One of the brightest stars in the world of British publishing, Marcus Hearn, overcome with jealousy over the huge success of The Improved New Wonder Column in America, decided that the official Lucasfilm magazine, Titan Star Wars, in England needed to hear from me too. I decided to find another voice with which to speak to my fellow countrymen and now, thanks to AnthonyDaniels.com everyone in the world can read along with me… if they want.
A long time ago…
“Don’t be stupid!” Some words just aren’t fit to print. But there was no doubt that my mild-mannered agent was becoming as impatient as Godzilla waiting for a close-up. She had now spent some minutes on the phone to me, explaining that an American I had never heard of was in London casting his latest film.
“Ohhh?” I had said, immediately interested.
“A science fiction film.”
“Ohh.” I said, less so.
“Low budget. Most of it is going on costumes and effects.”
“Oh.” I said, losing what interest remained.
“And he wants to see you.”
“Well… He wants to see you for the part of – the part of – a robot but I do think it’s a good idea to go and meet him.”
“Don’t be ***** stupid!”
It was 1975. My knowledge of robots was almost solely based on Dr Who. The celebrated villains of the piece were sort of robots – I think – Daleks. They looked like inverted and truncated wheeled ice-cream cones, with geometrically terminal acne. A sink-plunger protruding from the top was their lethal weapon of choice. They threatened in a metalised monotone and were powered, not by nuclear fission or Kryptonite but by operators cramped into tricycle arrangements, chained to their peddles. All very effective, in an inexpensive sort of way. But for an actor not, I felt, a particularly challenging job, provided you held a driving licence.
SHOW ME YOUR LICENCE.
I was a rather serious actor then; barely out of a job in the two years since I’d left drama school. At the time of the phone call I was acting in London’s West End, in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The famous play focuses on the fate of two tiny characters from Hamlet; one sharp and bright; the other dogged and plodding. Without the proactive skills of Batman and Robin, this unlikely pair is tossed about in the storm of events surrounding their apparently meaningless lives. I was playing the bright one. Natch! A serious part. My serious actor friends were impressed. I suspected that, like me, they might be less so with a sci-fi role. Snobs In Space.
My mind had wandered but my agent hadn’t noticed. We were now discussing Mr Lucas and his shyness. Curiously, many actors are shy too; a fact they disguise in a variety of acceptable or, more often, unacceptable behaviourisms. Two shy people meeting do not produce The Big Bang. I would, it seemed, have to be the one making an effort. He didn’t need to, of course. He had a job. So did I. The difference was, he had a job for life. Still, I was reluctant to bother, though I would apparently fulfil many of the casting considerations. Actor. Mime. Small. Cheap.
Mr Lucas was seeing hundreds of people for various roles. He could afford just two minutes each. Irene Lamb, the casting director, thought this a little abrupt. She’d insisted on five. She’s English.
“And Irene says don’t go in there being a robot.
Apparently several hopefuls had done interviews with him, brilliantly automated, like something from the electrical appliances department of Home Base -3002. Having brainwashed themselves into machine-mode, they could not cancel their operation, presumably under some Azimovian prohibition of self destruction, even when Mr Lucas asked them to stop being mechanical and talk to him as a fellow human. I had visions of this Hollywood mogul chasing a desperately auditioning actor looking, not for the casting-couch but for the ‘off’ switch before they ran completely amuck.
“It’s driving him nuts. So don’t do it.”
I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to be a robot.
“By the way, what’s this film called?”
I sensed a wince on the other end of the phone.
“Actually, it’s called The Adventures of Luke Star Killer. But don’t worry about it.”
“I won’t,” I said.
But I did.
Twentieth Century Fox House lies in the southwest corner of Soho Square. Soho Square is just east of London’s principal film area, around Wardour Street, north of the main theatre district on Shaftesbury Avenue. Had I ever thought of being a cab driver? I had the driving licence.
