As he prepares to bring the story and music of Star Wars to life in a spectacular new show, actor Anthony Daniels tells Jon Perks about the sci-fi saga that changed his life.
He is the only actor to portray his character in all six films – yet Anthony Daniels didn’t even want to audition for Star Wars in the first place.
The 63-year-old Brit – who played the fussy protocol droid C-3PO in the epic sci-fi series – was invited to meet George Lucas, the director interested in Daniels’ background in mime which he thought would work well for the role of the golden robot.
Initially turning down the meeting, it was only when his agent coerced Daniels that he agreed to meet Lucas. Even then, having read a script he found incomprehensible, Daniels was not convinced by this tale of Jedis, light sabers and something called The Force; it was a conceptual painting by Ralph McQuarrie, who created much of the ‘look’ of Star Wars, which won over the Englishman.
“Well I went to the audition out of politeness – I had no intention of taking the part,” Daniels recalls, 33 years on. “Fortunately my destiny was to change my mind, it’s very odd; it was a picture on the wall of the character – I looked at the picture, the face looked back at me and I thought ‘gosh’...”
The rest, as they say is history; Star Wars (or Episode IV: A New Hope to give it its proper title), released on May 25, 1977, went on to take $775 million at the box office and spawned not only the series of films but countless spin-offs and a merchandising phenomenon.
The latest chapter comes in the form of Star Wars: In Concert – a multi-media event that is part classical concert, part film, with music from all six of John Williams’ famous scores played by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Dirk Brossé, accompanied by specially edited footage from the films on a three-storey tall LED screen, plus live narration from Daniels himself.
Despite all the success of its predecessors and all the trappings of fame they brought him, the Threepio actor admits he still had to think twice before taking on the narrator role for the new show:
“Yes I did because I was concerned – why do you need all these screens with effects?, and they said ‘it is is more than a concert’ and they were absolutely right. I have no reservations about it at all; the live camerawork shows you the whole process as one element, so a violin can be 50 feet across, or a harp can be 60 feet high or a drum 40 feet across.
“This giant event experience is reawakening people’s love for Star Wars,” says Anthony, who also holds the honour of speaking the first ever line in the 1977 film (which was “Did you hear that?”).
“Certainly across America people say to me ‘we’re going to go look back at the Star Wars films – we’d forgotten how much we loved them’.
“But the concert isn’t just for Star Wars fans, it’s for people who actually have never seen Star Wars because I tell the story very very simply and you come away knowing all the main elements of the story and you come away having had the wonderful experience of a terrific orchestra playing live.
“It’s been in the making for nearly four years,” he reveals. “George came to the O2 back in April (where it debuted) and then he came to see us in California and then he was just with us in Chicago – so he rather likes the show, in fact he likes it a lot,” Daniels smiles. “He sits out in the audience and he really loves the reaction of the people around him.”
Just back from a 56 show tour of America and Canada (“my luggage is still in Nashville”), a jet-lagged Daniels says the concert shows have given him a new insight and better understanding of the whole Jedi saga:
“A hundred per cent; genuinely I got the story of Star Wars, because we cut a lot out, we tell it very very simply; first of all I got the story; secondly, I got how much the music is part of the story. I have a lot of respect, I can see why the depth of the story, just as the depth of the music, gives it its longevity.
“You know John’s music is very seriously written; it’s created for a film, paid for by a film but it’s very serious, structured as anyone like Prokofiev who was one of the first to write for film nearly 100 years ago.
“I’ve seen Star Wars without the music and that’s why I know what it brings to it; music brings spring to your soul, it’s wonderful.”
Star Wars: In Concert also features an exhibition of costumes, props and artifacts from the films – including Threepio’s famous gold shell (Daniels wears a more conventional suit for his on-stage narration). However, despite being associated with the franchise for over 30 years, he reveals his home is not the memorabilia-filled Aladdin’s cave you might expect:
“[There’s] bits and bobs but there’s nothing you’d see if you came to my home, you would have no idea what I did for a living,” says Daniels. “No, Star Wars is part of my life, I’m very proud of it, thrilled, and for me Star Wars is not just the past it’s the moment.
“Within the lifetime of Star Wars, technology has galloped, but it’s a real blend because on stage it’s basically people playing bits of wood, tubes of metal, skin over a drumhead – creating music in a very old-fashioned, wonderful way. The music is not off CDs or tracks or digital it is all live, and it still speaks to your soul; it’s probably the most international form of communication,” he adds. “I wonder if Threepio’s six million forms of communication includes music?”
While his character is a master of languages, Daniels admits he’s no polyglot himself, however:
“Well I did get a round of applause for saying some French on the opening night in Montreal, they absolutely loved that, and in Europe we are finding ways around that,” he says.
“I speak a little French, and a bit of a lot of languages – mostly how to order either a glass of wine or a cup of coffee.”
Daniels also speaks that universal language – Star Wars.
* Star Wars: In Concert comes to LG Arena on April 2. For tickets call 0844 338 8000. www.starwarsinconcert.com