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Anthony Daniels: A Touch of Wry
July 01, 2002 – “You wouldn’t want my life to get boring, would you?”
Anthony Daniels has become a fixture in the Star Wars universe. He’s back for Episode II in an expanded role. In the fall of 2000, Star Wars Insider spoke to the actor about the challenges of bringing the droid to life once more in Episode II.
So, you’re puppeteering C-3PO in Episode II. What can you tell us about that experience? (Editor’s note: The C-3PO puppet did not appear in the final cut of Episode II.)
In Australia I was immensely helped with the puppet by Don Bies, who did R2-D2 again. Don and the team of Trevor Tighe, Justin Dix, Zeynep “Zed” Selcuk , Martin Crowther and Matt Sloan were just the most tremendous support group. I would rehearse with them and a big mirror, and Zed would tell me what looked good, because there is no time to rehearse on the set. You’d better know what you’re doing by the time you arrive [on set]. It’s very lickety split, there’s no time to mess about. So part of my homework was to rehearse … It’s like rehearsing anything. Rehearsing is hard work because you keep doing it over and over again, and it gets boring, frankly.
With the puppet it’s very physically hard. Anna Bies [Don’s wife] made me a harness like a Steadycam harness, and I wore this thing on my front. It was terrifyingly heavy. I’m not a weightlifter, I’m aware what it’s doing to my spine, and in fact I kind of redesigned it so the weight goes down onto my hips, which then goes straight down into your legs. I went to the gym every morning, and in this beautiful hotel in Australia I would be in the gym at 6 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. By the time I arrived at the studio, I’d be exhausted. I had to lie down. That was kind of stupid, really. But it’s the only way. Because you’re going to hurt yourself otherwise, or you’re going to fall over. Also, one day my mind drifted and I suddenly felt everything fall, and like the Tower of Pisa, I nearly fell sideways. Once it would go, there’d be no stopping it.
The support team there was immensely good. We re-jigged as many things as we could to make it a bit more lifelike. You’ll see what I mean. It gave me the chance to experiment with how to get expression from my body, my face, my head, through him. I will say that the bits I have watched of myself doing it–well, I don’t take a tape home and drool over myself in the evenings–but for technical reasons it’s very useful to know what it looked like, as I can’t tell. There’s no point in having a monitor over there, or a mirror … If we were doing it on a long-term basis, probably I would have a monitor, but it’s just easier to kind of try it out. It’s not like I’m playing King Lear. There are some interesting scenes, and that I like too.
How much of the performance of C-3PO do you think is voice, how much is physical, how much is the two together?
That’s quite a good question. The one thing you’ve possibly missed out is a kind of weird magic that sort of happened on the first day that I stood in the desert in 1976. That C-3PO saw to this himself. He’s an entity that has something to do with me, something to do with George, with the suit, the voice, the environment … It’s a little like one of those movies where there is a puppet that takes over, particularly in those movies the puppet gets hold of shears or a knife and kills everybody. I don’t think C-3PO’s got quite that far yet, but there is a kind of magic that happens with him.
It’s definitely a combination of voice and movement, because he doesn’t move all the time. That would become tiresome. I’m quite selective in movements. You really have to remember less is more, because a small movement after a period of rest can speak volumes. Also he’s a very distracting character in the gold, or in any format because he’s visually interesting.
We are all used to looking at humans. I used to tell Mark Hamill not to bother acting, because in the middle of a scene all I had to do was just turn my head and it would immediately draw the audience’s eye because it’s a glittering shape. Your eye will be pulled toward it like a jackdaw to a piece of jewelry. Fortunately, he ignored that suggestion and acted anyway. But it is a combination. It’s a whole mannerism, and the mannerism is locked into the voice and the movement.
Are we going to see some new facets of the character in Episode II?
You’re going to see new stuff, yes. I added in one line. I just turned a sentence around to give the character somewhere to have come from. I mean, he’s not going anywhere, as we already know where he’s been. Possibly I’ve added a wry touch. A touch of wry, yeah.
You did some Episode II filming on location?
