Sunday, 4 September 2011

INTERVIEW: Actor, David Prowse

The iconic role of Darth Vader may have been the performance that brought David to his height of fame, but this chap is a character himself. Having played an exhibition of monsters and heavies throughout film and British cult TV, from The Saint to Doctor Who, The Tomorrow People to a flirtation with comedy in the Morecambe & Wise Show, perhaps David was always destined to portray the similitude of a cinematic god.

The following interview was broadcast on The Geekend, Radio Reverb on 3rd September 2011.

GG: You are the man behind the mask of Darth Vader; the light-saber wielding, hand severing, Obi-Wan slaying, Dark Lord of Star Wars. Now I’m sure all avid Star Wars fans know this inside out including myself, but for the benefit of our listeners, how did you get the part of the galaxy’s most feared super-villain; Darth Vader?

David: It stems from 1970 when I was offered a part in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. I went in, did the part, and it was very pleasant working for Stanley, and then the film came out and created a fantastic controversy. Stanley started getting death threats so he thought he’d take the film off the circuit and no-one would ever see it. Luckily for me it came out very briefly in 1972, and George Lucas happened to see it during the brief period it was out in America. He came over to England in 1976 and set himself up in the Twentieth Century Fox offices in London. He got in touch with the Managing Director there; Peter Beale, and Lucas said ‘do me a favour, can you find this guy Dave Prowse’. I knew Peter, so  the next thing I know I am being called up to their offices in Soho Square, and there’s George sat there, who to me looked like a young student. He talked about Star Wars, ‘a space fantasy movie’, and then offered me one of two parts in it. I thought ‘wow this is great’, I’d never been offered two parts in a movie. So when I asked ‘what are the choices?’ George said ‘the first one is Chewbacca, it’s like a hairy gorilla’. All I could think was three months in a gorilla skin, that’s going to be hot and sweaty and sticky and not very nice. So said ‘no you can keep that one George, what’s the other one?’. So George replied ‘the other one is the big villain of the film, a character called Darth Vader’. So I said ‘don’t say any more, I’ll have the villain’s part’. If you look back on all the movies you’ve seen where there are goodies and baddies, you always remember the bad guy. Think of all the Bond movies. You think Odd Job, Goldfinger; all these terrible villains. But tell me who played James Bond in that particular movie. So George told me he thought I’d ‘made a wise decision’. And here we are, thirty or so years later touring off the back of Vader.

GG: Star Wars was released back in 1977 and incredibly, over thirty years later, the legacy, or should I say ‘force’, is still going strong. Especially as we now have Star Wars: A Complete Saga to be released on Blu-Ray. So yes, another parsec wave of galactic federation excitement. Quite controversially as well, the original puppet form of Yoda has been replaced with a digital version, Lucas quite famously replaced Sebastian Shaw’s ghost of Anakin with that of the younger Hayden Christensen on the 2004 version DVD release of Return of the Jedi; what do you think of George Lucas’ endless toying with the films?

David: (Laughter) Nothing is sacred.

GG: This was a huge role which must have been life changing for you. So can you tell me briefly how it has affected you?

David: Well it’s obviously given me a lot of public recognition; I can’t go anywhere now without people recognising me, especially when you do personal appearances, sci-fi conventions, store signings. Everybody knows exactly who you are and what you’ve done. The good thing also it that I’ve had lots of very good publicity over the years and people are au fait with the rest of my career. I’ve been in over 30 movies during the course of my career. Prior to that I’d been on the West End stage, I did lots of television commercials, I was the figurehead of the governments road safety campaign for fourteen years, even prior to that I had a career in athletics; I was the British Heavyweight champion for three years,  I did the Mr Universe contest. I’ve had a fantastic career.

GG: What do you think you would you have done had the Darth Vader role not come up?

"I had a film director offer me the part of Conan before Arnold Schwarzenegger got involved."

David: At the time the parts were getting better and better, so if it hadn’t been Star Wars, hopefully something as good, or better would have come along. For example, I had a film director offer me the part of Conan before Arnold Schwarzenegger got involved. But unfortunately the director died and that was the end of it and the rights to the movie were sold. I was offered Jaws in the Bond movies; the director who offered it to me was lined up to do the film next thing I know had the sack! There were some nice roles around.

GG:  You already mentioned that you worked on A Clockwork Orange with Stanley Kubrick, and you’ve worked with Terry Gilliam in Jabberwocky, and a whole cavalcade of stars on Star Wars, but you also worked on Hammer Horror films with the fantastic producer and director Jimmy Sangster, who very recently passed away. You worked on in 1974. I also believe he personally cast you, so what was he like to work with?

