Helsinki Card

Actor Joonas Suotamo

3.3.2020 Text: Helsinki This Week Photos: Storm Santos
My Helsinki _ Joonas Suotamo

WHO?
Joonas Suotamo is a Finnish actor and former professional basketball player. He is best known for his role as Chewbacca in the Star Wars saga, taking over the role from Peter Mayhew, first as a body double in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and later as the lead in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019).

You stepped into the iconic role of Star Wars‘ favourite Wookiee Chewbacca in 2015. How did you end up to play the furriest warrior of the galaxy?

The filmmakers contacted me through the Finnish Basketball Association to try out for a mysterious role. They needed a 7-foot tall person with natural blue eyes for the more physically demanding scenes in The Force Awakens, and I was lucky enough to work alongside the famous Peter Mayhew to bring Chewbacca to life.

What was your favourite scene playing Chewie?

In Solo: A Star Wars Story, there’s a scene where we are escaping planet Kessel and I had the opportunity to sprint across the set in full costume. That was great fun where I could just perform physically, without having
to convey emotions through the mask, which is mostly what I do as a creature performer.

And your favourite behind-the-scenes memory from the movies?

My favorite behind-the-scenes memory was when my son visited the set of The Rise of Skywalker and I held him up in front of the cast and crew while I wore the Chewbacca suit and he had a bunny ears outfit on. It was a very special moment.

In the films, you are dressed in that furry costume. It must have been hot, especially making those dessert scenes?

The suit could get very hot, but luckily the crew members who I worked with were amazingly talented and always came up with new ways to keep me cool.

How much has starring in Star Wars changed your life?

It has changed everything! I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to travel the world and be a part of the Star Wars family and it never ceases to amaze me how many generations the stories have touched and continue to influence. I am very grateful to have been allowed into this extended family.

Is this the end of Chewbacca stories or could there be a special spin-off movie or film for Chewie?

We will have to wait and see! I’m eager to see if there is another adventure for Chewbacca somewhere down the line. Perhaps a story where we could learn more about his home planet Kashyyyk.

My Helsinki_Joonas Suotamo

You are a basketball player turned actor, do you ever miss the athlete’s life; training, playing and winning?

The role of Chewbacca was very physically demanding, so training was as essential for filming as it was for playing basketball. I still enjoy playing basketball whenever I can! After the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, I understood the significance the game had in shaping my life. As I was watching his highlight reels I missed the days of playing and competing. It has given me so much and made me the person I am today.

JOONAS’S FAVOURITE PLACES IN HELSINKI:

1. Highlights of Helsinki: Suomenlinna, Market Square and The Cathedral.
2. Many Asian restaurants of the city.
3. Small islands of the coast of Helsinki, which
I’ve been lately visiting by my boat. They are great especially for my nephews and my son with so many secrets to discover.

You’ve been around the world and lived in many cities but lived in Helsinki most of your life. How does Helsinki compare to other cities?

I consider Helsinki to be one of the best places in the universe. Not only for raising a family but it’s also place you can spend time in enjoying the nature and the sea. I enjoy having that available and enjoying it with family and friends.

You graduated with a film degree from Penn State University, what plans do you have for the future?

We’ll definitely see where things go, but I’m looking forward to directing a film one day.

You are probably pursuing other acting roles now after the Star Wars saga, in what kind of films would you like to act in?

I’m willing to consider many different roles, as long as the story is either fun or intriguing or both. It’d be interesting to be in a genre film too, be it fantasy, horror or scifi.

More info at www.joonassuotamo.com
Instagram @joonassuotamo

Helsinki stories