When it comes to diversifying income, farmers might go down the route of tree plantations, holiday lets, or agritourism – but for Jack and Morna Cuthbert the answer lies in front of a film camera.

Back in April 2021, the Cuthberts and 11 of their Hebridean sheep ventured to Glen Tilt for the filming of the acclaimed Star Wars series Andor. Starring Diego Luna and Stellan Skarsgård, the series acts as a prequel to the Rogue One film and follows Luna’s character Cassian Andor as he begins his journey as part of the rising resistance.

The Scottish Farmer: Training the tups to step up to the markTraining the tups to step up to the mark

Jack had initially seen an advert on Facebook looking for keepers of multi-horned animals to film in an unnamed project in the Pitlochry area. Looking to film in May 2020, the contract was through animal talent agency Birds & Animals UK. It was initially looking for six animals with multiple horns to blend in with the sci-fi nature of the TV show and, after discussions over several possible animals, Jack and Morna were chosen for the contract.

Jack described the process: “They had a few potential options but they were mainly looking for impressive horns with a docile temperament. We discussed with them what kind of animals we could supply and we were lucky to be picked. They liked the impressive horns and the calmness of our animals which I think sealed the deal.”

Due to the spring filming dates, they opted to use males over females which also worked better for the horns. Unfortunately, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, filming was pushed back a year to April 2021 and the production team decided they needed more stock so Jack added young tup lambs to his mix of show rams as potential TV stars. In the end, 11 sheep made the cut – six tups and five lambs. There was a fair bit of pre-set training, with two trainers from Birds & Animals UK coming to the Cuthberts’ farm.

The Scottish Farmer: The narrow bridge the sheep needed to cross onsetThe narrow bridge the sheep needed to cross onset

“It was mostly hill halter training using food as an incentive,” said Jack. “We trained a couple of them to walk up to a mark and stand there. Two ladies from the agency brought props and lighting rigs so that the sheep could get used to a film set environment. They also recreated a lot of the sounds that the sheep would be exposed to on filming days.”

Part of the sequence required the sheep to cross a footbridge across a ford in the Glen filming location, so training was needed to ensure the sheep could cross the footbridge safely.

The Scottish Farmer: Filming location in Glen Tilt, near PitlochryFilming location in Glen Tilt, near Pitlochry

“We created a makeshift bridge using bits of pallets and wood to get the sheep used to stepping up onto it and crossing in single file. What you don’t see in the show is the safety barriers on either side of the footbridge to stop anyone from falling in but the sheep still needed to trust it was safe before they would walk along.”

Prior to the start of filming, the Cuthberts got to go to Glen Tilt to check out the set and raise any potential concerns they had with production. The set designer was also able to make a mock-up of the footbridge surface and the pens they were going to use so they could practice with the sheep.

“Our main two concerns were with the pen set-up and the footbridge,” said Jack. “It was vital that the edges of the pens needed to have flat sides and be high enough to stop the stock jumping out. The pens needed to look appropriate to the fictional world of Star Wars and work for filming scenes so it’s not always a simple solution. This was also when the decision was made to erect safety sides for the footbridge for both humans and animals crossing.”

The Scottish Farmer: Diego Luna stars in the Disney Plus seriesDiego Luna stars in the Disney Plus series

Animal welfare was a top priority for the production team and Disney made sure that every time animals were being moved the whole set would shut down.

“We had access to a steading with a paddock further down the glen and the animals stayed there for three weeks during filming. We still had to fill out all the usual movement forms. Morna and I were put up in a nice hotel in Pitlochry throughout with filming only taking place Monday to Friday. Once on set we transported the sheep to the filming location and had to walk them across the bridge to the pen. Disney was really good about closing down the set so that everything could be moved stress free.”

Before filming, the cast and crew present for the scenes involving the sheep were given a safety briefing with some of the lead actors even bonding with the sheep after spending so much time with them.

“Some of the scenes required the actors to interact with the sheep so it was important for them to be comfortable around each other,” Jack explained. “Some of the lead actresses were particularly fond of the sheep and spent a lot of time with them. The sheep were enjoying it so much they would queue up in the mornings to go on set – they really enjoyed all the attention.”

The production designers had to 3-D print black covers to go over all the animals’ ear tags to make sure they weren’t visible. Some of the sheep also got special headpieces to give them extra horns and headgear to make them look more alien.

Filming lasted three weeks and covered scenes from episodes four, five, and six from the first season of Andor. The sheep were utilised within the plot with the main characters disguising themselves as shepherds so they could stealthily carry out a rebel mission.

“In the script, the sheep were known as a species called Drey, and their existence was based on milk production. We did rehearse a scene where one of the sheep was being ‘milked’ – even though they were all tups – but it was cut and never filmed.”

A scene that did make it in was a sequence where a TIE Fighter spaceship flew over the animals. This was done with big fans to create a down draft with the aircraft being added in later using CGI.

“You will notice that the sheep don’t really react too much aside from the crosswind but it’s still a cool moment in the show.”

Being part of an iconic series, the Cuthberts were required to keep their involvement in the production top secret to stop any potential story spoilers leaking before the series went out. This also meant that their two children didn’t find out about it until they watched the episode to see their star show tup Excalibur front and centre in one of the scenes.

“That was a special moment seeing their reaction because they had no idea until they saw him there. It being a long process we couldn’t wait to tell people but we couldn’t say anything until the series went out.”

Since their introduction to the Star Wars universe, Jack and Morna have had a lot of attention. “We have had visits from fan societies all over the world wanting to see the special Star Wars sheep. Until now there have never been sheep present in the Star Wars universe so it’s something to say we are the first ones. I am a trustee for the Hebridean Sheep Society so it’s really important to get the breed out there and this experience has really done that.”

The Cuthberts have a 150-acre farm in Kinross with mostly Hebridean sheep alongside some commercial crosses. The Hebrideans are mostly bred for the high-end market due to their high-quality carcase and rare breed status.

“As much as filming is a diversification you still have to earn the daily bread.”

When asked if the filming experience was worth it, Jack simply said: “Definitely. If you ever see an advert or get contacted for filming I would say do it for the experience. Production treated us like kings and overall it was a lot of fun, not to mention the response we have got because of it. It’s a great way to diversify the income and it’s something a bit different that you will still talk about in years to come.”

Andor is available to stream on Disney+.