David Prowse shouldn’t give interviews. The man who played Darth Vader reckons two chats with journalists permanently poisoned his relationship with George Lucas and the ‘Star Wars’ machine.
But he has an autobiography to plug, the entertaining ‘Straight from the Force’s Mouth’, so he’s chatting to us.
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Bodybuilding champion, minor character in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, Green Cross Code Man and of course, the bloke inside the most famous suit in movie history, it’s fair to say there’s a lot to talk about.
His later years have sadly been spent battling illness, but he’s still a regular on the convention circuit. Except the official ‘Star Wars’ one, after he annoyed George Lucas. Again.
In 2010 he gave an interview that ended up in ‘The people versus George Lucas’, a one-sided documentary by Alexandre O Philips that criticised Lucas’ tinkering with the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy.
“I travel all the way round the world, and people always ask ‘can I do an interview with you’.” he told Yahoo! Movies. “You have no idea where these interviews are going to go and this one found its way into this documentary.
“Obviously Lucas didn’t like it, and as soon as the film hit, they put the block on me.” It means he now can’t attend the official ‘Star Wars’ conventions, or the Disney ‘Star Wars’ weekend.
“They were lovely.” He sighed. “It’s a shame for the fans as well. How can you have a ‘Star Wars’ convention without Darth Vader?”
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A recurring theme in ‘Straight from the Force’s Mouth’ is how the ‘Star Wars’ hierarchy tried to limit Prowse’s involvement in the films.
Chosen for his build and size, Prowse was physically perfect to play the imposing villain Darth Vader, but was a limited actor. His best known role before ‘Star Wars’ was a bodyguard in ‘A Clockwork Orange’.
In the book, Prowse recounts several humiliations heaped upon him.
He was given fake dialogue for the climactic “I’m your father” scene in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (Prowse only found out the real plot twist at the premiere).
Also in ‘Empire’, British fencing champion Bob Anderson was hired for the lightsabre battles, so Prowse was barely present for the climactic duel.
He was replaced with Sebastian Shaw when Vader was unmasked at the end of 'Return of the Jedi', because Shaw was friends with Alec Guinness, apparently.
Most famously, James Earl Jones was picked to be the voice of Vader, with no one telling Prowse.
“The thing that hurt was it was all done without telling me. It was all done in a very underhand way. I didn’t like it one little bit,” he said.
Prowse said his Bristol accent wasn’t to blame for Jones doing the voice (even though, according to legend, Prowse was dubbed ‘Darth Farmer’ on set).
He claims it was cheaper for Lucas to use an American actor in the LA-based sound stages, rather than fly him over to the States.
In the book, Prowse still reckons that “given the opportunity, I could have delivered an acceptable Darth Vader voice”. Here’s how he sounded on set.
Prowse recounts the first time he was banished from Lucas’ empire. He gave an interview to the Daily Mail while filming ‘Jedi’, whose reporter told him Vader would die and Shaw would play the unmasked villain.
Prowse knew nothing about this, but the story appeared that weekend citing Prowse as the source. The actor was hauled in front of a furious George Lucas and barely used on set from then on. Director Richard Marquand and Lucas himself never spoke to him again.
“Lucas regards me as a blabbermouth,” said Prowse.
At one stage he also had problems with LucasFilm about how he signed autographs.
“I put ‘Dave Prowse IS Darth Vader’. They didn’t like this, so I turned round to them and said ‘who’s name is next to Darth Vader in the credits on the movie’. They said ‘yours’. I just wanted to make sure the fans know that I was the man in the suit.”
According to some fans, he used to charge £15 an autograph. Perhaps this is because of his well-publicised struggle to get his hands on some of the ‘Star Wars’ cash.
In 2009 Prowse said he never got royalties for ‘Return of the Jedi’ “because the film never went into profit”. ‘Jedi’ made £300 million at the box office, and (adjusted for inflation) is the 15th most successful film of all time.
Despite all his issues with the ‘Star Wars’ machine, Prowse is effusive about Lucas’ abilities in his book, comparing him to Stanley Kubrick. “[I] was working with a cinematic genius… I feel very proud to be one small part of ‘Star Wars’ and to be able to say that I’ve actually worked with George.”
He said: “Nothing was ever ready [on the original ‘Star Wars’]. We had all these creatures wandering around, strange sets falling over. All sorts going wrong. I didn’t know how it would all fit together. Little did I know that after Lucas did all the special effects it would be incredible.”
His proudest moment from the series was his first scene as Vader, striding onto the rebel ship.
“You know instantly that this is the bad guy. That pleased me no end. It came over immediately to the audience… The original walk was how I established Vader.”
Prowse also clearly enjoys the conventions he’s still allowed to go to, although more people recognise him for being the Green Cross Code Man. The question he’s asked the most is: “How hot was it in the Darth Vader suit?”
And even if his beef with LucasFilm is never settled, Prowse will always be the man inside that suit.
'Straight from the Force's Mouth' is available on Amazon now.