While Andy Serkis has made a name for himself playing motion-capture roles in high profile franchises like “The Lord of the Rings” and recent “Planet of the Apes” reboots, it nearly killed Ahmed Best’s career. Best was just 25 when a Lucasfilm casting director picked him out of a San Francisco “Stomp” production to play Jar Jar Binks in “Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace.” An avid “Star Wars” fan, Best knew his life was about to change forever. It did — just not quite how he imagined.
“It’s really difficult to articulate the feeling,” Best told Wired. “You feel like a success and a failure at the exact same time. I was staring at the end of my career before it started.” The profile is as comprehensive as they come, and a fascinating dive into the often cruel world of show business.
Though the character has undergone something of a reclamation in recent years, Jar Jar Binks was initially the subject of vicious criticism when the film debuted in 1999. Adult fans of the original franchise felt the gangly Gungan was included largely to appeal to children and provide comic relief. Many contend Jar Jar ruined the entire trilogy of prequels. Worse still, some critics felt his clownish antics amounted to racial caricature along the lines of blackface and minstrelsy. “I was shocked with the racial implications,” Best said. “but always knew they had little to no merit.”
The fallout effectively killed any aspirations Best had beyond the franchise. “There were a lot of tears, there was a lot of pain, there was a lot of shit I had to deal with. Everybody else went on. Everybody else worked. Everybody else was accepted by the zeitgeist.” He added: “To be honest, failing and being black is very scary, because we don’t get a lot of chances, you know? I didn’t get another chance after Jar Jar.”
“I did my job,” he says. “I was believable enough for you to believe that this character existed. George said do a thing, I did a thing, you know what I mean? The fact that you hate Jar Jar—I still did the job.” The entire profile is worth reading — regardless of your feelings about the Gungan from Naboo.