I went to Tunisia. The odd thing was, I was in Morocco last year and got out of the car in the desert and had this real spine tingle because the air, the light, the sunshine, the smell was so reminiscent of Tunisia all those years ago. I wasn’t in the same place, but, it being desert sun, it was weird … slightly unreal.
Was it odd to walk onto a Star Wars set and find that the crew had Australian accents?
Very, very strange. And the first time it hit me … almost with a kind of sadness. I was suddenly the Grand Old Man, as the phrase goes, of Star Wars, because there’s only George and myself, I think, who have gone this far. I think there’s one person at Lucasfilm who’s worked there longer than me. [Lucy Autrey Wilson in Lucas Licensing and Ben Burtt at Lucasfilm are the other two who have been involved as long as Daniels and George Lucas himself.] It’s a strange feeling. Curiously, looking now at Episode II and understanding the story, and seeing where it will link up and knowing where it will lead, there is a kind of preparatory sadness in me at the ending. Now, we’re talking 2002, 2005 when it comes out, but I can already grieve for the end of the thing, if that doesn’t sound too weird. Because one can see a life cycle. And life cycles begin and they end and they start again. This one, I think probably, that will be the end of it. That’ll be fine, because by then I’ll be the Grand Old Man of the Star Wars thing! But it is strange to meet people playing roles that have been touched by other people, to meet Ewan McGregor as Alec Guinness. He’s just terrific.
Do you see any of Guinness in Ewan McGregor?
I think he’s his own person. I think in this one it became clear to me that Ewan has decided to make the part his own. He gets to do fun things as well. What a nice guy.
Have you done much with Hayden Christensen yet?
I think the greatest buzz people are going to get is from Hayden. I don’t know where he came from, what he was doing before, but he’s just terrific.
It’s interesting watching him at work, because having just seen pictures and read a bit you reserve your judgment. Then seeing him in action is quite amazing.
He’s just perfect. You get quite resentful of that kind of talent. You just think, “Why aren’t I like that? Why don’t I look like that?” We met for the first time at the opening party and I think we got on pretty well. He’s a real pleasure to be with. You know, “professional” is an understood word. The cast was just so professional. Very professional atmosphere. The crew … it was like being in a family.
I found all sorts of excuses not to leave, to be honest. I was having a good time. I couldn’t eat too much of the food as I was trying to keep my weight down, but it was exceptional. We were all very well treated, and we all seemed to be having fun. [The filming] seemed to be working and the sets seemed to work. There weren’t too many dramas. Everything looked good. I think people have confidence that the audience is going to like this film. And people get to do things. Natalie gets to do things, and Hayden and Ewan.
People have said George Lucas seems relaxed on Episode II, more than he was on The Phantom Menace.
Sure. He’s having fun, you know. He’s got Rick McCallum producing. Rick is probably one of the greatest things to happen to Lucasfilm because, what can I say … he’s got an attitude. He’s got a real attitude. He’s got together this team that’s been through trials of fire to get here, because they’ve all done The Young Indiana Jones together and they’ve done the last movie.
That’s why it works–why there is this strange feeling in Australia that it is a team, that has been joined by the Australians, who have a great natural attitude to just getting on with the job. I think that’s why it’s noticeable. This is a great team built up over the course of time and trials, and it works very well. Rick’s very good at what he does. He’s the tough man … but he cleverly makes sure that people have a good time when they’re there. Hence I didn’t want to leave. I think his mean streak comes out with his driving of buggies, golf carts.
The technology of these films has changed so much in the 25 years.
At the time of the first Star Wars, I’d never been in a movie, so I was amazed that the only person who saw the movie was the guy with his eye to the [camera] eyepiece, who would nod if it was good. Now, with permission, one stands behind George, looking at this three-foot plasma screen, watching the movie. [George] is very patient, because I would like a private area to do that. But I think he’s concentrating so much … there are so many distractions on a set.
You must have had ups and downs between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, where you thought “Is this all I’m ever going to do?”
Oh yeah, there was a time I thought I should just stop. And then I thought, well, the income I get from various things is very welcome, but really my fondness for the character of C-3PO is what has kept me attached for 25 years. I just like him. He’s weird. A bit strange.
by Brian J. Robb