C-3PO Speaks: An Interview with Anthony Daniels

The name Anthony Daniels might not initially jump out at you as one that you know, but you know the man and his work far too well. For Almost 40 years, Daniels has been an intimate part of any child’s life thanks to his other name, C-3PO. Yep, that golden protocol that we all adore (even on a ‘love-to-hate’ basis) and that has been involved with every major Star Wars film or television project to date. In fact, with his appearance in The Force Awakens, Daniels has officially even been involved in more Star Wars movies than George Lucas. The man is just as lovable as his most iconic creation and infinitely less annoying. In fact, he might even be superhumanly charming.

As you may or may not be aware, the latest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, is now out in theatres. I know, surprising right? As part of Disney’s efforts to encourage the worldwide fire of fascination with the latest Star Wars effort, Daniels made his way to Toronto last week for a personal hype-building appearance at a local Star Wars exhibition. CG Magazine was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with Daniels during his stay in town. Although, I obviously hadn’t seen the super secretive blockbuster yet, and nor had Daniels at that point.

c3poinsert5Yet, given that he’s obviously in the film and remains an iconic part of the most iconic movie franchise ever produced, there was plenty to discuss, from his excitement about reuniting with his old castmates to the new costume designs and the bizarre nature of recording his voice for a C-3PO satellite navigation system. He even drops some suggestive hints of what’s to come, though obviously without violating the vow of secrecy everyone involved in the project had to sign with Disney. Since we know that you all can’t wait for The Force Awakens, it seemed appropriate to share the interview. So please join us for this little chat with the man who gave us C-3PO. It’s a delightful visit that kicks off with Daniels seeing the Force Awakens poster and noticing a familiar face.

Anthony Daniels: Oh look at that. There’s C-3P0 in the centre. This is the first time I’m seeing the poster full-size rather than on a screen and look at him right in the centre.

CG Magazine: As it should be.

Anthony: That’s right.

CGM: Has it been strange to work on a project shrouded in such intense secrecy?

Anthony: Well, it’s actually become second nature. We all have huge respect for the whole story of Star Wars. Huge respect, how could you not? We have huge respect for George Lucas who started it all. We have huge respect for JJ. And I would say, huge respect for the fans. Why would we want to spoil something?

But it’s really become second nature, to that point that I was talking to someone the other day who is writing the Making Of book and I had to start by asking, “Can I actually tell you secrets?” My brain is so conditioned at this point that I thought, “Is it ok to even tell this guy?” Then I had to correct him about something that changed in the script and he had to run off to call the studio because he was about to write something in a book that was wrong. So I really felt duty-bound to say, “Nope!” But look, when you’re buying a present for a friend, you’re duty-bound to wait for the surprise on their face. Next week, you and everyone else will have a surprise on your face. And I’ll still be at the centre of the poster. I like that.

c3poinsert3CGM: What’s it like for you personally to be back in this franchise?

Anthony: The curious thing is that there may have been gaps over the last 40 years, but it’s basically been a pretty straight line for me in the whole thing. That includes all of the movies, all the television stuff, and everything else. I was in Canada doing Droids, maybe that’s why I feel so at home here in Toronto. Now I will tell you that we went back to New York about four weeks ago where I was opening The Power Of Costume. It’s the most stunning exhibition just off of Times Square where I was the star to present. I’m a bit like 3PO on a good day. It’s wonderful to see those costumes so close with beautiful lighting. All of the droids are there, R2 and 3PO and of course BB-8. You wait; you are so going to love BB-8. Anyways, I got off the plane for that exhibit and was recording lines for 3PO again with JJ. So if he sounds a bit jetlagged in the movie, that’s why.

But 3PO has rarely left my side since I do all the cartoon series whether it’s Droids or Clone Wars or any of that. And of course, I don’t have to wear the costume for that, which is lovely. But I also enjoy the costume, because there is a thrill when I walk out on the first day and everyone sees me in costume. On The Force Awakens, the feeling was palpable. JJ was beside himself when I came out. This time we 3D printed the costume because it’s the new way and they can make new pieces rather quickly if it doesn’t work. When I was trying those on, he wanted to take pictures. It was lovely, and his enthusiasm continued all the way through. It’s quite a chapter you’re going to see; you’ll like it.

CGM: Was this job as exciting for you as recording the 3PO satellite navigation system?

Anthony: Yes, I did a satellite navigation thing for cars as 3PO. It drove me crazy when I tried it. The strangeness of hearing my voice telling me something I don’t know was…somewhat sinister. So I changed it and have somebody else’s voice now. I have just recorded another one, that’s slightly more fun. But someone complained that I say, “what a desolate place this is.” He said that he’d just arrived home and heard my voice say that it was a desolate place. That was rather cute.

