“Hemorrhoids don’t concern me, Admiral…” That was something Dave Prowse said to me at a party after a sci-fi convention in the 1990s. He was telling me a story about how, on the set of The Empire Strikes Back, they couldn’t hear him very well as he spoke his lines inside the Darth Vader helmet. Everyone knew they would be dubbed later, so Dave thought he’d at least have a little fun with it and get a rise out of the cast and crew, replacing the word asteroids with something funnier. That should give you some insight as to the kind of guy Dave was.
I had the honor of giving Dave his very first website presence. He had put out the call to a few fans and somehow I ended up with the gig. From that day on, he treated me with the respect and dignity of a friend, and not just a person from whom he needed something. We spoke, interviewed, shared pictures, met at conventions, had dinners, and just talked and talked about everything. I met and became friends with his then manager Maxwell Patterson, who was also the loveliest of guys. We made a great little team. The site eventually moved on to someone a little closer to Dave in the UK and I was happy to hand them the keys. Dave thanked me over and over for the hard work and I never forgot it.
There will never be a more iconic moment for me in cinematic history than when Darth Vader first emerged through that smoky door in the original Star Wars film. If you’ve ever spoken to him, you know that he was also very proud of his roles in the Hammer horror films, A Clockwork Orange, and various other BBC shows, not to mention his bodybuilding career and his important role as the Green Cross Code Man, helping little kids cross the roads safely.
On November 28, 2020, Dave Prowse passed away. To him I say thank you for that villainous swagger and the ominous presence you brought to Darth Vader that’s been so important to all of us over the years. You will be missed.
(Original posting: June 01, 1998. This intro has been updated to account for Dave Prowse’s passing on November 28, 2020.)
T-bone: What Star Wars film is your favorite and which one did you like least?
Dave Prowse: Well, they are all good films but I’d have to say my favorite one is Star Wars: A New Hope and the one I like the least is Return of the Jedi.
T-bone: Do you still have any memorabilia or props?
Prowse: I’m not really a prop or memorabilia collector at all. In any case, I don’t go around stealing bits and pieces from any movie on which I work. Security on Empire and Jedi was very tight. We even had to give the pages with our lines on them back at the end of the day’s shooting so they didn’t fall into the wrong hands.
T-bone: Describe the following people in one sentence each: George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand.
Prowse: George Lucas: A man of great vision and an expert in all aspects of film production. Irvin Kershner: One of the nicest, most considerate, and caring directors I’ve ever worked with—a real pleasure. Richard Marquand: I cannot really comment on him as I really had no association with him whatsoever.
T-bone: I heard that you had the choice of either playing Darth Vader or Chewbacca. Why did you choose Vader?
Prowse: George Lucas came over to England late in 1975 and I was asked to go meet him at the 20th Century Fox offices in London at Soho Square. After a brief chat when he’d said he’d seen me in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, he offered me the choice of one of the two roles. The first was Chewbacca which I turned down as I was trying to get away from playing creatures and masked roles. The second was Darth Vader which when he explained that Darth was the big villain in the movie, I immediately accepted. Then I got a copy of the script and it was only when I went to the costume fitting a few days later that I found out that Vader was yet another masked character. However, Darth was such a great role that being masked did not bother me.
T-bone: When and where did you first see Star Wars?
Prowse: We had a special premiere of Star Wars in London in August of 1977, nearly three months after it came out in America, at the Dominion Cinema.
T-bone: What can you tell us about Ian McDiarmid?
Prowse: Nothing, really. We never met throughout the entire filming of Jedi. They were using my stunt double Bob Anderson in most of those scenes. This was probably because most of the Vader/Emperor scenes involved lightsaber duels with Luke. I did hurl the Emperor off the gantry to his death but we used a stunt double in Ian’s place.
T-bone: How did George explain the Force to you? Was it your idea to raise your arm and do that movement with your fingers that has since become a sort of trademark motion?
Prowse: I did not receive any direction at all from George as to what the Force was all about. Everything you see Darth Vader do on the screen as far as acting and personality was of my own invention, yes.
T-bone: Were you given any background on Obi-Wan at all?
Prowse: I only had the description from the script, but of course I had chats with Sir Alec Guinness about both our roles because I wasn’t told anything about the Sith or Vader’s background either.
T-bone: What’s the funniest thing that happened to you on a Star Wars shoot?
Prowse: During one scene in Empire, I fell over the stunt man and the following stormtroopers all fell over me as well—a great scene for a blooper reel!
T-bone: In Empire, was that your scarred head we saw in Vader’s meditation chamber?
Prowse: Yes, that was my head. I wore a special bald cap.
T-bone: Describe Peter Cushing.
Prowse: Peter was one of the nicest and most considerate persons you could wish to meet. I did Hammer’s Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell with him in 1973, Star Wars in 1976, appeared on his This is Your Life tribute, and then finally attended his funeral, cremation, and memorial service. He really was a wonderful and much loved person.
T-bone: How did you do the scenes where Luke loses his hand? Did you ever hurt him by mistake?
