Star Wars: Brian Blessed Revisits Boss Nass 25 Years On: ‘I Have Never Known Such Ecstasy’

Boss Nass

by John Nugent |
Published on

Brian Blessed speaks – well, booms – to Empire about the formidable Gungan leader.

“It took your bloody head off!” bellows Brian Blessed down the phone line, as only he can. The legendarily bushy-bearded 87-year-old actor is recounting for Empire the first time he saw Star Wars: in 1977, having been made aware of the film from a “great big billboard at Snow Hill railway station in Birmingham”, Blessed sallied forth to the first cinema he could find. An avowed science-fiction nerd and keen space enthusiast — “I am actually a fully trained astronaut”, he notes several times during our conversation — he found himself transfixed. “Here was something totally, completely original. It was by far the finest science-fiction film I’d ever seen.”

Boss Nass

Blessed hoped to be cast in the original trilogy, but suspects his iconic role in the similarly space- operatic Flash Gordon in 1980 may have gotten in the way. It wasn’t until the late ’90s, with The Phantom Menace entering pre-production, that he finally secured a meeting with George Lucas. “They were keen for me to be in it. They wanted me to be a Jedi called Bibbles,” he says, misremembering the character Sio Bibble, the governor of Naboo, who would ultimately be played by Oliver Ford Davies. It was obvious to all that Blessed’s famously larger-than-life persona could not be contained by the softly spoken administrator. “George said, ‘You’re not remotely right for Bibbles, Brian. You’ve got too much power. You’ve got too much energy.’”

“You can’t just turn up there and just do a voice. That’s bollocks!”

A more suitable role was soon found: Gungan leader Boss Nass, the fearsome and full-jowled alien who rules Gunga City on the planet of Naboo. Blessed, who first received his pages for the script “through a fucking old-fashioned, broken-down fax machine in Wiltshire”, admits to initially being baffled by the pidgin dialect of the Gungans. “I thought they were Jamaicans!” he laughs. “Gradually, you could see it had a language all of its own — an ancient language.”

Boss Nass

It was not until filming began, however, that the actor himself established Boss Nass’ idiosyncrasies. During the scene in which the character finally agrees to join the fight with Queen Amidala and the Jedi, Lucas — apparently concerned the moment was “a bit boring” — asked the actor to jazz it up. “George said, ‘Can you do something for me, Brian? Can you do something totally original? A special effect of some kind?’ ‘Yeah, George!’ I remember going [speaking at an incredible volume], ‘MEEEEESAH LIKA DISS!’ And I did this huge, wonderful wobble with my face. George said, ‘You mad bastard, Brian! That’s exactly what I want!’” During the filming of this scene, Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson reportedly struggled to keep straight faces.

A self-described “expert on amphibians”, Blessed drew much of his inspiration for this distinctly alien performance from nature. “I do a tremendous amount of work on various crocodiles,” he says, entirely seriously. “And so therefore, I studied certain reactions.” He also entered into “a study about noises that I felt dinosaurs would make”. As he summarises, as succinctly as he is able to, “You can’t just turn up there and just do a voice. That’s bollocks!”

Boss Nass

So, a legend was born. At the Los Angeles premiere of Disney’s Tarzan, released a month after The Phantom Menace, crowds, claims Blessed, were chanting, “Boss Nass! Boss Nass!” to him. He looks back on the whole experience with nothing but fondness. “Every day, I raced to the studio to be there,” he says. “I have never known such ecstasy, artistically.”

After Flash Gordon, Boss Nass remains the role most revered by his fans. There is some similarity, he explains. “The energy that I use as Vultan in Flash Gordon, I bring very much to The Phantom Menace. Not sitting there on your arse and just being meditative and quiet and still. NO! I bring great energy to the whole fucking thing. I love it. I just love science- fiction.” Or, as Boss Nass would say: heesa lika diss.

This piece originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Empire.

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