Q&A: Actor Anthony Daniels, Legendary Performer Behind C-3PO, Talks “LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special”

Actor Anthony Daniels has made a name for himself over the past four and a half decades by playing the instantly recognizable protocol droid C-3PO in just about every live-action Star Wars film, plus many more times in animation, one-off television appearances, audio recordings, theme park attractions, and more. And now he has reprised the role once more for LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, streaming this Life Day on Disney+.

In celebration of LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special’s release, Disney+ held a virtual press conference with Anthony Daniels, during which he answered a number of reporters’ questions about his participation in the new short film, his continuing career as C-3PO, and his thoughts on the notorious original Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978. I was even able to ask him a question about the difference between his approach to the character while on set in the Threepio suit vs. in the recording studio for a voice-over performance, as you can see in the video below. The remainder of the Q&A session has been transcribed further down for your enjoyment.

Watch Mike talks with Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) about "LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special":

Q:  First of all, we want to thank you for the decades of all the happiness you have brought fans who [have] been there since day one with all the Star Wars films, the comics you've written, all of the animated shows you've been a part of. Thank you for everything that you brought to us.

Anthony Daniels:  It's really nice of you to say that, but I'm immediately going to chip back, because when you think about it, and maybe this doesn't really occur, I'm going to say thank you to you and everybody else, all the fans, who have reciprocated, who have enjoyed, who have watched, who have loved what I and the other members of the cast and crew and producers and so on have brought to you. And in [my] book, I do talk about the fact that without the fans, there would have only been one Star Wars film. It was called The Star Wars. No, then it became Star Wars. Then it became Episode IV. Because the fans took it and loved it so George made the next film, [The] Empire Strikes Back, and so on. So you're thanking me and I'm thanking you for playing your part as a member of the audience without being sickly about it, but it's a two-way process and you're part of the team. And I thank you.

Q:  Are you personally anything like C-3PO?

Daniels:  People often ask me what characteristics do I share with Threepio and, well, how can I put this? You'd have to ask my wife. I mean, he can be irritating and I'm sure she would deny that I was irritating. He can be a little fussy. I think Threepio would be tidier than I am; I tend to leave a bit of a mess everywhere so people are surprised by that. But one thing I really do like that I share with him is his sense of loyalty, [and] I think loyalty in humans, loyalty to each other, is extremely important. One of the lovely things in the movies is that Threepio shows great loyalty even to dreadful human beings like Han Solo. [He shows] loyalty to the princess, to Luke Skywalker and of course, to R2-D2. A very, very major important human attribute.

Q:  Obviously you've been in all of the Star Wars films and were in the original [Star Wars Holiday Special] back in 1978. I wanted to ask what your memories of that were and how it compared to being in this [LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special] and more broadly how the experience of being in Star Wars has changed over the years.

Daniels:  How dare you remind me of that? How dare you? [laughs] I'm sure you have read my book, possibly: I am C-3PO: The Inside Story. One of the most amusing chapters, possibly, refers to the original Holiday Special in 1978, which was remarkable in so many ways. First of all, filming it on the set in L.A. was a dismal, dismal experience. And bear in mind, this is meant to be the happiest day in the life of a Wookiee. They will get together. Every religion has its festival days and Life Day is for the Wookies. And there we were, meant to be celebrating this event, and there's Mark [Hamill] and Carrie [Fisher] and Harrison [Ford] and me in these very dark, basically black drapes. It was like a funeral. It was dreadful. And then you watched it and you thought, "I didn't realize it was as dreadful as that." Well, it was.

So when the producers came to me and said, "We're going to make [another] Holiday Special," I laughed. But as you will find out, it's very, very different and it's charming and it's LEGO that I adore. And Threepio has seen all sorts of things over the years. He's been on The Donny & Marie Osmond Show and The Muppet Show. He's used to crazy experiences that bring out certain qualities in him. And so long may that go on.

Q:  When the producers reach you with this new Holiday Special, what were your initial thoughts about this project?

