The actor, who reprises his gold-plated, neurotic droid in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, stood by his character’s statue at a new exhibit in New York City and reminisced on his journey through a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars and the Power of Costume: The Exhibition showcases props and costumes from the original trilogy, the prequels and The Force Awakens.
For someone like Daniels, who’s been a mainstay of the franchise since the original Star Wars in 1977, the experience was like a walk down memory lane. EW spoke with the actor at the exhibit about his longtime experience with Star Wars, the impact of artist Ralph McQuarrie’s early designs, returning for The Force Awakens, and how he’s getting along with BB-8.
Entertainment Weekly: Are you feeling a little outshone by…
Anthony Daniels: BB-8?
BB-8. He’s the new fan favorite.
I know. But since I love him as well, it’s okay. I really fell for him the first moment on set, couldn’t believe what I was seeing, literally. “Wait a minute? How’s that…?”
Can you talk about your first reaction coming into this exhibit? Have you had a chance to walk through the whole thing yet?
Oh yes. I came in yesterday from England, and the first thing I needed to see was what was happening here… I’m absolutely astounded at it because I’ve seen some of the objects before, but it’s the way that it’s… look at this [points to droid display]. It’s absolutely built for this environment, and what it does is take you as near as you can into the feeling of being in the movies without all the clutter of the moviemaking needs.
So you’ve got just beautiful setups where you can stand and stare at objects that normally whiffle by on a screen. You see Padmé in one of her frocks. She’s maybe got 20 seconds screen time in that. Well, maybe a minute’s screen time, but you don’t have time to say, “Hey, Natalie, just stop for a minute because we really want to look at that, and then the camera needs to see this.”
The same with 3PO. You see him and you almost accept the entirety of the performance without actually ever standing here and going, “Well isn’t it interesting how that fits into that or that?” To stare at BB-8 when he’s not whizzing around and going crazy. So people can actually stand and enjoy. And, you know 3PO, you’ve got the original designs, which are stunning, and literally this is the reason that — this picture behind you [pointing to Ralph McQuarrie’s early concept art for the character] — is the reason I got interested. That face just somehow spoke to me. It was magic. Just totally appealed to me. It still does.
Can you talk about that a little bit? Obviously, the designs for C-3PO have changed so much since this image.
That was the concept and then, taking that as the inspiration, Liz Moore, the sculptor, did [the helmet] and showed all sorts of iterations to George to go, “No. No. Okay.” And so I tried on all sorts of strange things, and at one point we had six heads in gray clay, very different styles, and I said, “Well, the only one I don’t like is the one at the end.” And they said, “That’s the one we’re using.” But black eyes and his face in gray are totally different. And she got this strange, kind of lost look along with this one, you see. She interpreted it as a piece of artwork, so from two dimensions to three dimensions. The transition really worked, and it means that his face is so beautiful that in repose he’s interesting, but also it allows me, by using it in different aspects, to put an expression on even though it never moves. Some people think it’s makeup, but the skill of the design just works. Because I’m not an artist, I can’t tell you.
Do you remember when you were first asked to come back for Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
Well, we had the prequels. Um, I can’t remember. I haven’t a good memory.
It seems like there were a lot of rumblings for a really long time.
Well, I wasn’t aware. The time I thought maybe something would happen was Disney bought the whole Star Wars thing from George. But the first I knew about it was when Kathleen Kennedy rang me out of the blue and said, “Would it be okay if J.J. Abrams, who’s directing a new film, would it be okay if he called me?” [Laughs.]
And, seriously, that was it, and I even didn’t know… I thought it was somebody else on the phone to begin with, so I spent 20 seconds talking to somebody, and then it’s like, “I’m sorry, what was your name?” She’s like, “My name is Kathy Kennedy, I’m the producer of the new…” [Laughs.] And then J.J. rang and — well, I’ll tell you, he just eulogized me for quite a while because he was 11 when he saw Star Wars, and it made a big impact on him, and he really likes it and what I did, as well. And then he said, “Would you just wanna do the voice?” And I said, “Nope.” And he’s like, “Quite right,” and we went on from there, but I said I do need a new costume…This [pointing to display] is from the last of the prequels but it was also in Return of the Jedi and all that kind of thing, but now the new one is 3D printed. It looks exactly the same, too, but the fixings are more sensible, quicker, and all that kind of thing.
