Interview with David Prowse (Darth Vader)

by Jos Kirps
Wednesday, April 9th 2008
I've grown up with Star Wars and Darth Vader was always my favourite character, therefore it's really an honour to talk to the man behind that mask today - so here it is, the interview with David Prowse, the actor who portrayed Darth Vader!


David Prowse (72) is the actor who played the Darth Vader character in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Jos Kirps: You were Darth Vader, one of the most popular science fiction characters ever. But did you also like like science fiction as a child?

David Prowse: No, not at all. I used to read this sort of science fiction comics, but I was not a huge fan of sci-fi.

Jos: Did you have a favourite movie as a child?

Dave: As a child? Oh, gosh... I think I was more into sports than anything, one of the films I remember to have seen as an early child and that had a lasting memory for me was a film called "Champion", which was a Kirk Douglas boxing film. I came out of the cinema thinking I was a world heavyweight champion then, I remember shadow boxin' all the way home from the cinema...

Jos: How did you get into show business? Did you have plans to become an actor?

Dave: No, not at all. I never ever wanted to be an actor, it was just something that happened when I turned professional. I had a long weight lifting and bodybuilding career and it was just something that came out of the blue.


The early years: David Prowse as weight lifter and bodybuilder.
I was a salesman at the time, selling weight liftling equipment and I worked in a gym which was also a stunt agency. One day the manager of the stunt agency said to me "Look, now that you're a professional, have you ever considered going into show business?". And I just said "Oh no, I'm not an actor, I'm not really interested in something like this and I've never done any acting at all..."

He told me that some work might come up and asked me if I would be interested. So within a couple of weeks I was being offered a part in a play in one of the big Londen western theaters and that's how that all started.

I never ever wanted this, I already had a career in commerce. I was a european sales manager for an american weight lifting company, I was a european editor of their magazines as well, I had a lot of work within the physical culture business and even started running a gym. That was what I thought I was going.


Sir Alec Guinness (Obi Wan Kenobi) and David Prowse (Darth Vader) on the Star Wars set (1977).
David Prowse wearing the Darth Vader suit (today).
Jos: When you were offered the role of Darth Vader, did you expect the movie to become successful at all?

Dave: No, not really, no. To be perfectly honest, what happened was I got a phone call from a very good friend of mine, who was a managing director for 20th Century Fox. He got in touch with me and said "Look, I got this guy called George Lucas, who's set up office in the 20th Century Fox offices in London, and he says he wants to see you." And I said "Well that's interesting, but who is George Lucas?"

The only thing he could tell me was that Lucas had done a film called "American Graffiti" which was very successful in America. So that's basically all I knew. I knew nothing about him whatsoever.

I eventually went up to see him, he showed me a lot of conceptual drawings from Star Wars and then he said to me "Look, I'm doing this film which is like a space science fiction movie and I'd like to offer you one of two parts in the movie". So I said "What are the two parts?" - "Well, the first one is a character called Chewbacca..." and I said "What the hell is that?" He said it's like a hairy gorilla who goes through the film on the side of the good ones. And I just said "No thanks, you keep it..."

I asked what the other part was and Lucas said "The other part's the big villain of the film". So I said "George, I'd like to play the villain!"

But I still knew nothing about the film, I just knew it was a sci-fi movie. Then I eventually got a copy of the script, but I still didn't have much idea what the film was going to be like.

And then of course we started work on the movie. We went to Tunesia to do all the desert scenes and then came back to England and we were in the studios, with lots of strange creatures running around all the time. Harrison (Ford) was very pleasant, Mark (Hamill) was nice, and Carrie (Fisher) was very pleasant too. I was working with Carrie again for the second time as I worked with her before in 1974, and it was really a pleasure working with her again.


These photos of an original stunt helmet used by stuntman Bob Anderson in "The Empire Strikes Back" during the Vader/Luke fight scenes give an idea of what the original Darth Vader helmets looked like from the inside.
Note that this helmet is a highly modified version to allow Bob Anderson to perfom the fencing scenes - the helmets worn by David Prowse for the closeup shots were probably even less comfortable than this one! This helmet was sold in an auction in 1992.
But even then I really thought "This is a strange movie that we're working on", because nobody seemed to know what was happening. There were also lots of problems between Lucas and his lightning cameraman, they brought a camera over from America and spent a lot of time getting this camera working...

