Darth Vader (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi)
Interview: May 2006
How did you get the part of Darth Vader?
It was through I film I did in 1970, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. George Lucas saw it when it came out briefly in 1971. Stanley thought the movie did him more harm than good and got a lot of death threats so he decided to get it out of the circuit. Lucas remembered it for five years and came to England to cast for Star Wars since the movie was going to be filmed there. He got in touch with the manager of 20th Century Fox and said he was looking for Dave Prowse. He rang me up and said George Lucas was looking for me and asked if I could come over. I was introduced to George who said he was going to do a space fantasy movie called Star Wars and had two parts he’d like to offer me. I asked him which ones and he said that the first character was called Chewbacca. I asked him what Chewbacca exactly was and he said it is a hairy gorilla that is on the side of the good ones in the movie. All I could think of was three months in a gorilla suit, I don’t fancy that, especially because the summer of 1976 was one of the hottest summers in England ever. So I said what’s the other part? And Lucas said that the other part was the villain of the film, a character called Darth Vader. I immediately said that this was the part I wanted to have. That’s it. I didn’t have to act or read for the part. It was the mere fact that I worked for Stanley Kubrick.
Suppose you could go back in time, would you do it exactly the same?
Yes, it was the best part of the movie. I even think that the part of Darth Vader is better than Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. Vader became the cult figure of the movie, the most talked about character of the movie. Now, 30 years later, he is regarded as the ultimate movie villain. Nobody ever talks about Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. Does that make you proud?
Yes, very proud. I’m also pleased that I have been able to use Darth Vader to do lots of good, charity work for example. I was involved in the Road Safety campaign, the most successful British campaign ever. I even was in the White House with president Reagan when he signed a declaration for the disabled.
Originally Darth Vader was envisioned without his helmet. However, he needed the helmet to breathe in space while entering the Tantive 4, and because of the great looks the helmet was kept.
I have never heard about this.
Well, there are photos of it.
Are there? As far as I know they did everything to preserve my anonymity.
The story is on the internet and in books. Maybe it is just a myth then?
Yes, I have never heard about it. James Earl Jones did he voice of Darth Vader. Do you think you could have done the voice as well?
I did the voice all he way through. Everything I said was coming through the mask so I asked George what we were going to do about it. He said that all my lines were going to be re-recorded. I thought I was going to do the lines in a studio. When we finished the movie I didn’t hear about it. When George was back in the USA he made the decision to dub all masked characters with American accents because he wanted everybody to know it was an American movie. James Earl Jones did a wonderful job, but I think I could have done it equally as good myself.
So they never told you?
I finished the film in November 1976 and when it came out in the USA in May 1977 I got a note from director Russ Meyer saying ‘congratulations Dave, you’re in the biggest movie ever. By the way, did you know they overdubbed your voice?’ I have never spoken with George Lucas since 1983 and neither he or anyone from Lucasfilm has ever come to me saying why they overdubbed my voice.
In the Empire Strikes Back you also didn’t know the line ‘no Luke, I am your father’ was going to be in the movie. You said ‘No Luke, Obi-Wan is your father’.
No, I never said that. I just said ‘come and join me and the Dark Side’. I had no dialogue referring to Luke’s father. I have never seen a script for the Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. Everything was kept a secret because they were afraid things would leak. I think only George, Gary Kurtz and Mark Hamill knew.
What do you think about the fact that Darth Vader is Luke’s father?
I think it’s a wonderful twist.
And what about the fact that they didn’t tell you?
I think it’s a lack of trust. They were afraid I was going to say something in an interview. While if you’re one of the main characters the last thing you would do is give such information away. I was very careful so I hated the lack of trust.
What do you think of Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith?
Yes, given the restrictions of the part. He is smaller and lighter than I am, yet he has to do the same things I did and he has to appear just as if he is me. He walked a bit like Frankenstein, but he wanted to do it. I also wanted to do it and told everybody, but no one ever got in touch with me.
You didn’t give Hayden advice?
No, I have never met him and I have never spoken with George Lucas since 1983.
I have no contact with anyone from Lucasfilm since 1983, except Steve Sansweet, who I sometimes see at conventions. The only thing I get from Lucasfilm are solicitors’ letters. (Laughs). I have been promoting Star Wars, and myself, for over 30 years and I never got a words of thanks.
I will send this tape to George Lucas then.
(Laughs) What do you regard as the most memorable, weirdest or funniest moment at a convention you attended?
The Star Wars nerds are a part of your life. You learn to appreciate them. I can appreciate fandom to a certain level. When it becomes obsessive I find it difficult.
When is it according to you obsessive?
Well, I met someone today who is a Darth Vader nut and he wanted to know the difference between the thickness of the stripes on the Darth Vader suit. I thought: you’re missing the plot somewhere. You’re going too deep into the character and are nitpicking. There’s a nitpicking book about Star Wars which lists all the mistakes in the movies. How can you enjoy the movies when you do this? I once did a signing in Atlanta and a lovely girl comes up and asked me an autograph. I asked what to sign and she didn’t have anything with her. She then pulled up her shirt (begins to laugh) and I signed her breast: ‘this is the nicest thing I have signed all day’. There’s also this guy who has a Star Wars tattoo on his back that took 72 hours before it was finished. Don’t you think that’s obsessive?
Well, I don’t like tattoos.
In Star Wars: A New Hope you teamed up with Peter Cushing again. You did some Hammer Horrors with him before. How was he?
If there are two people everyone respects they’re Roger Moore and Peter Cushing. Lovely man.
Another legend you worked with is Christopher Reeve.
Yes, I trained him for Superman. He was marvellous to work with, but when that was finished he turned against me. I have never forgiven him.
What do you mean?
There was a lot of jealousy because they wanted me to play Superman originally. However, I wasn’t American. They showed Richard Donner (the director of Superman) my photos and he said I was perfect, but since I wasn’t American they couldn’t give me the part. The American public wouldn’t accept me, only an American. Since most of the ticket money would come from the American market they had to go with a American. They got Christopher Reeve and I became his trainer. We were like brothers during the training. After the training I went to the studios to see him and he said bad things about me. As a result I was sacked. I have never forgiven him. It is sad what happened to him but I have no feelings for him whatsoever. The producers did think about me playing one of the villains in Superman, but I was too big to play against Christopher Reeve.
Can you react on the following names with as few words as possible?
All American boy.
I liked her very much.
One of he world’s greatest film makers, not one of the best directors. He’s a cinematic genius.