THE MAN IN­SIDE THE DROID

The ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing part of some­thing huge, but be­hind a mask.

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Christophe­r Bor­relli

RESTON, Va. — This place, all ster­ile of­fice com­plexes and man­aged greens, looks as if it was built yes­ter­day. To be ex­act, it was built in 1964, but that sounds an­cient.

“A lit­tle cold around here, if you ask me,” said An­thony Daniels, who has spent most of life as a ro­bot. He was here a few weeks ago for a small film fes­ti­val that was giv­ing him an award; he was here be­cause he has played C-3PO, the fussy gold droid of “Star Wars” fame, for more than 40 years, and be­ing a “Star Wars” char­ac­ter car­ries a re­spon­si­bil­ity.

So he marches in a pa­rade to the fes­ti­val’s open­ing-night screen­ing of the first “Star Wars” film, flanked by Stormtroop­ers, a Kylo, a Darth, a Boba, a few Im­pe­ri­als and some Jedi. There’s a healthy turnout, but on a Thurs­day af­ter­noon, far from a crush of fans. He holds a plas­tered ex­pres­sion of de­light, though he’s seen it be­fore — many times be­fore.

He lingers out­side the theater for a half-hour, tak­ing pic­tures and sign­ing au­to­graphs, com­pli­ment­ing cos­tumes and leav­ing ev­ery fan with a bit of his bot­tledup al­ter-ego. A mid­dle-aged woman ap­proaches, grabs his hands and re­counts the way her trou­bled brother once wanted his “Star Wars” ac­tion fig­ures ar­ranged on their fam­ily’s liv­in­groom man­tle just so, mak­ing sure C-3PO stood at the cen­ter. And then she sobs.

“It’s OK,” Daniels says softly. “It’s a lovely story.”

Tear­ful fans have hap­pened be­fore too. And yet Daniels is here

be­cause of the award (a life­time achieve­ment from the Washington West Film Fes­ti­val) and be­cause he has a new me­moir to pro­mote, “I Am C-3PO: The In­side Story,” and be­cause for decades he has been a one-man am­bas­sador for a fran­chise so in­grained in our cul­tural DNA that it only makes sense to call it a fran­chise if we also call the Grimms’ Fairy Tales a fran­chise.

Daniels opens “Star Wars” ex­hi­bi­tions and speaks at con­ven­tions, em­cees “Star Wars” con­certs and prod­uct un­veil­ings. In fact, since the 1977 orig­i­nal, only Daniels has been in­side the C-3PO cos­tume and voiced the char­ac­ter — and not only in the movies, but in the an­i­mated se­ries, on “Donnie & Marie,” at the Os­cars, on “Se­same Street,” for video games, anti-smok­ing PSAs, Un­deroos com­mer­cials, amuse­ment park rides.

“One rea­son peo­ple em­ploy me

(as C-3PO) is not only be­cause I can per­form the char­ac­ter, but I know what is right for him,” Daniels said. “In that way, he is as real as the last time you saw him.”

It’s a re­mark­able, and largely un­sung, feat of per­for­mance: Though Daniels didn’t cre­ate C-3PO — that would be Ge­orge Lu­cas — one man, who is now 73, has re­mained the stew­ard and lit­eral em­bod­i­ment of the role he orig­i­nated when he was 30.

Which can mean many things. At this fes­ti­val, it meant a touch of qual­ity con­trol.

He was in­tro­duc­ing “Star Wars,” but even that sim­ple in­tro­duc­tion of a film he’s seen count­less times, its di­a­logue drilled into its brain, meant that Daniels paced back­stage be­fore­hand, writ­ing, rewrit­ing and mem­o­riz­ing a few lines many oth­ers would have sim­ply winged by now.

And that night, when C-3PO strode across the screen and Daniels watched him­self for the six bil­lionth time and light danced on his face, he didn’t re­sem­ble an ac­tor in love with him­self. His ex­pres­sion was full of puz­zle­ment and won­der, as if he was be­ing re­minded once again that he is part of some­thing very dear to many peo­ple and should not take a mo­ment like this, even at a small film fes­ti­val in Vir­ginia, for granted.

