A Star Wars cosplaying chef: ‘Over the years, I probably spent more than 20 grand on my hobby’

What I Do: Norzainuri Albakri is a chef who loves cosplaying, prop-making and all things Star Wars

Cosplaying as a stormtrooper is great – especially when you get that “Oh my God” impression from people when you tell them you’ve made the costume – but it takes about 40 minutes to put on and, after that, you can’t go to the toilet!

I’m a 49-year-old chef, cosplayer and props maker from Malaysia and have been living in Ireland for close to 20 years now.

I’ve always loved sci-fi. Any film with people going to the moon or Mars or travelling at high speeds, I get really excited. When I was a child and Star Wars came out, I thought, Oh my gosh. How did they make this? That’s where it started.

I grew up in a poor family. In the early 1980s there was inflation everywhere, especially in south Asia. Every time we went into town and passed the toy shop, my dad wouldn’t buy any for me. I’d be lying on the ground, crying, but he wouldn’t budge. So when I was about 11 years old I started making my own toys with spare pieces of wood.

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As school went on, I got good grades but we couldn’t afford college, so I started working in kitchens. In 2005 there were open interviews in Kuala Lumpur to be a chef in Ireland. I went to support my brother because he was too afraid. They were interviewing for 400 chef positions that day and about 4,000 showed up. I was asked if I wanted to go too, and within months we flew to Dublin and started working at Lemongrass. We can cook any food because our culture is mixed in Malaysia. We have Chinese, Japanese, Indian and western cuisines. I’ve worked in restaurants all over the country since: Dublin, Cork, Skibbereen, Dunmanway, and now I’m a senior chef at the Leap Inn in west Cork.

It wasn’t until I came to Ireland that I started collecting figures. I started with Transformers after the first Michael Bay film was released in 2007. I’m crazy about them too. My collection grew and grew, and then I moved on to Batman.

Chefs have long hours too, so I’ll dedicate maybe six hours on my day off and after work I might make adjustments into the early hours of the morning

When I met my wife, Caroline, who is also a sci-fi geek, she asked for a little stormtrooper for her office desk. I bought the figurine, and then things really took off. We started thinking about getting stormtrooper armour, but that would have costed €3,500, easily. So I bid on some cheaper armour on eBay – minus the helmet – and got it for €500. I enlisted the help of YouTube and made my own helmet instead.

Usually the stormtroopers all look clean, shiny, spotless – I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to look like I was in the wars, so I made the armour dirty. At the next Dublin Comic Con, everyone wanted a photograph with me.

When making props and costumes, I try to build something that people don’t have. For a blaster, I bought a 1:1 scale plastic Mp4 gun, then do my homework and make the modifications: lights, sounds, materials, wiring and smoke effects on the barrel. I could spend two or three months working on a gun or piece of armour. Chefs have long hours too, so I’ll dedicate maybe six hours on my day off and after work I might make adjustments into the early hours of the morning.

I was invited to be in a fan-made Star Wars film last year, which I really appreciated, but, again, I had to hold my pee the entire time. I decided to make a Tusken warrior costume, which was easier to get in and out of. I spent nearly a grand on making the rifle, helmet and all the little bits. When I went to Comic Con, it was the first costume anybody had seen from the latest Star Wars series. With all the photos circulating, Star Wars Insider spotted me, and I was featured last summer. That made me really proud.

Soon my friends also started asking me to make them Tusken costumes, and now I’m part of a group called west Cork Tuskens where we cosplay together.

You can be somebody else when you cosplay. You get into a character, change your voice, have your moves and everything. Buying cosplay and making it is different. If you’ve made a costume, it’s more about representing your work. But over the years, I’ve spent a lot on my hobby. Too much. Probably more than 20 grand. We have a room at home full of figures on glass shelves.

After I displayed some of my work at an event in Dunmanway last year, the town’s Chamber of Commerce contacted me, suggesting I be the main attraction for an event. I thought nobody would come, but they advertised me in the newspaper and radio anyway. I was so surprised, Star Wars geeks from as far as Belfast came to visit. This year is gonna be a lot bigger. Feel the Force Dunmanway will be a Star Wars festival on June 1st and 2nd, inviting cosplayers, film-makers and fans to the town.

I’m making a Queen Amidala throne (from 1999′s The Phantom Menace) as the centrepiece of the festival, so I’m determined to get that done in time. We have a wedding dress designer working on the queen’s costume too.

Sometimes you feel like your hobby is just for yourself, but this is one is definitely to share with others. – In conversation with Conor Capplis

May 4th is informally celebrated as Star Wars Day, where fans commemorate the space opera franchise. feeltheforce.ie