STAR WARS: EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH - Q&A with director GEORGE LUCAS, HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN, IAN McDIARMID and ANTHONY DANIELS
Movie Interview by EDF
Not quite a long time ago, in a city known as London, I find myself at the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane. At a press conference that could have easily gone on a lot longer than it did, I caught up with Mr Lucas, Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine) and Anthony Daniels (C3PO). Present are the actors and then Mr Lucas comes in halfway through the press conference.
(To Anthony Daniels) Congratulations. You are the only actor to have a speaking role in all six of these movies. Did you realise when you embarked on this 30 years ago that you were going to be involved in something that was not just special but iconic and historical?
It was on the cover of Newsweek magazine that blasted the whole thing open, saying that this is the best thing ever. STAR WARS opened to no publicity. Audiences going in were coming out screaming and taking their friends in and so it built. Originally STAR WARS for me was a 12-week gig. It is 30 years since I met George in an office just down the road from here. I didn't want to meet him; I didn't want to play a robot in a low budget sci-fi movie. Can you imagine how I would have felt today, as being a shelf stacker in a supermarket going, "I could have been in that movie!" So I guess the force was with me.
(To Ian McDiarmid) To me your character becomes almost satanic in this movie. How did you make him grow into this hideous evil monster?
Well its interesting that in the prequels I played a straight forward politician which is a contradiction in terms, charming, smiling, ruling the world, universe. It was very easy to build the character; I just looked at the newspapers.
(To Ian McDiarmid) Did wearing the makeup help?
It always helps. It helps to be a monster in monsters makeup. George was very interesting when we started PHANTOM MENACE. He said you should think of your eyes as his contact lenses. It's a great thing to say to an actor. Then my face becomes his mask. Then when I put on the mask, I become him. So that kind of character is always fun to play. In this film, one explodes into the other and he is who he is. Worse than the devil and worse than Darth Vader, who in this movie comes across as more sympathetic than people might have expected.
(To Hayden Christensen) Talking of make-up, I suppose the iconic scene for you in this movie is when we see Anakin's rotted melted face just before Darth's mask is placed on him. Was that worth all the pain and suffering you must have gone through in makeup for that moment?
The pain and suffering came when they took the prosthetic off. They made this full body prosthetic, which they glued on to every inch of your face. Putting it on was fine; taking it off was a different story. It was full on make-up and looking into the mirror you reacted to yourself which was nice and you are unrecognisable and obviously that aids you making that transformation. It was a thrilling moment lying there on the operating table as the mask came in the frame. It was good fun.
(To Hayden Christensen) How did people react to you when you were in the full Darth Vader outfit?
They reacted. That is what was really neat. Getting to put it all on and experiencing the sensation of being Vader was great but watching everyone taking it in for the first time was what made it really cool. People I befriended and spent a lot of time with who knew I was in the costume would see him and though there was an excitement and certain awe, there was a fear and a respect that needed to be paid. I would sort of walk by, their eyes would light up and they would lower their heads and take a couple of steps back and let me pass. It was a very empowering feeling.
(To Hayden Christensen) Was that then a day that turned into an event?
It was Vader's day and also the last day of filming. Everyone from the production offices and those working on the film came out to bear witness. It was an exciting day.
(To Hayden Christensen) What was the best thing about turning bad?
Obviously in this film getting to become Darth Vader, putting on the costume and now having the Darth Vader card in my back pocket.
(To Hayden Christensen) Was acting always your true destiny?
Being an actor, I sort of fell into it. I grew up playing sports and though I have acted from a young age, it was more of a hobby then anything else. I studied it in high school and that's when I started getting a passion for it.
(To Hayden Christensen) Were you always pleasantly surprised by Natalie Portman's hairstyle?
There was a new hairstyle everyday, which became more elaborate than the next. Good for her, she could pull them all off, which was pretty impressive.
(To Ian McDiarmid) What was the best thing about being bad? Palpatine is the baddest of the bad.
He is. The darkest of the dark and blackest of the black. Worse than Satin. You're not going to get a part like that every day. I like the fact that he did not have any psychological workings. He was spawned in hell. Siths are apparently. They can't get better.
(To Anthony Daniels) Not bad in your case but what was good about being in a tin can for weeks on end?
