. But she also knows him enough at this point to know he’s good with a challenge and he’s going to grow from a challenge. I think she cares about her people. She cares about Din, and she is not afraid of discomfort and helping her people grow.
So with both The Armorer and then also you played the Darkness on “Supernatural,” they’re both very powerful, authoritative characters that are steeped in mysticism and lore and memory. What is it about these roles that draws you in?
I feel so incredibly grateful that I’ve gotten to play these women. I mean, what initially draws me into parts like this is that I audition and I get lucky enough to get cast [laughs]. It’s truly, it’s such a blessing because I audition for tons of things that I don’t get. And so the fact that I have been fortunate enough to get selected to play women like Amara and The Armorer — man, I’m lucky.
One of the things that I loved about Amara is that even though she was presented as the villain, at least for season 11, she was so relatable and so human. You could see that even though she was acting out in ways that were not — at least in my opinion, it wasn’t justified that she was smiting people and killing people and sucking their souls. You could absolutely understand why she felt hurt, why she felt misunderstood, why she felt like her point of view was not being represented. I think that was so smart of the writers to create a villain who was sympathetic in that way. And it was so in line with the themes of the show, that ultimately she really wanted to connect to the only family that she really had and was so frustrated that she couldn’t.
Then the evolution of that character, to go from that point to ultimately in season 15, being willing to take a chance on humanity and to put herself out there and to be this sort of guiding influence in Dean’s journey and to help him understand a little bit more about himself. I mean, how much more could you ask for to get to be this the big bad, who gets to — I just had to stand there and lightning bolts would come out of my arm, and I always had a wind machine on me and my hair looked fabulous. And I got to have these wonderful, intimate, very thoughtful scenes with Jensen, who is just such a delightful actor. I loved playing her.
Sometimes I feel maybe God is giving these parts to me because he is like, “Okay, you need to learn something from these characters who have this power in stillness,” because I am so not still. I am constantly on the move. I always need to be doing stuff. I’m very fast-paced and kinetic. So I have Amara who is pretty still and centered, and I have the Armorer who is also very centered. I love that I get to spend time with women like this, who definitely take life at a different pace than I do.
‘I Have Been Known To Do Karaoke In A Tiger Onesie’
Well, speaking of previous parts, I mentioned briefly earlier the voice acting/mo-cap work that you did for “The Last of Us: Part II.” Has anyone approached you about revising the role for the HBO series?
Oh my gosh. So many people keep asking me this. So I really hope that somebody will hear one of these interviews, read one of these interviews —
Yeah, HBO, pay attention.
— because I would love to. I wouldn’t mind playing a role that maybe got to stick around a little bit longer because what I did in the game … granted, it was a really fun little bit part, but I wouldn’t mind playing somebody else who maybe lives longer and gets to have a scene with Pedro [Pascal] since now we’re on a roll between “The Mentalist” and [“The Mandalorian”].
It would be perfect!
This weekend is Toronto Comic-Con and you are going to be hosting the Celebrity Karaoke night. Set the scene for our readers: What can they expect from the event? Will you be singing songs in full Armorer garb, like “The Masked Singer”? What’s going to be happening?
I want to have my Armorer garb, but I’m hoping that anybody who wants to will show up in their cosplay. We may have some masks for people who would prefer to get up on the karaoke stage, a la “The Masked Singer,” because that might make them a little more brave.
I love karaoke when it’s just completely silly and I can get up there and be a backup dancer with not great skills, admittedly. But I want to create an environment that is very, very supportive and fun and sort of just a goofy mess. I absolutely want people to have their moments to shine if they have a killer solo and they want to wail up there. But I also don’t want people to think that they have to get up there and be brilliant and be a killer, superstar, “American Idol” singer. It’s just really to have fun and for everybody to relax at the end of the day and not have to be on.
It’s really just a fun, supportive, very silly environment. I’m going to be a complete doofus. I have been known to do karaoke in a tiger onesie before, if that gives you any idea of my MO when I’m doing karaoke.
Emily Swallow is appearing at the Toronto Comic-Con March 17 to 19. New episodes of “The Mandalorian” release Wednesdays on Disney+.
Read this next: The Biggest Questions The Mandalorian Season 3 Needs To Answer
The post Emily Swallow on Mandalorian Baptisms, Toronto Comic-Con Karaoke, and More [Exclusive Interview] appeared first on /Film.
/Film – Emily Swallow On Mandalorian Baptisms, Toronto Comic-Con Karaoke, And More [Exclusive Interview]
Author: Sarah Milner
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March 16, 2023