Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our one hundred and thirty-ninth guest is a Star Wars legend – Anthony Daniels.
Lightsabre – Anthony, welcome to Lightsabre.
Lightsabre – Oh fantastic. Always nice to hear a good recommendation.
AD – Isn’t it? There’s plenty of rubbish out there.
Lightsabre – For a man who was so unimpressed by 2001 A Space Odyssey that he walked out after ten minutes and demanded his money back, you must look back in wonderment at the last thirty-odd years and your involvement in Star Wars and think, what happened, given that you were so unimpressed with another sci-fi classic?
AD – Well, I think it was actually fifteen minutes, and I’ve actually met someone else who did the same thing. I was not alone in those days in thinking it was boring. In fact I watched it on a plane the other day, Virgin do these retro movies and it’s so impressive. I still have no idea what the last ten minutes is about but it’s just a magical movie, I was just too young to enjoy it. Yes, it is weird that circumstances led me into this strange past – it was the future then, but I didn’t know where it was going.
You know, as an actor I didn’t have any other ambition other than to act, you know. Wear other peoples clothes, say other peoples lines in front of other people. It’s a kind of weird sort of exhibitionism. But that was all I wanted to do, as it were to please the audience and gratify myself. It never occurred to me that I would become or to want to become rich and/or famous, I just wanted to act. And given that on occasions I’ve acted to all of six people in the audience at the Edinburgh Fringe, I think there were seven. But the sheer joy of doing it is what it was about, and circumstances, fate, The Force, whatever took over and here I am after all of thirty-two, thirty-three years of Star Wars still doing it. Strange.
AD – Right, it was a twelve week job I remember and I completely forgot about it. It’s interesting that I did forget all about it as soon as we’d finished. So a phone call to go to LA to put my voice on came out of the blue about six months later I think. I can’t remember what I was doing straight after but presumably I’d gone straight back into the theatre or recordings or whatever and just got on with life. Because as an actor you’re like a sort of little episodes of things. I think I was very short-termist. If a job lasted three months in a theatre that was petty special. I once did theatre for nine months in the same play and I went mad.
Lightsabre – (Laughs) So you felt like you needed that fresh challenge as an actor, moving from theatre to theatre?
AD – Oh yes, actors are very febrile in that way, they like to be challenged, that’s a word actors use almost exclusively. Like Meryl Streep, ‘Why did you take this role?’ ‘It was a challenge.’ You mean it was a job and you got paid for it. But some jobs are more frankly interesting than others.
Threepio is kind of a little industry of his own because he is a challenge in all sorts of different ways, ways that you may realise and ways that you may not realise. Where some things stay the same with him, other things are like ‘wow, how do I do this or how do I cope with that?’ So in his own little way he’s a cottage industry challenge.
Lightsabre – And that must have been fantastic, because you obviously love the character. You couldn’t possibly have done it if you don’t.
AD – Oh yes, you’re quite right to pick up on that because frankly the challenges are a pain in the…everywhere, not just in the butt, but there are physical pains, there are intellectual pains, frustrations. I have said that at one point I thought of just stopping it, it’s ridiculous for a grown man to trash about in a costume pretending to be a machine. And then something took over and I said ‘You really like this character, you’re very fond of him’. I really do like him.
Lightsabre – It was almost like the character won you over despite yourself? I’ve heard other interviews where it was almost as if he – Threepio – won you over.
AD – Oh, 100%, because he – or more correctly we should say ‘it’, although he finds it difficult when he hears ‘it’. Reminds him that he’s not a real robot, you know, he’s not a real human, just sort of – he, ‘it’, did win me over because he’s a completely different personality so I can look at him from sideways, and admire him or be irritated by him or like him. It’s not me I’m talking about, so when I’m asked to see him on film I can see it in two modes, being picky and thinking ‘I wish I hadn’t done that, or I wish I’d done less or I could have done more there, or why didn’t I do that’, and the other bit is thinking ‘he’s fun really isn’t he’.
Lightsabre – So you’re happily detached from the character when you’re watching him back?
AD – Oh absolutely.
Lightsabre – That must be lovely, because I know a lot of actors hate watching themselves and find it difficult.
AD – Yeah, I can’t say that I sit down and watch Star Wars every day.
Lightsabre – Oh God no (Laughs)
AD – Recently I turned on the TV two consecutive Sundays and there was Threepio speaking. I just had to turn it off, I’m not in the mood. My affection for him, and my tolerance for him has allowed us to go together round the world quite a few times and do some interesting and strange things that most actors I doubt they dream of it.