I was really surprised that anybody in the entertainment industry would ever consider making another holiday special because the first one had really surprised people about how crazy it was. And then, of course, when I saw what they were going to do and that it was LEGO, I was just thrilled to be asked. I was delighted because I know anything with Star Wars LEGO [is] going to be a blast. I mean, look at The LEGO Movie— the first one, I had, what, two lines in that? I adored being in it and the audience adored Threepio being in it. LEGO has been a wonderful companion to Star Wars. They were made for each other. So I think people who remember the original Holiday Special will be surprised. Give it a chance. Don't ignore it because it's got those words in it. This is different. This is fun. And it also references so many memories that audiences have around the world.

Q:  One thing I love about the Holiday Special this time is because it's through LEGO, it’s able to have fun [with] the Star Wars universe. Does that forgive all ills from the previous special?

Daniels:  That may be going too far. I've rebooked the therapy because I thought that was over but no, it's awakened those memories, you know? They stay there. What can I say? It was huge fun, really, to be in the first one but this one is different and you hit the nail [on the head]. With LEGO, you can make jokes about these movies, because people can get a bit pompous about them if you're not careful– the Force and the Dark Side and all that stuff and who did what to whom or whatever. I love the irreverence that LEGO has always brought, whatever the product, because you can't be serious if you're a dumpy inch and a half doll. You cannot be serious. Even John McEnroe as a doll could not be serious. So intrinsically, a LEGO product is going to be fun, it's going to be irreverent, and it's going to allow you to [go] places you wouldn't normally go in a Star Wars movie. And that's why this one, the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, allows you to go on weird adventures, meeting people you wouldn't normally meet in the same room, and it works out.

And it's a great lead in. Anybody with small children who don't yet know that Star Wars is a very important film concerning the adventures of a gold robot played by Anthony Daniels, if they don't know, it's a great introduction. [laughs] And I think people are going to have fun over the holiday season talking about it and explaining to kids, “Well, this is about this and this is about that. And then let's go watch the movie.” So it's an all around winner and actually has negated my earlier memories.”

Mike Celestino, Laughing Place:  I wonder if you could talk about the difference to your approach to your performance, if there is a difference, between when you're actually on set in the C-3PO suit versus in an example like this, in the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, where it's just a voiceover performance. Does that affect your approach to the role at all?

Anthony Daniels:  The only difference is I'm not wearing the suit. I am there in jeans and a shirt of some kind that doesn't make rustle-y noises in the microphone. You have to be careful what kind of material you're wearing, because with 3PO I stand up as him– very tight bum, tight stomach, and very tense because he's a tense character, but he moves most of the time when he's talking. And if I'm wearing the wrong clothes, cotton that's a bit sharp or whatever, it can make rustle-y noises, so I had to be very careful to wear sloppy clothes. That way I can remain as physically as 3PO, much to the amazement of any visitors who watch. And they go, ‘I can see the costume.’ People forget that I'm there in the shirt and the jeans; they see the gold. And that's kind of fun for me. So that's the only difference: I ain't wearing the costume.

In animation you tend to only have your lines, so always you have to ask what the line before was– what was the question that you are answering. But that is second nature to me because in the original film when I talked to R2-D2 they didn't tell me [what he would sound like], but R2-D2 never made any sounds, never replied, never beeped or anything until six months later when Ben Burtt, eventually, won an Oscar for being the voice of R2-D2. Way late for me on the set, and I went crazy talking to myself. So now in the studio, being in something like the LEGO special, I just have to imagine what somebody's just said to me or what has happened. And it's there in the stage directions on the script, so it's the same.

Q:  With the new LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, as you probably know, as long as you keep Mark and Harrison at bay, you're the longest tenured Star Wars actor in history. What sense of responsibility do you feel in helping the franchise stay true to George Lucas's roots and vision the further we go from when it started?

