From the Archives: Anthony Daniels (2015 & 2019)

I have a very extensive catalogue of old articles that I think are worth revisiting. Here are two of them.

Anthony Daniels enjoys long career as Star Wars’ most famous droid (2015)

(This article originally appeared in The Georgia Straight.)

Such is the secrecy surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens that we still don’t know anything about the characters that certain actors play. The cast list on the soon-to-be blockbuster’s IMDb page, for instance, includes Simon Pegg and Warwick Davis, but there are blank spots where their characters’ names ought to be. Is Davis reprising his Return of the Jedi role of Wicket? Do Ewoks even live that long?

There can be no such speculation about Anthony Daniels’s role. He is, and always has been, C-3PO, the fussy and flappable golden protocol droid who is equal parts Stan Laurel and Felix Unger. Mind you, exactly what Threepio does in The Force Awakens (which opens on Friday [December 18] ) is uncertain.

When the Georgia Straight calls Daniels, the first order of business is confessing that we haven’t seen the movie yet.

“Neither have I, actually,” the 69-year-old English actor admits over the phone from Toronto. Daniels has, however, watched his own bits and enough of the rest to make him keen on experiencing the whole thing.

“I really am excited to see this,” he says. “Everything I’ve seen of it so far has been really rather wonderful and very much going back to the old films, the style of George’s original trilogy.”

“George” is, of course, George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars mythos, beginning with the 1977 original. He sold his production company, Lucasfilm—and with it the entire space-opera franchise—to Disney in 2012 and was not involved with the making of The Force Awakens. J. J. Abrams directed this seventh episode of the saga, which was written by him with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt.

It’s the first Star Wars movie to be released in a decade, but that doesn’t mean Daniels has had any time off from playing Threepio. The droid has given him steady work in the interim, with the character appearing in everything from video games and The Lego Movie to small-screen series, including The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.

“I have been incredibly lucky to have been the voice of C-3PO in all sorts of spinoffs—as you said, Clone Wars; hugely popular,” Daniels says. “Now we’ve got Rebels. We had [the 1985 Saturday-morning cartoon] Droids.

“My total bliss is anything to do with Lego. We’ve just done Droid Tales, and we did The Yoda Chronicles. We can poke affectionate fun at the whole thing. Everybody’s a Lego figure. When people said, about going on The Force Awakens, you know, ‘Was it strange to be back as Threepio?’, not at all, because most months of the year I am in a studio in London recording one of those cartoon things.”

In other words, playing this single character has become the actor’s career. Daniels acknowledges as much and does so without a trace of resentment. Star Wars, it seems, has been very, very good to him—even if hobbling around in a robot suit hasn’t always been fun.

“It’s a delightful career,” he says. “Because difficult though Threepio is to play physically and, to some extent, vocally—you know, a whole day’s recording is quite tiring as Threepio—the payoff is that I’m very, very fond of him. And I think he might be fond of me, but we’ll never know. Maybe one day we’ll do a split-screen thing.”

And with that, the Straight’s allotted time is up, but before Daniels moves on to his next interview, he switches to C-3PO’s prim cadence and signs off with six words that any fan of that galaxy far, far away would be delighted to hear: “May the Force be with you.”

Anthony Daniels tells a tale of man and droid in I Am C-3PO (2019)

(This article originally appeared in The Georgia Straight.)

To determine just how much of a Star Wars geek you are, consider the following phrase: “I Am C-3PO.”

If your mind automatically filled in the rest—“human-cyborg relations”—the odds of you being a true-blue fan of the Skywalker saga are very high indeed. (And you get bonus points if you just said “Never tell me the odds!”)

Those words were spoken in the first Star Wars film by Anthony Daniels, who also used them as the title of his book, I Am C-3PO, in which he reflects on his 40-plus years of playing the golden protocol droid.