Lightsabre – The only comparison I can think of from other movies or other shows must be the Star Trek cast, the things they did with NASA, and the places they’ve been, it’s the only comparison I can really think of to the Star Wars cast, and yourself in particular, having been around the world with Threepio so to speak.
AD – Well I sat in the training module of the Space Shuttle, the training thing, that was scary. You’ve done Star Tours at Disney, which is the most brilliant simulator. But there’s no buttons to push or anything. In the Space Shuttle it’s serious and very convincing, so that was a great treat. We get treats sometimes, and because of being associated with robotics I’ve also, because of my work with the Boston Science Museum and Carnegie Mellon, have met amazing scientists who do the real thing, do space vehicles, do explorer vehicles, do real robots. They’re delighted to talk about their work with me but they’re actually more interested in talking about Star Wars, which was their inspiration to become scientists.
Lightsabre – That must be fascinating as well, to be a part of it and feed back on to the real thing?
AD – Yeah, because robotics will be very important to the planet and alright, they’re not going to talk like Threepio for a long, long time, if at all because as a robot he’s way beyond anything that anyone could imagine because he has so many aspects, he stands alone…he’s not exactly self-energising, he does have to plug in but he’s cognitive, he understands people, he socialises, he can be with people. He’s emotional and therefore a very good companion.
Lightsabre – You’ve just hit on something there I’ve never thought of before. When you first saw those Ralph McQuarrie production paintings, and whatever it was grabbed you about Threepio and you thought ‘Now I’m interested’, did you know he was going to be an emotional character, because when I think of all the characters in Star Wars, he’s the most emotional.
AD – He is you see, because if you had a human showing those emotions you’d feel a bit ill really. You wouldn’t want to go for a drink. Well, you would want to go for a drink but not with him.No I didn’t. When I saw that picture there was just George and me in the room and Ralph Mcquarrie’s artwork which was literally inspirational, you know people use that word. I was inspired by that picture to read the script. Then when I read the script I thought ‘This characters kind of interesting, he’s rather strange.’ He’s not a hero or a villain or anything, he’s just got a funny attitude to things, an unusual attitude, and an emotional one. He’s not afraid to say he’s afraid. Most adults find it very difficult to admit they’re scared. They cover it up, they swallow hard, they go mad.
Lightsabre – So when you filmed the movie, as you said earlier, you went away as a jobbing actor and six months later they said can you come out and do that voice over, did you think that you wouldn’t be doing the voiceover? As you say, you’d put the character to one side.
AD – What happened on day one, I mean famously because I’ve told the stories before, because they’re still the same stories, you can be reminded ‘oh yeah, that happened, I’d forgotten about that’, but I remember very clearly George coming up to me kind of huffily because I’d screwed up three takes because I couldn’t remember the line about moisture vaporators being similar to binary load lifters, or very similar. I couldn’t get these stupid words out because my brain was more used to Shakespearean cadence, and here I was inside a metal box talking to an American in the desert sun about moisture vaporators. And I fluffed the line several times and George came up and said ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll fix it.’ And so the next time I made up gobbledygook talking through a little microphone at the top of my head and a transmitter stuffed in a very hot place. Then afterwards the sound people came up to me and said ‘Would you mind after a take doing a wild back of the lines, because you’re voice is so muffled that the editor is going mad working with it.’ So after each set-up I had to go and re-record the lines standing in the desert with a man and a microphone. So they edited with that and I never thought about it after that. It was only when I got there that I found out that George had not intended to use my voice and had not intended to have the character as I had made him. Because you know actors do interpret roles, and it’s up to the director to say ‘Well, could we do it a bit more like this’, so George has assumed that with a gold-plated machine you could put whatever sounds you wanted on.
AD – Oh famously yes, more I think like one of my really, really favourite characters…oh instantly I forget his name…Watto, you know, the blue thing.
Lightsabre – Oh yeah, from Episode 2.
AD – Yes, Episode 2 I think, Andy Secombe’s character.
Lightsabre – Yes, Watto, that’s right.
AD – I used to watch Andy doing it, because he was so delicious, his performance as a person on the set, because he was there was glorious to watch, hilarious. Very naughty. And I always thought that Watto actually, George finally got the Threepio character in there.