It is, after all, a com­pli­cated thing to have your char­ac­ter rec­og­nized in­stantly, across the globe, for sev­eral gen­er­a­tions while be­ing mostly un­seen and un­known your­self.

The next morn­ing, with a dol­lop of C-3PO’s fa­mil­iar com­plain­ing in his English voice, Daniels men­tioned to me that J.J. Abrams, the di­rec­tor of the next “Star Wars” film, “The Rise of Sky­walker,” had been tex­ting him in­ces­santly, ask­ing him to use his iPhone and voice a few lines. The film opens Dec. 20, but the tweak­ing con­tin­ues.

Daniels groaned play­fully: “He’s driv­ing me nuts! He’s just like, ‘Can you do this line?’ Some­times it’s other lines. I said, I’m busy, I’ll do it to­mor­row. Then he goes into a sulk!”

Daniels looks and sounds a lot like C-3PO, sort of the way that dog own­ers and their dogs of­ten merge: He’s trim, prim and nicely pos­tured, with a crisp Lon­don ac­cent. His words are ex­act­ing and his move­ments come across in a slightly hal­ter­ing, self­con­scious man­ner.

The man is a hu­man madeleine cookie. He is a Prous­tian man­i­fes­ta­tion of any “Star Wars”-filled child­hood.

When I men­tion we spent a few hours to­gether in 2009, while he was in Chicago host­ing “Star Wars: In Con­cert” at the United Cen­ter, he says, “I’d for­got­ten, I’d for­got­ten,” and what floods back at that mo­ment is this: I’m 7 years old, sit­ting in a movie theater, watch­ing the first “Star Wars” for the ninth time and C-3PO is on the Death Star, re­mem­ber­ing he has a trans­mit­ter to call Luke, say­ing in these same tones: “I’d for­got­ten, I’d for­got­ten.”

“You know, while I’m do­ing 3PO in a new film, I do be­gin to sound and be­have like him,” Daniels said. “I no­tice I can get jerky and a bit pre­cise — I have to try and watch it.”

He didn’t al­ways feel that fond­ness.

In­deed, that af­fec­tion awoke only re­cently, about a decade ago, after 30 years with Lucasfilm. His me­moir be­gins with the “Star Wars: In Con­cert” tour that took him through Chicago, which he says was the first time he truly un­der­stood the de­vo­tion to the se­ries.

Night after night, he looked out into sold-out are­nas and watched the faces, and “they got some­thing I never got. You could feel warmth, af­fec­tion, en­ergy. I be­gan to rec­og­nize they col­lec­tively owned some­thing that I didn’t own. I was in it, but I didn’t own it, and that re­ally warmed me to­ward this whole thing. Sir Alec Guin­ness (who played Obi-Wan Kenobi and fa­mously held a long am­biva­lence about his role in “Star Wars”) never had the op­por­tu­nity to get to that state of ac­qui­es­cence. And he re­ally had done other stuff!”

Daniels, how­ever, main­tained a long-sim­mer­ing an­i­mos­ity to­ward the se­ries “be­cause of my orig­i­nal dis­missal. It had been a slap in the face that took many years to dis­ap­pear.”

This “dis­missal,” which forms the some­times lone­some spine of the book, is less a for­mal re­jec­tion than a sus­pi­cion that Daniels had felt in the late ’70s and ’80s, when the “Star Wars” In­dus­trial Com­plex was first hum­ming along and de­vour­ing pop cul­ture. Be­cause he was es­sen­tially face­less, be­cause his body was hid­den be­hind a mask and a gold ro­bot cos­tume, he be­lieved that he was be­ing writ­ten out of the glory be­stowed on the se­ries. He be­lieved that he had been made a lit­eral cog in the ma­chin­ery of a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non.