“It’s the unspoken phrase, yes: ‘human-cyborg relations’,” says the genial actor, who is at a media-tour stop in Toronto when the Straight connects with him by telephone. “I guess, if I think about it—I haven’t talked about this at all—I am the human, he’s the cyborg, and I talk about our relations. I may use this thought in the future…”

Daniels relates to the character so well, in fact, that he refers to him as “my friend” throughout the book. It might surprise some readers, then, to learn that the London-based performer was initially skeptical about the whole thing. He was not, it turns out, a fan of science fiction (he writes that he demanded his money back after suffering through 2001: A Space Odyssey), but he agreed to meet with American filmmaker George Lucas to discuss the project that was then titled The Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Starkiller. At that initial meeting, Daniels saw something that hooked him almost instantly: Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art depicting C-3PO and his constant companion, R2-D2.

He writes: “Standing on a sandy terrain, against a rocky landscape, with distant planets filling the sky, Threepio gazed out forlornly. Our eyes met and he seemed yearning to walk out of the frame into my world. Or, I felt, for me to climb over and join him in his. I sensed his vulnerability. Maybe he sensed mine. It truly was a strange moment.”

It was a moment, in fact, that would shape the course of the actor’s life. Daniels has donned the shiny—and dreadfully uncomfortable—robot suit to play Threepio in almost every Star Wars movie, including Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, which is due to hit cinemas on December 19. Some performers chafe at being identified in the public’s eyes with one particular role—Sir Alec Guinness, for example, was famously touchy about being associated with his own Star Wars character, Obi-Wan Kenobi—but Daniels seems genuinely at peace with it.

“It is difficult for some people,” he acknowledges. “I think I’m helped by him being such an enduring character that he has given me a very interesting career, in one kind of groove, if you will. And maybe I was only designed for that groove, but it’s certainly become a career of its own with all the spinoff activities—and I do like the character. I like how different writers and directors are able to put him in situations that bring out some other side of his abilities and personality.”

Those spinoff activities are listed in an appendix at the back of the book, cheekily titled “Droidography”. They include radio dramas, TV commercials, video games, and more. Of Daniels’s 77 acting credits listed on the Internet Movie Database, roughly two-thirds are for on-screen or voice performances as C-3PO.

Threepio has certainly taken Daniels to some enviable places. How many actors can say that they have dined with the king and queen of Jordan, conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, been a presenter at the Oscars, and appeared on Sesame Street four times?

Daniels credits Lucas with giving him a free hand to develop his own characterization for C-3PO. This happened, in part, because Lucas, although rightly hailed as a visionary, has never been known as an “actor’s director”.

“George has so much going on in his head, the whole movie, and back then it was really groundbreaking,” Daniels says. “That’s why people took to his films so much—that nobody’d seen a film like this before. And he wasn’t necessarily adept at explaining what he wanted. He kind of chose people—including me, I suppose—who he felt he could trust to get on with things, like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and of course Sir Alec Guinness. He had a lot on his plate, and he accepted what I did on the set, although he clearly had plans to replace the voice.”

Ah, yes. Just as, in hindsight, it’s impossible to imagine Darth Vader sounding like anyone other than James Earl Jones (even though it was David Prowse we saw on-screen in the original trilogy), it would be hard to envision a version of Threepio who spoke with the voice of, say, Richard Dreyfuss. The American Graffiti star was reportedly in the running, but of course the dulcet British tones of Daniels won out in the end. “Threepio is a one-piece character—he is the voice, the face, the walk, the movements, the attitude—it’s all one, and you can’t take one bit away from him,” Daniels says, with justifiable pride.

Threepio fans who feel their favourite droid got short shrift in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi will be happy to hear that he plays a more essential role in The Rise of Skywalker, thanks to director and cowriter J. J. Abrams. But will the character who uttered the first line of dialogue in the entire saga get to have the last word, as well?

“That’s a neat thought,” Daniels says with a warm chuckle. “It did occur to me on my last day, suddenly, that this was the third time I’ve said goodbye. And as I said in the book, my last shot as we filmed it—not the last shot of the movie, but for me the last day on the set—I have no words at all. So we will see. J. J. loves to move things around, right up until the last minute. So we’ll have to see; maybe, maybe not. I don’t know.”

In any case, C-3PO isn’t quite ready to shut down, and neither is the man who plays him. Daniels turns 74 in February and says he has no plans to retire. And while the Skywalker saga may be drawing to a close, there are still video games on the horizon. And animated series. And…

“No, it’s not the end of me being involved with Threepio at all,” Daniels says. “Already there are other projects—not films. The career goes on, and aren’t I lucky?”

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