David Prowse parlayed a reputation as the best-known ‘heavy’ in modern British show business into the role of Darth Vader — and became a symbol of villainy for a whole generation of film-goers. “Darth’s the bad guy,” he smiles at the thought. “And everyone knows it.”
Prowse began as a weightlifter and bodybuilder, winning the British championship for three consecutive years. Offered a part in a play (Don’t Let Summer Come), he retired from lifting iron and moved into lifting audience’s eyes.
“I starred in a Bond film, “Casino Royale” the six-foot- seven actor remembers. “I played the Frankenstein monster.”
A series of monster parts followed, most of them for the great Hammer Films company of England. “I did Horror of Frankenstein, then Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell.” The smile reappears. “Finally they let me take the makeup off in a thing called Vampire Circus.”
The films attracted the attention of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who offered Prowse a meatier part — albeit one with some physical challenges: “Stanley Kubrick gave me a real test in A Clockwork Orange,” Prowse recalls. “He kept doing retakes of a scene where I had to lift Patrick Magee and his wheelchair up a short flight of stairs. I finally had to tell him I was getting tired and just couldn’t do it any more.”
After Clockwork, Prowse turned to his first love, opening and running a fully equipped gymnasium in London. He worked with Christopher Reeve, building up the young actor so he could properly fit the costume of Superman. “I also worked as the Green Cross man, helping teach school children about safety on the streets.” His efforts helped reduce child pedestrian accidents in England, a fine achievement you might not expect from Darth Vader…but you could from Dave Prowse.
Present at FACTS: 2003