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Actor Anthony Daniels
Photo of Anthony Daniels courtesy of the Washington West Film Festival

Washington West Film Festival: In Conversation with Anthony Daniels of ‘Star Wars’

Now in its ninth year, the Washington West Film Festival (WWFF) maintains its firm foothold with arts and entertainment events in the Washington D.C. area. Not only has it brought big names such as Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) and Ty Burrell (Modern Family) in previous years, but WWFF also donates all of its box office funds to charity to make a difference.

The Festival kicked off impressively on October 24 with a parade of individuals dressed as Star Wars characters, complete with a live band playing selections from the recognizable film score. At the end of the procession, Anthony Daniels arrived to greet fans of all ages by the red carpet, putting a storm trooper helmet on his head at one point to amuse the crowd. Daniels is best known in his career for his portrayal of C-3PO, the gold-colored droid specializing in etiquette and protocol.

Then Christopher Borrelli of the Chicago Tribune joined Daniels and fans soon for a special Q&A at Bow Tie Cinemas. Daniels was excited to share details about his new book, I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story, which will be released in November. In it, he chronicles his time with the Star Wars franchise, including his experiences in the suit, highlights about memorable scenes, and successes and difficulties he faced.

Since the new Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer came out recently, Borrelli asked for Daniels’ thoughts on one of C-3PO’s lines from what looks to be a very moving scene. “The pathos came through of a character we have all known for so many years, me more intimately possibly than you guys … We are emotionally attached to this movie. I was quite proud to have had that moment and J.J. [Abrams] gave it to me,” Daniels answered, taking care to avoid spoilers.

It may come as a surprise to some fans that in the 1970s, Daniels was not interested in meeting writer-director George Lucas. Science fiction was not “a big deal” in the middle of that decade, unlike today’s diverse world of cinema. “I didn’t want a job as a robot. I was a serious actor. I wasn’t particularly interested in science fiction,” he recounted.

When asked about opportunities to improvise in the film, Daniels emphasized the importance of the script. He explained, “You say your line and the other person says their line. If you start wandering off, it’s not Whose Line Is It Anyway? You’re not meant to say that, because if you do, then what do I say? There’s a certain amount of relaxation but you need to be secure.”

Portraying C-3PO posed quite a challenge for Daniels. In the finished films, we are used to seeing C-3PO scolding or questioning R2-D2, followed by R2’s beeping answers. Prior to arriving to the film set, no one told Daniels that the R2-D2 droid would be silent. Subsequently, he felt that he spent most of the first film talking to himself.

Eventually, he thought of a strategy to overcome this situation. “I got into the mode of actually sitting down [with the script] and often writing out what was implied before from my next statement. We got through it. Seeing the finished movie was a complete and extraordinary experience because it was believable,” Daniels said.

Actor Anthony Daniels wearing a storm trooper helmet
Anthony Daniels wears a Stormtrooper helmet at the Washington West Film Festival (Credit: Pat Cuadros)

Going to the suit itself, C-3PO always has a static expression on his face. Daniels, who had mime training in drama school, agreed there’s an element of overacting involved. “You have to be slightly more overt to get something through the plastic and metal. There are bits where I think that I’ve overdone it. Other bits are so subtle, that just a little hint of a head movement can give you quite an emotional little jerk,” he elaborated.

C-3PO has proved enduring over the decades for a couple of reasons. Daniels emphasized that people can relate to him. He told the audience, “C-3PO has a vulnerability about him which is attractive to people who are awkward in social circumstances. [He] is a major figure in this film. He’s slightly awkward and nervous, too.”

Daniels also summed up the entertaining aspect of his character in this way as he said, “He wants people to behave nicely. He’s a paradigm of what’s correct and he’s affronted when people break the rules. It’s part of his charm that he’s pedantic and stuck up.”

For more of Anthony Daniels’ stories, be sure to check out his new book I am C-3PO: The Inside Story when it comes out November 5. It will also be available in audiobook format, if you prefer to hear Daniels reading the memoir to you. Don’t forget to catch Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in December.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros earned a B.A. in Art History on a full scholarship at the University of Virginia. Pat is a frequent reviewer of all things Washington, D.C., but she's also covered events in Canada and London. Highlights in her work include articles on Simon Callow, Ian McKellen, and Mark Rylance. Pat particularly enjoyed interviewing Lawrence Gowan of Styx, Ndaba Mandela, and Sir Derek Jacobi & Richard Clifford.

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