The most recent episode of our podcast The Resistance Broadcast featured one of the best interviews the crew has done. Taylor Gray, the actor who voiced Ezra Bridger in Star Wars: Rebels joined James Baney, John Hoey, and Lacey Gilleran for an hour-long chat about everything Ezra, Star Wars: Rebels, behind the scenes insight on showrunner Dave Filoni, and even addressed a potential live-action Ezra Bridger.
Great chatting w the gang at Resistance Broadcast! Haven’t been able to chat Star Wars in a while – nice to connect during these wild times ⚡️ https://t.co/wkRrxtqhxl
— Taylor Gray (@iamtaylorgray) December 9, 2020
Here is a rather extensive recap of the highlights of the interview, but I’d like to encourage the reader to go check out the episode, as it is even more entertaining and uplifting than reading excerpts. The episode is available in video form (scroll down to the bottom of the article), and in podcast form, on all platforms from Soundcloud to Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Here are all the details.
The interview began with Taylor looking back at Star Wars: Rebels, two years after it ended:
“The series was unbelievable! And it was so cool to be a part of… I always start with saying how fortunate and grateful I am to ‘Star Wars’ and Lucasfilm in general. Lucasfilm have been the greatest employers. They take care of everyone, top to bottom. They hire the best people across the board, so everyone is so confident on their work. It was such a great work environment, on top of getting to act out incredible scripts! I’m so glad the secret of Dave Filoni is much less of a secret now, because he is a genius! Creatively, as a writer, as a storyteller, as an audience member. He knows where fans are coming to it from, he knows where creative and story needs to go. He knows everything ‘Star Wars’ and he transcends that, and knows mythology and all. My favorite parts of ‘Rebels’ were the long talks we used to have in between recording. We’d get there at the beginning of each season. Individually, we’d each talk with Dave for an extended period of time and he’d just give us the arc for the season. […] You always have to have the reason for doing stuff, not be told it should be done this way. Instead, if you’re told why it should be this way and you then you’ll manifest that and manufacture that yourself. And he was unbelievable explaining why things needed to happen. Anytime anyone, even if it was a guest star who was coming in for a scene, and they were like ‘I’m not sure how this should play,’ rather than just give him a line reading, which many people would do, he’d explain the roots of it and why it’s happening this way, and let them come up with it.”
The fact that Dave Filoni was the direct source of Taylor’s Star Wars knowledge meant that whenever he got the chance to hear anybody’s alternate take on something that went down, he offer a different point of view:
“I feel good knowing a decent bit about ‘Star Wars’ now, and that all comes from Dave Filoni. Then I’m having certain conversations with people and I’m hearing certain ideas about things and I’m like… ‘That’s not how it was explained to me’ […] I don’t open my mouth because I feel like it’s way cooler to hear everyone else’s ideas about things, and I’ve especially learned that through conventions.”
And speaking of fan takes on things that went down on the shows…the big question was then asked – Where is Ezra?
“Ezra is out there. Ezra is alive, which is nice – Dave confirmed that pretty quickly after the show was done. That was the question that remained with the finale. Thrawn is out there. Now we’re seeing with ‘The Mandalorian’… Everything in ‘Star Wars’ is tied together, everything is canon, which is cool.”
Lacey mentions the Filoni interview in which he says the finale of Rebels could have happened before or after Ahsoka in The Mandalorian. Taylor Gray weighs in:
“It’s funny that you mention that because… I guess that a lot of people realize that now. When he says stuff like that, I’m just like ‘Oh that’s just Dave doing Dave.’ He can’t help himself, I’m not even kidding. When we’d be recording, he couldn’t help it and he’d always end with giving you a little bit of something that doesn’t pertain to what you’re about to record, it’s from something in the future, and then he could see your ears go up, he’d be like ‘Ah, you know what, you don’t need that.’ And so you’re like, ‘Dude, don’t bring that up, because now I want to know.’ He really loves that. Even in that article, that’s like the very last thing in the ‘Vanity Fair’ article.”
Following the release of Chapter 13: The Jedi and Thrawn’s name-drop at the end, speculation has been running wild for the past couple of weeks about where things are going from here. Especially if we are going to continue with the story that was set up at the very end of Star Wars: Rebels, which had Ahsoka recruiting Sabine Wren to go find Ezra and Thrawn. With Ahsoka making her live-action debut, and that final line at the end of that episode, many people are guessing it’s only a matter of time before we see a live-action version of Ezra (in fact, many people are speculating we could even see it in the next two weeks, with him being the Jedi that shows up answering Grogu’s call).
