Peter Diamond (1929-2004) was the stunt coordinator for the original Star Wars trilogy, but he was much more than a well-established master at the art of stunt performing. He was also an actor, fencer, and filmmaker. Being a man of many talents, it’s no surprise to learn that he performed many of the minor roles in the Star Wars films like the Tusken Raider who attacked Luke, the cantina patron who squeals to the Stormtroopers, or one of many dedicated Stormtroopers serving the Empire. Peter took a few minutes to talk to me about his long career in the entertainment industry and, of course, his many roles in the Star Wars saga. (Original Posting: December 11, 2000)
In addition to being a stunt coordinator, you’ve also acted in some films. Were you thrown into acting as a result of your stunt work or was acting something you wanted to do anyhow?
I trained as an actor having gained a scholarship at the famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. I understand actors through my background and consequently can discuss a dramatic sequence with when coordinating a fight sequence.
Are you friends with Nick Gillard, Stunt Coordinator of the Prequels? Have you ever worked together?
Like myself, Nick is a member of the British Actors Stunt Register. So I do know him. I gave him one of his first jobs as a horseman over 20 years ago. He doesn’t mention any sword pictures in his C.V. so perhaps this Star Wars is his only fencing credit – I don’t know.
How many roles did you play in the Star Wars films?
I have lost count of the number of roles I played in Star Wars. All I can say is that my characters were all stunt related, like playing a Snowtrooper in The Empire Strikes Back when his gun exploded or a Stormtrooper in Star Wars when Leia shot him off the top ledge in the Death Star.
Can you easily spot yourself on screen?
I remember the ledge one, getting shot when Obi-wan is killed, in the carbon freezing chamber when Chewie threw one of us and virtually any Stormtrooper action sequence.
Tell me about performing as the Tusken Raider that attacks Luke?
I coordinated and choreographed the action for this. I suggested the weapon to use for the best effect to George. Also I was the only stunt type person in Tunisia. Mark Hamill had confidence in me and knew I would be safe to fight him. So it was only natural I should play the Tusken Raider character.
Now I understand that in the Cantina scenes in the original Star Wars, you were the guy in the cantina who goes and squeals to the Stormtroopers.
In the cantina sequence, what you saw in the film was all we photographed – as for Tunisia, the Stromtroopers I spoke to were Tunisian so I just said anything to them because they didn’t understand me.
You also played one of the Death Star officers who got shot in the control room. What did they use to make the gunshots look like they hit you?
There were only 3 stunt people engaged in Star Wars, so all 3 played every stunt action part. The gunshot hits were created by special effect bullet hits which sparkled and smoked when ignited.
There were quite a number of Biker Scout actors in Return of the Jedi. But I went to the studio to film the this particular sequence on a green screen – falling of the bike several times onto a stunt pad as Luke jumped from his bike onto mine and knocked me off.
On your website it says that you “used a torn pair of trousers to convince Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher to swing across the Death Star chasm in Star Wars.”
Just prior to filming the swing, another stunt artist and myself had to demonstrate that it was safe to use and rigged correctly. On the demonstration my harness tore. All concerned heard this and both Mark and Carrie were thinking it was unsafe and refused to undertake the swing. From my position above them I said, “What’s the problem?” and I showed them a split in my trousers which had happened previously whilst rehearsing the lightsaber fight. I said, “Oh, that was my trousers tearing,” and showed them the tear. They believed my lie and we got the swing in one take.
In Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back your title was Stunt Coordinator but in Return of the Jedi it was Stunt Arranger while Glenn Randall was named Coordinator.
My contract on Return of the Jedi said stunt coordinator and fencing master. However as some of the film was filmed in America, I have no idea why, but it was changed so, I think, I could legally film the sword fights.
Did you ever wear the Vader costume – even for a minute?
Darth Vader is 6′ 7”, I’m 5′ 9”. I can safely say that at no time did I wear a Vader costume of double him. However, I specialize in training and choreographing actors in the theatre and they were like all actors, keen to look good in their roles.
Can you say a few words about Sir Alec Guinness for us now that he’s passed on?
I had already met and worked with him on TV. Although other crew members were in awe on this fantastic actor I always found him shy, humble, and a perfect gentleman.
What’s the worst injury you’ve had doing a film?
I have never broken a bone or had stitches. I look on myself as a creative technician and try to utilize camera techniques and angles to give the necessary cinematic effect.
What safety precautions do you always need on the set of a film in case things go wrong?
First aid paramedics!
What’s the most dangerous stunt you performed in a Star Wars film? How about the most dangerous stunt by anyone on your team on a Star Wars film?
My most dangerous stunt wasn’t even in Return of the Jedi final cut – Jabba’s palace, I was dressed as a “Lightman”. I had over 100 electric bulbs attached to my body and had to walk across set. The heat was unbearable and I always had the problem of tripping up over the many wires attached to me as I could not see. The most dangerous stunt by any crew was in Return of the Jedi – the double for Han Solo fell off one of Jabba barge and his harness snapped breaking his legs as his fell into the pit.
Now you worked with Bob Anderson on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Were you his boss?
In any choreographed sword fight you are only as good as the person you fight. Bob and I have been fight friends for over 40 years and between us have over 1000 shows. I was the boss on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and brought Bob in because he was the best swordsplayer and double for Darth Vader. I must add that Bob has also done the same for me when he has been the fight coordinator on his own films, hence Zorro.
Speaking of Zorro, how difficult was it to train someone like Anthony Hopkins for that film? He doesn’t seem like a very physical actor. Did you work with Banderas at all?
I am a very experienced registered theatre fight director- National theatre, Stratford, Shakespeare etc., so I find coaching actors in their roles not difficult. Hopkins belies his appearance and is very coordinated and a physical actor. I have never met Banderas. Bob Anderson was the fencing master on Zorro and he sent me his routines in which I played the Banderas part as I coached Hopkins for the role.
I have to say that the sword fight from The Princess Bride has always been a favorite of mine.
I choreographed the action from William Goldman’s script and showed Rob Reiner each piece as rehearsals progressed. I coached both Carey Elwes and Mandy Patinkin for four weeks prior to shooting, but as I was also stunt coordinator I ask the production to let me have Bob Anderson to oversee my work when I was busy coordinating the physical action sequences. When a company engages you, they expect creativity so I looked for things that other sword movies hadn’t done. Both actors worked hard under the eye of myself or Bob whilst we polished up their swordsmanship.
What was it like to work with Christopher Lee in those Dracula films? Are you aware he has been cast in Star Wars: Episode II?
He is the true professional, always punctual, ready to rehearse knowing that someone like me is only interested in perfection from the action sequences. I didn’t know he was in Episode II so I look forward to viewing him in it. I make a point of never intruding on actors or production heads privacy after I finish my engagements, but I am always on speaking terms should our paths cross in the studios.
Do you enjoy the convention circuit?
Yes I do, I like meeting other actors again and the fans. I am always asked about the Tusken Raider and fortunately I have photo of myself without the mask on so I can always prove it was me!
What’s next for you?
Currently looking for financial backing for my own production of Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville, which is a kind of Errol Flynn/Captain Blood movie – lavish costumes, swashbuckling and romance, a family adventure. I am also looking do some sequences using computer generated graphics.
For more information about Peter Diamond and his life as a stunt coordinator, you can head over to his official website at HTTP://WWW.PETERDIAMOND.CO.UK
* This interview has been edited from its original form to account for Peter’s death in 2004.