It was announced over the weekend that George Lucas has effectively ‘banned’ Darth Vader actor, David Prowse, from attending official Star Wars events due to his alleged ‘burning of bridges’ with Lucas Film, whatever that means. I, however, was lucky enough to use my Jedi mind tricks on the sprightly, then, 74 year old last year as I interviewed him about his life and career that started a long time ago…
Darth Becomes Him
Even 30 years after it catapulted the former body-builder turned actor, David Prowse AKA Darth Vader, to international fame, he is still feeling ‘the force’ of the Star Wars effect, which takes him all over the world.
Last year saw him go from the Disney Star Wars Weekend in Orlando to Knoxville, Mexico, France, Glasgow and even on a Norwegian cruise ship! Prowse, said of his fans, no matter where his travels take him, that they are absolute Star Wars nuts!
Dave said: “It’s Incredible that a role I played 30 years ago has left such a lasting impression on people. In Japan the reaction was amazing, it’s almost as if they thought we were Gods. The first time I went there the committee sent to meet me were all on the floor bowing on their hands and knees.”
So why does he think that Star Wars continues to grip the imagination and captivate both generations old and new alike? He says: “They have very likable characters, really good villains and all done in a fantastic space setting that we’d never seen done quite so well or like this before. First and foremost though is was a good story that was helped by some really good actors like Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness and of course the then up-and-coming Harrison Ford. I guess you could say it was like capturing lightning in a bottle as everything just seemed to gel in that first movie.”
That first movie was of course Star Wars back in 1977, but for many the stand-out of the original trilogy has always been the darker second-act of The Empire Strikes Back, a film which is a favourite of David’s as well.
“We of course did the follow-up and I think that the Director, Irvin Kershner, did a wonderful job and was a much better director than George Lucas. I’ve always said it’s been the adult version, theme-wise, of Star Wars and is much better for it.”
Of course Prowse is so much more than just Darth Vader, his CV reads like a list of some of the best and most influential British TV from the 70s including:
Morecambe and Wise, Benny Hill, Dr Who, Callan, Space 1999, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, all of which is featured in his talk and show. And although we all know the man can shake a mean lightsaber he also got to have a go at Shakespeare with ‘As You Like It’. David said: “I’ve had a fantastically varied career with everything from A Clockwork Orange for Stanley Kubrick and Jabberwocky with Terry Gilliam and even three horror films for Hammer.”
David may have batted for the Dark Side from the late 70s onwards but he was also just as well known as another iconic-figure that people of a certain age still have a fondness for, The Green Cross Code Man.
David said: “I loved every minute of the 14 years of that job, meeting young people and just making a real difference. It’s one thing to entertain people but quite another to help save their lives.”
Dave did 15 television commercials and visited over 2,000 schools, speaking to half a million children. The Green Cross Code Man campaign was so successful that it is estimated that it saved thousands of lives and reduced the accident rate by half. It’s still a message passed down to children of those who originally saw it which David thinks is great but is sorry that there has never really been anything to take its place.
So, for arguments sake if Dave Prowse had both a Green Cross code Man outfit and Darth Vader costume and there was a fire, which one would he save first? Dave laughed and said: “From a money point of view it would have to be the Vader one as it would be worth thousands.”
The man from Krypton factor
But David nearly completed the 70s icon hat trick as he was close to securing the cape of none-other than Superman himself. David explained how he nearly landed the then most sought-after film role in the world that the cream of Hollywood was after, from Robert Redford to Warren Beatty. David said: “I went for the role of Superman and they said everything was just right, the build, the height, the only thing that went against me was that they said they couldn’t have someone not American playing the Man of Steel, so ultimately I lost out to Chris Reeve.”
It’s almost an irony then that some 30 years later we have, the also very American, Batman played by Welsh boyo, Christian Bale. Obviously David and his physique must have made quite an impression as some six weeks away from filming the first Superman in 1978 he was asked to help bulk up Christopher Reeve by 40lbs in that short time. Prowse certainly kept his end of the bargain as website IMDB reports that Reeve worked out so much during the making of the film that the travelling matte shots of him flying, taken at the beginning of the shoot, did not match the later shots so had to be redone.
Following in the Sci-Fi footsteps of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, Prowse has also been turning his hand to singing, but thankfully it sounds as if there are no Shatner-esque Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or highly-illogical Ballad of Bilbo Baggins atrocities here. David elaborated on how he went from Star Wars to star wars-bler.
He said: “I’ve been having singing lessons for a while and it’s always something I’ve been interested in as I was in the school choir years and years ago and then I stopped for years. I found my voice again when I was on a cruise liner and got very pally with the singers and dancers and I said to one of the main singers I’d love to be able to stand up and do what he does.”
David added: “He suggested I found a singing teacher, which is exactly what I did and ended up with an operatic tenor who told me as I was a base-baritone, and if he’d had me ten years ago then I’d be doing opera now.”
Not bad for a man who famously had his voice dubbed by another actor! David is even working with a jazz-pianist in America and are hoping to put an album together, which could end up on the Cantina Bar juke-box.
Jumping back to Star Trek, David has heard great things about the new JJ Abrams’ reboot, so if you can reboot and replace one actor for another who would he feel could fill his boots as Darth Vader if the original Star Wars ever got remade? “Me, of course”, he said.
In many ways Darth Vader, being part-man, part-machine, could be described as a latter-day Frankenstein’s Monster, rather fitting then that Prowse got to play Mary Shelley’s creation on two occasions, The Horror of Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell, the latter featuring Peter Cushing, who he would of course go on to feature with in Star Wars and Director of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, Terence Fisher, who Prowse describes as “just being a very nice, benign old man who was lovely to work with. He wasn’t very well at the time as he was just getting over a car accident but it was a great experience and you couldn’t wish for anyone nicer, and of course the same went for Peter Cushing, and we became great friends there after.”
Cushing had some boots made for his role as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, but they weren’t very comfortable so he spent much of the time with his grey outfit on and his carpet slippers.
In stark contrast to Cushing, Prowse had a very different foot problem as they couldn’t find any boots big enough for him so he supplied his own motorcycle boots, black of course. David added: “I also supplied my own motorcycle gloves, as I’ve got big hands, and also my own cod-piece, which came from a boxing-gymnasium I took over. I think those three pieces are on the original model as they never gave me them back, so they must be worth an absolute fortune now.”
So a piece of David Prowse will always be a piece of Darth Vader, quite literally and it seems that he made the right decision all those years ago when given a Yoda style choice by George Lucas and choose wisely he must.
David said: “Due to my height, George gave me the choice of playing either Chewbacca or Darth Vader. I said to George I wanted to play the bad guy and George pondered my choice. I told him that for me everyone remembered James Bond but not the actor who played him, but they always remember the villain. The villain makes the movie and a movie is only as good as its villain.”
He continued: “I said, just think of the characters like Odd Job or Goldfinger, you never forget a great villain and people will never forget Darth Vader. George just smiles and said ‘I think you might be right there – you just made a great decision’.”
It’s a crying shame then that Prowse was not able to reprise his role in the final instalment of the second trilogy, The Revenge of the Sith, where Anakin Skywalker first becomes Vader. It’s something that still disappoints, both David and fans alike. He said: “I let it be known that I was free and available for the role and I think it would have been a fitting end for the films for them to come full circle but I guess it just wasn’t to be.”
For many fans when, perhaps arguably the most significant moment in Star Wars history, man became machine and was unveiled Frankenstein like it felt like it was some bloke in a suit pretending to be David Prowse, pretending to be Darth Vader, which didn’t have the same impact, it wasn’t Vader proper, it was just a masquer-Vader.