Gwendoline Yeo has been a voice actor working in Star Wars animation from the very first season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. She’s played a number of characters, but the one that feels most important in the status quo of Star Wars right now is Nala Se, the chief Kaminoan scientist and original caretaker of Omega in Star Wars: The Bad Batch. Nala Se has been playing a dangerous game, doing her best to protect her young charge, going so far as to work against the orders of the other Kaminoans and the Empire.
With the events of the latest episode of The Bad Batch putting Nala Se in an even more dangerous and harrowing situation, /Film sat down with Yeo to talk about her start in Star Wars animation and about Nala Se herself.
You’ve been doing voices since the very first season of Clone Wars. It’s been a very long time. I’m wondering what your relationship to the Star Wars was before you got asked and invited to participate in it.
Oh my gosh. It was actually an audition, this was over a decade ago, and yeah, I got the copy, it was just very simple lines, but when I saw the Kaminoan character, not that I even knew she was called a Kaminoan until I wookipedia’ed it, and I just noticed she had really small lips and I was just was just fascinated with that for some reason. I just felt she was very internal and very controlled and dignified, and then as I tried her with a slightly British accent as well, and then Dave [Filoni] called and he said he loved my read. So we played around and we decided on the voice, and just started building this relationship and became good friends. He wrote a Gungan character for me [Peppi Bow], a Jedi character, you know different things, but I think with Nala Se in particular, I can be all over the place. It was just really cool to not play myself as the obvious Asian woman, who is 5’6” and 120, but to play something completely different, and an alien and that’s what I love about the Star Wars universe.
My family was like, “What do you do for a living?” And for the longest time, until we were invited to Skywalker Ranch. My brother who was a scientist in England didn’t know what on Earth I did. And so when I brought him up to the Skywalker Ranch, invited him and my mom up there, he saw the Yoda fountain, and Dave sketched him something on a napkin, and we were in the studio, my brother was like, “Okay, I know what you do now.”
I grew up watching Star Wars, so to be part of that universe that’s so expansive and to be side by side by Dave to have George Lucas oversee the stuff and even know my character was stunning. Surprising. Unexpected. Amazing. Scary. Fun, fun as heck. So as this sort of went on, obviously The Bad Batch was already introduced at the end of it, so it was really nice that Nala Se had played this role. She had created this Clone Wars army, which is no small feat. And for The Bad Batch to come around, I was really, really excited to be able to play more of a vulnerability that she actually had a slight chink in her armor in terms of being protective over something you’ve created.
I’m really proud of my brother. He’s in Cambridge, he found one of the mutated obesity genes and he’s in his lab and they’re his baby, and I think that’s the relationship with Nala Se and Omega, and to even get Fennec to sort of protect Omega, I think it’s a big deal for her, for a Kaminoan to have feelings, I wouldn’t say that they’re incredibly expressive, in little amounts, but I think that in her own way, even in degrees that she really does care and is protective as we’ve seen at the end of episode 14.
It seems that through all of Nala Se’s appearances, there’s a “playing both sides quality to her,” and I’m just wondering how you approached bringing that duality to the character?
Working with Dave and for Jennifer Corbett and Brad Rau. I think just talking about with them… We really played the scale of it, we gave them a lot of different takes to see what would eventually plug in, I left it to them to figure that out, and I think with Nala Se, less can be more and we have yet to see her unfold. It’s easy to label her as one way or the other, I don’t play her like she’s a villain, she’s good, she’s bad. I think we’ll just have to see her unfold, and I think the best way to do it is in a way that is… There’s a sense of neutrality, but I think hinting one way or the other, but you just have to see it unfold. I think there’s a reason why certain tapes were chosen and the way things are going.
It’s definitely collaborative. I think with the world for this particular show, it’s written like a movie, and I think that’s the brilliance of good writing, you don’t… You don’t always have that, to be honest, and so it’s almost like you’re acting in extreme close-up, and you just have to trust. I’m bringing different performances, and there is an internal struggle, and I just have to believe that what I’m thinking is coming through my voice. As a creative, it’s not just coming out of my head or my throat. It really is a full body experience, it really is like acting on camera, and it’s an extreme close-up of inner thoughts. And I think Nala Se struggles. The Kaminoans are very understated as a species, and I think it’s a big deal, how unusual she might seem… I think even the slightest degree of difference for her is a lot, and so it felt tense.
I know we’re out of time, I want to thank you. Nala Se has slowly crept in as one of the most fascinating characters we’ve seen an arc from and you’ve done such a terrific job with it. Thanks for the time to talk to me and I can’t wait to see more.
That means a lot to me, Bryan, thank you.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch airs on Fridays on Disney+.
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