That hurt, “it’s still there,” he told me, “but it’s since been col­ored by other things that have made all of this nicer.” Then Daniels added with a smile: “If you work for 20 years at Lucasfilm, you get an award, and it’s a gold R2 and 3PO or some­thing. I think 3PO is clutch­ing a tub of pop­corn. I’ve worked there on and off for more than 40 years — nada.”

“I Am C-3PO” is not ex­actly a tell-all — in­deed, “Star Wars” fans won’t find a lot of new stuff here — but rather it’s much more in­ter­est­ing, se­lect notes from the mar­gins of a cul­tural hap­pen­ing, as told by a man sub­merged in­side a sweaty, stiff, un­com­fort­able ro­bot, with his nose run­ning.

On Kenny Baker, the ac­tor who was oc­ca­sion­ally in­side the R2-D2 suit (and died in 2016), Daniels writes coolly: “He ap­peared at count­less con­ven­tions and the fans loved him. Sadly, our off-screen his­tory pre­vented me from feel­ing the same.” He re­counts Lu­cas hat­ing his ini­tial per­for­mance (“Well, I … err … never thought of Three­pio be­ing a Bri­tish but­ler”) and re­calls the pro­duc­tion of the ma­ligned pre­quels as bul­ly­ing, in­con­sid­er­ate and “in­dus­trial,” with “a sense of an op­pres­sive man­age­ment ethos com­ing from above.”

Daniels writes (with­out a ghost writer, he noted) about what it was like be­ing de­voured, more or less, by C-3PO, though not al­ways un­pleas­antly. The book is some­what about how an ac­tor de­vel­ops an in­tense own­er­ship over a char­ac­ter.

Daniels car­ries a gold Sharpie for au­to­graphs. He de­scribes a “Star Wars” art ex­hi­bi­tion where he no­ticed the C-3PO cos­tume was miss­ing pieces around his con­nect­ing joints, so Daniels scrounged up some wires and, when no one was watch­ing, un­hooked the glass case and added the wires to the gaps in the cos­tume and spruced up the dis­play.

Daniels was one of the first ac­tors cast for the orig­i­nal “Star Wars,” in

1975. He was pri­mar­ily a stage ac­tor, skilled in the “iso­la­tion tech­niques” of mime; by co­in­ci­dence, when Lu­cas hired him, he was play­ing Guilden­stern in Tom Stop­pard’s “Rosen­crantz and Guilden­stern Are Dead,” an­other pe­riph­eral fig­ure at the mar­gins of a larger epic.

“But with­out ‘Star Wars,’ with­out 3PO, I would have had a com­pletely dif­fer­ent life,” Daniels said. “I am only now be­gin­ning to ad­mit in pub­lic I was a very medi­ocre ac­tor. Want­ing to act is not the same thing as be­ing good, and I lucked out.”

But in a way, it’s a role that tran­scends tra­di­tional act­ing. Whether he was a good or a bad C-3PO hardly mat­ters. He was C-3PO. He gave the droid a re­al­ity.

He said this is prob­a­bly true, that “it oc­curs to me maybe 3PO was my refuge, from be­ing ne­gated in other ways.” So, nat­u­rally, over the years, Daniels be­came a stu­dent of, and of­ten friends with, other ac­tors who spent sim­i­lar ca­reers sub­merged in­side of an un­usual ar­ti­fice.

Peo­ple such as the Aus­tralian co­me­dian Barry Humphries, who at 85 re­mains in­sep­a­ra­ble from his bois­ter­ous house­wife/ jour­nal­ist/talk show host Dame Edna, and the pup­peteer Caroll Spin­ney, who stood in­side of the Big Bird cos­tume from 1969 un­til his re­tire­ment last year. (Com­pa­ra­bly, Chew­bacca has been played by two dif­fer­ent ac­tors, Peter May­hew, who died in April at 74, and now, the young Fin­nish ac­tor and bas­ket­ball player Joonas Suo­tamo.)