It was a strange movie to work on, I just used to come in and put my Darth Vader suit on and stomp around from time to time...

Jos: So when you were wearing the Darth Vader suit and the helmet for the first time, how did it feel to be inside this costume? Was it hard to breathe?

Dave: Yes, it was. It weight about 40 pounds (20 kilos) in total and it went on in about 15 different pieces. The worst thing is of course that as soon as you put the mask on, you were breathing inside that mask and all the sweat and the all the heat from the suit - which was made of quilted leather - raised up, went up inside the mask, messed up the eye pieces and you couldn't see where you're going anymore.

So it was a question of having it on for two minutes and then take the helm and the mask off, wipe the eye pieces, put it back on and work for another two minutes. And I just thought "They never gonna make a film out of this one." I just don't know, I really had no confidence in it whatsoever.

Jos: You have played one of the biggest villains of all time. How does it feel to have been that person?

Dave: Well, this is wonderful, I mean it's wonderful to see that something you have done in your career has attracted so much attention. It was basically giving it what I call a lifetime achievement, it's something people will never forget.


The almighty Darth Vader (David Prowse).
But I just got offered the role in the first instance, and many people contributed to the Darth Vader role. I mean I was obviously a major part of the Darth Vader role, but you have to remember that many people were involved, such as James Earl Jones for example who did the voice.

In fact I did all the voice all the way through, but on the last minute they decided they wanted a different voice to mine. I was very disappointed when I found out they'd use somebody else because George kept on saying to me all the way through that we'd be going to the sound studio and re-record all the lines. But then they changed back to America for the special effects and when they were in America they got James Earl Jones overdubbing the voice.

On Star Wars I didn't have any stuntmen or anything like this, I did all the fighting with Sir Alec Guiness myself. But then on the second one (The Empire Strikes Back) I did most of the fighting with Luke (Mark Hamill), but when it started to get dangerous they brought in a stuntman for me. That was Bob Anderson, he was listed on the film in the credits as a sword master. He was obviously a much better fencer than I was, and I was very happy we got him.


David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin, the commander of the Death Star) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) on the Star Wars set (1977).
I think they originally brought him in primarely because when you're working on a big movie such as Star Wars or Empire or Jedi you cannot afford to have your principals injured... It's more simple just to bring in a stuntman to do all the dangerous stuff, and I was quite happy about this. I really didn't like the sword fighting very much because I was not as adapt as Bob Anderson. He obviously made it much better.

So Bob Anderson, James Earl Jones, George Lucas and everybody else contributed to the Darth Vader role, it was an amalganation of all sorts of different things which built up the character I portrayed.

Jos: In "The Empire Strikes Back", Darth Vader told Luke that he was his father. Apparently George Lucas wanted to keep this a secret until the film was being released, so the lines in the script on the set were completely different when the scene was shot.


Darth Vader: "Obi-wan never told you what happened to your father." Luke Skywalker: "He told me enough! He told me you killed him." Darth Vader: "No. I am your father."
Dave: Yeah, they changed them just before it went on, but they told Luke (Mark Hamill) what the changes were and they told him not to take any notice of what I was saying.

When we were filming we were up on this gantry and we had this big aeroplane propeller behind Mark, and it was making such a terrible noise and a fantastic wind that I couldn't hear a word he was saying and he couldn't hear anything I was saying. But I got my dialogue and I was watching him, I just had to watch his lips and wait until his lips stopped moving, then I would come in with my dialogue which is all done with gestures, then he would wait to see the gestures finished and then he would come in with his dialogue...

But I didn't know that I was Lukes Skywalkers father until I was in Hollywood and went to the premiere. All of the sudden Darth Vader said "Luke, I am your father" and I just thought "Wow, this this is a novel switch...!"

Jos: So you did not expect this?

Dave: Not at all, I had no idea.

Jos: When you learned that Darth Vader would finally help Luke to destroy the emperor, were you happy to see that your character would finally become become one of the good guys?