David: He was nice and very pleasant to work with; I got on very well with him. I used to have my own exercise consultancy in Harrods so he used to come in to see me occasionally, and I’d get invited to his very nice flat in Sloane Street on the odd occasion. After him I worked with Terence Fisher; he was the most famous of all Hammer Horror directors.

GG: Looking at your CV, and I couldn’t believe how many jobs you’ve done and the names you’ve worked with. You’ve done an autobiography as well, Straight From The Forces Mouth (which I love the title of) that has recently been released on Kindle edition. You’ve been a magazine publisher and you’ve been a celebrity trainer. You’ve trained Daniel Day-Lewis for his role in Last of the Mohicans, you’ve also trained John Barrowman, was that for his role in Torchwood?

David: No I trained John years ago, when he first came over; I think he was in a group of very lowly actors. I trained him for a period at my gymnasium, and then didn’t see any more of him. Then he came back and he was doing a play with a very famous actress up in London when I started training him again. Vanessa Redgrave I trained too, also Edward Heath the British Prime Minister.

GG: And Christopher Reeve for his role in Superman?

David: I’ve never tried so hard to get a part in a film for myself as I did trying to get the Superman role; but I kept getting turned down. They kept saying they wanted an American. So I eventually gave up the idea, but they rang me up and said ‘we’ve got Superman’ to which I said ‘thank you very much’, and they said ‘oh no not you, we’ve got this guy called Christopher Reeve, he’s 6ft 5, weighs about thirteen stone, do you think you can put any weight on him for us?’. So I had him for six weeks; I put nearly three stone on him.

Some of the clients David has personally
trained: Superman Christopher Reeve, John
Barrowman,Vanessa Redgrave,
Daniel Day-Lewis and Jason Donovan
GG: You worked wonders, my mother loved Christopher Reeve in Superman! (Laughter)

David: He was very easy to train, but it wasn’t just a question of that. It was a question of getting his diet right, making sure he had a very high protein diet; all the exercise was turning the protein into healthy muscle. All the time I was training him I was also training the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; travelling there and back.

GG: That’s incredible. So you were a fan of the Superman franchise, going by how much you wanted that role?

"I had terrible problems with him [Christopher Reeve] when he was in the suit."

David:I enjoyed the film, I thought Chris made a wonderful job of Superman. But the only problem with Chris was that he got very peculiar; as soon as he went into the Superman suit, he changed completely; he was like a different guy. I had terrible problems with him when he was in the suit. He was okay up until then, we were like brothers, then all of a sudden he turned on me and that was the end of that. Quite strange.

GG: On a huge plus and much more angelic side, you‘ve mentioned you were the Green Cross Code Man, saving children's lives up and down the country in your green and white suit, but you’re also heavily involved in charitable works. What charities are you involved with at the moment?

David: I recently had Prostate Cancer myself, and my brother had it as well, my mother and her sister and sister’s daughter have all been cancer sufferers. So when I discovered I had it I thought  after I survive it all, I can see how we can raise funds with the cancer charities. I’ve had all the radiotherapy and everything turned out absolutely marvellously, so now I’m involved with the Prostate Cancer Association, as well as the Breast Cancer Association. We’re gearing up for the London Marathon next year whereby we hope to have some 750,000 people involved from different cancer associations. We’re hoping to raise £2 million at least. I’m also involved with the Royal Marsden Hospital and I’m vice president of the Physically Handicapped and Able Bodied Association which is a sort of arthritis charity. I support the Urology Foundation and the list goes on. Once you become a name, a personality, people get in touch with you. There are a lot of peculiar ones that turn up that I say no to, but they ask ‘we don’t want you to do much, but can we use your name as a supporter of our charity?’. If I’m au fait with the charity and think it is good, I’m only too happy to help in any way that I can.

GG: Fantastic, and very honourable as well. I can’t believe you are involved in so many things. Do you ever sit back and think ‘right, I’ve done enough; it’s the quiet life for me now’?

David: No, no, I’m always looking for pastures new. Really my career took off when I was forty, I’m now 76, and I’m working harder now and I’m more involved in life and the things I want to be involved in, in general, a lot more now than when I was younger.

GG: Your energy levels, I’m quite envious (laughter). On that note, thank you so much for your time David, of course Darth Vader, and wish you all the best health.

NB: This interview must not be used anywhere without credit or my permission. 

 Some videos of David's work:

David is doing a number of book signings to celebrate the 2011 release of his autobiography, Straight From The Force's Mouth.
Posted by: Geek Girl Kerensa Creswell-Bryant
Geek Girl, Updated at: 10:24