Prowse: We didn’t have any accidents in those fight scenes, no. When I chopped his hand off, he was holding a false hand (that held his lightsaber) up his sleeve and just dropped it when I struck him.
T-bone: What is your fondest Star Wars memory?
Prowse: Receiving my first residual cheque from Empire! I always think of Empire as the “thinking man’s” Star Wars and it was by far the most enjoyable one to make, primarily because of the interest shown and the care taken by Irvin Kershner. Jedi was by far the worst for me. I was virtually ostracized during the filming through no fault of my own and was allowed very little input.
T-bone: Were there any convenient “zippers” located in that Vader suit in case the Dark Lord needed to “release his anger?”
Prowse: Oh yes. The trousers had a well disguised zip fly, thank Heavens!
T-bone: You have penned a few books. What are they and when can we expect to see a Dave Prowse autobiography?
Prowse: I have written two books. The first one, published in 1979, is entitled Fitness is Fun which is one part autobiography and three parts about my ideas in bodybuilding, weight training, weight lifting, diet, and exercise in general. The second is a book all about safety for children called Play Safe With the Stars. It covers all aspects of safety for kids—on the roads, at school, in the home—with all the articles being fronted by famous British sports and show business personalities. I have a third book in the pipeline which will probably be published to coincide with the release of the first Star Wars prequel in May of 1999. It’s about all the interesting things that have happened to me over my exciting career. A third of the book covers my working experiences on the three Star Wars films which will be a real eye-opener for the fans.
T-bone: How involved were you with the origins of the Men Behind The Masks tours? Have you had a good time touring with the other actors?
Prowse: I have now been performing at Sci-Fi conventions since 1979 when I did my first Con in Columbus, Ohio, a Gerry Anderson charity convention. Since then, I have appeared all over the world and there does not seem to be any lessening of interest in Star Wars. I actually got the Men Behind The Masks team together first for a convention in Pasadena, California. Initially, it was just a one-off, but due to its tremendous success, we decided to continue on with it under the auspices of Icons Authentic Reproductions, Inc. who have a license from Lucasfilm to produce officially authorized merchandise plus exclusive photos for each of us on the team to sell and sign. The original team consisted of Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Warwick Davis, and of course myself. As time went on, we introduced others into the team including Mike Carter, John Hollis, Caroline Blakiston, Phil Brown, Shelagh Fraser, and Femi Taylor. We are an extremely friendly team. We all get along with each other and we are all aware of the wonderful position we’ve been put in by our association with both George Lucas and with the greatest trilogy of films ever made – the Star Wars trilogy.
T-bone: Other than the Star Wars films, what do you consider to be your best performances?
Prowse: I was the co-lead in a BBC three-part thriller called The Rose Medallion. I played the part of the slightly backward cousin of a seedy, run-down private detective and ran through all three episodes trying to keep him out of trouble. I was able to run the gamut of emotions and the role achieved high critical acclaim. Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell is another part of which I am very proud. The Monster is a very pathetic creature and has to show all sorts of emotions. I’ve always been proud of the way I portrayed him.
T-bone: Your day is pretty packed. Do you still have time to train?
Prowse: When I’m in England, I continue to run my own businesses which include controlling my health studio/gymnasium, doing press, radio and TV interviews, and now that I’m organizing my own conventions, I’m very busy with things like press, promotion, ticket sales, dealing with potential dealers and corporate sponsors, advertising, and of course dealing with the personalities who are coming to the events. I still train whenever possible. I normally train 5 days a week, if my schedule permits.
T-bone: Tell us some things about your body building career.
Prowse: I was a Mr. Universe contender in 1960. I was a British Heavyweight Weight lifter champion in 1962, 1964, and 1967. I was in the World’s Championships in 1962. I did the Empire and Commonwealth games in 1962. I was also named Britain’s Strongest Man from 1965-1970 after which I went into the professional Highland games where I was third best in the world. As a result, I have many friends in the weight lifting and body building world and many top “physiques” have trained with me at my gym. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a friend of mine since he was 19. He trained at my gym and I was one of the judges at the last Mr. Universe contest he won. The last time I was in Los Angeles, Arnold invited me to his restaurant, Shatzi’s on Main, where we had a nice lunch together. I also helped train Christopher Reeve for the first Superman film.
T-bone: Who were your role models as a youngster?
Prowse: My role models as a youngster were all in the body building world. Steve Reeves, Mr. Universe 1950 was number one. Reg Park, Mr. Universe 1951 was number two. I have met both of them recently and I am still in awe of them.
T-bone: There are rumors circulating that you are the “bitter” one of all the Star Wars actors.
Prowse: I am sorry if I seem to come off as bitter or resentful. Apart from Jedi, I had a very enjoyable time working with some very talented people. However, many things happened while working on the films which should never had happened that belittled my contributions to the trilogy. I am very proud to now be associated with the ultimate screen villain of all time and I certainly hope to play any part in the next Star Wars trilogy.
This interview has been updated to account for Dave Prowse’s passing on November 28, 2020.
(Original posting: June 01, 1998)