A telephone conversation with Anthony Daniels can be unnerving, particularly when a crackly connection lends his already familiar voice a slight mechanical quality, making it all feel impossibly close to an actual chat with C-3PO.
Daniels, 77, has played that droid since 1977 in movies, cartoons, video games, and various other venues (including The Muppet Show and Sesame Street), adventures he recounts in his entertaining new book, I Am C-3PO — The Inside Story. It initially presents his success as a weird Faustian bargain — you get to be in the biggest movie ever made, but no one sees your face and you’re trapped inside a hot, injury-inflicting metal suit — but finds him enjoying his lot in life more and more as the years pass. (And yes, as the book confirms, it’s true that he and Kenny Baker — the guy inside R2-D2 in the original trilogy — never got along).
For a digital-only piece of our Star Wars cover package (which also includes interviews with Adam Driver, J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, Billy Dee Williams and co-screenwriter Chris Terrio). Daniels discussed December 20th’s Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker and more.
According to your book, you wrote a bold and heartfelt letter to J.J. Abrams outlining your hopes for Threepio’s part in this movie, and you mentioned that the character “longs for a peaceful life where he can gently translate and make tea.” But don’t you think he’s also enjoyed these adventures?
I think he has a very high desire to connect with people and to feel a part of things, which he does in this film. For the most part he ignores the fact that people tend to treat him in a kind of offhand way. He just thinks that’s human behavior. I’m smiling, because he does have a good time in this film.
Abrams wrote back to you and said that you’re either going to love or hate how much you have to do in this new movie. It sounds like you ended up loving it, right?
Yeah. At the same time, it was a ton of work. J.J. used to say, “You asked for it!” It was a worthwhile part, I think. And it sounds like I was being attention-grabbing or whatever [with that letter], but I wasn’t. I just think Threepio has qualities that need to be explored or honored in the last film. And I feel J.J.’s done that, whilst giving everyone else a real good crack.
It’s pretty funny to learn that after all these years, this was the first time that you actually had functioning hands as C-3PO.
Isn’t that weird? It was extraordinary because in the very first scene I did have to do something with my hands, and it just gave me so much confidence. Because I could look at something, grab it, and hold it. Up until now, I had to pretend, so a simple thing like that gave me a great feeling of being a complete working machine. Almost human.
Were you tempted to gesture more than usual?
Oh totally, totally, totally. If I could point, I would point.
People got worried about C-3PO’s fate after he had that line in the trailer about “one last look at my friends,” but your book makes it clear he doesn’t actually die.
Um, well, J.J. is of course notorious for changing his mind on a minute-by-minute basis, and I wrote this book a while back. Because it took me a year to put it all together. Things were fluid on the set, I’ll tell you that.
Well, how did it feel to know, thanks to the trailer, how moved people were by your delivery of that line and the mere possibility of C-3PO’s demise?
It was interesting. Because when I did it on the set it felt like a moving moment, and when I saw it in the trailer, I was actually quite shocked how moving it is.
Do you honestly think that you will never have occasion to put on the suit again?
I have a very open mind about that. I think certainly not in a movie like this one. But Threepio is too good a character to disappear into the ether all together. So my life as C-3PO is far from over. It’s been an amazing gig for me through the years, and I’m hugely grateful. Very few actors get to do what I’ve done. A whole bunch do things way, way better. But most actors really have to really work to get roles, whereas Threepio stuff sort of comes to me. And one reason he remains consistent is because I do take these jobs, and look after him whatever the project is, trying to keep it consistent. More and I more I think, as I watch these wonderful actors, “I could never have done that.” But then I think, “I did Threepio OK.”
I would imagine some part of you might want to avoid the suit, just so you could finally eat whatever you want after being so disciplined for so many years.
This is true. In between movies, I have to tell you, I can pig out a bit. I can put a couple pounds on very easily. I end up thinking, how many calories in the tub of ice cream? How much in a bottle in a wine? And the food on the set was so stunning. But there is a bit of me that needs some discipline to have to do it. Because otherwise I know I’ll suffer. And I’m slightly worried that without the discipline of an upcoming movie will I just pig out bad. I’ll try not to.
You wrote that Luke Skywalker was C-3PO’s favorite human. Why?
Luke as a character has such an impact from the beginning. He has such an innocent quality, and he had his own frustrations — he wanted to go off to Tosche Station and buy power converters or whatever. And one of the things that Mark Hamill did so well was to treat C-3PO as his buddy and his companion, and that crossed over to the the filming process.
Your favorite line in any of the films is “I’m rather embarrassed, General Solo, but it appears that you are to be the main course at a banquet in my honor” from Return of the Jedi. Is that because you got a small measure of revenge on Han Solo in that moment?
It’s true. I love it because Han Solo was a bit of a bully-boy to Threepio. But of course that dynamic was a wonderful thing, too — it gave Threepio something to bounce off.
Have you ever had occasion to ponder what George Lucas might have been drawing on to create both C-3PO and his relationship with R2-D2?
It’s a very inventive relationship. It’s an odd couple. You write two slightly disparate characters together, and you get a dynamic that is very exciting and interesting. I’ve never thought of that. Where did he…? I think he looked at double acts, whether it’s Abbot and Costello, whatever. He was very inventive at mixing things up, using the same constituents in a different order where it worked really, really well. My nightmare, of course, was that I was working on my own. The Artoo character couldn’t actually speak [on set], and nobody ever mentioned that! George never said, “Oh, by the way, the Artoo machine doesn’t do anything.” That was a crash course, wasn’t it.
The moment in the book where Lucas gets down on his knees and beeps to help your performance in Return of the Jedi is one of the most endearing George Lucas stories I’ve ever heard.
So true. I can still picture it now. It was a weird, sweet moment.
These new movies have their own fan base. What do you make of what they call the Reylos, who believe that Rey and Kylo Ren are meant to be lovers?
[Sighs, laughs.] I leave that for younger viewers. I had enough trouble learning the lines, let alone pondering who’s having it off with who. What do you call them? Ry-los? Some people overthink it a bit. Relax and enjoy.