The shiny golden android we all know as C-3PO in the Star Wars films has clunky feet and a high-pitched voice. For a robot, he's a complete Nervous Nellie.
"We'll be destroyed for sure! This is madness!," he cries in the first film. "I feel so helpless," he laments in the newest one.
Anthony Daniels, who has played C-3PO in all six films, is about as far apart from his comic creation as an actor could get. He scurries about smoothly, and it's hard to keep up with him; his real voice, in the medium range, is soothing and slightly melodic; his temperament is relaxed, even-keeled. He's a man who likes to smile -- something you'll never see metal-mouthed 3PO do.
Of literally getting into the character he made famous, he says, "It looks great on the outside, but it's a strange and appalling costume. Mostly it's fiberglass, the arms are aluminum, and the middle bit is rubber -- otherwise I wouldn't be able to move. But a day wearing that is not much fun."
In fact, he twice fell victim to bouts of claustrophobia while filming the series.
"The first one was very curious because I wasn't even wearing the whole suit," he says. "It was during Return of the Jedi, and at the time my eye was being removed by Salacious Crumb, the right-hand gizmo to Jabba the Hutt. I was lying on the floor, wearing a pair of jeans from the waist down, and regular shoes. And from the waist up, I was wearing 3P0. I think I was concentrating on what I was doing, and I forgot to breathe. And suddenly, out of nowhere, for the very first time in my life, I began to sense this thing and I started shouting, 'Get it off! Get it off!' Well, within seconds it was off. And I sat up and talked to myself and told myself I was fine. Then we got on with it.
"The second time was many years later, in Attack of the Clones, where I was working on a giant conveyor belt in the droid factory. I would start at one end, and they would start the machine rolling. And I let them keep the belt going, and ran back to the beginning and did it some more. Then I did it again. I ran up and down several times, and when we stopped I realized I was out of breath and the thing was so tight on me I couldn't expand my chest to any great degree. And there, I really was [yelling], 'Get it off! Get it off! And it took about an hour to get my pulse back to normal."
Daniels, 59, a law student-turned stage actor -- with credits in Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing), Sandy Wilson (The Boy Friend) and Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) had only been in the business for about two years when he landed the part as R2-D2's best pal in 1977. It wasn't exactly an easy transformation, as acting styles go. He had to work at it. And that was before there were problems with director George Lucas.
"I spent three years at drama school, and one of the fields I found quite interesting was mime," recalls Daniels. "So you learn a kind of bodily control, a control of your muscles to keep still or to move. We knew the suit would be difficult, even before it was made. Little did I know how difficult. George had given me the project, then started doing all the other stuff [on the film]. The one thing we slightly disagreed on -- and I didn't know this at the time because he never mentioned it to me -- was that he didn't like my vocal portrayal. It just wasn't in his mind to do it that way. And he thought, 'Well, I'm the boss, so get rid of this voice and put in another.' But after two months of trying to find a voice to dub on the screen -- Richard Dreyfuss tried to voice along with it -- someone pointed out that my vocal portrayal was kind of OK. And George was big enough to change his mind.
"Of course I wouldn't have dreamt of being in any of the other movies if I hadn't been able to do the vocal side as well," he adds. "It was George's words and George's situations that I was placed in. But I was inside the thing and somehow my voice became 3PO. And then there was a kind of magic thing that happened, and that magic thing was 3PO himself. That sounds slightly pretentious, I suppose, but it's what I feel. He became the sum of the parts, and I was not the person who added them up. A higher authority did that."
Daniels admits to two favorite moments that stand out in his career as C-3PO. One came last year when the droid was inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame at Carnegie Mellon University. The other goes back to the days not long after the release of Star Wars in 1977.
"I remember going into FAO Schwarz and seeing 5,000 Luke Skywalkers and 10,000 Princess Leias," he says of the action figures in the toy store. "And there wasn't a single 3PO. So I said to a member of the staff, 'Why are there so many of these but [none of these]?' And he said, 'Well, we sold out of 3PO straight away.' And I thought, well, that was very nice!"
Publication date: 05/19/05