Not a lot, frankly. The costume was made to mould my body. In the manufacturing of it, it shrank and on the first day it took two hours with six prop guys squeezing me and pushing me and screwing me in there. My moment of joy was when I finally stepped out from a tent in the desert and seeing the whole crew, which were mixed with Americans, British and Tunisian helpers. The American crew were going "Gosh, that's incredible" and the English were of course just going "That's quite interesting, isn't it" and the Tunisians going "Whoa" probably thinking it was the second coming. That was my moment of joy. The next moment, the assistant director said, "Can you come over to the set", and I took just one step in the costume and it broke and nearly cut my foot off. I know I was in deep doodoo from then on.
(To Anthony Daniels) I can imagine that you could not afford to put on even a few ounces of weight.
If you meet Rick McCallum you knew that they are not about to make a new costume every time we do this thing so I'm actually wearing the same costume and it's beginning to smell a bit now. For all of these years, I've worked out to stay strong and a little healthy. I blew the diet last night by having champagne, which is very fattening. The biggest shock for me was talking to myself through most of these movies. R2D2 is adorable but he does not speak and it's kind of hard to do a performance with actors who do not respond. Trying to get George to go beep at the end of a line, I was explaining to him that it was difficult on my own, could you make a beep sound. We were out in the desert and the camera was over there and I was kind of yelling at him and he finally said "oh, sure". We did the scene again, my line was, "Where are you going?" There was a slight pause and Lucas goes "Oh, yeah. Beep!"
(To Hayden Christensen) When Anakin kills the children, did you think it was a step too far for a man who was doomed to save his own wife and unborn children?
It took me by surprise when I read the script for the first time. It's a necessary evil, all the Jedi have to go, even the children. It's a dark film and Anakin does some pretty dark things in that downward spiral.
(To Ian McDiarmid) It's the Macbeth moment, isn't it? It's not really an original idea.
It is a Shakespearian tragic part.
(To Hayden Christensen) You get to terrorise Christopher Lee, a man who has terrorised millions over the years. Any tips?
Did he give me any tips? He's full of tips. He's full of stories, wealth of knowledge and experience and he's happy to share it all. He's one that I always try to sit down with when I can and get a story or two out of him.
(To Hayden Christensen) Did he tell you that he's done more sword fights then any living actor?
Yeah, I think he's done more films then any other living actor.
(To Hayden Christensen) You get to move from good guy to bad guy. Which did you prefer playing?
Definitely the baddie in this one. This was the time in Anakin's life that I was looking forward to and making the transition to Darth Vader. It's more fun to be bad and more emotions to explore. I really enjoyed this one.
(To Hayden Christensen) Given that the story arc is all about Anakin's transformation, was there a moment in your life when you looked in the mirror and realised that you really had to deliver and were you nervous of the challenge?
Of course. It's a daunting task taking on a role that has such attention and as much as possible you try to disregard all of it. There are a few pivotal scenes that were a challenge. Obviously the one with myself, Ian and Sam Jackson is a big one. You go to work on those days and realise that you have to deliver. Thankfully George had conceived such a well-arced character that I followed the script and followed his lead.
(To Anthony Daniels) You get to say the last lines of the movie. That must have been a great honour.
I did not realise that I had the last line of this movie. Sometimes the script changes and so on. I had the first line of the first movie "Did you hear that? They shut down the main reactor. There will be no escape for the princess this time" and I did not really know what I was talking about. I had never been in a film before and I thought that it was weird. And then 28 years later George and I walk onto a soundstage in Australia and see that same set.
George Lucas has now joined the three actors who stay with us for a few more moments.
(To George Lucas) What was the pressure like given the enormous level of expectation that has existed since you began this franchise? Have you felt it on a regular basis?
Ultimately, I had to push out a lot of my life and just continue making the movie that I had started out to make. Fortunately, the story had been written and the style had been decided before STAR WARS was successful. I could say, that is what I'm doing and I can keep an eye on that ball and try to hit straight.
(To George Lucas) 30 years ago, did you envision that it was going to pan out quite like this with about 12 hours of movies from this one title?
It's one of those things that happens in life, where you go with one of those opportunities and where your interests seem to lead you. You have to remember that STAR WARS was originally intended to be one movie. EPISODE FOUR, Saturday matinee material, you never saw what came before and you never saw what came after. It was designed to be the tragedy of Darth Vader which starts with this monster coming through the door, throwing everybody around and halfway through the movie you realise that the villain of the piece is actually a man and the hero is his son and in the end the villain turns into the hero, inspired by his son. So it was meant to be one movie. I broke it up because I did not have the money to do that movie which would have been a five-hour movie.