Darth Vader (Dave Prowse) threatening Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).
Dave: Yeah, I was quite happy with that. But the only problem was Vader returned into Anakin Skywalker and for some obscure reason they wanted somebody else to play the Anakin Skywalker role. I lost interest in the thing as soon as Darth became good and they were using this very old actor called Sebastian Shaw to play Anakin Skywalker.

To be perfectly honest I thought it was a real dirty trick to unmask somebody else as the dying Darth Vader, but their excuse to me was they weren't unmasking the dying Darth Vader, they were revealing the dying Anakin Skywalker instead, and I was not Anakin Skywalker.

Jos: So you would have liked to be this face?

Dave: Of course I would have been! It wouldn't have made all that difference, it was a huge makeup job anyway to make him all disfigured. The dying Darth Vader wouldn't probably have looked like Dave Prowse, just looking like somebody totally disfigured. I think it wouldn't have made all that difference, but still, the fans were all very disappointed when Darth Vader was finally unmasked and they didn't see Dave Prowse.

Jos: You've played one of the most important characters in film history - do people recognize you on the street?

Dave: I had recognition, in fact I became famous doing two things. Number one, I played Darth Vader which to me was an enormous part, and exactly the same time I became the figure head of the governments child road safety campaign.


"That's the best thing I've ever done!" David Prowse as the Green Cross Code Man.

The Green Cross Code is a brand created by the UK National Road Safety Committee to raise awareness of pedestrian road safety in the UK. The multimedia Green Cross Code campaign began in 1970 and continues today. The Green Cross Code Man is a costumed superhero character created in 1975 as an aid to teaching young children the Green Cross Code, and for promoting general road safety.
I've been on television for five nights a week teaching children how to cross the roads properly, and for 14 years I traveled all over the world giving talks to children in schools about road safety. I got a lot of recognition from that and people also related the two together: sometimes when I go to conventions and I have all my Darth Vader pictures on the table, somebody comes up and says "Hey, you don't have any Green Cross Code Man pictures!". Or vice versa, when I'm doing a Green Cross Code Man appearance somewhere some people ask why I'm not wearing my Darth Vader suit.

So I had the recognition and I get a lot of attention when I go to sci-fi conventions, but because Darth Vader was a masked character I can still walk around in the town where I live in England. I've been to the supermarket this morning, and nobody took any notice. Occasionally I get recognized, people talk to me about Star Wars or primarely they come up and talk to me about the road safety campaign which is what they remember me from primarely.

This is a very very important part in fact. I was this Green Cross Code Man for five years on TV. I used to do three commericals a year over five years, so we did fifteen television commercials for this campaign. Then the department of transports asked me if I could go into schools and give talks to the children about road safety, and so for 14 years I went to all these schools and I eventually went to 700 cities throughout the world, I went to over 2000 schools, I spoke to over half a million children. The net result was, at the end, that we actually reduced the road accident figures in Great Britain by over a half, they went down from over 40000 to less than 20000... We actually saved something like a quarter of a million childrens lives. It was a fantastic campaign to me. That's the best thing I've ever done!

My association with the road saftey campaign and the fact that I'm synonymous with Darth Vader now enable me to do also some charity work. I travel all over the world primarely doing conventions, but I also get lots of requests to be involved with various charities. I just got a call this morning asking if I'd go to Cannes to give a talk at a big charity event in Cannes for the Cannes film festival, then I got another one from Hollywood to do something in connection with Christopher Reeve who I trained for Superman - one thing leads to another all the time.


David Prowse as bodyguard "Julian" in Stanley Kubricks "A Clockwork Orange" (1971)
Jos: By the way, I also saw you in "A Clockwork Orange"!

Dave: That was instrumental in sort of establishing me as an actor. The mere fact that I worked for Stanley Kubrick turned me into "Dave Prowse, the actor". In fact George Lucas saw me in A Clockwork Orange and remembered me for five years. He saw me in 1971 and then remembered me till 1976 when he came over to England he said he was looking for me.

As soon as I saw him I asked "How did you know of me?" and he said "I saw you in A Clockwork Orange, you're good enough for Stanley Kubrick so you're good enough for me!"

