The actor talks to StarWars.com about joining the galaxy far, far away and the impact of Star Wars on his life.
In many ways, Ben Bailey Smith has been preparing most of his life for the role of Andor's Supervisor Blevin. Born in 1977, the year of Star Wars’ release, Bailey Smith’s fandom for the galaxy far, far away kicked into hyperdrive with the release of 1983’s Return of the Jedi -- the first movie he saw in a theater. “It had an incredible impact,” he tells StarWars.com. “A bit like when you go to your first baseball game -- when you go and see a spectacle as a child that’s huge, that you’ve never seen before. It was a lot like that, and it was scary, and it was exciting, and it was loud, and it was otherworldly. Like nothing I’d seen on television. So it really stuck with me.” In fact, he loved Jedi so much that he made some immediate, important changes.
“That Christmas, I demanded nothing but anything Star Wars-related from Santa,” he says. “And my love affair began, and it’s never gone.” Photographic evidence of that Christmas still exists, showing Bailey Smith in full Darth Vader costume -- perhaps a sign of the Andor part he’d eventually land.
Born and raised in the UK, Bailey Smith built a multilayered career as a rapper, comedian, and actor, including turns in Doctor Who and The Split, and is accustomed to trying out for roles. But when it came to Andor, he didn’t actually know that he was auditioning for the future Disney+ series or anything Star Wars. As far as Bailey Smith knew, he was submitting tapes for a commander in an unnamed military thriller, and didn’t give it much thought while waiting to hear if he got the part. When the call finally came, it was beyond unexpected.
“It was right in the middle of the pandemic. I’d ride my bicycle every day to try and stop from going crazy, as we all were. And I got a call from my agent and she said, ‘Remember that thing that you did? The sergeant major type?’ I was like, ‘No, not really. I’ve done so many.’ [Laughs.] She said, ‘Oh, well, you got it.’ I was like, ‘Oh, great.’ And she said, ‘And it’s not a wartime espionage thriller. It’s Star Wars. Andor. Rogue One prequel.’ And I remember wobbling on my bike, and then I stopped, and I just couldn’t stop laughing.” Laughter might seem like an odd reaction, but Bailey Smith explains the feeling behind it.
“You know when you watch a [horror] movie and you’re scared, and then you have that weird thing of laughing with the person you’re with, or [laughing] on a roller coaster?” he says. “It was that kind of laughter. It wasn’t that it was funny. It was so unreal. I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that it was actually going to happen.”
Bailey Smith’s Blevin is one of Andor’s most visible agents in the command level of the Imperial Security Bureau, the agency charged with snuffing out threats to the Empire. Considering the Vader costume he wore as a child, the role fit well.
“First and foremost, I was so happy that he was part of the Empire. That was the first thing, because I’ve always been an Empire guy. Always. So just on that surface level, I was excited. Secondly, I’ve only ever played one villainous role before, so on another surface level, I was really excited about that,” he says. “But when I started reading the lines and saw how snide this guy was, and how weaselly, and kind of cowardly he was, I thought I could have a lot of fun with it.”
In the series, Blevin runs up against Denise Gough’s ambitious Dedra Meero, an up-and-coming ISB supervisor. Throughout, Blevin seems more concerned with protecting his job from Meero than he is catching rebels.
“It gave me another layer,” he says. “I can relate to that. A lot of us have a fear, especially as we get older, of a younger, more attractive, more talented version of ourselves coming up and doing what we think we do really well, and doing it better.” For Bailey Smith, the insecurity of Blevin was a connection point. “That’s how I found the human in him, and loved him as well.”
Bailey Smith and Gough share several memorable scenes just sniping at each other, and for Bailey Smith they were a highlight. When they chatted behind the scenes, both actors learned that they came from similar working-class backgrounds, never imagining they’d have the opportunity to play the more upper-class characters that they do in Andor.
“We really enjoyed that as a conversation off-camera, and of course on-camera, she’s so sharp. Actor to actor, she was so sharp, so good with the lines, so good with her performance, so good with her eyes, her body language, that it would make me feel insecure,” he says. “It was perfect. It worked on a meta level.”
As Meero rises and, eventually, eclipses Blevin, the diminished Imperial never seems to get angry, despite his visible paranoia. In fact, he ultimately rolls with the elevation of his new rival. Bailey Smith had his own reasoning for Blevin’s tempered response.
“My take on that -- in homage to the films that I fell in love with, A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back -- was that if you get it wrong in front of Vader, the pincer fingers are coming out and you’re gonna get whacked. So that’s the way I played it with Blevin,” Bailey Smith says. “I thought, ‘More than anything, he’d love to get rid of her and just keep rising his way, weaselly, to the top. But when he knows he can’t, playing the game is the most important thing.’”
And how much fun is it being a real Star Wars villain? Bailey Smith tells the story of his first day shooting. He was waiting in the green room, in full costume, when the floor runner finally came to get him. Unknown to anyone, he was wearing his own Empire-themed Star Wars socks (he would wear a new pair every day), and stopped to check them before he went to the set. He took a breath, stood up, and walked out. The whole way, Bailey Smith quietly hummed “The Imperial March.”
“I just thought, ‘This is the moment, now. If I never get another role ever again, then fair enough. But no one can ever take this away from me,’” he says. “It was magical.”