Lightsabre – (Laughs) That’s interesting to put those two together, you’d never put those two together. Now, because we’re so used to Threepio.
AD – Threepio would be appalled, because Watto’s table manners were even worse than Jar Jar Binks.
Lightsabre – So while you were doing that voice in the desert to help the editor out, had you found the voice? Is it what we would recognise as Threepio?
AD – I’d had six months working with a studio and a costume, and I was in the theatre at the time, but I’d spent, oh I was doing all sorts of things because if you’re in the theatre at night you’ve got the days free. You obviously need to catch up on sleep and have a nap every afternoon, but I would think about this. Lots of draft scripts kept arriving, different scripts and Threepio got bigger and bigger as we went along, and every day wearing the suit and itching with bloody fibres. I hate the smell of glass fibre these days after that because the bits get in you and you itch all over, disgusting. And I thought of voices and I thought about HAL, that wonderful performance in 2001 and the Daleks and Robbie the Robot and all these other things. And nothing kind of went along with the script. I did a few practises but nothing really worked, and on day one, I promise you, Threepio just arrived. His time had come and he came out onto the desert. Weird. I would like to take all of the praise for doing it, it was all me. A bit of it was him. Just got on with it, and left me slightly shocked actually.
Lightsabre – So it’s kind of serendipity, all the little pieces fell into place. I suppose little things you must have done gave you ideas on how you wanted to bring it to life vocally, because he’s a very vocal character isn’t he?
AD – Oh some people say too vocal. Because he speaks his mind. And it was a kind of serendipity, everything came together, the design of the costume just was beautiful the mask in particular. The script, the whole circumstance came together and he arrived and he stayed that way. He’s never changed.
Lightsabre – He’s a design classic really, isn’t he?
AD – Which is why he’s one of the iconic images of the movie. You’ve got Darth Vader, you’ve got Millennium Falcon or the Death Star, you’ve got a Lightsabre and you’ve got Threepio. And Artoo. Iconic images. Followed me around the world absolutely, the music follows me around the world.
Lightsabre – You must hear that every day in one form or another?
AD – Yes, it can get a bit irritating.
Lightsabre – It’s not your ringtone is it?
AD – Oh GOD, I know people who have the ring tones and I just…too much.
Lightsabre – It is too much. Now we mentioned Jar Jar earlier on, and obviously you did that episode of The Clone Wars (Anthony laughs) Bombad Jedi, which I haven’t laughed so much in ages. I thought you were a fantastic double act, I really did. Did you enjoy doing that one, it must have been hilarious?
AD – I’m really pleased you said that, apparently it’s been very, very popular. I’m really glad you say that because Dave Filoni the director, who’s just terrific, we have such a laugh. But what you probably don’t realise is that I’m all by myself.
Lightsabre – Of course, you record in London don’t you.
AD – I record in London, I go to a studio in Wardour Street and generally at four o’clock in the afternoon, which means we have time to work before my voice gets tired, but it’s also late enough in the day that it’s breakfast time in California. So they have to get up real early because if I did anything any later it wouldn’t be so good. Often there’s a whole team of them over there and there’s just me in London with an engineer, kind of blinking at each other as we go along. I talk to Dave over a headset and we record the lines in London and post it up onto a http site and Lucasfilm pull them off the air and they go on and get animated. Occasionally we do it to picture but mostly with animation you do the voice first.
The other day we did have a very beautiful sequence of film, and I was actually able to add things to it because I was looking at the pictures. ‘Oh yeah, look how that guy just walks straight in front of Threepio’, almost bumping into each other, so we put in a ‘Oh! Oh!’ (in Threepio’s voice) You can play around that way, but I’m thrilled that the thing with Jar Jar worked so well. Because humour is very important to these movies, if it’s all Jedi Mind stuff then it gets tiresome.
Lightsabre – It would get very dull, yeah. But that episode just jumped out because especially with Jar Jar, he had such a rough ride as a character, and Ahmed the poor guy had such a rough ride as an actor, to see Jar Jar come into a situation like that, and play off Threepio, who’s got that comic touch anyway, it was brilliant. I loved that episode.
AD – Ahmed Best is one of the nicest people who works on these films, and he’s just a tremendously clever actor and he did exactly what George asked him to do. And he did it brilliantly. The fact that it made people’s teeth shudder was not his fault.
