Star Wars actor finds his ‘Local Hero’ in wee Scottish seaside village


Published March 19, 2024 at 6:00 pm

Star Wars
Star Wars and Local Hero actor Denis Lawson and wife, Pennan's Karen Prentice. Photo Glenn Hendry

Scottish actor Denis Lawson may have got his name in lights thanks to his recurring role in the massive Star Wars franchise but it was a part in a 1983 cult classic set in a picturesque seaside village in north-east Scotland that was most memorable for him.

Many years later, that same village – Pennan to the locals, Ferness to fans of the movie Local Hero – and a woman from the tiny village would also steal his heart.

Lawson was a celebrity guest at Fan Expo’s Toronto Comicon on the weekend there was never a doubt as to why he was there. Lawson played pilot Wedge Antilles in all three films in the original trilogy, including Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). Those iconic films form the base for the franchise, which has a huge following around the globe.

He also reprised the role in 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker, further cementing his bonafides with Star Wars fans.

Denis Lawson as pilot Wedge Antilles in the Star Wars franchise

(His nephew Ewan McGregor, who gained the attention of Hollywood with his role in  1996’s Trainspotting, entered superstar status in 2022 when he famously played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars mini-series of the same name. Lawson’s other nephew Colin McGregor is a real-life pilot in the Royal Navy.)

But while his part in the Star Wars juggernaut earned Lawson a level of fame (and certainly helped pad his bank account) it was his role as hotel owner and accountant Gordon Urquhart in Local Hero that was especially memorable.

Local Hero is a Scottish comedy-drama written and directed by Bill Forsyth and starring Peter Riegert (The Mask, Animal House, The Sopranos, Crossing Delancey), Peter Capaldi (Dr. Who), Lawson and Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster.

A red phone box that was installed as a movie prop and re-installed after public pressure has become the most well-known legacy of the film and is featured at the end of the movie.

The red phone box from Local Hero in Pennan

The film is about an American oil company representative ‘Mac’ MacIntyre (Riegert) who is sent to the fictional village of Ferness (Pennan) to purchase the town and surrounding property for his company to make way for a refinery.

MacIntyre spends several weeks in Ferness getting to know the eccentric residents, most notably hotel owner and accountant Urquhart (Lawson) and his wife Stella and becomes increasingly conflicted as he presses to close the deal that will end the village he has come to love.

In the end MacIntyre’s boss has a change of heart and opts to set up an astronomical observatory and oceanographic research facility instead. MacIntyre returns to his apartment in Houston and as the film ends the local red phone box – an enduring legacy of Local Hero that was installed in Pennan as a movie prop and re-installed after public pressure – starts ringing.

“I had a very special experience making the movie,” Lawson reflected more than 40 years after the film’s release. “It was lovely. Great scripts, great cast of actors. It was just wonderful.”

The movie’s seaside setting of Pennan – population about 50 souls – also played a role in Lawson meeting his wife, Karen Prentice, who hails from the village. They had met in passing over the years as Prentice was a neighbour of Lawson’s mother for a time in his hometown of Crieff, near Perth in central Scotland.

In 2015 a romance developed and two years later the two were wed in a beachside ceremony in Italy.

Lawson joked to the Daily Mail in 2018 that after living with mostly ‘posh’ English women during his life, he sounded “more Scottish, now that I’m living with a real Scot.”

“Sometimes when she uses Doric words I have no idea what she’s talking about.”

With a tiny population, Pennan has not produced too many celebrities besides Prentice and local legend Jean Gatt, who married a Fraserburgh man and took her clan to Canada nearly a century ago, but the area has spawned a few famous people, including Victoria Cross recipient Joseph Watt from nearby Gardentown and James Sinclair, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s grandfather and the father of Maggie Trudeau, who hails from Grange, located a few miles to the west.

The scenery in Pennan, with its single row of homes and the cliffside backdrop, is world-renowned, however – just like that red phone box from Local Hero.


Pennan, the setting for the 1983 film Local Hero. Photo Jim Richardson

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