Anthony Daniels has been fussing and grumbling his way through the Star Wars universe for 40 years as the golden robot sidekick C-3PO, but the actor reveals he has now been given a leading role in the story at last. ‘I always wanted a big part in a movie, but boy is it hard work,’ says the 73-year-old British actor, defying Disney’s demands for secrecy and talking for the first time about how his character steps up from the sidelines in the ninth and final episode of the most popular movie franchise in history. ‘I don’t have to be nice to anyone, because my career as C-3PO in the movies is done.’
The Rise Of Skywalker is released in December and the plot is tightly under wraps, but Daniels is surprisingly open as we talk about his new book I Am C-3PO. Luke Skywalker’s uptight but funny protocol droid has been loved by generations of children and adults, so how do things work out for him? ‘Does he have a happy ending? I think Threepio will be very satisfied when he sees this film.’
C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) with R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) in Star Wars, 1977. Daniels felt isolated on set
Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in The Empire Strikes Back, 1980. The pair were having a secret affair during the making of the first Star Wars film
Daniels talks about ‘Threepio’ as if the robot is a living being, even a close friend, when in fact he has been climbing into claustrophobic golden suits since the Seventies to bring C-3PO to life. He’s the only living actor to have been in all the Star Wars movies, as well as spin-offs like Rogue One and Solo, television shows and video games. The director JJ Abrams, who resurrected Star Wars with Disney by making The Force Awakens in 2015, writes an enthusiastic, fanboy introduction to the book, describing Daniels as ‘the least-recognisable superstar on the planet’.
He is one of the highest-grossing film stars of all time, alongside the likes of Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman, because the Star Wars movies have so far made $9 billion, but most of us would be hard pressed to name him. Everyone knows the golden robot, but only fans know the man inside.
The reason for that goes all the way back to when Star Wars began in 1977. Creator George Lucas wanted to give the impression C-3PO was an actual robot. The name of the actor was left off the posters and all photo captions, so Daniels was effectively written out.
‘My sense of rejection grew dangerously profound, and I marvel that I survived it all,’ he writes in I Am C-3PO. Is he implying that he felt so desperate about the way he was treated that he even considered ending his life? There’s a very long pause, which suggests the answer is yes. Daniels looks into the middle distance and his eyes appear to mist. ‘It was a very difficult time. I remember being on the bus going past the Odeon Cinema at Marble Arch and there was one of the films.’ C-3PO was there but his name was nowhere to be seen. ‘I remember feeling my head was going to explode, with frustration or hurt or whatever. Because I wasn’t a part of it.’
He became a question in Trivial Pursuit, asking, What part did Anthony Daniels play in Star Wars? ‘I felt I was probably the only person on the planet to know the answer.’
The irony is that he had actually turned down the audition for Star Wars in 1975, after giving up a career in law to become a serious actor. His agent told him not to be so stupid. ‘I missed out a word,’ says Daniels now, laughing. ‘It was actually: ‘Don’t be so f****** stupid.’ The clincher was when Lucas showed him the original concept painting of C-3PO. ‘If this had been a crummy movie they would have done a close-up on my eyes sparkling, with a sound effect, Ting! The painting shows C-3PO with a slightly blank-looking face, but with questioning eyes. With eyes that said: “Help me.”’
He makes the moment sound almost romantic. ‘That’s a good word. I was very touched by it. And shocked, because I hadn’t expected it. When the script came, the character just spoke to me. He was absolutely in the wrong place: the common man, dumped on by everybody.’
Still, like many people involved at the time, Daniels thought Star Wars was a children’s movie. ‘I remember being very reticent to say what I was doing. I felt a bit embarrassed. Genuinely, what I was doing felt silly, not proper acting. I’ve never said that before.’ Does he have any regrets? ‘Oh, I’m sure I do. But I’ve had experiences absolutely beyond belief for every ordinary actor.’
Daniels in his C-3PO suit. Everyone knows the golden robot, but only fans know the man inside
His naive enthusiasm at being in a film for the first time evaporated in Tunisia, as they shot scenes set on the desert planet of Tatooine (see panel overleaf).
He put a lot of effort into getting the voice right, only to be told it didn’t matter, they would fix it with overdubs. But eventually Lucas went with what Daniels had done. Where did that distinctive voice come from? ‘It’s clearly not my voice. Everything is tense for him, very uptight, nothing’s right. A deeply frustrated character. Overtly nervous. Putting the voice further up in the throat, being very tight-chested, makes him sound slightly non-human.’
Then he does it: ‘I am C-3PO, human cyborg relations.’ I find myself beaming, transported back to the Gants Hill Odeon in 1977. ‘Ah yes! I get that a lot. And parents come up to me and say: “Can you do the voice, because the kid doesn’t believe it’s you?” Then you see them smile, like the child inside you is smiling now. It’s such a treat. That’s a real reward.’
It’s quite a camp voice, isn’t it? ‘Precious, really, is a better word.’ Does that suggest C-3PO is gay? ‘Were C-3PO and R2 an item? They have a very loving relationship, but the idea of them [having sex], it’s quite funny!’