Lightsabre – No. I think Hayden Christensen got a similar rough ride with Episode 2 in that George wanted that stroppy, snotty teenager and he played it to a tee, and yet he seemed to get the backlash. It must be frustrating as an actor, to be doing exactly what you’re asked and paid for and requested to do, and you take the flak for doing your job.
AD – They will always blame the actor because a lot of people aren’t quite clear, people who aren’t actors or whatever, why should they know what a director does or what a producer does. It is the director who will often help an actor mould his performance in the way of the whole film, so an actor generally is looking at his own role whereas the director is looking at the whole movie, and if somebody decides I need a stroppy teenager here, I need the teenager, I need the strop, then the actor has to do it.
My views on Hayden is way over the top, he’s kind of like how a lot of actors should be but aren’t (laughs) he’s very modern and very talented. A bit like Ahmed, maybe that film wasn’t where that was going to come out, but other films I’m sure they will as they progress onto other things. But Ahmed did seem to unite the planet, and indeed the galaxy, in a fear and loathing of rather sort of long mouths and floppy things.
But nobody seems to talk about that strange Boss Nass, or Conde Nast thing, the big fat Gungan thing.
Lightsabre – Boss Nass? Brian Blessed’s character.
AD – Boss Nass, that’s it. So many characters in these things. I mean, what was that about? So, anyway. I think Ahmed was, and I’ve never spoken to him about it and I wouldn’t speak for another actor but if it had been me I would have been hurt. It would take some balls to ignore it, you know. I’ve met him since and he’s been perfectly fine, and a huge talent.
Lightsabre – Do you think that’s something as an actor, as you move through different roles, I mean you’ve done many yourself. Prime Suspect most famously, Vampire Motorcycle which I remember watching years ago.
AD – We had a reunion the other day, I hadn’t watched it for a hundred years, it was actually rather good, we had such a laugh. Anyway, you take them because you need the work or you really like them. The ones you really like never pay.
Lightsabre – I’ve heard that before.
AD – Yes, it’s very irritating. But you know Alec Guinness told me that when he played Adolf Hitler on stage he got a lot of hate mail because people find it very difficult to disassociate a piece of art from reality sometimes. It happens to people with their eyes rather close together in my opinion. Back in Hollywood now there’s a problem with The Reader because people are saying how can Kate Winslet play a Nazi person without any visible regret. Because that is the character!
Lightsabre – Exactly, it’s acting.
AD – Watch it, follow the story. You know, to see that face, utterly bewildered, when it’s pointed out that she could have unlocked the door and let all these people out instead of burn to death, to which she goes “but it would have been chaotic, they would have been everywhere,” that is the mindset of that kind of person. Kate Winslet is not that person, she was pretending to be a person like that, she was acting.
You know, some people really need to sort their thoughts out. It’s a very good film and she gave a terrific performance. I didn’t like Titanic.
Lightsabre – Mmmm, yeah, it was very much of its time I think Titanic, you look back at it now and it was almost a zeitgeist film, that was the film for that time but now it’s Sunday afternoon viewing.
AD – So you see I don’t like everything but I hope she gets an Oscar. If she doesn’t it will be down to the slightly brainless quality of some of the critics.
Lightsabre – Agreed, agreed. Well, going back to that Titanic era, Episode 1 is ten years old now, the tenth anniversary of The Phantom Menace.
AD – Is it?
Lightsabre – It is, May 19th this year. But you made it in ’97 really, the film itself. But with it being the tenth anniversary year now what are your memories and do you have a fondness for that film, bringing everybody back to do new movies and being back on a Star Wars set.
AD – Well my involvement in Episode 1 was really quite limited because famously I had this meeting with George at Leavesden Studios and he said ‘Well, there’s Threepio, because he’s made by Anakin Skywalker,’ and I thought oh that’s really nice, because I got on so well with Alec Guinness, it was really nice that he made Threepio, and then of course eventually the next day I realised ‘Ahhh…’.
And it was this puppet , which was immensely heavy, and I just did the voice now and again and the voice all through post production, so I was on the set sometimes. I thought the puppet was just magical. To think about making the inside of a machine, and he was completely weird and I think for George to write the line ‘I’m not sure this planet is entirely stable’ for Threepio, I don’t think it’s because it’s him, it’s because he wobbles. The entire planet is at fault.
Lightsabre – He’s like a Thunderbird puppet.