As a fairly new actor, it was hard not to be impressed by names like Warner Brothers and MGM proclaiming over office frontages; offices I never believed I would ever enter. Now I was walking past them, on my way to the equally impressive Twentieth Century Fox. Why? I wasn’t quite sure. But I didn’t have to go to the theatre until seven o’clock, so I had nothing to lose.
I wasn’t being grand, and nerves didn’t come into it. I didn’t want the job. Even if they offered it to me. Which they probably wouldn’t. I didn’t know anything about science fiction. About eight years before, I had paid to see 2001 : A Space Oddysy. In spite of HAL, the hypnotic and deranged computer, played by the hypnotic and sane Douglas Raine, I thought the film beyond tedium. I walked out and discussed the fact with the cinema manager, demanding my money back. He looked down at me thoughtfully
“Please go away.” he’d said.
Actually he didn’t, but some words just aren’t fit to print. Whatever his script, the meaning was very clear. Those were the days. Everyone knew their place. Certainly that manager knew mine.
As a child, the nearest interest I had shown in interplanetary events, real or fictional, was in 1956 when the Russians launched the first-ever satellite, Sputnik. A technical coup of staggering importance. I emulated it by creating my own Sputnik with a Ping-Pong ball and matchsticks painted silver. It hung on black cotton thread from a bookshelf in my bedroom. I imagined the rest. After that – nothing. I was no rocket scientist.
I was no film actor either. Radio, T V and stage had happily filled my last two years. And one modelling job. Not even Page 4, it was hardly the stuff of secret-live exposés in the Sundays. An employment agency had wanted to shoot a poster campaign that featured an unhappy worker in the wrong job – someone who looked unhappy. Something in my Very 70’s casting photo had enthused the agency into promoting me as a disconsolate soldier in the Foreign Legion. No Tunisian locations here. Just a small business unit studio in Kilburn, south of Watford.
They were paying me, so I put on the uniform and the heavy backpack; the cepi, a moustache and a lot of reddy-brown make-up. After that I knew it would be easy. It was only one shot. So, ten minutes, max. Shouldering my rifle, I happily perched on the edge of a director’s chair to give them the height they wanted. I happily looked sad. They fiddled about. Polaroid made a fortune and I lost all feeling below the waist. Problem. I looked as red as a lobster but not actually hot – like lobster salad, I suppose – so they aimed fan-heaters at me. Now I looked like a lobster salad in the wind. Eventually glycerine gave the required sheen but dribbled between my lips and tasted medical, as if intended for some other more intimate purpose. Ten minutes became eight hours. The results haunted me on hoardings and subways for months. The caption on the ad read: I wish I’d known what this job entailed. Words that would return to haunt me.
I WISH I’D KNOWN WHAT THIS JOB ENTAILED
My film experience on the other hand, had been completely passive, apart from the minor drama of 2001. I would casually wonder what was ‘a gaffer’ or ‘best boy’ as I watched the credits role but I wasn’t even sure about the difference between director and producer. As I said, no rocket scientist I. And now I – I was going to see a man about a robot.
I turned into the Square with its anachronistic fairy tale cottage in the middle and walked up to Twentieth Century Fox. House. I pushed the heavy glass door. It barely moved. Blushing, I pulled it and stepped out of the swirl of people and cars and pigeons. I was inside. But only because I was going to see a man about a robot. Oh well.
“First floor. The stairs are quicker”
But I was early anyway.
“Hello. Anthony Daniels?”
Such is the feeling of fame. Then I saw mine was merely the next name to be scratched through on the list.
“Yes. Good morning”
“This way please.”
I was early, and being shown in right away? It seemed the five-minute-interactive-study-in-depth-rule had been abandoned for the two-minute-hello-goodbye, after all. I was being shown the door, the other one, out of reception.
“Anthony Daniels. George Lucas.”
“Hi.” He said, flatly.
We shook hands without enthusiasm.
Life would never be the same again.