Anthony Daniels tells a tale of man and droid in I Am C-3PO

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      To determine just how much of a Star Wars geek you are, consider the following phrase: “I Am C-3PO.”

      If your mind automatically filled in the rest—“human-cyborg relations”—the odds of you being a true-blue fan of the Skywalker saga are very high indeed. (And you get bonus points if you just said “Never tell me the odds!”)

      Those words were spoken in the first Star Wars film by Anthony Daniels, who also used them as the title of his book, I Am C-3PO, in which he reflects on his 40-plus years of playing the golden protocol droid.

      “It’s the unspoken phrase, yes: ‘human-cyborg relations’,” says the genial actor, who is at a media-tour stop in Toronto when the Straight connects with him by telephone. “I guess, if I think about it—I haven’t talked about this at all—I am the human, he’s the cyborg, and I talk about our relations. I may use this thought in the future…”

      Daniels relates to the character so well, in fact, that he refers to him as “my friend” throughout the book. It might surprise some readers, then, to learn that the London-based performer was initially skeptical about the whole thing. He was not, it turns out, a fan of science fiction (he writes that he demanded his money back after suffering through 2001: A Space Odyssey), but he agreed to meet with American filmmaker George Lucas to discuss the project that was then titled The Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Starkiller. At that initial meeting, Daniels saw something that hooked him almost instantly: Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art depicting C-3PO and his constant companion, R2-D2.

      He writes: “Standing on a sandy terrain, against a rocky landscape, with distant planets filling the sky, Threepio gazed out forlornly. Our eyes met and he seemed yearning to walk out of the frame into my world. Or, I felt, for me to climb over and join him in his. I sensed his vulnerability. Maybe he sensed mine. It truly was a strange moment.”

      It was a moment, in fact, that would shape the course of the actor’s life. Daniels has donned the shiny—and dreadfully uncomfortable—robot suit to play Threepio in almost every Star Wars movie, including Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, which is due to hit cinemas on December 19. Some performers chafe at being identified in the public’s eyes with one particular role—Sir Alec Guinness, for example, was famously touchy about being associated with his own Star Wars character, Obi-Wan Kenobi—but Daniels seems genuinely at peace with it.

      “It is difficult for some people,” he acknowledges. “I think I’m helped by him being such an enduring character that he has given me a very interesting career, in one kind of groove, if you will. And maybe I was only designed for that groove, but it’s certainly become a career of its own with all the spinoff activities—and I do like the character. I like how different writers and directors are able to put him in situations that bring out some other side of his abilities and personality.”

      Those spinoff activities are listed in an appendix at the back of the book, cheekily titled “Droidography”. They include radio dramas, TV commercials, video games, and more. Of Daniels’s 77 acting credits listed on the Internet Movie Database, roughly two-thirds are for on-screen or voice performances as

      Threepio has certainly taken Daniels to some enviable places. How many actors can say that they have dined with the king and queen of Jordan, conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, been a presenter at the Oscars, and appeared on Sesame Street four times?

      Daniels credits Lucas with giving him a free hand to develop his own characterization for C-3PO. This happened, in part, because Lucas, although rightly hailed as a visionary, has never been known as an “actor’s director”.

      “George has so much going on in his head, the whole movie, and back then it was really groundbreaking,” Daniels says. “That’s why people took to his films so much—that nobody’d seen a film like this before. And he wasn’t necessarily adept at explaining what he wanted. He kind of chose people—including me, I suppose—who he felt he could trust to get on with things, like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and of course Sir Alec Guinness. He had a lot on his plate, and he accepted what I did on the set, although he clearly had plans to replace the voice.”

      Ah, yes. Just as, in hindsight, it’s impossible to imagine Darth Vader sounding like anyone other than James Earl Jones (even though it was David Prowse we saw on-screen in the original trilogy), it would be hard to envision a version of Threepio who spoke with the voice of, say, Richard Dreyfuss. The American Graffiti star was reportedly in the running, but of course the dulcet British tones of Daniels won out in the end. “Threepio is a one-piece character—he is the voice, the face, the walk, the movements, the attitude—it’s all one, and you can’t take one bit away from him,” Daniels says, with justifiable pride.

      Threepio fans who feel their favourite droid got short shrift in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi will be happy to hear that he plays a more essential role in The Rise of Skywalker, thanks to director and cowriter J. J. Abrams. But will the character who uttered the first line of dialogue in the entire saga get to have the last word, as well?

      “That’s a neat thought,” Daniels says with a warm chuckle. “It did occur to me on my last day, suddenly, that this was the third time I’ve said goodbye. And as I said in the book, my last shot as we filmed it—not the last shot of the movie, but for me the last day on the set—I have no words at all. So we will see. J. J. loves to move things around, right up until the last minute. So we’ll have to see; maybe, maybe not. I don’t know.”

      In any case, C-3PO isn’t quite ready to shut down, and neither is the man who plays him. Daniels turns 74 in February and says he has no plans to retire. And while the Skywalker saga may be drawing to a close, there are still video games on the horizon. And animated series. And…

      “No, it’s not the end of me being involved with Threepio at all,” Daniels says. “Already there are other projects—not films. The career goes on, and aren’t I lucky?”