Now did they have to remold certain elements of the costume to fit your body?
No because I’m actually the same size.
Well, you could have been with me at the gym at 5 o’ clock this morning. I work out most days, obviously not to get muscles. But I watch my diet I do work out, and also because [the costume] weighs quite a lot, so my core area has to be quite strong. By the end of the day, I’m [exhausted]. Especially on the studio floor, which is concrete.
But part of the job is maintaining my — his vocal range. Interestingly, when we did the Star Tours at the Disney lot, they wanted to just remake elements of the pre-show, they didn’t want to re-record everything, but they did want to put in some new material, and they were amazed I could exactly fit into the same, you know…
Because 3PO’s voice [Daniels slips into the character’s voice] has always been a character voice, and so he talks from up here, and he’s very uptight. My goodness.
Are you still kind of blown away to this day that Star Wars has become what it is?
I have begun to be blown away. I was always a little surprised. Now, finally, I get it. I really do, to the extent that I’m personally excited to see the new film. But I have learned over recent years just how much the whole shebang means to millions of people around the world, millions, who speak the common language of Star Wars. It doesn’t matter what languages it’s issued in, whether it’s Russian, or German, or whatever.
I was just in Moscow meeting Star Wars fans there, and the wonderful thing, just as Putin’s thrown his weight around, all these ordinary Russians are going, “We love Star Wars.” And that was great joy, because it is an international language, and 3PO, along with other items from the movies, is such an iconic figure, like Darth Vader is. But you see that figure, you know. It’s like hearing [hums John Williams’ Star Wars theme]. You know it’s Star Wars, and it takes me, literally, it has taken me around the world several times with great, great pleasure.
Do you remember the moment it all clicked and you realized the true impact of this franchise?
No, I never really did. Literally within the last few years I’ve suddenly wised up, because I’ve never had the impact that you’ve had when you went to see it, because you didn’t know what was going to happen. I did duck when the thing went over head, because I didn’t know that at all, but I had such a big part in the original film that I’d seen most of it, I’d suffered most of it in the costume watching what was happening [uses hands to mimic eye holes], so for me the movie didn’t have the impact. I’d seen it when I was dubbing my voice without the music, so it certainly lacked a certain something. So the big surprise for me was John’s music. Wonderful, really, as big a character as Darth Vader.
But the time I knew it was a success was a Newsweek or Time magazine [cover] because it opened six months before England, so we just kept hearing these rumors that this amazing thing happened. Now Disney has taken over, it’s become so big. I feel slightly daunted by it because it’s like this behemoth, and I’m clinging on to the bumpers at the back. But who better than Disney to take on this amazing [franchise]. … People are very excited [about] the snippets that have got out, and people realized that J.J. knows what he’s doing, and, you know, you should be confident. It’s my opinion. I’m just an actor.
There has been debate over the quality of the prequels vs. the quality of the originals. Do you have any input on that?
Well, I mean it depends what you mean by quality. The elements that went into the prequels, particularly the digital aspect…and remember George Lucas has been absolutely a groundbreaker in all sorts of cinematic graphic techniques, you know, cameras, digital, whatever. And maybe it got over-extended in that area, but those films are possibly for a younger audience; now they are like 20 years old. Can you believe it? And there are people who remember, I mean there are some characters that probably drive you crazy, but you will meet a 20-year-old who will go, “I love that character, he made me laugh so much.” Do you see?
There were some people who couldn’t stand 3PO in the beginning, there were some people who loved him, and they’ve grown up and go, “Oh yeah, I remember him,” and all that kind of thing. But there’s something for everybody in these movies, and they form a part of a totally legitimate sort of passage-of-time thing, which we can all go back and marvel at, particularly because the way you can view them on discs. In the old days, you could only see them in the movie theaters, and that’s why taking the toy home is really good. You can extend your play.
The only Star Wars thing I have on show in my home is a handmade Lego interpretation of 3PO in yellow, and it just made me smile so much that against all the odds, against all the antiques and things, there’s 3PO. So it’s almost — I was gonna say (I’m not sure it’s right) that I’ve almost become a fan, and I mean that in the best possible sense. I’ve begun to enjoy people enjoying [Star Wars]. I had so much fun on this latest film. I do hope it’s gonna be good.
I have a feeling.
I have too, and therefore I’d be incredibly disappointed if it isn’t. I’d have a major sulk over there, but I think we’re okay.