AD – I had a Threepio transference thought there. In Attack of the Clones I wanted to be more connected to the character and do the puppetry myself and that was agreed, that was fine, and I really toned up my muscles to carry this hugely heavy thing around on my shoulders and head and knees, and we shot the whole thing as the puppet including the scene where Padmè walked in and Threepio was feeling a bit sad and explained that it was kind of difficult being this way and she said’ Ahh, not a problem.’ It was a bit difficult, Artoo having rushed off in act one and said ‘Hey, you’re naked.’ And she found some bits and she dressed him up. Unfortunately we had to lose all those bits because for that side of the storyline there wasn’t time, George thought it was too soft and romantic and a bit moving really, and the scene where Threepio donned these was brilliant because we had a special rig with me in it where she approached with a chest piece, and then you came back where she was putting the face on and I was wearing bits stuck on with fridge magnets so she could stick the face on. And Threepio was just ecstatic. For the first time he was whole, he was complete, he was real. And all that got cut out. And I had to go back and do everything as the rust bucket, which is actually the gold suit painted rusty, on green screen, so I had to remember everything I’d done. And you can’t tell, but I was sorry that sequence got left out because you saw a bit into the background of Threepio, why he might be a bit nervous and so on.
George and I were the only ones to be back in the desert from the original, and it was weird because it was like a strange time travel thing. It was very moving actually.
Lightsabre – I was going to say it must have been quite surreal, to be back there in that same location.
AD – It was because the hole in the ground was still there, they’d oriented the whole set around that again so it was like never having left. Being so many years older it was weird. And then the corridor set also gave me a bit of a stomach turn, in Australia, George and me had last seen this set at Elstree in 1976, the original white corridor set. So that was strange, yeah.
Lightsabre – There must have been lots of little moments having déjà vu making these films, because they do reference back to the originals…
AD – Definitely.
Lightsabre – That must really have made you step back a couple of times.
AD – Yes it did, it literally just stops you. When Ewan Mcgregor suddenly gives a line in a way that I believed that Sir Alec would have said it at that age, that was weird. And of course now, for some years now, people say ‘Oh you were in Star Wars, were you Obi-Wan Kenobi?’ because I’m now old enough to play Alec’s role.
That was weird, meeting new people who were replacing, who played the younger selves, and Ewan especially. And of course the funny thing with him and with Sam Jackson, two of the most famous people now I think, and being in scenes with them – ‘Yeah, I’m in a movie with Sam Jackson, how’d that happen?’ – both of them were childishly, school boyishly excited to be in a scene with C-3PO, because they’ve grown up with him.
And even George, even George on say one of any of these shoots, as a tradition I and Don Bies fix it so that I arrive on set dressed up, rather than walk on the set as me and get dressed up, and George always says ‘Ah, Star Wars has arrived.’
Lightsabre – That must be lovely.
AD – It’s so gratifying, it’s a tiny gesture and it means a lot.
Lightsabre – It’s always the little gestures that make the difference, in life in general I think.
AD – Yeah, and in reaction to Threepio on the set the people actually see an icon walk in…it’s kind of weird. And you see it on their faces, they can’t see me. They relate, and they know him very well, they’re very familiar with him. And then we go through the usual everyone wants a picture, which is really nice, and then we get on with the film.
Lightsabre – Is it a relaxed set, does George run a relaxed set because it’s got to be organised…
AD – It’s relaxed but it’s lickety-split, there’s no…you can’t afford to waste time, every minute costs a lot of money, every sixty seconds the bill is going up and up and up, so you can’t…you know, bits fall off the costume. That’s a bore, because bits have to be stuck back on and it’s wasting time.
Lightsabre – Did the costume change much between ’77 and when you finished Revenge of the Sith, was it similar?
AD – It was the same costume and there are a number of costumes, I think there are six originals, but they break all the time and we found ways of strengthening them because day one in 1976 the costume wasn’t ready and it didn’t work, it didn’t fit together in itself, let alone fit me and gradually we had to bodge our way through and there’s a few scenes where it was held together with nylon thread and tape or something, and certainly in the original it often fell apart during a scene or the eyes would go out.