CGM: What do you think it is about C-3PO and R2D2 that continues to have such broad appeal to all audiences?

Anthony: I think you’re right. They’re fairly broad characters, to be honest. If I gave the same performance without the costume you’d go, [at this point Anthony Daniels cringes, adorably]. I think one of the clever things about R2 is that [sound designer] Ben Burtt whistled the voice himself and recorded some of his baby’s gurgling. Then he mixed that with the synthesized sounds, so that you have something visceral and human to connect with. It kind of anthropomorphizes and draws you in. It’s wonderful. With 3PO, he is incredibly vulnerable. Because very early on we find that he was programmed for protocol and etiquette, which is totally useless (Laughs). He’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time and nobody cares about him. He’s always trashed. Now, many of us are trashed constantly in our lives, whether it’s by the government or the state. Nobody cares about us, actually. So George planned the droids to be the man on the street, if you will. Nobody really cares about the man on the street, so there is that recognition that you share their lot in life. [Adopts 3PO voice] “We were made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” It’s all coming back to me now. This is scary. Then at the same time, you have the joy of their relationship. But 3PO knows that while he’s doing his job, nobody respects him. He is vulnerable and a benign character. So therefore, you care for him. And also, George did plan that he’s this thread between the nine movies. He did say that the droids would be the only ones to go all the way through. How lucky am I?

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c3poinsert6CGM: Have they gotten any better at making the costume more comfortable for you to wear? Because I recall it was pretty rough initially, especially in the first movie.

 Anthony: It was a nightmare then and it’s still not the greatest thing. But they have changed the way that it fits together to make things much easier. What I didn’t realize in the remake of the costume, which takes a month, is that they are also able to show it all to me on the computer before they make it. One thing I do like is the new microphone. I used to have it taped to my head with a wire running to a transmitter down my backside, so that I am speaking to you out of my butt in all three of those movies. I now have a wireless microphone in this space here [points to ridge above his nose]. And also I love that they can now dial down the lights in his eyes through a transmitter. So things like that in the technology have improved a great deal. The suit will always be…not great, but that’s part of the job. And I’m not the only one. There are some wonderful creatures of all sorts in the movie and a lot of hidden people in this movie. But because they are human beings inside, you still feel their humanity.

CGM: Not many people get to play the same character over this many years. Has 3PO evolved at all for you during that time?

Anthony: Well, he’s a machine so he can’t really evolve. That television over there will never evolve. But what you see on the television, the content changes. 3PO’s content changes due to circumstances. He’s not proactive as a character. Things have to happen to him. He’s reactive. So he will always be the machine. And you must remember…in the first two trilogies I have the first and the last line. In the A New Hope I say, “Did you hear that? They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness. We’re doomed. There’ll be no escape for the princess this time.” And at the end of Episode Three I have the last line. It’s when Bail Organa says to get the protocol droid’s mind wiped and I say, “What? Oh no.”  That’s the last line of the movie. So you see, 3PO doesn’t remember a lot of stuff. He does not know, for example, that Darth Vader is his daddy. I remember on Episode One, George said, [adopts a hilariously accurate George Lucas impression] “You know, you’re made by Anakin Skywalker. He’s your creator.” And I thought that was wonderful because they have a very nice friendship in the movie. Then three days later I realized…wait a minute. Anakin is Darth Vader. 3PO still doesn’t know. So 3PO is always reflective. Who he is depends on what happens to him.

CGM: Even though you’ve done the character for so many years, it’s been a long time since you’ve done it with people like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher—

 Anthony: Oh, it was like Harrison never stopped. At the read-through, I just thought, “Jesus!” It’s like he left the set of Return of the Jedi and walked back into the room. I think you will be delighted by his performance, if I may suggest. He’s just delightful company. And his ankle, he was so brave about that. Months later he was walking around like it was nothing.

CGM: Were you at all apprehensive about The Force Awakens since it’s the first time George hasn’t been involved in any way, and it did take long for you to get used to JJ steering the ship?

Anthony: Have you met JJ? That’s a silly question! [Laughs] Of course we had different directors on the first movies, Irvin Kershner particularly. George is still a figure hanging over the whole thing. So you’re still in the hands of the master, if you’d like. That wasn’t a question that came up. I think it was Mark Hamill who said, “This is the most wonderful gift.” It didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but it does feel like a gift. This was huge fun to make and I believe that fun will come out on the screen. And if 3PO survives…but of course we don’t know that, do we? [Anthony Daniels gives a very suspicious look] In a few days, you’ll know all the answers. I actually haven’t seen it yet. We only finished it three weeks ago. I’m genuinely excited to see it, believe it or not, because the bits I’ve seen have intrigued me so much.
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