As a consequence, actor Rahul Kohli has been starting a campaign for himself to be cast as the live-action version of the character. Here’s what Taylor Gray had to say about that:
“Having been in this business a long time you see stuff like this often. I didn’t know people were fan-casting for certain roles in any sense. […] That was the main difference between ‘Clone Wars’ and ‘Rebels,’ that the cast was mainly made up of screen actors. I’d never done voice-over before. I remember being to my agent like ‘Does this mean that if they make it live-action I’ll do it?’ And she was like ‘I’ve no clue.’ […] “
He went on to praise the work of voice-over actors, who have to inject so much emotion just through their voice, while screen actors have so many other tools. Him being a screen actor helped him develop little things about Ezra’s behavior, like the way he walks, which he brought to the sound booth, but couldn’t incorporate into a live-action performance. Things like that would make for a natural transition between voice acting to a live-action performance if it happens someday.
Taylor Gray has also remained a Star Wars fan, so much so that he is now actively watching The Mandalorian. Here are his thoughts on the show:
“I think it was Hemingway who said ‘When you’re writing, you need to give people what they want but you need to surprise them with how you give it to them.’ In that sense, I’m on the side of… you’re so invested on many of these characters you want them to come back. That’s why this last episode [Chapter 13: The Jedi] was so unbelievable because of the way Dave was able to bring in Ahsoka, because if she was going to come on the show, that’s how you do it. You know what I mean? It was so cool on so many ways…”
Speaking of the Thrawn name-drop, there are several possibilities, two of them being that he is either making an appearance on the show, or perhaps he is going to appear in a spin-off project focused on Ahsoka Tano. Gray gives his take on that:
“I think it it was big for her because you want to know her objective, so that kind of filled in a lot. You’re like ‘Oh, she’s still tied to this storyline we set up in this last show.’ It explains a little about where she’s been. And then… The one thing that I’m seeing is that there are so many shows and films now, different projects that they’ve established they are all connected, which is cool. I think it’s inevitable that… Or maybe is not, but it seems like they’ve set it up. I don’t know if it will be ‘The Mandalorian’, or another show, maybe animation… I don’t know. But I think for sure, because they introduced that character and it would make sense. I don’t know how they plan this spider-web of interconnectedness.”
The one thing we know from the Rebels series finale is that Ezra and Thrawn were thrown out into hyperspace, but we don’t know what happened after that. So here is a pertinent question – could they have bonded by now?
“I think they’re separated by now. When they went off, they were together. Leading up to that episode, you can tell that Ezra had this plan to go off with him. Their relationship up to this point was incredibly contentious. I don’t know if they can just, in a whim… That was a step under the selflessness of Kanan. Ezra kind of had to follow his footsteps and do a selfless action. I don’t know if that then resulted in them becoming so close. But in ‘Star Wars,’ actions like that seem to transcend everything, so in the moment, that was in suspense – what was gonna happen between them. I just think that once they were off, they separated.”
“They’d be so strong if they weren’t at odds. Even if they weren’t friends or teamed up. Ezra is a formidable jedi by the end of it, he’s gone up against the strongest like Vader, and he’s learned and has been around… even with Obi-Wan […] And to think that… say they hadn’t separated. I mean, those two would wreak some havoc on… whatever they set their minds on. Thrawn is so calculating and smart and Ezra’s thing is that he’s a bit impulsive, yet he’s incredibly strong in the Force.”
On the World Between Worlds episode, and Ezra’s ability to do what Anakin Skywalker was unable to do, resist the lure and temptation of Palpatine, Taylor Gray said:
“It’s so cool you brought this up, because we haven’t talked about this in advance. This is my favorite episode of ‘Rebels’ by far. I would rave about this episode to other people. They also introduced in ‘Star Wars’ something we hadn’t seen before, and that is manipulating time, which you then saw in the films a bit. And that is Dave Filoni through and through. It’s so so cool, because it just opens up this whole new realms of possibilities for ‘Star Wars,’ knowing this exists. But then, to your point, that is Ezra’s character to a T. His whole motivation, and that is why I love the growth of this character and why it’d be so cool to keep him going in a live-action way. What he’s built upon is that he was so cavalier, and that was how we came into it. Dave was like, you haven’t seen much ‘Star Wars’? Don’t watch it. I want you thinking like I can do this and throw this. You’re channeling that, crank it up to a ten. At first he [Ezra] could’ve been a bit bothersome to people if you didn’t know his family circumstances. […] Everything through the whole story, at least the inner work for the character I was doing, was always related to his family, and trying to make them proud on top of it. So when that moment hits, then you get goosebumps. To deny that is insane because the whole show was the build up to that. And he finally got what was his objective, and he was able to turn it around and show ‘No, I’ve grown.’ And he’s able to be selfless then. That’s when he became a true strong Jedi.”