Funnily enough I was talking yesterday to Brian Lofthouse who looked after me for all three of the original movies and it was just terrific, I hadn’t spoken to him for ages and we instantly got into telling stories to each other, ‘Do you remember when this went on,’ and I was saying how much I had relied on him because I’m like a baby in a pram, just a baby, I can’t do anything for myself including, and I reminded him and said the most loving thing he ever did, which I had to ask him to do, because when I was doing the storytelling scene in the Ewok Village I had such a bad cold that I said to him through the mask ‘When you take my mask off, can you blow my nose for me’
Lightsabre – (Laughs)
AD – And he held up a handkerchief, I blew my nose, wiped it. You know, without his loving affection I couldn’t have done it. And it’s the same with Don Bies now, I rely on people outside. And people are very, very solicitous.
What happened very quickly on the original set was that part of the magic I did on the first day, people Oohed and Aahed and came up to me and said ‘Anthony, that’s incredible, great performance’ and by day two, day three they’d completely forgotten I was in there. They accepted Threepio for Threepio and they forgot that maybe I’d like to take a break.
Lightsabre – I’d heard that, when you did certain takes they’d put you on a trolley jack and wheel you away.
AD – The idea was because walking in that suit was not comfortable, better to save your energy for the takes. And I couldn’t sit down. Now, because Don Bies is so good there are little fidgets in the costume but he’s here to take it on and off.
Lightsabre – Is it true that somebody once taped your eyeholes up?
AD – Ahhh, yes! That swine Ralph Nelson, the stills photographer. (Laughs) Very well known. I still have to get him back.
Lightsabre – You do.
AD – I don’t know. He just kept me laughing the whole time I was there. Just that one time, and suddenly, and there was nothing I could do about it and (under breath) I must try and get him back sometime…one time he poured water down my back…oh, I know how I got him back, he was asleep on the set of the thing the Ewoks blow up.
Lightsabre – The bunker.
AD – Yes the bunker, and he actually was in a chair and he was asleep so first of all I took a photograph of his camera, those big cameras that they use, and then I got the special effects people to rig up some squibs under his chair for a little explosion…and that worked. And that’s when he poured water down my back.
And would you believe, would you believe, this you won’t know, on the last movie in Australia there I was on the set on some kind of spacecraft because I was sitting down and Don brought out the mask and he sort of held it and I was looking at Threepio’s face and then he put it on me and I couldn’t see a thing. The mask was taped up on the inside.
Lightsabre – That’s evil.
AD – I still owe him for that one.
Lightsabre – Lack of respect.
AD – At one point I said your job is so easy, and on one of the action scenes around the bunker I tried to take pictures. He took probably about 60, I took one. Everyone was moving about (Laughs). So that was great, he was a delight, he is a delight, I’ve seen him when I’m in LA.
Lightsabre – There’s one famous scene, I interviewed Irvin Kershner a couple of years ago very luckily, a fantastic fella, and I asked him about the carbon freezing scene in The Empire Strikes Back. Were you on set that day?
AD – Yes, it was a disgusting set because it was so steamy, there was a very big smell of wet rust in the air, it was actually not very pleasant. I was on Chewbacca’s back, so there were shots there. I didn’t like that, it was orange and smelly.
Lightsabre – Was it as difficult to work on that set as Alan Arnold indicated in his Once Upon A Galaxy making of book? It seemed to be a hot set, a difficult day.
AD – It was steam, set at a certain temperature. Dark, claustrophobic, orange. Jabba’s Palace, the big thing there was smoke. Ahh, jeez, there were some scenes there you can just see my right side. The rest of me is behind a pillar with a wet towel. There was atmosphere, fog or incense. Day after day after day.
Lightsabre – So that was a hard set to work on. If any, what was the easiest set to work on?
AD – In the Millennium Falcon cockpit it was too crowded, that was claustrophobic. Anything with a smooth floor was great.
Lightsabre – I guess anywhere was difficult to get your pace and walking rhythm going in that suit.
AD – Oh no, I can do it but I do rely on the floor being modular, and if there’s a step I need to know it hasn’t been moved. You get used to planning it out and rehearsing it by myself, walk through, because part of my job is to be this unit. Not to keep everyone waiting I fill in the time by doing it, and then I do it.
Lightsabre – So everyone’s got to hit their marks?
AD – Oh yes please.
Lightsabre – (Laughs)
AD – It’s easier with some than others. On the last film rather sweetly they gave me marks that were different. Sometimes it’s marks of tape on the floor, a beanbag, and mine would often be beanbags that I could nestle up to with my toes. But on the last one they gave me t-shaped, rather flat things but in gold because they thought I should have gold marks. That’s a nice souvenir. You can pick them up. I can feel a little through the feet. I would count steps, I would work it until I had a body memory of how to do it, how far to go and stuff. And occasionally you get it slightly wrong.
