Like many people with small parts in creating Star Wars, Hootkins was, to put it politely, skeptical about the viability of the movie. From the shooting script alone, it was nearly impossible to imagine how the entire project would come together.
'During shooting, Mark Hamill came up to me and said, "You know Bill, this film is going to be really big." I said, "Yeah sure, for your sake, I hope so Mark."
Hootkins says most of the other pilots had similar feelings. When the cast and crew screening came, they were all ready to hoot, holler, and make animal noises. But when the first shot came up, "We all fell under it's spell. We knew that we had been touched by genius but had just been too dumb to know it."
Hootkins was originally looked at to play the part of the human precursor to Jabba the Hutt, in a scene with Harrison Ford that has now been reworked for the Special Edition. "I took one look at the script and decided that this was going to be the biggest disaster in the history of film making." So he decided to take a different job, when he was finished, The Star Wars, as it was still referred to during production, was still in need of Rebel Pilots, so Hootkins signed on. He had no idea what he was in for.
"The day we shot was the hottest day in four hundred years of British weather-keeping history. It was 106 degrees at Wimbledon and about 150 degrees in the studio." The only concession made to the heat was the change of the Rebel Pilot helmet visors from clear to yellow to help hide the makeup streaming down the actors' faces.
At first he had some confusion about his character. "I saw the word 'Porkins'. I thought because I was a heavy guy, what's this word 'Porkins'? I saw all the amazing creature effects they were doing and I thought wait a minute, if they are giving me a name like Porkins is somebody going to come over and stick ears and a snout on my face?"
It took him 20 minutes of following around George Lucas, before George could in fact confirm that Porkins was human. Hootkins say(s) he wouldn't have objected either way. "I don't demand a lot of direction, but just give me the species."
Hootkins described the lone X-wing cockpit, which each pilot took his turn shooting in as "...half an airplane controlled by four sweaty men in T-shirts. If you had wondered into the set, you might have guessed the whole movie budget was like $400."
Hootkins climbed the 15-foot ladder into the cockpit, and then realized that the only way out of it was straight down. Right then the special effects supervisor said to him: "Just before we blow you up, I want you to understand what is going to happen. It's nothing to worry about, we're going to put some gunpowder under your seat, a couple of magnesium squibs here, a 1/4 stick of dynamite charge over here."
"I really wasn't worried about it until the funnel holes of two big fire extinguishers appeared right next to the camera. I thought, "What do these guys know that I don't?" Hootkins politely informed the cameraman that if anything went wrong, he was coming straight out the front and he didn't care who was in front of him.
Hootkins' one-size-fits-all uniform did not fit him and had to be slit down the back. This slightly exposed his R. Crumb - Mr. Natural T-shirt which he was wearing underneath. The big pyrotechnic moment came, and Hootkins was neither asphyxiated, or exposed as a Mr. Natural fan. "I thought if the angle was just right they might have gotten a quick peek of 'Keep on Truckin'.' "
"To me the bad guys on the Death Star, with the funny little hats, had a much better deal. Stomping around going, "Yes, Lord Vader" looked like much more fun than being a pilot. In retrospect, I was lucky to be a good guy.
While Hootkins has had a remarkable career playing everything from bit parts to leads over the years he has a candid view of all his roles. "Flash Gordon: dead on page 11. Batman: I don't get killed until page 45. Death Machine: I didn't die until page 90." He recommends Hear my Song, in which he played alongside Ned Beatty as a film he's particularly proud of. "There's only one nude scene and it's not of me." Most recently he can me seen with Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Hootkins has fond memories of the people who brought Star Wars to life.
"They were all really good people. It's amazing to think that really good people getting together and doing things can result in an amazing world changing film."