5 little-known facts about Grand Moff Tarkin actor Peter Cushing

Grand Moff Tarkin (played by Peter Cushing) in Star Wars. Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm.
Grand Moff Tarkin (played by Peter Cushing) in Star Wars. Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm. /

While Darth Vader may have been the most famous villain to come from the original Star Wars movie, we can’t forget about Grand Moff Tarkin, the man who gave the order to destroy the planet Alderaan. Tarkin was played by famous British actor Peter Cushing who, at that point, was probably best known for his roles in the Hammer series of horror films or his turn as detective Sherlock Holmes. Still, like most people who have appeared in the saga, it was his work on Star Wars that he became most known for.

Here are five little-known facts behind the man who brought the Grand Moff to life.

1. He was paid more for Star Wars than the lead actors

Even though Peter Cushing was on screen for only a fraction of the time as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, or Carrie Fisher, he was one of the two most famous actors in the movie at the time of its filming, with the only other true movie star at the time being Alec Guinness. Because of this, Peter Cushing was paid a much higher daily rate than the actual stars of the movie. Cushing was reportedly paid £2,000 a day, where Hamill, Ford and Fisher were paid weekly salaries of $1000, $750, and $850 respectively.

2. He smelled like linen and lavender (according to Carrie Fisher)

When Princess Leia first speaks to Tarken in A New Hope, one of the first things she says to him is “I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.” However, according to Carrie Fisher, this descriptor of Peter Cushing’s smell couldn’t be further from the truth, saying that the actor himself smelled like linen and lavender. Cushing attributed such a pleasant smell to his tendency to frequently brush his teeth because he was self-conscious about possibly having bad breath. This may have been due to the actor’s smoking habit. Cushing would reportedly smoke between shots on the set of Star Wars, but would always wear a glove while smoking so that Grand Moff Tarkin wouldn’t have nicotine stains on his fingers

3. He played “Dr. Who”

Fans of the long-running sci-fi series Doctor Who might be quick to point out that there have been 13 main iterations of the Doctor, and none of them were played by Peter Cushing. However, Cushing did play the title character in two movies based on the television series, Dr. Who and the Daleks in 1965 and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. in 1966. These movies may have been inspired by the television series, but there are some stark differences between the TV series and the Cushing version of the character.

For starters, Cushing’s Dr. Who isn’t an alien but is in fact a human whose last name is “Who.” He is an inventor who built a time machine called the Tardis. Like the Doctor’s TARDIS, Dr. Who’s Tardis is also shaped like a police box, though no explanation for this particular design is given in either of the movies. A third movie was planned but never materialized, though Peter Cushing’s version of Dr. Who appeared a few more times. A comic strip and a short story titled The House on Oldark Moor by Justin Richards were both published and featured the human version of Dr. Who. A radio series was also planned and a pilot was even recorded with Peter Cushing returning to reprise the role, but the show was never produced and the radio pilot was eventually lost.

4. He filmed most of his Grand Moff Tarkin scenes in slippers

Cushing had size 12 feet and the boots that the costume department had provided for the Grand Moff Tarkin costume were far too small to comfortably fit. There are a few scenes visible in the film where we can see Cushing wearing those boots, but his feet had to be crammed into what was available as the costume designers didn’t have time to get another pair that would match the uniforms of the other Imperial officers in the movie. Because of this, Cushing asked director George Lucas if he could be filmed mostly in close-up shots or shots showing him from the waist up. Lucas agreed, and as a result, any time in the movie that you can’t see Tarkin’s feet, you can feel confident that the menacing lines are being delivered by a man wearing soft, comfortable slippers.

5. He couldn’t talk with an American accent

It’s been a bit of a long-running joke that all the Imperial officers were British, but Cushing’s British accent has played a big part in his career. When Cushing was still a struggling actor in the 1940s, he had an opportunity to audition for a role in a staged production of Born Yesterday that was being mounted by famous actor and director Laurence Olivier. However, Cushing could not speak with a convincing American accent and was very upfront about the fact. Unable to perform the accent at the audition, he was told by Olivier: “I appreciate you not wasting my time. I shall remember you.” A year later, Laurence Olivier would cast Peter Cushing in a small role in his film adaptation of Hamlet, which was Cushing’s British film debut.

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