AD – (Laughs) Yes, but as a performance of course acting blind becomes difficult, keeping your eyes unfocused. Literally plotting the moves, and plotting where Artoo was, because I often couldn’t see him. If I had bent down all the time it would have looked a bit old and tired. so everything had to be rehearsed. Ewoks were a bit of a problem in that way, they had to discipline themselves. (Laughs)
Lightsabre – Inherently naughty. Well now that you’re doing The Clone Wars Threepio’s adventures can continue throughout that time period and possibly on to other shows, are you pleased about that, are you happy to be his voice again?
AD – I’m very pleased, I’m pleased they look so good. The artwork on those cartoons is terrific. The scripts are going to get even better. We’ve talked a lot about the storylines. I’m very, very happy. The film had a bit too much gunfire action for my taste, but I’m not the target audience really so hopefully they will become a little more…not cerebral, not intellectual but a little less bang-bang.
Lightsabre – The television show seems to have been better received than the film, people seem thrilled with the TV show.
AD – Yes, and I’m very chuffed to be a part of that. I think also the performances, not that I would comment on anyone else’s performance, I really enjoy listening to them, to the other actors. And because it’s a CG worlds you accept it, so that works well for me. And yes, I have fun doing it, and I don’t have to dress up.
Lightsabre – And you’re happy to see where Threepio’s life goes? You wrote a comic for Dark Horse about 10, 12 years ago, The Protocol Offensive. That must have been interesting?
AD – Talk about hard work, that was. I’m sure people don’t know how comics are made but they start off the size of telephone directories and then get squished down, there’s a description of everything. And I wrote it with Ryder Windham, a terrific guy originally from Dark Horse. It was a tremendous learning experience but I can’t be bothered. And of course I write all the stuff in my website, the Wonder Column, things like that. True stories and fun things to remember. I tend not to write about the darker side of it all.
Lightsabre – Threepio’s always seemed to be a good fit for you, because you’re clearly a storyteller.
AD – Yeah, I’d had a thought about that. Everybody said he wasn’t much good at telling stories (in Threepio voice) not at making them interesting anyway. Little did I know in those days what it would lead to. And of course because of that I’ve fronted up so many Lucasfilm events around the world, these wonderful exhibitions that they make, especially the Science Beyond Imagination exhibition. That has taken me to Japan, Australia, America and Europe because I can actually talk, and I think what worried me in the beginning was I was meeting people who thought that (in American accent) ‘If you’re a robot you must be really kind of stupid, are you an actor? Does the suit do it? Do you walk like that because of the suit? Oh, you’re acting?’ Just like the Kate Winslet thing, she’s a Nazi all of a sudden. No she isn’t, she’s an actress playing a Nazi. Well, I’m an actor playing a robot.
But I love the intellectual spread that Threepio’s allowed me to present, particularly in talks, educational things. I am part of the adjunct faculty at Carnegie Mellon University, I go two or three times a year to teach the entertainment technology students. I’ll be going over there…you know I did so much travelling last year I got a bit fed up with it and vowed not to do it. Next week I go to Egypt and two weeks later when I come back I go to Los Angeles, and so it goes, so I realise there’s no point in worrying about it.
AD – Just roll with it and take it really easy. If your suitcase doesn’t arrive, it’s no big deal, because it never arrives. British Airways – HA!
Lightsabre – They call them passenger terminals for a reason I think.
AD – I wish I’d said that.
Lightsabre – You can have that one.
AD – That sinking feeling at Terminal Five, and then the letter saying ‘We’re sorry we didn’t stick to our normal plans, yours sincerely, British Airways’.
Lightsabre – Thing is, they did.
AD – (Laughs) You’re quite good aren’t you.
Lightsabre – I have my moments.
AD – I might steal that one as well. I do like flying Virgin because they’re just terrific, and they’ve never lost my bags anywhere. But also just to relax, and if you miss the plane then it’s not the end of the world. But it does mean a slightly longer trip to make sure you’re there when required. Part of the job of an actor is to be there.
Lightsabre – Is there anywhere in the world, planet Earth obviously, that you’ve not seen that you’d like to see?
