To some older readers his last name may sound familiar; his father was none other than Morris Ankrum, an actor that was featured in many TV series and movies.
I was lucky to have the chance to ask David some questions about his career, Star Wars, and growing up with a certain effects legend...
How did you get started in the movie business?
I read that you grew up in an acting family so they must have had something to do with it.
Yes. I was certainly influenced at an early age. I’ve always had a very active imagination. When I was nine years old I tied a towel around my neck and became Superman. I climbed up onto our roof and jumped off. I know I was flying for a second but the Kryptonite got me. I landed hard in the front lawn and sprained my ankle. But for that one second I was Superman. That was a close as I came to playing a Superhero until I was cast as the voice of Wedge Antilles in Star Wars. But to answer your question, yes growing up in a family of actors had a big influence on me. My father was always coming home for work in some wardrobe. Cowboy outfit, Indian makeup still on, mad scientist. He'd pour himself a scotch and complain about his television roles. He really loved the stage. He was bigger than life. I did have a chance to visit him on the set of an old TV series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. It was an American children's television program the aired on ABC from October 1954 until August 1959. It starred child actor Lee Aaker as Rusty, a boy orphaned in an Indian raid, who was being raised by the soldiers at a US Cavalry post. He and his German shepherd dog, Rin Tin Tin, helped the soldiers to establish order in the American West.
It was shot on location up in the Angeles Crest Forest. When I arrived on the set my father was already there in his cavalry uniform. I noticed that I was seeing double. There were two Rin Tin Tins and two Rustys. My first encounter into the world of Television make believe. I did spend time on Television and Film sets when I was a child visiting my father.
How did you get cast as a voice actor for Star Wars: A New Hope?
Well, Fred Roos, who had cast my stepfather William Challee in the film Five Easy Pieces to play Jack Nicholson’s father, became a patron of my family’s art business. One of the artists that The Ankrum Gallery represented was Bernie Casey. Bernie had written a book of poetry and he decided to do a staged reading of the book at the art gallery. I was cast in the reading along with the actor Michael Warren. Fred Roos attended the reading. He then cast me in my first union film Every Little Crook And Nanny starring Lynn Redgrave. I had a scene with Victor Mature. I played a longhaired hippie. A few years later Fred called me in to read for a role in a sci-fi film that George Lucas was doing something called Star Wars. I auditioned for C-3PO. I never heard a word and a several months later, out of the blue, he called me to come in and do the voice of Wedge Antilles. And there you have it: The Hollywood machine in action.
Did you voice Wedge Antilles for all three movies?
No. Just Star Wars: A New Hope. I believe Denis Lawson worked on an American accent and it worked for the rest of the films.
Have you ever met Wedge actor Denis Lawson?
No but I’d love to meet him. At the Anaheim Comic Con 2010 a collector showed me an action figure of Wedge Antilles. It was signed by Denis Lawson and me. I had signed it at a convention a couple of years earlier. The collector really wanted both of our signatures on the piece so he tracked Denis down. He waited outside of a theatre in London and approached Denis as he left the theatre. Denis saw my signature on the action figure. That’s as close as I’ve gotten to Denis. But now I’m producing a film with an English company. One of the producers is good friends with Denis. I may meet him yet.
I read that you also dubbed actor Colin Higgins in A New Hope. Are there other characters you voiced as well?
In the briefing room scene, I did the dialogue for the actor Colin Higgins. “That’s impossible, even for a computer”. George wanted Wedge to be in the briefing room. Denis wasn’t available so, George cast Colin and I voiced him. My voice was established as the voice of Wedge.
Can you share some of your memories regarding the time you worked on Star Wars?
At that time, back in 1977, it was titled Star Wars. There was no A New Hope. I only worked for a few hours one afternoon in a post production facility in Hollywood. Working side by side with George Lucas was a treat.
How did George Lucas direct you? And what impression did he make on you?
I met George at the post production facility in Hollywood. He was standing beside me as I voiced all of the dialogue that the actor Denis Lawson spoke as Red 2/Wedge. George gave me some direction on certain lines. “I’m hit!” “Fighters coming in point three!” “Look at the size of that thing!” Mark Hamill arrived as I was finishing up. He was going to redo some of his dialogue. He was reclined on a couch. Very relaxed, having a good time and waiting for his turn at the microphone. That was a very thrilling afternoon.
You grew up with special effects legend Dennis Muren. Can you tell something about that?
I had a lot of fun working with Dennis Muren on his early special effects experiments. My younger brother, Cary, worked on them too. There was one film where I was a giant and I crushed my tiny brother. I stomped on him wearing a tennis shoe. You actually can see this footage in the DVD set of Equinox. It was one of Dennis’ first films. In the extra footage on the DVD he talks about his early days and making films in his garage. You will see me crush my miniature brother. Also, there were some very cool flying saucer effects, exploding battleships, dams bursting and floods. The three of us collected 8 x 10 stills and posters and lobby cards from all of the horror and sci-fi films of the 50’s. Forest J. Ackerman came to my house to interview us and take some pictures for Famous Monsters Magazine. We set up a monster museum in my garage which was full of photos and special effects. I have a picture of that day. It is also in the extra footage on the Equinox film. Who knew that 16 years later Dennis and I would both be involved in Star Wars? Very cool. I still stay in touch with him. Those were some very cherished days back in 1961.
How come you weren’t cast for the Star Wars: Clone Wars animation series? There are many voice actors involved with this series and since you have worked for Lucasfilm before I would have guessed they would pick you again.
I’m not sure why. For the past 12 years I’ve been working as a talent and literary agent. I’ve switched over to the dark side. I’ve been out of the loop as an actor. I’d love to be involved again in some Star Wars project. Maybe someday. I am beginning to get involved in packaging films and some producing.
You have attended many conventions and met many fans. What do you regard as the strangest or weirdest thing that has ever happened to you at a convention?
There was an amazing impromptu lightsaber war that took place high up on a bridge at Celebration Europe 2007. Gotta love those fans.
How do you look back at your Star Wars work, and what would be your best memory regarding Star Wars?
The conventions. The world travel. Meeting terrific fans. Actors. Forging new memories. New friendships. The galaxy that was far, far away doesn’t seem that far away anymore. Its lives in all of us.
What are you currently up to? Do you have new projects?
I just completed packaging a film that will start shooting this August in Los Angeles called The Victim. It’s a psychological thriller starring Michael Biehn, Jennifer Blanc, Danielle Harris and Ryan Honey. I’m also producing a horror film titled The Vines that will be directed by David Armstrong. He was the cinematographer for all of the Saw films.
Is there anything you want to say to the readers? Here is your chance!