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An Interview with Anthony Daniels: The Man Behind the Mask

While most would not recognize his face, Anthony Daniels has lent his voice and body to one of cinemas most beloved characters, C-3PO. Originally appearing in 1977’s A New Hope, C-3PO and sidekick R2-D2 quickly became fan favourites. Along R2’s Kenny Baker, Daniels is the only actor to appear in all seven of the Star Wars films. Anthony Daniels made a visit to Toronto last week to promote the new film, and though I had not been given the chance to see the film before hand, I was fortunate enough to sit down with the legendary actor and discuss his latest venture into the Star Wars galaxy.

Scene Creek: What is it like working on and promoting a film shrouded in so much secrecy?

Anthony Daniels: It actually becomes second nature because we all have huge respect for the whole story of Star Wars, the whole thing that is Star Wars. We have huge respect for George Lucas who started it. We have huge respect for J.J. and also a huge respect for the fans, because why would we want to spoil something, why would I say, “you want to know what happens next?” I wouldn’t like somebody who did that. It becomes absolutely second nature to the point – I realized the other day when I was talking to the guy who is writing the Making Of. I said, “Can I tell you secrets?” My brain was so conditioned at this point that I thought, “Is it okay to tell this guy?” So I said to him, “No that’s wrong, it’s changed in the script.” He ran off to phone the studio because he was about to write something in a book that was wrong. I really felt the duty to say, “Hmm, don’t think so anymore!” When you’re buying a present for a friend you don’t tell them, “I’m getting you this,” you wait for the surprise.

SC: What’s it like for you to be back with the franchise?

AD: It’s a very good question, but the curious thing is that there may have been gaps over the forty years, but basically it’s been a steady line for me. This includes all of the movies, the television stuff and more. C-3PO’s barely left my side because I do all the cartoon series whether it’s Clone Wars or Rebels or that kind of thing, of course I don’t have to wear the costume for those. Though I can get very tired because he’s very uptight and [in C-3PO’s voice] his voice is up here. To certain extent that is tough on the tummy muscles and in the back. If you saw me doing it you’d laugh, because it looks like I’m wearing the costume. I have the best of both worlds, getting to be 3PO without the costume but then having the fun, the thrill, of walking out on the first day of filming dressed up and it’s as if everybody’s childhood has walked in on the set. JJ was beside himself. When we were remaking the costume, they 3D printed it this time because if it doesn’t quite work they can go off and make another one fairly quickly and that will be better. When JJ came in while I was trying bits on, and I really didn’t even have the whole thing, he was taking endless pictures and selfies. That continued all the way through, his enthusiasm on the set.

SC: What makes C-3PO and R2-D2 so timeless and loved?

AD: They’re fairly broad characters to be honest. I don’t know where he came from frankly, he just is. One of the clever things about R2 is that, you know that R2 is silent while filming, Ben Bert added back in 1976 a soundtrack of whistles. Then he got his baby to gurgle a bit. He mixed all those synthesized sounds with something that you recognized as being visceral, as being human. It draws you in. With 3PO, he is incredibly vulnerable because very early on we understand that he was programed for protocol and etiquette, totally useless, no point in that. You find him in the desert trembling about and he wants to serve cocktails. He’s out in the desert and he’s all mangy and everything. He’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time and nobody cares about him. They’re always telling him to shut up and trying to shut him down. He’s always trashed. Many of us in our lives our trashed by the government, the tax office, nobody cares about us actually. So George planned them to be the archetypal ordinary man. The man on the street if you will. Nobody really cares about the man on the street because he is the invisible man. So there is that recognition that you share their lot in life. [In C-3PO’s voice] “Yes, it’s my lot. We were made to suffer.” It’s all coming back to me now; this is scary. At the same time of course you have the joy of that relationship. You realize that 3PO is insecure, he’s not doing his proper job, and nobody really respects him. He is vulnerable. He’s a benign character, so you feel a kind of affection for him. Also of course, he’s become this thread, which George planned. How lucky am I?

SC: Have the costumes gotten more comfortable over the years?

AD: Even with the 3D printing it’s still not the greatest thing. They made changes particularly with the way things fixed together. One of the things I do quite like is that where I once had a microphone here [points to forehead] and a wire that had to be stuck to my head transmitted down my backside – so I am speaking to you out of my butt all through the movies – I know have a miniaturized microphone and the transmitter in the space that’s there [points around nose]. Also I love the fact that for 3PO’s eyes, if the scene is dark, then you might want to dim them a bit, if it’s bright on the desert you might want to lift them up. That cannot all be done through a transmitter. It’s absolute magic. The invisible technology has moved on. The suit will always be not great, but that’s part of the job. I’m not the only one, there are some wonderful creatures of all sorts in this movie and you know we were often around in the same area and I would look at these guys spending a whole day and coming out and being toweled off. A lot of hidden people in this film, because they’re human beings inside you sense again a kind of visceral quality.

SC: How has the experience of playing C3PO evolved over the years? How has the character evolved?

AD: 3PO can’t really evolve because he’s a machine. [Pointing to the hotel TV] That television isn’t going to evolve, but what you see will. The content changes. 3PO’s content changes due to circumstances. He’s not proactive as a character. He’s reactive, things have to happen to him. So he will always be the machine and you must remember, if you do, that in the first two trilogies I had the first and the last line. [In C-3PO’s voice] “Did you hear that? They shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness.” And the last line as well. It’s when Bail Organ says, “Get the protocol droid’s mind wiped.” I say, [in C-3PO’s voice] “What! Oh no…” And that’s the last line of the movie. So you see, 3PO does not remember a lot of stuff. He does not know for instance that Darth Vader is his daddy. He’s not totally with it.

SC: What was it like getting to work with original cast after so much time?

AD: It’s like Harrison never stopped. It was brilliant at the read-through. It’s like he left the set of Return of the Jedi and just walked back into the room. It just made me laugh so much; I think you will be delighted by him. Even in the trailers you see him saying lines like, “We’re Home” or whatever. He’s just delightful company. And his ankle… he was just so brave about all that. We saw him months later and you wouldn’t have thought anything happened.

Matt Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman is a Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films and actresses over the age of 50; including but not limited to: Isabelle Huppert, Meryl Streep, and Jacki Weaver.