When you think of Darth Vader what comes to mind? His imposing form? His booming voice? His powerful strides? Two out of those three things are thanks to actor David Prowse.
Above Image: David Prowse in Darth Vader costume
Actor James Earl Jones is the voice of Darth Vader, but 77-year-old David Prowse wore the costume in the original Star Wars films. It was his powerful performance and imposing 6′ 6″ build that brought Darth Vader to life.
There are some things about the man that most people don’t know.
If you think you know everything about Star Wars, then read on to find out more about the man behind the mask: David Prowse.
8. Prowse Bench-Pressed the Emperor
|Vader uses the little-known “Force Wedgie”
David Prowse Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
In the film Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), when they went to film the scene of Darth Vader throwing the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) into the shaft, they weren’t using David Prowse. Most of the scenes in Return of the Jedi were done using old footage and stunt doubles. He was sitting around the studio watching his stunt double get suited up for the scene. But the stunt double was a tall skinny guy, while Prowse is the British weightlifting champion. They spent an entire week trying to shoot the scene and he was getting fed up. He went up to director Richard Marquand and said, “Look, I can do this in one shot.” Marquand said, “What do you mean you can do this in one take?”
Prowse remembers, “So on the following Monday, I got dressed up, everything was ready, and I picked him up like I was lifting a barbell. I put him across my chest, took a couple steps towards the balcony and threw him over! [Laughs] All in one shot. The whole thing was ridiculous.”
7. Prowse Saved the Lives of Thousands of Children
|David Prowse as “Green Cross Code Man”|
In the 1970s,
Britain started a campaign to educate children how to safely cross the
street. Part of the campaign was a series of commercials and public
appearances by the superhero known as “Green Cross Code Man”.
“I was this Green Cross Code Man for five years on TV.” David Prowse remembered,
“I used to do three commercials a year over five years, so we did
fifteen television commercials for this campaign. Then the department of
transports asked me if I could go into schools and give talks to the
children about road safety, and so for 14 years I went to all these
schools and I eventually went to 700 cities throughout the world, I went
to over 2000 schools, I spoke to over half a million children. The net
result was, at the end, that we actually reduced the road accident
figures in Great Britain by over a half, they went down from over 40000
to less than 20000… We actually saved something like a quarter of a
million children’s lives. It was a fantastic campaign to me. That’s the
best thing I’ve ever done!”
He’s a real-life superhero.
6. A Documentary Got Him Kicked Out of Star Wars Conventions
|“So I said, “George, Jar Jar will never work…is this being recorded?”
David Prowse The People vs. George Lucas
The actor had a strained relationship with director George Lucas, but things reached the breaking point when he accidentally appearing in anti-Lucas film The People Versus George Lucas (2010).
“I travel all the way round the world, and people always ask, ‘Can I do an interview with you?’.” Prowse said, “You have no idea where these interviews are going to go and this one found its way into this documentary. Obviously Lucas didn’t like it, and as soon as the film hit, they put the block on me.”
He was permanently banned (uninvited) from LucasFilm events. How does he feel about not going to LucasFilm conventions? On missing the conventions, he said: “They were lovely. It’s a shame for the fans as well. How can you have a Star Wars convention without Darth Vader?”
5. Prowse Helped Make Superman
|Christopher Reeve working out from superman1978.com|
Prowse helped train Christopher Reeve for the role of Superman in the 1978 film after trying out for the part himself. He lobbied hard for the role of Superman and, in an interview, was told, “We’ve found our Superman.” His response was “Thank you very much.” But then he was told the actor Christopher Reeve had been chosen and he was only going to be his trainer. David Prowse took the disappointment in stride and threw himself into the task.
Prowse remembers,”The director told me I was perfect except, of course, that I was British and not American and that the Americans wouldn’t accept an Englishman as this great American hero. This was before of course they foisted Kevin Costner on us as Robin Hood! Anyway, I did indeed train Chris for the part, as he was quite skinny when he first came to me. I had him on protein drinks and exercise for six weeks! He got into the regime though and made the best from it.”
Ironically enough, years later, British actor Henry Cavill is playing Superman in Man of Steel (2013)
4. Prowse Made Up His Dialogue On Set
|“So that’s why they call it your throne room…”
In the first Star Wars film,
he acted and said the lines on set because he thought he would be used.
But in post-production James Earl Jones recorded the voice of Darth
Vader. This disappointed Prowse and in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi he didn’t always bother to read the lines as written.
For example, Prowse recalled,
“I had to say to the captain something like ‘Asteroids do not concern
me, I need that ship!’ for of course I still had to speak all of Vader’s
dialogue so the other actor’s could respond to me. Only instead I said,
quite sternly, ‘Hemorrhoids do not concern me, I need to s**t!’
3. Prowse Makes No Money From Star Wars
|“Wait…you’re getting paid for this?!”
David Prowse, Peter Cushing and Mark Hammill
Star Wars Episode V Return of the Jedi is an unqualified success after grossing $475 million on a budget of $32 million. Prowse claims his contract for the film gave him a share of profits on the film, but that he’s never gotten residuals for his performance. Due to Hollywood accounting, the actual profits are sent as “distribution fees” to the studio. This isn’t strange, unfortunately, since Star Wars actor Carrie Fisher said the same thing.
2. Prowse Doesn’t like Science-fiction
|“It’s nice but I prefer ‘Jane Eyre”
Despite being in the most popular science-fiction films ever made, Prowse is not a fan of science-fiction. “To be honest, I’m not a sci fi fan. I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek. I’ve never seen it on TV, I’ve never seen it on film. Sci fi films don’t interest me. I never thought Star Wars was really a sci fi film. I just thought of it as a very interesting adventure movie. Like cowboys and Indians, but set in space. Good guys and bad guys.”
1. Prowse Got Into Acting Thanks to Harrods department store
|David Prowse at Harrods Department Store seattlepi.com|
In 1976, Harrods Department store launched a sports department called “Olympic Way”. They hired experts, like fitness guru David Prowse, to give advice. Space: 1999 Director Robert Lynn went in asking for advice on exercise equipment, and hired him for the physically demanding role of the unstoppable creature in the December 1976 episode “The Beta Cloud“. Soon after Space: 1999, Prowse was cast as Darth Vader in Star Wars.
What do you think of David Prowse? Did you learn anything about the man behind the mask?