David Prowse, the physical presence of Darth Vader, may have had his issues with Lucasfilm, a two-way exchange of unpleasantness that began with his surprise overdub by James Earl Jones and his alledged loose-lips with the press, but nevertheless he remains a towering figure in Star Wars mythology, a constant presence at conventions and a delight to the fans. As he prepares to release his autobiography Straight From The Force’s Mouth, we catch up with the original Dark Lord of the Sith…
Tell me a bit about your book…
“I’m actually getting a second stab at it. I decided I wanted to write it a while ago because I’ve had such a wonderful career and met some incredible people, lots of things that people didn’t know about. So I wrote the book and I couldn’t find anybody that was interested in it, I couldn’t find anybody that was interested in publishing it – so I published it myself. Immediately it sold out completely, straight away, and then I heard from Chris Pine at Apex Publishing, and they said, ‘We’d like to publish it properly’, so I said, ‘Yeah, fine, but do me a favour – several things have happened since it came out before, and if you could put the extra chapters on the end of it, that’d be lovely’. So now it stands at 400 pages like, it’s quite a tome as it were. There’s lots of different things that I’ve done, worked with Stanley Kubrick for instance – people will want to know what it was like, and people will want to know what it was like obviously to do the three Star Wars movies, what was it like to act as consultant in Harrods, hung our with John Wayne and Bing Crosby, and met loads of famous people there. I would do extra training at Crystal Palace, trained lots of famous people like Christopher Reeve in Superman… I had all these experiences, and it’s made for interesting reading.”
What aspect of it did you find the most difficult to write about?
“Probably Star Wars. Star Wars wasn’t a very happy occasion for me, I don’t think I was treated very well. When George Lucas hired me, he hardly spoke a word to me all the way through. They dubbed my voice without telling me, and when the film came out in America, I got this cable from Russ Meyer, the film director, I did a film with him called Black Snake which is a terrible, terrible movie; it said ‘Congratulations Dave, you’re in one of the biggest movies of all time – by the way, did you know they’ve overdubbed your voice?’ and that was the first I heard of it.
“And then we had a situation where some of the sword duels… right at the very beginning, I was introduced to the stunt arranger for the movie and we worked on the sword fights, and of course we practised and practised until I could do the fights perfectly, and then next thing I know they brought in a stunt man for me and a stunt man for Alec Guinness, without telling me. And before you know, the stunt man seemed to be doing more work on the movie than even me, which I didn’t like very much. And then worst of all, we had a director on the third one, Richard Marquand, who for some hostile reason, took a dislike to me straight away and never spoke to me the entire picture. It was really quite strange, so whenever anyone turns to me and says ‘You must have had a fantastic time on Star Wars’, it’s done me the world of good but it’s probably the most unhappy film I ever worked on. I enjoyed the second one with Irvin Kershner, and he remained a good friend until he died, and the producer Gary Kurtz – although I didn’t have very much to do with Gary Kurtz on A New Hope, and of course he was working very close to George Lucas at the time, since the movie we meet up at sci-fi conventions and I get on very, very well with him. He’s a very, very good friend of mine.”
Were you tempted not to go back to do The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi after your experiences on the first film?
“Oh no, no, not at all. I just hoped that things would improve! [laughs] You’d go in and do your little bit and just put up with it. The thing is everybody was absolutely paranoid about secrecy, and people would say things to me – ‘what’s such-and-such like? What’s it like to work with Alec Guinness?’ – and you’d sort of try and give an answer, and before you know it, it’s in the press. And then you’d get hauled up before Lucasfilm, saying, ‘What do you think you’re doing? You shouldn’t be giving information away to the press’. With A New Hope we had a script, but we never had a script on The Empire Strikes Back, and we never had a script on Return Of The Jedi, so I never had a clue what the film was about on Empire or Jedi. When we were working Empire – out of the blue – somebody from the Daily Mirror rang up and said ‘We’d like to do an interview with you’, and I said, ‘I’m terribly sorry, I’m not doing interviews because I don’t really know anything and I don’t know what’s going on’. What they used to do is they used to send you your pages by motorbike from the studios and you signed for them when you got the pages, and then you had to learn your lines overnight and then go back the following day to deliver your lines, as it were – and it went on like this all the way through Empire and all the way through Jedi. I only knew the night before what was in the scene that I was doing the following day, so I knew nothing about the movie whatsoever. Then out of the blue the Daily Mirror got hold of a story from somebody or other, and came out with the headline ‘Darth Vader to be killed off in next movie’ and then there was a subheading that said ‘exclusive interview with Dave Prowse’. They blew their top; they thought I was the biggest shit in the world. I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t have a clue and if they even thought about it they’d realise that there was no way that I could have known was going on.”
Did you ever find out what had happened?
“No, just somebody on the set knew what was happening and was feeding it to the press. It was a very, very awkward situation – but if they asked me to do another one, I’d jump at it to be honest! Darth Vader’s been so good to me over the years, it’s given me international stardom and I’ve become a cult figure in the sci-fi world, I’ve travelled all over the world and done all these sci-fi conventions.”