The icon of Darth Vader kind of took over and the tragedy of Darth Vader got diminished. It was harder to see that it was actually a story about a guy who becomes redeemed. At the same time, I had written a back-story of all of the characters in order to get to EPISODE FOUR. I did a biography of every character, what they were, who they were and where they came from and an exposition of where the Empire came from and all that sort of thing. When I went back to those back-stories, I really didn't intend to do that. I intended to do the one movie and then I was determined to do the three movies and get that one movie finished. I finished it and said, "Okay, that's fine. I'm done now". The back-stories were written as back-stories. They were not written to be a movie.
Technically, you could not do it, as it was the centre of the universe. STAR WARS was designed for technical reasons to be on the edge of the universe so that I did not have to deal with costume problems, special effects problems and design problems. After about ten years, I began to think about the fact that the tragedy part of the thing had been lost and that it would be interesting to tell people the full story of what happened and strengthen that part of it. And then at the same time, the technology became available for me to actually tell that story and go into the centre of the universe to see Coruscant, to see Yoda fight, to see these things that were technically impossible before.
I had a long soul searching time where I stopped making movies in order to raise my kids and I did that for 15 years and when they were old enough I said "Okay, I'm going to go back and direct now". Am I going to go off and do these kinds of avant-garde movies that I had intended to do or do I take one last shot at STAR WARS and maybe tell the back-story so that the tragedy becomes more apparent. I realised that if I didn't do it, at that time I was 50, I would probably never get around to it. So I said, "well, I'll go and do it" because I would have regretted it if I didn't do it.
Now, we regrettably say goodbye to Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid and Anthony Daniels and continue asking questions to Mr Lucas.
How deep is your sense of loss at losing STAR WARS?
It's more like having your kids going off to college; they still come back when they need money. They'll be there for holidays. We are doing a TV series, which I'm not really involved in. There are two of them actually. They are not about the tragedy of Darth Vader saga. One is an animated series about the Clone Wars. All the characters are in it but there is not much character arc. The other is a live action series, which will have minor characters from the saga. So it's still going to be around. I'm going to go off and do my thing. It's kind of like the comic books or the video games or the novels that are out there. It's going to have a life of its own. It's kind of like sending them off to college, its on its own and doing its own thing but I've reserved the theatrical arena for this saga which started out as a two hour idea and turned into a twelve hour idea.
Legend has it that you like to keep the plot twists secret. What lengths did you take this time round?
There is no plot twist in this one.
You do have tremendous secrecy that is legend on your sets.
Everybody does. I'm famous for it but all pictures have secrecy on their sets. It's harder now because of the Internet and cell phones that take pictures and videos. Movies end up on the Internet before they end up in the theatres. Secrecy has kind of disappeared. There used to be great plot twists and important things that needed to be held back so that people could enjoy the picture. In this one, we brought the book out ahead of time. We got the video game out ahead of time. They all explored the universe completely and most of the story had been told. This was the final piece of the puzzle. So it not like you didn't know what happens. You know he turns into Darth Vader.
Is piracy then the single biggest threat to your industry?
Definitely. I'm glad I'm getting out while I can. It's not going to be the same over the next few years.
So it's going to be even worse?
Oh it's going to be very worse. I don't know how they are going to survive. If it weren't for DVD, there would be no theatrical film industry. As DVD gets whittled away with piracy, there won't be any income. You're going to see smaller movies and eventually something else will take its place. Not sure what that is, whether it's directed video. I think people will always want the theatrical experience, whether it's the opera or ballet. So I think people will still go to movie theatres just because they want the social interaction with other people. I have a feeling that films will be released on the Internet and in theatres at the same time. There will be some kind of coded pay per view method that might be the only way to stop piracy. In some countries movies are on the Internet for free and that is going to be an issue at some point with the international courts when they finally decide what to do with copyright. It affects the computer industry, computer games - it affects everything.
With EPISODE THREE coming out on DVD later in the year and possibly a box set with all six movies out at Christmas, how many times do you speculate STAR WARS being re-released especially with the dawn of the new digital formats?
