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How acting as Carrie Fisher’s puppet made a career for Rogue One’s Princess Leia

“Ghost acting” is helping young actors build careers beyond their 15 minutes of fame
October 16, 2018
Photo of Ingvild Deila as Princess Leia
Photo of Ingvild Deila as Princess Leia
Photo of Ingvild Deila as Princess LeiaRogue One: A Star Wars Story (Behind the Scenes Featurettes) | Lucasfilm (Courtesy of Ingvild Deila)

Ingvild Deila had one of the most talked-about roles in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but she was only on screen for about 15 seconds. No one even saw her face. Yet she can now claim on her IMDB page that she was once Princess Leia.

Photo of Ingvild Deila
Jim Kirby, UK (Courtesy of Ingvild Deila)

In reality, she was playing Carrie Fisher playing Princess Leia. She was the body—the human puppet—behind the digital reconstruction of the 19-year-old Fisher at the end of the movie.

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Deila is part of a small group of actors who owe their roles to the convergence of Hollywood’s current love of remakes with advances in re-creating dead superstars using special effects. Her ghost-acting peers include Danny Chan, who served as the body of a resurrected Bruce Lee in a Johnny Walker commercial and Guy Henry, who “wore” the late Peter Cushing’s face to play Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One.

Before Rogue One, Deila’s biggest role was a minor part in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Definitely not a small film, but you probably don’t remember her character, World Hub Tech. To land the role of Leia, she had to perform two scenes from the original Star Wars. In addition to her acting, her similarity in height, body type, and profile to Fisher made her the top pick. From then on, the job was all about embodying someone else. “It wasn’t about making the character my own,” says Deila. “It was about copying her in every detail.”

She spent months studying Fisher’s facial expressions, prepping for just seconds on screen. Deila pored over interview clips and movie close-ups. She even read Fisher’s autobiography.

Photo of Ingvild Deila as Princess Leia
Photo of Ingvild Deila as Princess Leia

When it came to the role itself, she spent about three days in a studio getting scanned by Industrial Light and Magic, and only one on set. To create the scan, the visual effects gurus showed her a picture of Fisher that she had to mimic. Hundreds of lights were then flashed around her to capture detailed images of her face in a variety of lighting conditions. This scan served as the base on which Fisher’s 19-year-old face was overlaid for the final scene. “It was so strange. I could tell it’s me, but it’s also definitely not me,” she says. “It’s hard to describe that feeling. You now can see a bit of what it feels like with apps like Snapchat where you can put layers and swap faces.”

Fisher was shown the final product in advance of the premiere and approved of the outcome. Sadly, she passed away just weeks after the movie was released.

For some, ghost-acting is fraught with moral questions. Deila says she is unsure whether she could have gone through with the role if Fisher had died before filming. Bringing someone back on screen strikes her as more ethically dubious with actors who have just died than with someone who passed years earlier. “I would have only done it if I knew the family was okay with it,” she says.

Almost two years later, even though it was the smallest role of her career in terms of screen time, it's still what she is best known for. Those 15 seconds have opened doors for her, helping her land larger roles. She’s appearing—with her own face—in an upcoming movie called Escape from Brazil. Ghost-acting for Fisher has also thrown her into the sci-fi and comic convention scene, with invites to attend conferences in Europe and South America.

She says she would be happy to reprise the role with the blessing of Fisher’s family—if a story required it. “It’s a bit like back in the day when there was king or a queen. It was a role that has to be filled,” says Deila. “You didn’t have personal ownership of a role. I knew from day one they were free to change anything they wanted. I was just the vessel.”

This article is part of a series on jobs of the future. Check out other futuristic job profiles here.

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