Anthony Daniels admits that being a pop icon can get old. But the man who played the gleaming gold robot C-3PO in all six "Star Wars" movies is by no means complaining. When hundreds of thousands of people have been so touched by your work, it's hard to stay too down.
"Yes, there were times when it felt old, and almost - I'm going to use the word 'embarrassing,' without meaning to be unkind," says the 63-year-old British actor, who will be at 1st Mariner Arena Wednesday night to serve as narrator for "Star Wars in Concert," a multimedia presentation of John Williams' Oscar-winning scores, complete with orchestra, a huge movie screen and all manner of light effects. "I think there were some people who think I must be rather stupid or untalented, to play a robot. You know, 'What kind of actor is that, who would play a robot?'
"But when it's C-3PO, and it's that 'Star Wars' world, it's sort-of pretty good, isn't it? I have to get over that sense of, 'Shouldn't I be in the Royal Shakespeare Company, or the National Theatre again?' "
Certainly, his being known almost exclusively as C-3PO doesn't bother his fans, who relish his almost unparalleled connection to their beloved "Star Wars" franchise (he and Kenny Baker, who plays R2-D2, are the only actors to play in all six films) and his easy identification with the role. If Daniels has ever felt limited by C-3PO, he's done a good job of hiding it, making himself accessible to fans and serving as one of the films' most eager ambassadors.
The key, he says, is understanding what people get out of the films, which started as an unlikely story idea in the mind of director George Lucas: an Akira Kurosawa samurai adventure set in outer space. A single film released with little advance fanfare, "Star Wars" grew into one of the most successful franchises in film history, as well as one of the most revered. Fans started getting their hair styled like Princess Leia and adopting Han Solo's swagger, couldn't get enough of the characters, struggled to understand and even elaborate on "The Force," emulated the wisdom of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Jedi knights.
The adulation caught Daniels, as well as most of the other cast members, unawares at first. But he quickly realized the enthusiasm was genuine, and in a very real way, flattering.
"George and I had the joy of making the films, and indeed, the pain," says Daniels. "But I finally understood that all of these people get something wild and wonderful out of it, and they all get it together, at the same time.
"I am part of the thing they love, and therefore the tiniest bit of that love and affection and joy has to [fall] to me from time to time. And that is a wonderful feeling. I'm smiling as I say it."
In the more than 30 years since he started playing C-3PO, giving his distinctly British accent to a character who comes across as the fussiest of English butlers, Daniels has never strayed far from the "Star Wars" franchise - ironic, perhaps, since as Daniels notes, "George had to be dragged kicking and screaming to use my voice in the end, as they wanted to re-voice me." He continues providing the voice of C-3PO for the "Clone Wars" animated series, and in January will begin working with Disney on a re-imagining of the popular "Star Tours" ride at the Disney theme parks.
And then there's "Star Wars in Concert," which gives Daniels the welcome opportunity to connect with his fan base without having to put on a metal suit (although C-3PO's suit will be there, part of a large collection of authentic "Star Wars" costumes and props on display). Even die-hard fans, he promises, will find something new - even beyond the experience of hearing the music played by an 86-piece orchestra, accompanied by up to 100 singers.
"If you imagine a giant rock concert," he says, "and take away the rock music, but keep the stage and the huge lighting array and the huge sound system, and add in the stage, with a huge set and a giant 100-foot window screen and soft black drapes that are woven with LED lights that come alive. ... It's spectacular."
And if the narrator's voice sounds familiar ... well, that's the idea.
"The nicest thing about 'Star Wars in Concert' is, it's not 3PO," says Daniels. "He appears briefly, And, as it were, by reference. But I know that it's me, standing in front of 25,000 people a night, being listened to. And there is nothing more powerful than having 25,000 people silently absorbed by what you're saying, the story you're telling. ... It feels magical, absolutely wonderful."
If you go
Star Wars in Concert is at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the costume and props exhibit
Tickets $35-$75. Information: 410-347-2010 or baltimorearena.com