'Star Wars' Icon Anthony Daniels on C-3PO's New 3D-Printed Suit and Filming 'The Force Awakens'

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Anthony Daniels at Discovery Times Square

Anthony Daniels, the man who wears the golden C-3PO costume and provides the nervous droid’s iconic voice, has appeared in more Star Wars-related media — movies, TV shows, theme park rides, video games and commercials — than anyone else connected to the beloved franchise. And on Thursday, the 69-year-old British actor was repping the series once again, this time at a press preview of a new exhibit of Star Wars costumes and props opening at the Discovery Times Square space.

Daniels — in plainclothes, but standing in front of his shiny plastic suit — spoke with Yahoo Movies on Thursday about his time with the franchise, new developments in C-3PO’s life, and returning for The Force Awakens.

What was it like to go back into the costume?
It’s just like old times. He never leaves my side, because I’m doing a lot of cartoon stuff — not that I wear the costume for that. But he’s constantly with me, and I’m really pretty glad about it.

Was it jarring to see C-3PO’s new red arm?
I was a little surprised. Threepio was very surprised as well. There’s a whole history there. But Threepio has always been kind of tortured. George always loved to break him apart and throw him around. Threepio is the character who suffers all the indignities. He survives, though, which is nice for him — and really nice for me.

And now BB-8 joins the droid gang.
When I saw BB-8 on set for the first time, I was confused because I wasn’t sure how it was happening. And then we got to work together, and I just fell in love, it’s just brilliant. He… it… I don’t know what gender it is, but I call it “he.” But it was one of the most clever pieces of filmmaking that I’ve seen.

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People already love to play with the little remote-controlled BB-8 toy.
That’s right, I played with that in the airport the other day. There’s something utterly adorable about him. Threepio’s slightly outshone, I think. For The Force Awakens, when J.J. Abrams asked me if I would be in it, he said, “Do you just want to do the voice?” And I said, “I want to be in the costume, but I want it to be faster.” So what they did was 3D print it. It weighs about the same, I would say, because the plastic is quite heavy, but it allows you to prototype things. So it looks exactly the same, but there are differences to the way it fits together that make it much faster to put on and take off, which is most important. It gets hot in there.

And you shot in the desert.
The thing about deserts is that the sand is gruesome. You get sand in any of these [costume hinges] and it makes a terrible grinding sound. But Threepio reflects the heat. I also still see only through little peepholes. It’s total tunnel vision, which means I have to rehearse everything and know where everything is because I’m pretending to see more.

Obviously there’s not a person inside BB-8. Was it difficult to interact with a little robotic droid?
You’re asking me a very direct question about The Force Awakens. I can have you arrested for that kind of thing [laughs]. There will be documentaries about how it’s done. The guys who did it deserve to talk about it. I was merely an observer. And I’m realizing that I’m smiling so much because I kept smiling at BB-8. I’ve only got to look at “him” and I’ll smile. I get confused with [BB-8’s] gender.

We don’t know C-3PO’s gender, technically.
I think you need to merely look. It’s not female. And I guess I have a fairly male voice. Although Threepio, being such a nervous character, does talk slightly higher up in the register, because he’s basically terrified the entire time. When anyone gets nervous, all those muscles constrict and bring everything up to the throat. And one reason I do go to the gym a lot is to be able to support the whole costume, which really comes from the core muscles. He’s very uptight, so I can’t slouch. Even when I’m looping and dubbing things [for dialogue replacement and cartoons], I do stand like Threepio.

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Do you smile and frown in the costume?
Yes, totally. It’s like someone playing Mickey Mouse at Disney World — it’s exactly the same thing. Because you can’t do happy talk unless you’re actually smiling, because your whole system connects in that way. So Threepio is totally doing the emotion, which looks quite weird when I’m rehearsing without the costume. But I have to be him when I’m rehearsing, so there are very overt expressions on my face, and I think it’s quite surprising to people. But that’s the way I am inside so I can get a performance through the plastic. Sometimes the smallest little bits of movement and stillness read really, really well.

Has it been nice to stay with the character all these years through the cartoons and commercials, too?
Absolutely, it’s been a gift. George didn’t want to use my voice originally, and then he had the generosity to change his mind. Because of that, I’ve had so much involvement. And it was so funny, going back to The Force Awakens, people ask, “What was it like to be Threepio again?” And I said, “I was doing it last week in a studio in Soho.” But there’s difference between doing a wacky Lego cartoon — which are just hilarious — and the film, which is much more serious.

What was it like being back with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford on set?
It was an absolute treat. The first time was at the read-through. I was sitting next to Mark, and there’s Harrison and Carrie, and it just felt really good, because they were all really comfortable, it seemed to me. It was like we’d all suddenly come home. And I don’t think any of us ever thought it would ever happen again. I was in the prequels, but I never thought I’d be in the room with Harrison again.

Have you seen the movie?
I’ve seen bits. I’ve watched what I’ve done [on screen] so I can [record] voiceover. So I’ve seen those bits. Some of the shots were so compelling, even if they were in the middle of the night, I stayed. I thought, “I’m standing here! This is happening, this is real!” That was such a treat. That’s like winning the Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. I had this ticket to be there and admire and say, “How did they do this?” The hugeness of this film, you will see. Technology in this one has really helped with the filming process, but doesn’t intrude.

They used a lot of physical props and practical effects this time, right?
A lot of physical things, which really helped the actors relate to the world. For instance, BB-8 is right there, and I can talk to… the thing. Because often in the prequels, R2-D2 wasn’t actually there. I knew where he was physically, and there was no reply anyway — that’s in post-production — so I was used to making that stuff up. But when you have real sets, it’s much more exciting. It’s real fun. All the cast really appreciated the effort of building the set.

Watch the latest trailer for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’: