(Interview conducted Tuesday, August 27, 2019)
As excited as I am, I will attempt to withhold any questions I have regarding The Rise of Skywalker. I have heard stories about how closely guarded the Star Wars movies are kept before the release date.
I have to be tight lipped. It’s kind of irritating actually, not being able to share it. But, of course, the surprise is worth it when you eventually get there.
Let’s talk a bit about your role in some of the past [Star Wars] movies. When you started off, you were refusing to even audition for the part of C-3PO and now you have essentially become the backbone of the Star Warsfranchise. You’ve been in every Star Wars movie to date, and this doesn’t even include the spinoff shows or character appearances.
It is kind of ironic isn’t it?
How has your perception changed over time?
Did I tell you that I’ve written a book? I haven’t released it yet. It doesn’t come out until two weeks after the Dallas event. I can’t really talk about it there because I have a big press release thing in England, so I have been embargoed on that as well. I can talk in general terms. It is the story of refusing to meet George [Lucas] right through the ending of Episode IX.
I can tell people that it is coming out November the 5th in America; it is a week earlier in England. It has the stories that I’ve told at conventions and obviously more. It doesn’t just deal with the movies. It also deals with all the offshoots, whether it is about The Muppet Show or talking about Carrie [Fisher] or talking about forgeries of my signature. It’s a very round picture of my life in Star Wars. It will answer quite a few questions and, I think, intrigue people because it has all the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s a real picture of life in the movies.
That’s great! I have actually read quite a few comments from fans expressing their excitement about the book. I know that there is already quite a buzz surrounding it.
The big buzz, don’t ask me how, is that I have just joined Facebook…
[Indistinct talking is heard in the background]
Sorry, my wife says Instagram. I don’t know. Do you know all of this stuff?
I try to keep up with it, although I don’t do it well.
I’m beginning to try to keep up. I’ve had a Twitter account, but now I have an INSTAGRAM account. I know that I’ll get used to it in time. It allows me to post pictures of me to put on it.
And, of course, I’ve just been at D23, which is a Disney celebration here in Los Angeles. It is a bit higher octane than Fan Days, so I spend three or four days here in L.A. losing my voice while talking about filming. But, having the afternoon just to ride [the new attractions at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge] was pretty spectacular.
I do almost embody it [Star Wars]. I’m kind of the bit of string that went through all of these movies. Of course, this is the last Skywalker story, so it is kind of a little sad. After 43 years of being involved, in spite of myself, it has come to an end, as far as the movies go. Threepio has always had a huge life outside of the movies with recordings of spin off cartoons, now the book, and things like that. This now all lives forever. It will never be perfectly over.
Speaking of spinoffs, your character had a red arm in the last movie and it was later revealed why in the comics. How did you actually feel about that modification to your character?
I hated it. I kept telling J.J. [Abrams], “I hate it. No forgiveness.” I shouted at him about it every day on the set. I made a thing that was a giant metal Band-Aid around the top of my arm with photoshop and J.J. kept saying, “Nope, red.” I would offer him something and he would say, “Nope, red.” He’s the boss man, so he got his way. But if you noticed in the last frame of The Force Awakens, Threepio did get his golden arm back. The story came from The Phantom Limb, which was a comic book. I had nothing to do with that, but when I read it I thought it was surprisingly sweet and quite moving.
I’m pretty pleased that it is there as part of the storyline.
By the looks of the movie trailer released at D23, it would appear that your character seems to have quite an affinity for red body parts.
Ah, did you see the red eyes? That’s how I look when I get off an airplane, which I will do tomorrow afternoon in England. There have been so many funny tweets about it that have really made me laugh. People in the tweetosphere, twittersphere, or whatever it is called are really inventive. I’ve enjoyed that. You can imagine how I felt when I actually looked in the mirror they had in front of me to show me the effect. It was pretty startling. It was strange to look through his eyes and see something completely new.
I could only imagine that would be the case after all of that time. Like you said, it has been 43 years.
In 1975 I met George, we shot next year, and it came out after that.
What has been the most challenging part about having a reoccurring role that has lasted over 40 years. That is almost unheard of!
It is really. It is a good thing Threepio could get away with it because now we get the red arm and the red eyes. But, apart from that, he always looks lovely and shiny and wide eyed and metallic and just as young as when you first saw him. Unfortunately, people in Dallas will see the reality of what is behind the mask. They will see somebody who is 43 years older and is beginning to look it. I think the aging process has been slightly speeded up by the fact that I cooked inside of that thing. It’s like being in a microwave on a regular basis. I think anybody would begin to look really shriveled, so please be kind when you see the creases and the grey hair.
The greatest part is not just that the character is totally in my head my head at all times, but having slimmed down to make sure that I can get back in the suit on occasions. It’s quite a discipline and not a bad one to have. I have to be aware that if I indulge on a devil’s food cake, big glass of wine or beer that I am going to have to work harder in the gym to get it off the next day. I would say that is the biggest issue.
What is marvelous, in this case, is that in the last two films Threepio didn’t get to do much. He was basically a kind of set decoration. Very nice with the red arm and all. In this film, The Rise of Skywalker, he actually is there with the team and he does have more of function or a part in this film. It’s a wonderful thing to go out on because this is the last one.
Well done to J.J. and of course Terrio, the writer, for giving Threepio this created moment. I’m genuinely happy and excited to see this. I was amused, actually, going on Galaxy’s Edge and the Falcon, which I flew as one of the pilots. It is so much more exciting than in the studio because you sit in that cockpit and you can do anything you want but nothing happens. There may be crew jiggling you up and down, but that’s it. There are no asteroids. There’s no laser fire or anything. Here or at Disney, boy, you get to experience that!
C-3PO seems a bit annoyed with his companions and pretty much all that’s going on in his surroundings throughout the movies. What character do you think he does or would get along with best and kind of the Star Warsuniverse?
Well, he is always irritated because he was made for a different kind of world. He was actually serving tea and cocktails and all kinds of things to people who were behaving politely. Well, how many people do you know are doing that. I mean Luke Skywalker is polite but he doesn’t drink tea and I doubt that he drinks cocktails. Han Solo is just rude and terribly impolite, rather discourteous. There is Princess Leia, but everybody’s kind of on a war footing at all times.
They’re always on the alert because bad things can happen. Threepio never gets to really to use his protocol. That’s very frustrating. And, of course, nobody ever listens to him.
He tells the truth and they say, “Yeah we know. Shut up.” That is very cruel. As people have put it, it has been 43 years of being bullied. Who knows what the red eye means? Has he finally had enough? I wish I could tell you. You can see his frustrations are huge and that’s why he gets a little tense, at times, with R2. Again, Poe Dameron is a very nice pilot and young hero. But again, he is slightly dismissive of Threepio and kind of cruel.
In past interviews you have stated that you would write out imaginary dialogue between R2 and C3PO for the first few films. Do you still have the notes for that dialogue?
In the book there are pictures script pages that I have. Of course, over the years I never thought to keep everything. I threw some things out recently that I looked for while writing the book. It was very annoying. As you get older you want less stuff, but I remembered a lot of the stories.
I had to write out the parts with R2 because, as I talk in the book, it’s a one-sided conversation where you are pretend listening to something and nothing is happening.
You have to know what you’re listening to in order to react to that part of the conversation. If not, you are just standing still staring. If somebody is telling you horrible news, as they are telling it, you have to react. That’s why I had to write down, not just wait and pause. You have to listen to it intelligently.
I could imagine that it would be pretty difficult to do that.
It was so well written that I could infer what the previous statement was, but it was easier to have the whole thing in my head put on paper.
And, of course, with BB-8 it was different because Brian Herring was the operator and would twitter along as he was operating BB-8. With the sounds that he made, you could almost tell what he was saying in English. It was such fun because it was like a real dialogue between me and a human. But with R2, George never bothered to have anybody do it. I write about that because it was a curious burden on me to do that. Didn’t I have enough to do? I think it was slightly because he thought that I could create all that by myself and, in the end, I did. When I saw the finished movie, the biggest surprise was that there was R2 speaking as if he always had. Ben Burtt, a fantastic guy, had put in R2’s voice there.
I have just one more question. With all your ventures through the animated shows, the movies, and other things you’ve been through countless directors. There has been everyone from Ron [Howard] to J.J. [Abrams]. What has this been like?
I was having dinner last night at the hotel here in Beverly Hills and it’s on the edge of the garden. There was Rian Johnson walking by. He didn’t see me but I saw that he was coming into the restaurant, so I went around the corner I stood in the maître d’s desk. When he came in he said, “Johnson, party of two.” I said, “Well, we have no reservations.” He did this wonderful doubletake because he couldn’t believe it was me. He later explained that he thought it wasn’t me and asked if I had gotten a job as a maître d. It was a lovely trick.
So, there was Rian from The Last Jedi and so on, a lovely, lovely man. Of course, we went back to J.J., who is wonderful too. He is totally exhausting, wonderfully inventive, funny, curious, and dramatic. So, all of that is going to come out in the movie, I think. I haven’t seen much of it yet. And indeed, as we speak, I am about to get ready to put my voice back on the finished movie but we aren’t quite there yet. By the time I see y’all in Dallas, I do believe the film had better be ready.
It is kind of brinkmanship all the way, but it makes it very lively because all the time his brain is going, “How can we make this better?” You can always see the gears turning. He will come up with a new line to replace an old line and we will think, “Why didn’t we do this in the first place?” It has been an organic process; therefore, it gets better and better daily.