A lot of it depends on the medium. I remember when STAR WARS came out, there wasn't even VHS. There wasn't anything. It was a whole different world. We are releasing EPISODE THREE for Christmas. I'm not too sure when the six-pack is coming out. We may wait until it gets to Hi-Def and then release it. That's been discussed. It's hard to know what the next level is. Eventually it will all go online, there's no question about that. I have seen a 3D process that is amazing and it really makes STAR WARS look good. It's a different way of looking at the movie. I've never been a fan of 3D but with this process I have become quite a convert. If we can get digital theatres because it needs digital theatres for it to work, we will probably reissue all the movies.
Which character from the saga is more like you?
I would say probably Luke because that's where it started. He was a farm boy like I was, who went off to fight in the galactic wars.
Which Episode was the most fun to film?
The films are like my children. Don't ask me which one I like the best. The first one is always the toughest one because you just don't know what's going on. You're completely confused. It's up to this poor little baby to teach you how to be a parent and sometimes they are better at it and you just have to learn as you go and everything is a drama. You worry about everything that goes on, everyday. It drives you nuts. Each little phase is confusing for you, especially when they turn into teenagers. Then you have the next one and the next one and the next one and each time it gets easier and easier because you kind of know what to expect. By the time you get to the last one, it's really a piece of cake. You've been through it so many times that the last one ends up getting spoilt. It was very much like that with the movies. The first one was the hardest one and last one is the easiest one.
What will you be focusing on in the future?
There is RED TALES, which is the story about African American fighter pilots during World War II. They were the only fighter unit during World War II that never lost a bomber. They were escort fighters so they were like the best. It will obviously involve racial issues but mostly it's about a bunch of guys who wanted to become pilots. They were young guys and most of them were college educated and they went on to become captains of industry in the United States and it's a pretty inspiring story. I've been working on it for about 15 years and now I'm going to focus on it along with the next INDIANA JONES.
This film is one of the most heavily marketed films of all time. There are now issues that certain foods should not be marketed at children. How do you feel about Yoda being on Pepsi cans?
The one that was the most heavily marketed was EPISODE ONE. Everyone was afraid that it was not going to work. We backed off for the next one and tried to find a medium for this one. Products like Pepsi; you will have an issue about sugar and is Diet Pepsi bad for you. I don't think it is. I grew up on that sort of thing and all it did was make me crazy. We have tried very hard to be careful with the products that we work with. We do have M&M's. I love M&M's. A lot have to do with what we grew up with like various breakfast cereals. We have cut back from some fast food franchises. It sometimes makes it difficult for parents to control that.
You made alterations to the original trilogy. Do you see yourself in ten years time making alterations to the prequel trilogies?
The real issue is that the first trilogy was never really finished. EPISODE FOUR was really not finish. I didn't have the money, I didn't have the time, and I didn't have the technology to actually finish it. At the time I was very upset about it because I got about 50% of what I wanted and it bothered me to watch it. With the Special Editions, I finished off the first trilogy the way I meant them to be. If nothing else, I was stubborn and persistent to get the movie I want to be the way I wanted. The last three, I made them the way I wanted to make them. I did not have much interference; I spent as much money that I needed to spend to make them work. So now the whole thing is complete and it's pretty much the way I wanted it to be so I'm not really going to bother with them. The only thing that will happen is when they come out on Hi-Def DVD's is that I will go back and retime them and clean them up again. It will be just technical stuff; it won't be anything in terms of content.
Which is your particular favourite STAR WARS spoof?
There have been a lot of great parodies. We used to say that we were making the movies so that they would be parodied in Mad magazine. It's fun. I've always wanted to do two versions of the movie. I always wanted to do an extra take, which would have been a comedy take, so then I could cut together the whole movie as a comedy. That never materialised but I had hoped to do a goofy version of STAR WARS but I'm glad other people are able to do it.
You've got actors like Ewan, Ian and Ray Parks. Do you think Scottish actors make the best heroes and villains?
Traditionally, the British are great actors. The Scottish are great actors, the Irish are great actors. Great Britain has a great tradition of acting and talent in that area. Acting is a craft. You have to be diligent and hard working to learn your craft. You have to have talent, which is something you are born with. There is a very good acting gene pool from this group of islands.
With that, it is now the end of the press conference and the end of a cinematic saga. Mr Lucas heads off to another press conference.
May the force be with you.