Daniels:  That is a really, really good question. It's really important. You know, I like being employed, I like working, but one reason it's important that I feel I stay with Threepio [as a performer] is sometimes writers or producers, whatever, get a bit distant from the basic, I would say ‘truths’ if you like, of the original film. That you meet C-3PO and he's very important in the minds of many, many people because he's the first voice in that first film. And he has a kind of quality that stayed with people and therefore, you have to stay with that quality, whatever the new iteration is, whether it's a film or an animation or it's a LEGO film. And I can do that, not without being crazily controlling about it but I can say, ‘That's not how he would put things,’ or ‘That's not how he would behave in character,’ because it's very important he stays in character. And sensible and clever and intelligent producers and writers and directors listen to me. Others, I don't work with them. [laughs]

Q:  This special is set after the events of The Rise of Skywalker. Did you enjoy being able to tell a story that is set in this time period, because the movie kind of left things fairly vague about the state of the galaxy at this point?

Daniels:  Well, it's interesting that the original film was called A New Hope. These days, we need to feel there is hope and there is lightness, and fun and joy in life. And without realizing it I think the producers of this film, this LEGO special, have hit the right moment to bring this out because we need, this year, right now in the holiday season, to be reminded that there are good things in life, there are good things to celebrate. It's difficult right now for many, many people in all sorts of different circumstances. And this will, I think, begin a new beginning. I think there will be a holiday special next year. Please can I be in it? I don't know. But this is a little launchpad for a new series. And I said it first, so I want to be there. There's so much for a family to enjoy. There is so much warmth in the program that you can relax, be there, just stop looking out of the window for a moment and just sink into this program. And you'll feel better, I think.

Q:  There has been some discussion within the fan community around the new sequel trilogy, but on the other hand, the new Disney+ show The Mandalorian has received almost unanimous praise from fans. What do you think has been the key to this success? And would you like to see C-3PO in The Mandalorian?

Daniels:  I would love to see C-3PO in The Mandalorian. And I hope you will be talking to the producers on my behalf because my phone is ready. The Mandalorian takes a new look and I think a new style approach. And, yes, there have been discussions, and how nicely now you put that, about the sequel trilogy that we just finished with The Rise of Skywalker. There are elements that certainly are debatable and the thing about Star Wars is it has always been chock-full of things to think about: concepts, ideas, views, morals, if you will. And people, fans, have debated for a long time. And certainly the sequels advanced that. And, yes, have an opinion. ‘I like this. I'm not sure about that.’ But be nice about it. Just share. It's dialectics. It's looking towards agreeing, if you like to disagree, or finding a common ground, because Star Wars fans really are fans, whoever you are. Just be kind to each other and enjoy.

Q:  What is one positive thing you can say about your involvement in the original Star Wars Holiday Special?

Daniels:  I got paid. [laughs] It certainly gave people a talking point. And look, just to be there with Carrie and Mark and Harrison was always a pleasure. So we had each other. Frankly, if you watch it on YouTube, the last few moments of it, you can almost see the human characters and 3PO clinging, kind of nudging closer to each other like we were in a lifeboat trying to survive this wreck as the Wookiees trampled over the scenery.

Q:  Do you think your character will remain [as iconic]  in the history of cinema like the original robot of the Metropolis movie by Fritz Lang?

Daniels:  Yes. I do sincerely believe that. Because like Eva, I think her name was, the robot, C-3PO is [in] an iconic film. And on set, walking to the scenes with the crew, I would regularly say, "Move out to the way. Icon coming through. Holiday icon coming through." [laughs] And of course, people laughed. Threepio is an icon forever and ever, and he will out-survive me. He will out-survive all of us. Because now with the electronic media, these images as much as Maria and Metropolis exist forever, so will Star Wars and so will Threepio, and I'm very proud about that because I respect him a great deal.

Q:  Is Threepio's story over or are we going to see him in [the] future?

Daniels:  I think his story is far from over. I am delighted to say the new [LEGO] Star Wars Holiday Special is the latest iteration– not the last, I have to tell you. But my lips, I mean, Threepio's lips are sealed. He doesn't have lips. Does he have lips? [laughs] Anyway, there are other things coming up– not major movies, but stay tuned. Threepio is too important a character to disappear and I don't believe fans will allow him to disappear. Of course, the important thing is to remember, as somebody was saying earlier about Fritz Lang's Metropolis and the wonderful Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, those characters stay alive forever and ever and ever.

LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.

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Mike Celestino
Mike serves as Laughing Place's lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly "Who's the Bossk?" Star Wars podcast. He's been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.