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Interview with author and Star Wars star Anthony Daniels

by Daniel Reynolds

As the only actor to appear in all 11 Star Wars films, plus countless commercials, video games, theme park rides, and everything else across the galaxy, Anthony Daniels and his character C-3PO (or Threepio) have become synonymous with George Lucas’ prized creation, dating all the way back to 1977.

Now, in his new book I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story, Daniels recounts the years he’s spent inside one of the most famous costumes in film history. I got the chance to sit down one-on-one with Daniels to discuss his writing, his performances, and, of course, what’s next for everyone’s favourite droid.

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Brief Take: Your book has a strong chronological structure that really takes the reader on a journey through your experience with Threepio and Star Wars as a whole. It also paints a funny picture of creator George Lucas.

Anthony Daniels: Oh, he’s lovely, he really is lovely. But he communicates through his films, his artwork. He doesn’t find it easy to talk. But I’m very fond of him. Neither of us would be here today without him. But it’s interesting you spotted—because I didn’t when I was writing it until I moved all the pieces around a bit like one of those old puzzles, because I wrote it in segments, obviously—that when I put it finally together, oh good heavens this is a journey.

And I never, believe me, I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. But I think some innate, some hidden force designed it that way. And it’s chronological—yeah, it is actually when I think about it—the films made a clothes rail, and then I hung various bits, trying to keep them roughly [in order]. But I didn’t want it to be, “And then I did this, and then…” you know, which it could so easily have turned out to be.

BT: It provides a nice parallel to Threepio himself. When you started out with Star Wars, you were not in films, not in Hollywood, and day one you show up in the desert with Mark Hamill (as Luke Skywalker), trapped in a plastic suit. Were you thinking to yourself: are all film productions like this?

AD: It wasn’t a great moment. It was utterly bewildering. And maybe that speaks to Threepio’s enduring sense of bewilderment where it’s always wrong, it’s always wrong. Yeah, I hadn’t actually thought about it in those terms.

BT: And you had no idea in that moment that Star Wars would be a success, no idea it would become what it did.

AD: Did you know it didn’t occur to me? Because I remember thinking, nobody’s ever going to see this film. But, you know, I was being paid—very low budget production—but it was a job. And once you’ve done the job, that’s the end of your input, I thought. How wrong. So I assumed it wouldn’t be a popular film.

BT: There have been so many films that have tried to capture the same kind of Star Wars magic and success, but it’s very difficult to do.

AD: Well, it’s a one-off that George [Lucas] came up with, and then you’re always going to have follow-ons from it. And, well, good luck to filmmakers. But it’d be interesting to see, maybe we have had… but not the same. Harry Potter, Star Trek, not the same as this.

BT: In the book, we get a sense that you took a certain responsibility for the Threepio character over time.

AD: Yes, I did. And I don’t know why. If you put it like that, I cannot… I am quite a loyal person, if you’re a friend, that’s it—unless you do something really crass—I’m going to look after you. And Threepio has that same quality, which was in the script, or I read it in the script anyway, in the undertones of it. And yeah, I kind of didn’t want to let him go into the world by himself. He’s almost like, I suppose, like a toddler. Not quite a toddler, but he’s not ready for this world, our world, without me to guide him.

BT: It also feels like there was an element on top of that where you wanted to do right by the projects Threepio was involved in. It was a job, but it wasn’t necessarily a cash-in, you had respect for it.

AD: Respect, and, well, again, responsibility. Nobody asked me to be responsible. But it became clear that Lucasfilm would trust me on some event because I would curate what was happening around Threepio, that it wasn’t… [In the book] I talk about being on [Donny and Marie] Osmond’s show, and really I ended up saying six words, for the same price, because I just cut out all the crap. But I should have rewritten the crap. Now I would—well, let’s just have him say this instead—because I know him.

BT: How much did your leeway with the scripts or the character grow or change over time, from the first to the last film?

AD: Scriptwriters like Chris Terrio, who’s written Episode IX, don’t… well, we did discuss phrases, words, expressions, but the story is his and J.J. [Abrams]’s, where he’s put Threepio. And with the other films too. I was a God of the Ewoks, that wasn’t my idea, that was George’s and the writers. So I’m a bit of a, not coattails person, but I’m there to twitter the edges of it. Would it be better if he said this, oh yeah, OK, good. Because a little collaboration is good.

BT: So did that get easier with George Lucas and the prequels, because you describe it as a cold experience?