Act­ing en­tirely in­side a ro­bot was so con­fus­ing at first that, on the set of the first “Star Wars” film, as a some­what light­hearted re­minder, Daniels handed out match­books to the cast and crew that re­minded them “3PO is Hu­man!” He said it wasn’t about in­se­cu­rity, “but on a set peo­ple get on with their jobs, and when you’re stand­ing in the mid­dle of ev­ery­thing (in the C-3PO suit) and peo­ple are walk­ing around you,” it’s nat­u­ral to de­velop a tinge of un­ease.

Decades later, after a string of re­cent “Star Wars” movies in which his char­ac­ter was played more as or­na­men­tal nostalgia than a char­ac­ter, he said C-3PO “is there with the gang again” in the up­com­ing

“Rise of Sky­walker.” Asked if he was sur­prised when C-3PO be­came the tear­jerk­ing cen­ter­piece of the film’s pop­u­lar trailer — say­ing he was look­ing at his friends “one last time” — Daniels looks wist­ful.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “A trailer can pick out any­thing it wants, and that’s one of the sem­i­nal scenes (in the film). What I love was it was (shown) ex­actly as it was done. … It was a touch­ing mo­ment on the set, de­spite all the clut­ter around.”

He says, at 73, “there are not that many years left” for him to do the char­ac­ter. He doesn’t want C-3PO “shoved into (any pro­posed fu­ture in­stall­ments) as a fig­urine,” but then he adds the age­less C-3PO is pretty good as con­nect­ing tis­sue be­tween the orig­i­nal films and a new se­ries, “so I would be there to do it — I think his days in the off­shoots are far from over.”

In the mean­time, after decades of C-3PO ce­real and PEZ dis­pensers and soap bars, Daniels is only now fi­nally re­ceiv­ing a small per­cent­age of the sales of any C-3PO-re­lated mer­chan­dise.

Like, what, .000002 per­cent?

“How many zeros is that?” he asked.

Un­like a Mark Hamill or Har­ri­son Ford, it’s not Daniels’ ac­tual like­ness on those ac­tion fig­ures and bed­sheets, it’s C-3PO’s. So what he re­ceives now “feels more like a ges­ture — but at least they rec­og­nize I have some part in peo­ple buy­ing this item. I sort of minded I wasn’t given any­thing (in the ear­lier days of the se­ries), but that was par for the course. Now it doesn’t re­ally make a dif­fer­ence.

“I’m com­fort­able,” he said. “My wife and I lead a very mod­est life. I don’t have to keep up with any­body. We own two tiny cars. We don’t col­lect any­thing. I don’t en­joy buy­ing clothes. I wear a watch that costs 25 quid. And as long as I have com­fort and warmth and can travel on the nice part of an air­plane I can’t think of any­thing else I need.

“But there are times, when ne­go­ti­at­ing a fee for some­thing, when a pro­ducer or some­one may say to me, ‘An­thony, it’s only a one-day job,’ or ‘It’s just five min­utes.’ To which I say, ‘Well, in those five min­utes, you’re pay­ing for 40 years of C-3PO.’ ”

LUCASFILM LTD

MARTIN BUREAU/GETTY/AFP

The Bri­tish ac­tor An­thony Daniels, who played C-3PO in ev­ery “Star Wars” movie, has writ­ten a book ti­tled “I Am C-3PO: The In­side Story.”

LUCASFILM LTD.

C-3PO (An­thony Daniels, left) and Luke Sky­walker(Mark Hamill) are shown dur­ing the mak­ing of “Star Wars: A New Hope.” Daniels is the only ac­tor to have voiced the char­ac­ter in film, TV or oth­er­wise.

AP FILE

“Star Wars” cast mem­bers Har­ri­son Ford (Han Solo), An­thony Daniels (C-3PO), Car­rie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Peter May­hew (Chew­bacca) gather in Los An­ge­les in 1978, a year after the re­lease of the orig­i­nal movie.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.