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From the archive: Dave Prowse ‘could have been Darth Vader, Conan and Jaws’

In this interview from our archives with Darth Vader actor Dave Prowse, who has sadly died, he talks about impressing Stanley Kubrick, getting on the dark side of George Lucas, working for President Reagan, his greatest ever role and overcoming ugly feet

I was absolutely besotted with bodybuilding from the time I was 15 right through to 25 when I was invited to enter the Mr. Universe contest. It took me ten years.

At the end of the competition the chief of the judges came up to me and said, “I’ve got some bad news for you. You’ll never ever win Mr. Universe.” I said, why not? What’s the problem? I was the biggest competitor they’d ever had – I was 6’7” and 17 and a half stone.

He said, “Oh gosh, it’s got nothing to do with your physique – you’ve got ugly feet”.

I had average toes and bunions, and if judges were nitpicking they’d pick up on that. It was a bit late for a pedicure so I changed over to competitive weightlifting and became the British weightlifting champion.

In 1970, out of the blue I got a call to see Stanley Kubrick. He was very pleasant, we had a nice chat together and he offered me a role in A Clockwork Orange. I suddenly became Dave Prowse: actor.

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George Lucas said, “I saw you in Clockwork Orange. If you’re good enough for Stanley Kubrick, you’re good enough for me.”

I don’t go around boasting about the fact that I was Darth Vader or in three of the biggest movies of all time. I was offered the part of Conan the Barbarian before Arnold Schwarzenegger and I came very close to getting the part of Jaws in the James Bond films. I could have been Darth Vader, Conan and Jaws, how about that? But I’m happy with the one I got.

On Star Wars they were absolutely paranoid about secrecy. An article appeared in a newspaper and it said, “Darth Vader to be killed off in next movie – exclusive interview with Dave Prowse”. I’d never done the interview. It had nothing to do with me because we didn’t have scripts for the next films. All they used to do was give you your pages the night before and learn your lines overnight. From then on unfortunately I got tarred with this brush of not being reliable. I haven’t seen George Lucas in donkey’s years. The premiere of [Return of the Jedi] was probably the last time I ever saw him.

I didn’t know they were going to overdub my dialogue. Star Wars came out in the States six months before we saw it over here. We had all the publicity saying what a fantastic movie it was, how fans were queuing for hours on end, then out of the blue I got a cable from the film director Russ Meyer, who was a great friend of mine. He wrote, “Congratulations Dave, you’re in the biggest movie of all time. By the way, do you know they overdubbed your voice?” That was the first I heard.

That’s all in the past. I have a nice time with fans and everyone else. There are lots of things that nobody has an inkling about. I went to the White House and witnessed President Reagan signing the proclamation declaring 1983 to 1992 the UN Decade of Disabled Persons. I was President Reagan’s personal ambassador to the Decade of the Disabled for ten years.

Being the Green Cross Code man was without a doubt the best job I ever had. When we started the campaign in 1976, road accident figures for children were running at a horrendous level – 40,000 children a year were getting knocked down, injured and killed and by the end of the campaign we managed to halve the road accident figures in Britain. It was an amazing campaign. It was so successful because all the kids knew the Green Cross Code man was actually Darth Vader talking to them about road safety.

‘Straight from the Force’s Mouth: The Autobiography of Dave Prowse MBE’ (Apex Publishing, £20) is available from all good bookshops

As told to Steven MacKenzie. Originally published October 2011

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