Jos: It is said that some Star Wars actors had huge problems with the stress caused by the success of the movies.

Dave: It never affected me in the slightest. I was on the film for five months (Star Wars), three months (The Empire Strikes Back) and six weeks (Return Of The Jedi) respectively, and as soon as the job was finished I was off doing something else. It never had any adverse effects whatsoever. It's just a job, something to add to your CV.


Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Dave Prowse (Darth Vader) while practicing for a fight scene.
Jos: Maybe some actors were too much involved with their roles?

Dave: Well I think it depends on the individual. If I was thinking I was the almighty Darth Vader and I could do anything and the world owed me a living then I think I'd be in trouble. But I never thought that way, I was just employed by Lucasfilm, and that was basically it. And on top of that I'm a married man, I have three grown up children and two grand children, and that's what really matters to me.

Jos: I heard that you're still very active.

Dave: Yeah, of course I am. I'll be 73 this year and I still to to the gym and work out and train. I've just been in hospital and had an abcess removed from my leg, which caused me a few problems. But even then, I had the abcess for four years, and it never stopped me from traveling around the world...

Jos: In Episode III (Revenge Of The Sith) you were not the one wearing the Darth Vader suit.

Dave: There again, I haven't had the happiest association with Lucasfilm. In fact I've never spoken to George Lucas since 1983. Episode III was all made in Australia, and I was actually out in Australia at the time - everbody knew this, and I also got a lot of publicity as I was in in Australia when the film was being made. Everybody knew I wanted to reprise the role, but they kept on coming back to me saying that Hayden Christensen was having in his contract that when Anakin turned to Darth that he could play the Darth Vader role. But I personally think it was obvious he never had the stature or the walk or anything...


"I've been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master." - Darth Vader (Dave Prowse) versus Obi Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) in Star Wars (1977).
Jos: It is said that camera tricks were used to make Hayden look bigger.

Dave: That's right, I think they even tried to put him on a bodybuilding course at one stage, but that didn't do any good, and then they put him on five inch blocks to make him look taller. I mean the ridiculous thing was I was out in Australia so they didn't have to fly me out there for any great expense, they could have used me quite easily.

Jos: It would have been great to see you in Episode III... it would have made the circle complete!

Dave: Yeah!

Jos: So what's your personal favourite Star Wars movie?

Dave: I think Empire. I love Star Wars, which was a great movie, but The Empire Strikes Back was what I call the adult version of Star Wars. I enjoyed the third one, Return Of The Jedi, to a certain extend, but I think the introduction of the Ewoks was quite terrible, that was really stretching the imagination a bit too far.


Darth Vader (Dave Prowse) is being made ready for the next scene.
Jos: What about the new Star Wars movies, do you like them?

Dave: Not at all... I didn't like them at all. The Phantom Menace was not a very good film. The only two good things about the film was the pod racing scene and the introduction of Darth Maul. On the other hand I still think they killed off Darth Maul too early, they should have kept him to Episode III and probably have a big fight with Darth Vader. Vader could then have killed him off in Episode III...

I think the films were great movies as they were great examples of Lucas' film making art, but they've lost the plot as far as the story is concerned. It got too complicated and I think you don't have the feel to the characters that you had in the first three, there was no sort of affection for the characters like there was in the original trilogy.


Harrison Ford (Han Solo), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Kenny Baker (R2-D2).
Jos: Do you still meet members of the cast today?

Dave: Yeah, I meet them all the time on conventions. If it's a major convention I usually meet Kenny Baker (R2D2), Warwick Davis (who played Wicket, an Ewok), Jeremy Bullock (Boba Fett) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), although Peter now lives in America so you don't see too much of him these days. We'll also meet at a big convention in Japan quite soon. You never see Harrison Ford (Han Solo) on conventions, but Carrie Fisher (Leia) does it quite on regular basis. Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) hardly ever does conventions, although he did a big one over here in July, this was the first convention he's done for years and it was nice to work with him again. Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) can also be seen regularely.

Jos: Okay Dave, thanks a lot for your time and thank you for the interview, it was really a pleasure talking to you!
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