With these two words, Anthony Daniels became one of the most recognized actors in the world. But it was the actor’s voice that movie fans grew to know and love; Daniels’ face was, of course, concealed in the uncomfortable gold costume known as C-3PO. Despite being the only actor to appear in all six Star Wars films, Daniels can still stroll the streets of Europe – he splits his time between southern France and his native London – in complete anonymity. We caught up with Daniels recently to ask him about the halcyon days when “human-cyborg relations” sounded like the skill set of a protocol droid, not the subject of a fetish website.
Daedalus Howell: As a young actor, nearly 30 years ago, you weren’t initially interested in taking on the Golden Droid, were you?
Anthony Daniels: I didn’t even want the interview. I refused to meet George [Lucas] and my agent made me go. I didn’t want to be in a sci-fi movie, I didn’t want to play a robot… I thought it was a 12-week job that was an absolute nightmare. They disappeared for months, then the phone rang for me to go to L.A. to do the voice.
DH: But you weren’t the first choice to perform C-3P0’s voice?
AD: I was the last choice, which is better than no choice. You can’t imagine it differently, because you have now been programmed to believe that is what, and indeed, that is who, Threepio is. If you had received another image at the beginning you would now say, “What do you mean your voice? You couldn’t have used your voice, it’s much better with an Inuit accent” or whatever. You’re already conditioned.
DH: Now that we’re conditioned, are you ever recognized when you’re not gold-plated?
AD: I’ll have people come up and ask, “Can you do the voice for my kid?” And I’ll ask the kid, “What’s Threepio sound like? Does he sound like this? ‘Hello, I am C-3P0, human-cyborg relations, and this is my counterpart, R2-D2.’” And you see their face – and that is magic, really lovely.
DH: C-3P0 has fans everywhere. Even Pittsburgh, we hear. What were you doing there?
AD: I was inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame at Carnegie Mellon, which was just the best experience. I thought it would be some tacky wax museum, and I didn’t really think about what I was going to say. Fortunately, during one flight of many, I kind of realized and wrote not a bad speech. The audience was professors of science and robotics – clever people, who just weren’t interested in the, “Was it hot in the costume?” kind of thing. I met so many scientists and roboticists who were there because of Star Wars. One was from MIT and is a major roboticist because of C-3P0. She’s a 30-year-old professor who just wanted Threepio to exist and is very close to doing that.
DH: Was it hot in the costume?
AD: It’s a very heavy costume. The arms are aluminum; most of it is fiberglass, which actually is very heavy. If you made it these days, like the Jango Fett costume, you can lift that with one finger; it weighs nothing. But they weren’t about to redesign mine, just for me.
DH: When did you realize you had arrived?
AD: Years and years ago, I was in New York and a producer who gave me my second job and invited me to join the national theater in England, I met him in New York, picked him up in my limousine and took him up to top of the World Trade Center and sat at the restaurant that was on top, and we had drinks. I said, “Do you realize these drinks cost more than what I earned per week in that play?” Maybe that was the first time I thought I had come along. I really do like to think that I don’t spend money foolishly, because it’s not that easy to gain it. It’s probably not going to come again. I don’t enjoy waste, no matter who is paying. Doesn’t matter if it’s a big company paying – if it’s wasteful, don’t do it. It’s great to have what you want – within reason. I don’t have a yacht. Okay, a couple of homes, but my car is nearly 20 years old, because I never use it. When I was a young actor, I’d be waiting for buses and that kind of thing. Now when a bus comes along I’ll hop onto it if it’s going my way. Except now in London, they’ve started putting doors on the buses so you can’t jump on and off like in the old days. Old habits die very, very slowly. Sometimes The Post comes with rubber bands round it to keep it all together – hey, free rubber bands! It makes my day.