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Connor Ratliff - Edinburgh Fringe Interview

US comedian Connor Ratliff has appeared in numerous TV shows including playing Chester in Marvellous Mrs Maisel and Reuben Segal in Orange Is The New Black.

Connor also hosts the popular podcast Dead Eyes where he explores the true story of how in his early 20s he auditioned for and landed the role of Private John Zielinski in the HBO World War II epic, Band of Brothers, but was immediately fired again after Tom Hanks (who was directing) looked at his audition tape and felt Ratliff had "dead eyes".

On top of this Connor hosts the improvised talk show The George Lucas Talk Show which sees Connor appear in character as ‘retired filmmaker George Lucas’, creator of Star Wars and interviews real guests as themselves in a panel format. The show began life in 2014 and has grown to play off-Broadway and a sell out run in London at the Soho Theatre. 

The George Lucas Talk Show. Photo by Mindy Tucker

Now Connor is bringing
The George Lucas Talk Show to the Edinburgh Fringe alongside his new play The Barron and the Junk Dealer which also plays at the Fringe. I spoke to Connor about both these projects.

What inspired you to create The George Lucas Talk Show? 
The inspiration was rooted in an impression I used to do for my friends – back in the 90s when George Lucas was going back and re-working the original Star Wars trilogy and then making the prequels, they would interview me as “George” and ask why I was doing what I was doing. When I started doing Comedy shows in NY, something about that came back to me, that it would be fun to put my weird version of George into the role of interviewer, in part because he’s the least likely person to ever host a chat show.

How did you approach playing George in the interviews you’ve done to date?
Our version of George is always trying to find common ground with the guests. Like when singer/songwriter Aimee Mann was on the show, she led by saying, “I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie” but then George immediately pivoted to the fact that they both were nominated for Oscars and lost. Part of the fun comes from figuring out what angle George is going to use to relate to people.
If you could interview George, what would be one question you’d like to ask him? 
For the sake of having a broad-ranging conversation, I’d probably want to ask him about his approach to comedy, because I feel like it’s an area where he’s had both tremendous success and failure.But I’d also be tempted to ask him about one of his earliest professional film credits – he was a cameraman for the Maysles brothers when they were making the Rolling Stones documentary, Gimme Shelter. George Lucas was at Altamont!Supposedly, none of his footage was usable because his camera malfunctioned, which to me seems like an almost Forrest Gump-version of moviemaking history. I’d just want to ask him what he remembers from that experience, but it’d be a risk, because it was so long ago that his answer might just be, “I left early because my camera broke.”

You also have your play The Baron and the Junk Dealer heading to the Fringe, can you tell me a little bit more about the show? 
The play is really the spark that brought us to Edinburgh. I wrote this play – about two fugitives who end up stranded together on a desolate planet – for Griffin Newman and I to perform. And it is really us taking our George Lucas Talk Show characters (“Retired Filmmaker George Lucas” and his talk show sidekick, “Watto” from the Star Wars prequels) and putting them into a serious piece of theatre. The starting point was “what if George and Watto did a play?” and the ending point was to make something unusual that any audience member could understand as its own standalone thing. There are meta elements that will be fun for people who recognize the connection to the world of George Lucas, but fundamentally it is a play about two strange characters who end up stuck with one another, trying to survive.

The Baron and the Drug Dealer. Photo by Mindy Tucker

As a writer is it easier to write about things you’ve experienced in your life or things that are hypothetical?  
I think I’m always using one thing to enrich the other. I’ve never been stranded alone with a stranger on an empty planet, but I do know what it’s like to get lost in the woods when the sun goes down and you’re suddenly in total, terrifying darkness, and I have a healthy fear of strangers. So, I can use those real-life experiences to make sure that the hypothetical scenario rings true.But I also think a big part of writing is trying to consider points of view other than my own – you don’t want all your characters to just be versions of you, arguing with themselves.

What do you want an audience member to take away from seeing either show? 
For The George Lucas Talk Show, we always just want the audience to have a good time. It’s a very silly and open-hearted show. Our strategy is that we try to make sure that the guests enjoy themselves, because that carries over to the audience having fun. I think for people who go see The Baron & The Junk Dealer either before or after seeing GLTS, it will be exciting to see the way these shows are kind of in dialogue with one another.The play is comedic but also intense; the chat shows will be more of a crazy release valve for these characters.

What performances/shows have inspired you? 
So many of my favourite things actually shut me down because I just think, “Oh, I could never do what they’re doing, it’s a totally different thing to what I do.” Natalie Palamides and Nina Conti are two names that come to mind, because the work they do is so specific and fearless. I think a huge part of being funny and interesting in front of a crowd is to at least project a confidence that makes an audience member feel completely taken care of.The audience wants to feel like you know what you’re doing and that they don’t have to be embarrassed for you. But what inspires me about those two performers in particular is that they are completely in control as performers yet the things they do on stage feel like a complete high-wire act.
Can you describe the show in 3 words? 
Fun, Silly, Strange
Connor Ratliff will present The George Lucas Talk Show at the Edinburgh Festival at Assembly George Square, 11.35pm on Friday 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th August and star in The Baron and The Junk Dealer at Assembly Roxy, 5.55pm 2nd-24th August,not 15t)Connor will also perform in George-Prov: An Improvised Theatrical Experience where “George Lucas” appears in the form of a digital avatar and delivers a one-person improv workshop like no other at Assembly Roxy, 5.55pm, 25nd - 28th August.
Booking links
The George Lucas Talk Show
The Baron and the Junk Dealer

George-Prov. Photo by Liezl Estipona

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