AD – Well I was in Brazil last year, it was wonderful, I never meant to go and it just was terrific. I was opening an exhibition there and I would like to go back there. We are trying to get to India on a holiday, that would mean three months. It’s difficult, every year we say ‘Next year we’ll do it’, and then things just keep coming up. But you know, there’s going to be a point where even I say ‘You know what, I think I’m just going to stop now’. And that’s when you really can be free, because things have a habit of coming up at the last minute, with me, and suddenly you have to change your plans.
Lightsabre – With India I think you really would have to take a good chunk of time to really explore.
AD – But the nice thing is I’ve been able to explore so many countries courtesy of Lucasfilm. That’s really good. And my connection with the States, I really enjoy being at Carnegie Mellon because that’s highly stimulating.
Lightsabre – It’s clearly close to your heart.
AD – The students are usually from 25 upwards, mature students, but they’re so clever in the computer arts and entertainment arts and they’re there to hone their skills and after so many years in the entertainment industry in various forms, not just acting but producing and creating I do have stuff to offer. I had to be persuaded that this was the case, I said ‘I don’t know this stuff, I’m just an actor’ and Don Marinelli the Dean said ‘No! Come teach, you’ll be good.’ And so I trusted him, and I look forward to it every time.
Lightsabre – You’ve really taken to that.
AD – Yes, I have the word professor on the door which makes me laugh every time I say it because I’m not a professor. As a courtesy they call me professor. I failed the eleven plus, I didn’t go to university, I didn’t do any of it, so I’m definitely a late developer.
Lightsabre – Oh well, it’s not a race.
AD – You’re very wise, aren’t you? That’s really good.
Lightsabre – (Laughs)
AD – When you think that, all those years ago I didn’t want to be in the first film and now not only was I the only person to be in all six but now I’m the only person to be in all seven, this strange cartoon thing. But I don’t collect…I don’t collect anything really, but I don’t collect numbers like that or statistics, but it is weird, and having the first line in the first movie in ’76 and the last line in the last movie in whatever year that was, again is a nice little bookend and I didn’t realise of course because they fiddle around in post-production a lot and it suddenly hit me when the film was put together ‘Wow, how odd’. And rather nice.
Threepio would be very pleased I think. I often see things and think ‘He wouldn’t want to know that’, or ‘He’d be quite chuffed.’ (Laughs)
Lightsabre – Well that’s fantastic, I’m so pleased to have spoken to you.
AD – Well I really like the research you’ve done, you really know about this stuff
Lightsabre – Thank you very much.
AD – The nightmare interview – ‘Was it hot in the costume?’
Lightsabre – You know a friend of mine, Barry Eldridge who put on Celebration Europe. We had a chat about a year ago and he said ‘For God’s sake Mark, don’t ask him what it’s like in the costume’. He’s doing well, he’s on Facebook.
AD – Oh come on! Am I ever going on to something like Facebook?
Lightsabre – I found a fake Liam Neeson the other day and his email address was firstname.lastname@example.org. I called the guy out, but it was a shame because he had 4000 friends. I don’t think Liam Neeson’s email is email@example.com for a second.
AD – I don’t even want to know about Facebook or things like that. I find real life difficult enough without pratting about on the web all the time.
Lightsabre – (Laughs) I’m taking that one.
AD – Oh yes, nothing personal.
AD – Oh yes, there’s a lot of real life to be lived. The nice thing is meeting a young person who’s got spots, and they worry about life and whatever and you can say ‘This isn’t it, there’s lots more good stuff coming soon’. Sometimes you’ve got to go through some of the dreary bits, growing up. Now I think I’m entering an age, a period of my life where I can see it all coming good (Laughs).
Lightsabre – But I really think you should do that India trip. From the way you’ve spoken it would be a regret if you didn’t do it, so I think you should plan that one.
AD – Yes, well we will, because my other half is insisting, she’s being a bit forceful. I’ve really enjoyed this, some interviews I go ‘God, do I have to’ and occasionally you talk to somebody and it’s actually a pleasure.
Lightsabre – Thank you very much.
AD – Good luck with it all and if we ever meet, you do have to tell me.
Lightsabre – We actually met at Memorabilia last March.
AD – You put that in a note, and I thought…
Lightsabre – You met dozens of people (Laughs)
AD – But I have a very bad, errr…recognition factor, I can’t spell either. Bits of my brain are just not there really. But do remind me that we had a nice talk because we have.
Lightsabre – Thank you very much, all the best and have a good day.
AD – Bye.
Interview originally posted on Lightsabre.co.uk in three parts on 19th April, 17th May and 28th June 2009.