Star Wars is one of the most famous films of all time – and C-3PO is surely one of the most famous robots ever created, recognisable even to those who’ve never watched George Lucas’s iconic series.
What must it have been like to have played that character for the past 40 years? Anthony Daniels has just published his memoir and tonight he visited the Southbank Centre to talk about his first meeting with George Lucas, 44 years ago, his career – and how he feels about the fact that Star Wars will, finally, come to an end this Christmas. I had goosebumps as the theme tune played, at the beginning of the interview: I vividly remember being taken to see Star Wars, aged five – and the impact it had upon me.
Daniels is an engaging, lively presence; I loved how he interacted with the audience during the Q&A, dashing up & down the auditorium stairs and teasing those brave enough to put a question to him. This book, he told us, was his opportunity to “memorialise the good – and the not so good – from a certain point of view. I wanted to put down in print what, to my surprise, became a journey.”
And what a journey it’s been. No-one, least of all the actors, could have foreseen the immense success that Star Wars and its sequels would achieve – success which has been both a blessing and a curse, given that only Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher built careers away from the franchise. He always, Daniels told us, wanted to be an actor but his father was a scientist and expected the young Anthony to follow in his footsteps.
“Having a calling is a magic and a horror”, observed Daniels, confessing that he was 24 before he plucked up the courage to go to drama school. Growing up, he had admired Laurence Olivier, and it was theatre to which he felt drawn.
Star Wars was a world away from the theatre. Imagine meeting a sculptress (Liz Moore) who makes a plaster cast of your whole body: “My costume was built in 17 different sections.” Prior to the film being released, Daniels watched no dailies or rushes; the first time he saw so much as a a clip was at a screening in Brighton: “I wasn’t wanted at the première because George Lucas wanted people to believe in the robot.”
Unsurprisingly, Daniels felt ambivalent about Star Wars’ success and only agreed to do the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, “because it was a job and I needed the money.” However, “I also began to realise that I liked C-3PO” – and, consequently, his attitude towards the work began to change; Daniels did a radio spin-off and accepted a part in Return of the Jedi.
Daniels was refreshingly honest about the fallow period between the first Star Wars trilogy and the ‘prequel’ trilogy, filmed in the early noughties; he struck me as someone who has long since come to terms with the fact that his career will be defined by one iconic role.
You’ll recall that the reaction of both critics and the public to the prequels was mixed. For my part, I didn’t hate them, but couldn’t warm to them – and I suspect most of my generation felt the same way, a fact Daniels acknowledged but countered, arguing that these films hadn’t been meant for people who’d seen the original three; “they were intended for a ten-year-old audience”.
By the time the sequels were made, Daniels told us, he had accepted that his was no longer a major role, even though he would have liked more screen time. On the plus side, JJ Abrams – who watched the first Star Wars film aged ten – was the director, and wanted to do everything “in the old way.” And, seeing Carrie and Mark again was “Magical: like coming home again.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see The Rise of Skywalker. Archly, Daniels told us that it isn’t yet finished: “JJ is like a naughty schoolboy and will fiddle with the script until the very last minute.” However, Daniels professes himself “delighted” with the film, describing watching it as “very satisfying”. Of the rumour doing the rounds that C-3PO meets his demise, Daniels diplomatically refused to commit himself – however, he did tell us that he feels this is the right time for Star Wars to come to an end: “And it is a good end.”
The story line, he further shared, is excellent – and C-3PO has an interesting part. The final day on set was, however, “difficult”.
Writing his memoir has, Daniels says, been “therapeutic”. It’s given him the opportunity to reflect on the many opportunities that Star Wars brought him, including the various spin-offs in which has participated – the “stand-out” being Star Wars in Concert, an arena tour with a symphony orchestra, John Williams score and Daniels as the story teller which toured Europe, America and Japan. It was this experience, Daniels mused, which made him see how much people love the Star Wars movies.
And then there are the many brilliant actors with whom Daniels has worked. The late Alec Guinness, whom he recalls “with great fondness”, and Mark Hamill, with whom Daniels bonded during that lengthy sojourn in Tunisia for the first film. Ewan MacGregor was “hysterically funny, and a very fine actor” – and Daniels had equally warm words of praise for Samuel L. Jackson.
Anthony Daniels told us at the beginning of this talk that he had intended his memoir to be a conversation with the reader – and this evening was very much a conversation, with an audience comprising people of all ages and backgrounds, united by a common theme: their love of a succession of films which have meant so much to so many different people. Listening to Daniels talk, with such charm and wit, about the role that he played in the above was an unforgettable experience and watching The Rise of Skywalker trailer – for the first time – was, for me, the icing on the cake.