LONDON — "What d'ya mean, 'Darth Vader wore white suspenders?' "
David Prowse--three-time Darth Vader, one-time weight coach of "Superman" Christopher Reeve and my new body designer--was trying to take my mind off the pain by overloading me with juicy gossip about the "Star Wars" movies.
We were on the top floor of his London gym. As we finished the second of five sets of stomach exercises, his feet dropped lightly to the blue carpet. Mine dropped like a bag of sand.
Each stomach set included 20 leg lifts, 20 sit-ups and 100 scissors, all done without resting, but all done s-l-o-w-l-y. Five setstotaled 700 repetitions, if I lived through them. David wanted me to do this every morning--as a warm-up to our regular stomach work.
I stalled for time between sets by talking about the suspenders. "Did you really wear braces?"
David's expressive eyebrows went up, far up. "I did. Had to hold my blooming pants up. The blooming things kept trying to fall down."
Darth Vader shuffling around with his pants around his knees. I liked the image.
"And what about the mask?" I asked as he lifted his legs to start the third set.
"Two pieces. The face was fitted on with straps that tied behind my head. I had a special circular piece at top on which the helmet fitted." During this time, David's legs had been suspended above the floor as if frozen there. He looked at my legs, still resting on the carpet.
"Remar, shall we start? Only 420 to go." We began set three.
"The most vexing problem," he continued, "was the eyes. Since the camera could see my eyes in the mask, they put dark lenses over the eyes. So I started viewing things through that triangular mouthpiece, down to the floor. And then they decided they could see through that, so they covered the inside with black gauze. I was essentially blind."
A blind Darth Vader with his pants around his knees. I liked that image even better, and desperately fixed on it as my scissor count approached 20 of 100 in the third set.
"David, did you ever want to be Darth Vader's voice, too?"
The eyebrows recast his face to a more somber look. "I thought I was. In the first movie, I said all the lines. I didn't know they had dubbed over my voice until a friend in California who saw the movie sent me a cable.
"I mean, I knew nothing about it at all." He stopped talking just long enough to watch my leg lifts for a second. "Slow down, Remar." David's emphasis on these few words left no doubt in my mind that his voice, when a little irritated, would have been just right for Darth Vader, though perhaps a little British. I promptly told him so. He nodded and continued.
David Prowse is not bitter, however, about his involvement with "Star Wars," though he was kept in the dark about things like his voice. He is the first person to tell you the movies changed his life and made him one of the most well-known anonymous people on earth--the perfect American Express "Do you know me?" commercial.
We finished the third set of stomach exercises and started the fourth. Only 240 repetitions to go. . . . By now my stomach and legs felt as if they had been sliced by a light saber, though I knew those things never really existed. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker fought with sticks like curtain rods, a shocking revelation.
Glances of Women
David, however, made even that revelation seem unimportant. "Remar, how much exercise have you been doing?" he asked on count number 60.
"Well, I bike 10 miles a day, run about five, walk four miles along the beach acknowledging the glances of beautiful women, swim a mile or two, bike to the Explorers Society and scuba dive a couple of times." (I exaggerated just a little on everything, but that seemed OK at the moment.)
"Oh," he said. "And how much do you eat?"
"Only the best, healthiest foods. And I don't snack much and stay away from large quantities."
"Oh," he said again. "I think that's the problem."
"You exercise too much. And you don't eat enough. You need to be eating at least five times a day, lots and lots of carbohydrates and protein. That's the only way you're going to put on muscles."
I blinked. "But won't I get fat? I mean, David, it scares me to death to think about eating a lot and exercising less. I'm nearly handsome now, you know." I said it half in jest and half defensively.
"Remar, you can't do that much aerobic activity, much more than necessary for aerobic fitness, and gain muscle mass at the same time. You've got to eat if you want muscles."
My mother has a wonderful way of describing heaven: "You can eat everything you want, and it will be good for you." I thought about that as I happily finished my fifth set of David Prowse stomach exercises. I wasn't in heaven yet, but I was getting closer. A bigger thrill than any old "Star Wars" movie.