If such a contest existed, Jason Hinton would surely be crowned Mr London. Hinton who describes himself as an East End boy, used to work at the Ritz before he passed ‘The Knowledge’ and hit the streets in his black cab.
Three years of studying the ‘blue book’ (the London taxi drivers’ bible) means that he knows how to shave minutes off a journey by shooting through the alleys of Soho’s ‘dirty dozen’ and can point you to the best spot in Borough Market for a cup of tea. Along the way he’s heard tales of heartbreak, interrupted some intimate moments – and shared cab driver wisdom with everyone from Joanna Lumley to footballers George Best and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. In fact, if anyone can navigate Piccadilly Circus while chatting to a Jedi Master, it’s Hinton.
After three casting calls, Hinton was chosen to be the real-life black cab driver in Vodafone’s new advert – starring alongside Dagobah’s smallest icon.
There are a thousand Vodafone taxis on the streets of London, and Hinton has been driving his for a year.
“We wanted a real cabbie and we looked at hundreds, but Jason had that extra spark of cheeky friendliness that we thought summed up what London was all about,” says Thais Delcanton from the creative team responsible for the advert at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe.
The latest advert features Yoda catching a ride. Jason mistakenly thinks that Yoda needs to use the free Vodafone phone charger in his cab to charge his Lightsaber but, unlike iPhone, Nokia, BlackBerry and Android users, Yoda uses the Force.
Hinton admits acting alongside his illustrious co-star made him quite nervous, even though he only had to make eye contact with a replica (the real Yoda is added by CGI at Lucasfilm’s visual effects facility, Industrial Light & Magic, in San Francisco)
“It was my first time on set. I had a Winnebago. I had lights round the mirror. I had make-up and pampering,” Hinton says.
He was then whisked off to film a late night sequence, driving around Piccadilly Circus, before climbing in to a cab hitched to a low loader to film the sequence with dialogue.
“There were lights, microphones, and the director was lying in the back of the cab feeding me lines. I just kept telling myself – don’t mess it up.”
As soon as the filming was finished the team from Lucasfilm whisked the rushes back to the ILM campus in San Francisco and started work on perfecting Yoda in CGI. It’s a three-stage process: first Yoda is blocked into the scene, followed by a longer stage of rendering where the team works on perfecting facial expressions and lip movements. Finally creative artists pore over every detail to make sure that Yoda’s skin, hair, feet and eyes all look authentic.
“They know how he reacts, what he does – his mannerisms,” Delcanton says, “You have one group of special effects artists working on creating the twinkle in his eyes to look right, while another team works on his cloak.”
Every word, every movement and every joke has to be consistent with the Yoda that STAR WARS fans know and love.
It was the first time Hinton’s had a star of such magnitude in his cab, but he’s seen almost everything else London has to offer:
“I come from East Ham originally, in the East End. My mother’s family were butchers and my dad’s family were rag and bone men. Now I work around Mayfair, so I’ve seen it all really.”
Hinton says he’s got a few tips for visitors to the city this summer. If you fancy a pint, try the traditional ‘The Blue Posts’ pub behind the Ritz hotel on Bennett Street. Later, if you want a quiet drink without loud music, he suggests the Dover Street Wine Bar. His favourite tea-stop on Great Southwark Street might not be for everyone, Hinton admits, but it’s good if you want to sample a traditional British brew and see how the area’s being regenerated by the Shard building. For something hip and further out, catch a ride up to Stoke Newington where you can find lots of independent shops, and watch trendy North London mums parading up and down Church Street with Bugaboos and lattes.
After seven years on the road, and a life-time in London, he’s seen most fads come and go – but talking to people and finding out what makes them tick keeps the job interesting:
“I picked George Best up in Chelsea, Joanna Lumley was a really nice lady – she told me about her TV series on the Nile and then gave me a copy. Mostly I get women who want to talk to me about their love lives, and ask me why their men aren’t treating them right.”
It must be that same cheeky-chappy friendliness which makes him so appealing on screen. Hinton nods, “I think I have the kind of face people want to talk to.”