Some have assumed that Daniels must be gay, because of C-3PO’s voice, but his wife Christine is here with him. They have been together for 20 years. ‘She sees the warm response Threepio gets from people. Just yesterday, somebody said: “I was scared of some of the things in the movies as a child, but it was OK because Threepio was afraid too.”’
However, Daniels himself felt isolated on set. ‘It was incredibly lonely. I couldn’t sit down in the suit, or wander off to have a coffee between takes. I would stay very still, just being there and gently observing, through these binocular eyes. I became an object, because people had to get on with their work. You observe people observing people. You look at the way somebody’s looking at somebody else.’
He’s talking about Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, who were having a secret affair during the making of the first Star Wars film, as she revealed in a book just before her death in 2016. ‘I think it was a bit of a shame that Carrie felt she needed to speak about that in her book. She didn’t need to say it.’ Fisher was 19 and Ford was 33, married with kids, so they kept it quiet at the time – but not from the man inside the robot suit? ‘Oh no. I’d seen it unfold on the set.’
He felt left out as the leading players bonded as a group. ‘Yes, it was hugely difficult. Intrinsically, it’s hurtful.’ The wounds have healed now and he speaks particularly warmly of Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker. But not of the late Kenny Baker, the actor inside his sidekick R2-D2. They made up one of the great on-screen partnerships but had a long-running feud. Baker thought Daniels was aloof and called him the rudest man he ever met. ‘Oh, it became his stock-in-trade. It’s very difficult when somebody has no restraint.’
The smaller robot never spoke on set. ‘Without the beeps and burbles that were put in afterwards it was like working with this,’ he says, tapping a wooden table. ‘I had to believe this was a real friend, saying things. And that I was listening intelligently. I’m quite proud of that, actually.’
Some, including George Lucas, have said he was hard to work with. Is that true? ‘I did not want to be in that suit all day every day. I wanted to come out of it and be able to sit down, have a pee, whatever. Yeah, probably it appeared as if I was demanding, but I was looking after my own health, safety and sanity.’
In time, his name was made known, his performance was praised and his contribution to the movies was recognised. The money must have helped. Surely he made a fortune? ‘Oh, you would be amazed. The internet is so out of kilter with reality.’
Anthony Daniels puts on his C-3PO suit during filming of The Rise of Skywalker. So is that really it for C-3PO? ‘I’m sure he will live again in all sorts of surprising ways,’ says Daniels
The figure most often quoted is £5 million. ‘Would it be odd to say I have no idea? Christine and I have a really comfortable life, but we were brought up just after the war and taught not to waste, so we don’t want much. We have a house in London and a small home in France with a very nice garden. I’ve done all right, yes.’
When the time came to film his last scene as C-3PO, at Pinewood Studios last year, the whole crew gathered and JJ Abrams made a speech. ‘Christine was there, and I was trying to be brave. I didn’t want to make an idiot of myself. I didn’t want to bawl.’ Were there tears? ‘Maybe a little bit. There could have been a lot.’ After a lifetime feeling sidelined inside his suit of gold, Anthony Daniels was centre of the action. ‘Finally, I felt part of it all … now it was over.’
So is that really it for C-3PO? ‘I’m sure he will live again in all sorts of surprising ways,’ says Daniels, who will lend his voice in future if needed. ‘There’s even something coming up that you don’t know about yet.’
Of course there is. This is Disney. This is Star Wars. The adventures go on. ‘We’re not split apart yet, C-3PO and me.’
‘I remember gently weeping, unobserved’
In this extract from his new memoir, Anthony Daniels reveals that from the very first day of filming on ‘Star Wars’ in 1976, it was clear the role of C-3PO was going to present a serious challenge…
A suit was made for me, specially moulded to the shape of my body. Sixty pounds of metal, rubber and plastic. Wearing it for the first time I felt ghastly. It was as if I had lost my own body – lost contact with my world. I blundered around, crashing into objects.
On the first day of filming, it took two hours to get the suit on. I tried not to vocalise the nipping and scratching from the fibreglass shell.
George Lucas directs Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. Some, including George Lucas, have said Daniels was hard to work with
When not actually shooting, I stared out at the endless flatness around us. A whistle blew. Lunch. The crew was moving towards the shaded area, with its tables and chairs and buffet of hot and cold food. Maxi, my dresser and helper, came into view. ‘Can I bring you something?’
Given my enclosed situation, what did he have in mind? I mumbled that I would quite like to be with the others. He looked doubtfully at the distant gathering. I wobbled over. They sat. I stood. As the crew ate, I stared out at the flatness.
We shot until the sun was gone. They began to gently unhinge me from the suit. I almost fell to the ground, bending my knees for the first time in eight hours.
I remember gently weeping, unobserved. But I’d signed on for the duration, and Maxi became ingenious with tape and padding. He was meticulous in the way that he cared for the costume, and for me.
Text © Anthony Daniels 2019. ‘I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story’ by Anthony Daniels is published by DK on Thursday, priced £18.99. Offer price £15.19 until November 26 2019. To order call 01603 648155 or go to mailshop.co.uk