Another big moment for his character in Star Wars: Rebels was when he was getting tempted by Darth Maul himself:
“When he started being tempted, one when Maul would call him his apprentice, I was like, ‘This is cool’. In the recording sessions, I’d be between Freddie [Prinze Jr.] and Sam [Witwer] and they’d be both in my ear like ‘No no, this and this,’ and the other one’d be like ‘No no, this and this.’ And it was funny to see them both take ownership of… It was a bit competitive, like you want to pull and convince this padawan to go a certain way. And then you’re like… Oh this dude might go the other way. So I would talk to Dave and be like ‘If you wanna be truly strong you have to understand the other side, right?’ And Dave would be like, ‘Yeah, keep thinking like that.’ And I didn’t know if he was going to go all the way over. But it was fun to entertain that side.”
According to him, Ezra was the perfect match for Kanan because the latter was kind of the flawed master, while the former was the flawed padawan.
Speaking of Kanan, him and Ezra had a pretty special relationship within Star Wars. So the question has to be asked – is there a similar relationship between Freddie Prinze Jr. and Taylor Gray?
“Oh for sure! Part of that was, I think… As actors you do like that. I haven’t played too many villanous roles, but when you do, you get on set, and you start to do little things that go beyond what’s on the page. […] I’ve seen it with so many different roles, so I thought that’s what it was at first, but they I realized ‘Oh, we’re not even putting this on.’ He’s been in this industry for so long and I’m younger but have been working a good bit, and he was just like ‘Hey, I had to take five turns here, I can keep you from making four. Do this.'”
“I boxed with him for years. […] He knew I was into sports, so he was like, ‘you need to box. Come to this gym with me.’ And then I started going every single week with him. It really was the Ezra-Kanan relationship.”
About his experience watching World Between Worlds:
“Disney was so cool about… and Lucasfilm, it was a joint effort, about screening episodes for us in the Disney building, like in a theater. Any time there was a special or novel episode, we’d watch it that way. So that really ruined my experience watching the rest of the episodes because it was so cool. You’re in a theater with Dave and some of the other writers and the castmates, and the music is booing. And so in ‘The World betweeen Worlds’ you start hearing the voices throughout ‘Star Wars’… I was like, ‘Dude, what…’ It’s so cool, you hear Leia… it trips you out big time. Because then it adds this gravity to what you’re about to watch, so before Ezra even begins walking around you hear all of these different voices and it brings all of the different sentiment of ‘Star Wars’ to a head, and then you’re dropped into these scenes in which he encounters Ahsoka… So cool!”
It is known that George Lucas was heavily involved in The Clone Wars, especially in the first few seasons. With him being Dave Filoni’s master, who then went on to create Rebels. The question asks itself – was he involved in Star Wars: Rebels?
“I don’t think so. I remember Dave at the beginning, before we came into the picture… he’d bounce stuff off of him. He always talks about being George’s brainchild. He worked with him for so long that he has picked up… Even his imitation of George is unreal. Every time he makes a decision in ‘Star Wars’ he thinks ‘Does this maintain an integrity to what ‘Star Wars’ is?’ And that’s why he’s also the best person to be making ‘Star Wars’ as well. Like I said, he thinks about it from so many angles and first and foremost as a fan, so he knows why ‘Star Wars’ is so important. He’s so great, man.”
Who is the apprentice to Dave Filoni, in the way he was to Lucas?
“There were some writers on the show who would be there often. I would think it would have to be someone who comes from somewhat of a writing background, but I don’t know if there was a consistent… The other writer who was consistently there was Henry Gilroy, but I don’t know that he… He’s not with him on every project, you know what I mean? Whereas like Dave really was kind of like shadowing Lucas and getting a lot of insights from him. I wonder on ‘The Mandalorian’… Whoever that is let’s get eyes on him.”
