In a career spanning half a century, Dave Prowse has been British heavyweight weightlifting champion, The Green Cross Code Man and the coolest Sith Lord of them all – Darth Vader. Now the 72 year-old has turned band manager for Cardiff metalists Losing Sun.
The Void’s Beren Neale chatted with him about ‘The Master’ George Lucas, his tempestuous relationship with the press and throwing emperors off balconies.
How did you become a band manager?
The drummer Jayce Lewis came to see me at a sci-fi convention down in Newport and we got on well. We did another convention in Cardiff and he turned up again and told me his mother would like to invite me to dinner. I never go to things like that, but I made an exception and when I went to his house it was like a shrine to Star Wars. Then it transpired that he was in this group Losing Sun. I asked him what they were doing for publicity and he said nothing – they just turn up and do their bit. So I offered him my help.
Do you have an active role as manager?
Of course! The first thing I did was employ a publicity agent, the one that did the publicity for Celebration Europe, one of the most successful Star Wars conventions I’ve ever been to. Now we’ve got several people that want to act as our record distributor, the CD (second album Perspective) is finished and we’re going to do a DVD to accompany it.
So what’s your favourite metal band?
That German one… Not Kraftwerk… the biggest one in the world. Rammstein! I think they’re phenomenal. I could watch them all day.
In your book Straight From the Force’s Mouth you mention that The Daily Mail was responsible for the deterioration of your relationship with Lucasfilm…
Star Wars became this huge phenomenon and when we started working on The Empire Strikes Back they got paranoid about secrecy, to the point where they’d courier the script pages down to you and you’d have to learn your lines the night before.
So, I get a phone call from a reporter saying ‘I’d like to do an article all about you and your weightlifting’. He turned up at my gymnasium that evening and halfway through he says, ‘you know you’re being killed off in this movie, don’t you? And another guy’s playing the dying Darth Vader?’ I said ‘they wouldn’t do that – they wouldn’t go and unmask somebody else after I’ve played the part for six years’. He asked if I had a call sheet, and he looked at it and it said: ‘Dave Prowse, Darth Vader, Studio 1’, and underneath it ‘Sebastian Shaw, Anakin Skywalker, Studio 10’. He finished the interview abruptly as soon as he’d told me all this and the next day The Daily Mail had the headline: ‘Darth Vader to be killed off in the next movie, in an exclusive interview with Dave Prowse’. And that ruined my association with Star Wars. I was ostracised while on the movie, the producer and director wouldn’t work with me and Lucas wouldn’t speak to me. I had six weeks of purgatory.
So you didn’t work on Return of the Jedi then?
Well, I’d get there in the morning, get into my suit and sit around for something to happen, and I was continually watching them dressing my stuntman Bob Anderson up to do various bits and pieces. They were doing the Emperor’s death scene and they spent a whole week trying to lift him up by wires and lower him down, but my stuntman was an old guy, so they kept falling over and crashing in a heap. And this went on for five days and I just sat around, laughing my head off.
On the fifth day I went up to the director Richard Marquand and said, ‘excuse us, but what are you trying to do?’ (laughs) I said ‘it’s easy, I could just pick him up, push him above my head and throw him off the balcony’. He said ‘could you do that?’ I said ‘well I wasn’t the British heavyweight weightlifting champion for nothing’. So first thing Monday morning I went in, picked him up and did it in one take – all over in half and hour. And what it must have cost them to waste that whole week!
Did Lucas get to hear your side of the story?
As much as I’ve tried to tell my story, Lucasfilm had set their minds to what they wanted to believe. I never received an apology from them. I haven’t spoken to George Lucas since 1983.
And yet your website is dedicated to ‘the Master’?
Well, I’m grateful for everything that’s happened to me from Star Wars. It altered my career completely.
You had an illustrious career before it, though; roles in A Clockwork Orange, Casino Royale, your success in bodybuilding…
I was busy before it, doing TV and film work, and I’d been offered the role of the Green Cross Code Man at the same time, so I had a nice successful career running alongside the film. To me, the film work was a little bit of fun that every so often I’d get a couple of nice location jobs. Once I went to Portugal on a nice film with Diana Dors (Hammerhead, 1968), and I did another one in 1973 (Blacksnake) in Barbados with Russ Meyer… it wasn’t one of those naughty ones. To me all of this was a fun thing to do. I never took the acting all that seriously.
So how did you get on with the Star Wars actors?
Everyone working on the films was very caring… with the exception of C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). He treated everybody with disdain. The funny thing is, he’s lovely with the fans and the fans love him… but nobody on the films did! (laughs)
What did you think of the recent films?
I wasn’t very happy with them. With the first three, you loved all the characters and had a certain affinity to Darth Vader and everybody else – you were concerned about what was happening to them. The most recent three were fantastic pieces of filmmaking, but they just lost the plot. I think the story became very convoluted and you didn’t have much affection for the character.
What did you think of Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Darth Vader? When he’s unstrapped and walks forward he looked a little like…
Frankenstein! Well they put him on five inch blocks. I let everybody know that I wanted to reprise the role and I was out in Australia when they were filming – all the first five were made in England, but the last one was made in Australia. So I could have done it easily, but Hayden Christensen had the option of doing it. Then I hear from the technical people the problems they had trying to get him my size. When I did Darth Vader I was 6’7” and I weighed 20 stone. Anakin was probably 5’9 and 10 stone soaking wet. He went on a body-building course and that didn’t work. So they had to stick him on five inch blocks and there was no way he was going to walk properly.