For the benefit of this particular tribute, as it’s Star Wars Day, we’re going to be focusing on Cushing’s work on the original Star Wars as the commander of the Death Star, Grand Moff Tarkin – a role which he absolutely dominated. But let’s not forget that he was a very popular and accomplished actor, appearing in 131 films / shows across his career. He was very active in fund raising, particularly for cancer charities, and was awarded an OBE in 1989.
Is it just me, or are all the people who worked on the Star Wars movies just incredibly nice and generous? There is so much amazing charity work which has been done by the late cast of the movie, and which continues to this day in their names, and by the cast members who remain with us.
At the time of filming, Cushing was one of the most well known actors on set (alongside Alec Guiness who played the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi – a role which Cushing wanted) and reportedly earned as much as $2,000 per day whilst Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford supposedly earned $1,000, $850 and $750 per week, respectively. However, whether it was just his natural charm or level of professionalism from such a distinguished career, he was well liked by the rest of the cast and crew.
Carrie Fisher when having to act closely with him in the scene where she tells Tarkin that he has a foul stench she actually said that he smelled of lavender and linen and found it hard to act that she hated Tarkin as she liked Cushing so much. he even went as far as wearing white gloves when taking smoke breaks so that there was no chance of him getting nicotine stains on his fingers for the makeup artists to worry about.
As I mentioned above he actually originally wanted to play Obi-Wan Kenobi, but other filming schedules made it almost impossible to fit in that part, whereas Tarkin had a far less busy filming schedule. Although George Lucas had claimed that he always had Cushing as his first choice for the role which was on advertisements often billed as the main antagonist of the movie (rather than Darth Vader).
He’s a staple part of Star Wars lore, both as an actor and as the character (for example did you know that in scenes where you only see his head and torso he’s actually wearing slippers as the boots which he was given were far too small and thus painful to wear). But he really was far more than that as an actor, with Star Wars actually being one of his latter projects – his only regret with the movie was actually that he didn’t want to be killed off so that he could star in the sequels – something which he sort of did in the end as his likeness was used in CGI form in Rogue One.
Other notable films and series he was in include the Hammer House of Horror series which really helped to define his career and find his niche, Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice (the series), Dracula A.D. 1972, the Man in the Iron Mask, Dracula, the Brides of Dracula, the Hellfire Club, Dr. Who and the Daleks and many more!
Peter Cushing passed away on 11th August 1994 after a slow decline in his health since 1982 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. This is 22 years before he made his final big screen appearance in Rogue One. Whilst it caused some controversy it was agreed by his old secretary and his estate and it seemed that more everyone who knew him it was a wonderful experience and I think it’s nice in a way that all those years later – even though he would not get to see it himself, he got his wish and appeared in another Star Wars movie.