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Spokane's own Darth Vader visits for Lilac City Comicon

A composite image of Darth Vader, a white man with brown hair and graphics for "Obi-Wan Kenobi," "The Mandalorian" and "Captain Marvel."
Courtesy Dmitrious Bistrevsky
Spokanite Dmitrious Bistrevsky can be seen in projects like the Disney+ series "Obi-Wan Kenobi" and "The Mandalorian," as well as the movie "Captain Marvel." Now he's back as a guest at Lilac City Comicon June 1 and 2.

This weekend is the 18th annual Lilac City Comicon, where pop culture and comic book fans gather to celebrate their shared loves.

When you think of iconic figures in film, one of the first characters that might come to mind is Darth Vader from Star Wars. And at this year’s convention, the actor behind the most recent iteration of that Sith Lord is a special guest.

SPR’s Owen Henderson spoke with him about his work.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

OWEN HENDERSON: Dmitrious Bistrevsky is a circus performer and actor who grew up here in Spokane. You might have seen his work in the Disney plus Star Wars series in “The Mandalorian,” in “Obi Wan Kenobi” as the body of Darth Vader, or the movie “Captain Marvel.” He’s here as a special guest for Lilac City Comicon. Thanks for joining me here in the studio.

DMITRIOUS BISTREVSKY: Thanks for having me.

OH: So, how does someone decide they want to be a circus performer? What prompted you to pursue that?

DB: I never wanted to be a circus performer. The universe chose it for me and I said yes.

I was living here in Spokane and I was teaching gymnastics and I was breakdancing in a local breakdance crew that I had formed, and I was doing theater at [Spokane Community College]. And I was looking for a job that was the fusion of the three. So then I said, ‘I know, I'm going to move to LA, I'm going to get into stunt work, and then through there, I'll transition to acting.’

And I moved to Los Angeles with my younger brother, Alex, and about three months into Los Angeles, a woman taps us on the shoulder at a Starbucks and says she's the director of a circus school, and she's looking for strong men for their circus school.

And we thought it was the most bizarre, weird interaction I've ever encountered. Gives me a business card, and for me, I'm like, ‘This is a scam, this is a scam, this is a scam.’

So we never called the woman back. Three weeks later, I meet some girls on the beach in Santa Monica, and they're doing handstands. And my specialty in breakdancing was freezes.

So I really loved handstands, balance. So we start playing together a little bit, and they're like, ‘Oh, we're actually training at the circus school. There's this amazing circus teacher who used to work for Cirque du Soleil.’

And I was like, ‘I am looking for a coach.’ And they rummage through their purse, and they give me a card. And it was the same exact business card. It was like one of those moments where I was like, ‘I think this is like a calling kind of thing.’

So I called her the next day, and I jumped in. And then I quickly realized that everything I was ever looking for was in the circus. It was the storytelling, it was the vulnerability, it was the self-expression.

And I fell in love, and my life became circus. But I never chose it.

OH: You’re also actually a Broadway veteran from one of my personal favorite shows: "Pippin." What was that experience like? Did you ever see yourself ending up on a Broadway stage?

DB: I got on Broadway because one of my friends was in the show. He was one of the original cast in the show. He got injured. They were looking for a replacement, and I happened to be the same skill set because he was my mentor.

His main discipline is rola bola. It's a very obscure circus discipline. It's Chinese pipe balancing.

So when he got injured, I got the call to audition for the show. And I auditioned for it, and I was terrified every step of the way, because these are the big leagues.

And to this day, I have never encountered a level of mastery or skill as I saw on Broadway. On Broadway, you have to be good at everything. And you have to be sharp, eight shows a week, and the schedule is intense.

And the whole time, I was like, I don't think I'm at this level, but I am here, and I am doing my best. I felt so fortunate that I got this fast track into Broadway based on my circus skills.

OH: So you left Spokane as a break-dancer with the idea to be a stuntman in Hollywood. You end up training for the circus in Los Angeles, which takes you to the Broadway cast of Pippin. How did you come back to film and TV?