However, he said, Filoni passing the baton is a long ways off, because when Lucas found him, he’d been making Star Wars for forty years, and Filoni is still in his crescendo. And The Mandalorian is a testament to that.
Taylor was then asked if he’d done any work with a lightsaber, since his work on Star Wars was always done from the interior of a sound booth:
“I have. Just because one,it’s only apropos. But mainly because now, with acting training, you fight and combat. You see projects just outside of that. Take a John Wick. Jason Statham has had an unbelievable career centered around just kicking guys’ ass. And he’s an incredible actor now, it’s really cool. I was reading with Rosario Dawson… she’s also such a great fit, because she has some physical capabilities that work for this, and with Katee Sackhoff as well… She’s nuts! And in a good way. She can do anything physically, it seems like. So yeah, there is a gym out here in L.A. where they do that, combat training and also flips… I grew up playing sports so that’s something I’ve always been incredibly confident with, so going in there I love it. As you said, I’ve been fighting… well throwing punches and stuff. When they give you that, they give you this wooden poll… or, because I’m a ‘Star Wars’ fan I have [pulls his lightsaber out!]”
One of the things that The Mandalorian has created to both help with the storytelling process as well as push forward the technology in cinema as a whole, is the Volume. Here is what Taylor Gray had to say about this amazing piece of work:
“It’s unbelievable. As an actor, you’re like ‘This is amazing. I don’t have to act in front of… nothing?’ I went down there… I saw it [the Volume]. It is super expansive, and it’s a trip. The way I’d describe it to people is like… They had… Well I’m not gonna say what I was looking at… They had a setting up, and I was like… If i had a baseball and I threw it, it’d go forever. And it has a dynamic feel to it, like a perspective. A parallax. You feel the depth, which is the craziest thing.”
He went on to rave about the technology, to the point that he said that it was so real that some actors even got sick because it felt like a real-life Disney parks attraction.
Going back to Star Wars: Rebels, Dave Filoni voiced the droid of the team, Chopper. Taylor said about this:
“[…] He played Chopper! That was something that I asked him the entire show. Every single session I’d end saying ‘Dave, can’t wait to play off of Chopper with you one time.’ Because he’d never do it with us. I think he eventually, towards the end, recorded one Chopper line.”
James then asked him if Chopper is actually swearing on everybody like most fans are speculating:
“Have the fans said that? They’re not wrong [laughs]. He would make like sounds, often. I don’t know if he was actually putting in words. We’d have dialogue though. And that wouldn’t be vulgar, but it was definitely the cheekiest of all the dialogue throughout ‘Rebels.’ So you’re like ‘Oh ok, so the one guy who we never hear say anything… he gets that line?!'”
Even though the interview continued a couple of more minutes, I’d like to finish this recap with the answer to the following question, which turned out to be a beautiful statement that I hope many fans have in mind going forward – John asked Taylor would he like him and Ezra to be remembered as Star Wars moves on?
“That’s the million-dollar question. I’m so aware of being this pebble in a big beach. But at the same time it seems like everyone is important when they come to this beach. You know what I mean? That’s something I said when I first got in the show, I think we were doing San Diego. I was saying ‘I’d watch Star Wars but I didn’t know it really well.’ […] [‘Star Wars’] is such a pillar of pop culture the way that The Beatles would be for music. And so that’s not lost on you, that you are a little part of this world. That’s part of your responsibility of being as honest as possible with your performance. Especially, I’m so thankful for a storyline like Ezra’s because it’s a clear path to empathy and growth, so I hope that people who have watched, whether they are aware or not, connect with it. There is a quote that I’ll just butcher but it says ‘Don’t tell people what to do, but show them a story of how to do it.’ And it’s that idea of people from opposite sides of the political isle can get behind a story that clearly is saying one thing, but they are not getting into it that way, and are subversively learning the message from what it is. And the message behind ‘Star Wars’ is always goodness and of course, hope. And especially a starting ground that Ezra had, that many kids and people, like older people I’ve talked to that connect with Ezra more so than young kids, connect with that upbringing or fear of loneliness and where it comes from and how easy it is to maybe take the shortcut. With the Force, he had more power when he was tapping into the dark side. When he got angry he was more powerful, but it wasn’t the way to be. Little philosophies like that that would come from Ezra, I’d just hope that we did everything on our side to make it profound enough that people could feel it.”