Having one of the most recognizable voices in movie history can lead to some surreal moments. Just ask Anthony Daniels. He’s played C-3PO in all seven Star Wars films, including this weekend’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens and once rented a car with a very familiar voice on the GPS.
“I felt uncomfortable with me —very clearly — giving me instruction for something I didn’t know. I found it quite bizarre. I was driving thinking, ‘This is unnatural.’”
Other times the voice, which in real life is less mannered than his on-screen counterpart, brings him unexpected recognition.
For some of his fans, seeing isn’t believing — hearing is.
“One of the most charming things that happens to me is when an adult will bring a child to me and say, ‘He doesn’t believe you’re C-3PO.’
“And why would he? I’m some old guy with white hair. Then I do the voice. You see the sound go in one ear and then there is an absolutely realistic time delay whilst the synapses process this. Nothing happens for a second-and-a-half, then suddenly there’s a smile and excitement. I love that delay while they process it. You couldn’t buy that. I’ve been given that and it gives me utter joy because it is without guile. It is just an honest recognition of something I did.”
A week before Daniels trekked to Tunisia in 1976 to begin shooting the sci-fi space opera, he was a stage actor performing in Tom Stoppard’s absurdist play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
“It’s about two nobodies,” he says. “Rosencrantz is a bit gung ho, (he) doesn’t think. Doesn’t work things out really; just goes for the main thing. His friend Guildenstern is much more reserved, much more intellectual. He thinks about things. Worries about things.
“There I am a week later playing C-3PO in the desert with R2D2. I would say it was three or four years later that something in my brain went, ‘Wait a minute, R2 and 3PO are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.’ There is a nice synergy there, or connection I think. 3PO is the clever one and R2 is the gung ho one. They’re odd couple buddies. It is a great dynamic to act off.”
Today C-3PO and R2D2 are seen as a classic combo, but during filming, Daniels had his doubts it would work.
“The problem for me was R2D2 never made any sounds so I was playing off myself. Not to aggrandize myself, but it was quite a challenge. It was a bit like a terrible Whose Line Is It Anyway? where you pretend a chair is your best friend.
“When I saw the final movie and there were R2’s beeps and responses, to me it was total magic because that was the first time I ever saw it. They had woven a conversation after the fact.”
Playing the golden droid has been a lifelong career for Daniels. The 69-year-old actor was just 30 years old when he first donned C-3PO’s suit and has since appeared in person or voice in dozens of movies, television shows, commercials, PSAs and live events as the character. He’s even in the legendary The Star Wars Holiday Special and says he’s been “very lucky to be given the chance” to play C-3PO but calls that his “business life.”
“I don’t go around saying, ‘Do you know who I am?’
When I suggest he could at least use his fame and the C-3PO voice to get great tables in restaurants he says, “No, no, no. Then they’d say there’s no table tonight or tomorrow. I don’t think people would be too terribly impressed to have me in the restaurant. Were I to enter in a gold suit then I could have the entire room to myself!”