AD: It’s not a word I used, but yes, it was a bit cold. But George was so involved in this world of—I was going to say make-believe, green screen, whatever—that… I’ve tried to be… These films were not aimed at my age group. I was there because of Threepio.

BT: Was it difficult to act in that green screen environment to a certain extent?

AD: My first job I talk about [in the book] was on the radio—you don’t get scenery. You’ve got a script, you’ve got the actor’s face, you’ve got a microphone. It’s in your head. And actually, it’s more difficult than it sounds because you haven’t learned the words, but you are familiar with them. Green screen isn’t as exciting as when you—you know, on this last film I was constantly, people noticed that I would just be really open-mouthed at what I would see inside a studio. That somebody takes an empty studio space and fills it with magic, physical magic, often not the real thing at all. The odd rock you’d be silly to kick it because, no, that’s a real rock. The rest is polystyrene, papier-mâché, all that kind of thing. And it does speak to the soul within you. It’s fun, but you should be able to do it on green screen as well.

BT: It’s interesting that Star Wars films have now turned back towards more tactile or real effects after George Lucas made them far more computerized. It feels like the soul of it does have something to do with that.

AD: Yeah, there is something visceral. And maybe it connects back to the actors who feel the environment because you are in environments that are utterly believable. You have to remember that the prequels came out just after Jurassic Park where all these new toys seemed to be the sine qua non of filmmaking. And George has always been experimental. And I do remember saying in the book that time has been kinder to the prequels than at the time. Because now those people who saw it as kids are 30-something and absolutely their favourite films are those prequels. I say that they were not aimed at my age, totally true. They weren’t.

BT: On that note, Martin Scorsese wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about cinema and where it’s going. You’ve been there for the making of blockbuster films and theme park rides. Do you have any thoughts on that?

AD: A bit of me is wondering where things like augmented reality are taking us. The more immersive experiences that maybe people enjoy—although I don’t know how many minutes you can enjoy it for. I mean, a two-hour movie, I wouldn’t want to go through in virtual reality with a headset on.

However, the days of the clunky headset are… shrinking. Some of the experiences, and working at ILM [Industrial Light and Magic] and seeing what they can do now, and thinking, yeah, this is maybe the new way forward. But always, we come back to the storyline. Have you got a story or not? Just the effects are not enough. All right, riding the [Millennium] Falcon at Galaxy’s Edge is effects, and motion, and whatever, but that’s a four-minute ride or whatever it is. A movie, you want to engage people with. And I think you mostly engage them with story and character.

BT: Speaking of character, Threepio is perhaps nearing the end of his time in Star Wars films. You’ve said goodbye before, but is this one different, knowing it is more final?

AD: It occurred to me only actually on the last day of filming Episode IX. This is the third time I’ve said goodbye, and I’ve meant it each time. And it’s been miraculous that it’s come around again. This time it was for the last time in the movies. And it was for me quite a touching moment. I felt a little weepy. Actually I felt a lot weepy—but I didn’t. And I talk about [in the book], the strangeness in that kind of scene, I didn’t say anything. So, that’s just the luck of the schedule. But you know I feel absolutely OK that this is the last movie. There are other projects, yes, but the movies are the big thing. But how lucky am I that George [Lucas] kept my voice that allows me to be in these spin-off things. So I’m totally at peace, at calm, at joy with the end of the saga. J.J [Abrams], with his childish enthusiasm, just going at it, still bugging me.

BT: So do you have any advice for the new actors who have joined the saga, shaped Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, and will have a role maybe beyond that?

AD: I do not have a single word of advice for them. They do not need advice. They—and I’m thinking through the cast—they just come on stage and do it. And I’m going, they’re awfully good, where did they learn how to… I mean, I’m good at robots, but it was quite funny the other day with Daisy [Ridley], Oscar [Isaac], and John [Boyega], and we were rehearsing and I’m not in the costume and they’re very seriously talking about something that’s happening. And [in Threepio’s voice] Threepio just kind of bounces in.

Because I always rehearse as Threepio, and suddenly even I thought, shit, is this what I’m really like on the set? And they all just treated me as a real person, but because we all had our faces showing, I just saw the difference in the performance level. But of course Threepio is basically an exaggeration of a human, and why not? It’s good that everybody gets used to what they’re going to film, so I rehearse like that. It’s sometimes a little embarrassing, but I’ve gotten over that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story by Anthony Daniels is out now! For more information, please click here

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