DB: I went back to LA, I started working on stunt work in between, I ended up being an understudy for Cirque du Soleil. And in between that, I started getting back into stunts and training stunts, and I had a series of injuries. And in that time, I met an actor, Doug Jones, who's a creature actor, he's a suit actor.

He was in Shape of Water, he played Abe Sapien, he plays a character on the Star Trek show right now. And he kind of put the idea in my mind that I should pursue suit acting because he's like, 'You have a good build, you're really good at movement.'

It's a difficult career path because you spend a lot of time in the prosthetic chair, so your days are always like 12 to 16 hour days.

Sometimes you lose your senses, so you might have like a prosthetic that covers your eyes. You might not be able to hear, you might not be able to use your mouth. Sometimes you have hands glued on your hands, so people have to feed you. A lot of the times I'm led through set, like a child by someone else, so they’ll hold my hand.

And I started shifting my career towards that. And even through my stunt credits, the majority of my stunts was suit acting.

So my career is moving this way, and then randomly I heard through the grapevine about the Darth Vader role. And the industry is super secretive, and this was a big, big NDA project. Disney's new big Star Wars show, right? No one can publicly talk about it.

So I didn't know how to reach out to anyone for this role. And then I get a call randomly from the stunt coordinator. Unrelated, never contacted him, nothing. To audition for a role, super NDA, secretive, can't tell me much. It takes place in space. It's a suit acting role, so he's wearing this heavy suit of armor, and there's some sword skills.

And I was like, ‘I think I know what this is.’

So he's like, ‘Film an audition with an iPhone' — just a quick audition of basic movements that he wanted to see — 'send it to me, and I could pass it off to production. But we're looking for a suit actor, good with movement.’

So I passed the audition, and I immediately requested for a movement coach. It was one of those things where it was my breakout role, and Darth Vader is the most iconic character in all of cinema history. So it had to be perfect, and it had to stand out compared to every other performance ever shown. And I was training 10 hours a day for five and a half months for the role.

Training everything that you would even imagine – that you wouldn't even imagine. Because in my mind, just like when I was on Broadway, and when I was auditioning for Cirque du Soleil, in those circumstances, a lot of times I felt that I wasn't ready. And I was put in a position, and I had to rise to the occasion.

And this one, I was like, ‘I'm not gonna feel this way. What I'm gonna do is I'm gonna do everything in my power to be as ready as possible. And then whatever happens in the end, whether people love it or hate it, I could look them in the eyes and say, that was my absolute best.’

OH: So now, this role as Darth Vader has brought you back to Spokane. What’s it like to come back to your old stomping grounds as a guest for a pop culture convention?

DB: For Spokane, it's honestly super, super surreal. The crazy thing is, when I left Spokane, I hoped that I would be successful, but I never truly believed that I would achieve it, if that makes sense. Like you have a dream, and there's always this self-doubt.

And for me, when I left, I had a chip on my shoulder. Now that I've had a lot of time, it's been 14 years, a lot of reflection. And now that I've come to grounds with the fact that there wasn't one particular thing that I did that made me special – it just was, I was always in the right place at the right time, that's kind of where it put me.

I mean, I've worked really hard too, but each, every single opportunity that I've ever had has always been out of luck, completely out of luck.

And it's kind of that one thing that ‘If you build it, they will come.’ If you put in the work, then somehow things align, as long as you feel brave enough to jump off that ledge into the unknown and kind of be vulnerable and take a risk.

It's a beautiful experience. I'm really grateful that I'm here in Spokane and I see it from fresh eyes.

OH: Thank you so much for joining me.

DB: Thank you for having me. I had a blast.

OH: You can catch Dmitrious Bistrevsky at Lilac City Comic-Con this weekend at the Spokane Convention Center.

Owen Henderson is a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he studied journalism with minors in Spanish and theater. Before joining the team at SPR as Morning Edition host, he worked as the Weekend Edition host for Illinois Public Media, as well as reporting on the arts and LGBTQ+ issues.