Last month, the man behind one of the most famous characters in one of the all-time most popular movie franchises was in San Francisco, planning to do some publicity and public appearances around town.
But then COVID-19 happened, and Anthony Daniels, who portrays both the body and the voice of the golden droid C-3PO (or “Threepio” for short), decided to head home to London.
He could have easily canceled our interview, which had been scheduled to take place at Lucasfilm in the Presidio, but instead he kept trying to make it work until we were able to talk by phone, each sitting at our respective dining room tables.
Daniels is both promoting his new book, “I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story,” and the home video/digital release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” It’s available at various outlets, $5.99 to rent or $19.99 to purchase.
Daniels is particularly proud of the newest movie, which gives Threepio a few strong, emotional scenes as well as some of the biggest laughs.
“That is entirely down to J.J. [Abrams] and Chris [Terrio], the writer. Boy did they come through. It was a delight. You can see the real relationships, the crazy relationships. It felt like the whole team was back. It felt very, very good,” he says.
When Daniels refers to “the team,” he’s referring to everyone, including the folks behind the camera.
“What the audience doesn’t see is fascinating,” he says. “It keeps me busy on the set, just watching. They all move around each other, they don’t bump, they all know what they’re doing. They’re all fans, and they really enjoy being a part of this.”
The actor has played Threepio in all nine of the films in the main saga, and has parts in the other films as well, in addition to voicework in various animated “Star Wars” episodes and video games, radio shows, narrating “Star Wars” documentaries, appearances on “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show,” and even showing up in the infamous 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special.”
At the beginning, creator George Lucas wanted Daniels to occupy the suit but considered another actor for the character’s voice, much the same way that David Prowse played Darth Vader’s body, and James Earl Jones provided the iconic voice.
“It didn’t work,” Daniels says. “It’s one person doing it. It does make the character a complete unity. Because I kept my voice in it, I have been able to do so many things.”
Indeed, the character has a Buster Keaton “great stone face” quality, in that he expresses quite a lot with very little.
“We allow the audience to read the emotion around it. They know what’s going on. And absolutely less is more with a character like that,” he says.
“One of my favorite pieces is when Harrison Ford is being very uppity in the Ewok village, and if you look at that sequence, he interrupts for the third time, and Threepio turns and looks at him and gives him the look of death,” he laughs.
In the old days, the C-3PO suit took a half-hour to put on, and Daniels was more or less helpless while wearing it. The newer costumes take only a few seconds to put on, which means the actor can cool down between takes.
But there was another drawback. Some of the material in the new costume unexpectedly hardened, and it became what Daniels described as “concrete underwear.” In one scene, where Threepio is supposed to climb up a rock, he had to do it without his robot pants; they were drawn in later by the FX team.
“From the waist up, it was just excellent,” he laughs.
On the famous Threepio voice, he explains that the sound crew adds a little bit of an echo to make it sound more metallic, but otherwise it’s all him. He puts on the Threepio voice over the phone for a demonstration, and it gives me the tingles.
He says that, even while recording ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement), he acts out the character. “I can’t do the voice without standing up. I’ve got my arms out, and I’m very uptight,” he says.
Does Daniel keep a C-3PO suit at home? “Absolutely not,” he says. “The only thing you’ll see in the room I’m in now is a Lego Threepio. I do ‘Star Wars’ for a living. It’s not something I want to live with. I think that would be weird,” he explains.
Leaving off, he talks about the final scene in “The Rise of Skywalker,” which takes place on Tatooine, just outside the original home of Luke Skywalker, where the adventure began in 1977. He says being there felt like a satisfying full circle.
“In the calm of the desert, it really was quite magical.”
“Trolls World Tour” released, and more home-viewing
In other stay-at-home releases, Universal is sending its canceled theatrical presentation “Trolls World Tour” to video-on-demand; screeners were not made available before deadline, but it will be in households as of Friday.
Also available on Friday, “We Summon the Darkness” is a sturdy little cat-and-mouse thriller about Alexis (Alexandra Daddario) and her two friends (Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth) who take a road trip to attend a heavy metal concert.
It’s 1988, and there has been a rash of satanic killings.
The women meet a vanload of boys — led by the haunted-looking Mark (Keean Johnson) — after a milkshake tossed out the window lands on their windshield. They make friends anyway, and after the concert, go back to Alexis’s place for a party. And all hell breaks loose.
“We Summon the Darkness” recalls the brilliant 2016 “Green Room,” except that, instead of a potent and timely subtheme about racism, this one offers a more broadly comic view of religion and intolerance, with none other than Johnny Knoxville playing a wealthy television preacher.
What it does have is a pretty good twist, as well as taut, suspenseful filmmaking and a strong use of space. It knows how to rock.
Written and directed by Neasa Hardiman, the sci-fi/horror movie “Sea Fever” is something else entirely. It’s a sea monster story, about a rapidly-spreading sickness, and about the argument between quarantining or running for your life.
It begins with shy, lovely marine biology student Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), who is more at home with her books than with other humans.
She is assigned to an Irish fishing trawler, captained by Gerard (Dougray Scott) and his wife (Connie Nielsen), ordered to record any unusual findings among the caught fish.
The crew is disturbed by Siobhán’s long, red hair, a nautical superstition that’s supposed to bring bad luck. And, it’s not long before a strange goop begins seeping in through the hull, accompanied by pink tentacle-like things.
Because fishermen don’t swim, it’s Siobhán who dives into the water to investigate. Thinking it’s some kind of barnacle, she discovers that the smaller pieces are part of an even larger, more terrifying creature.
Things happen fast in this tight 89-minute creature feature, which uses both constricting and loose spaces on the trawler to suspenseful advantage, but it may feel a little too close for comfort for those sheltering at home.
Nevertheless, “Sea Fever” hammers home the notion that staying put is not about inconvenience or unfairness; it’s actually about helping others.
“We Summon the Darkness”
Starring Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson, Amy Forsyth, Keean Johnson
Written by Alan Trezza
Directed by Marc Meyers
Running time 1 hour 23 minutes
Starring Hermione Corfield, Connie Nielsen, Dougray Scott, Olwen Fouéré
Written and directed by Neasa Hardiman
Running time 1 hour 29 minutes