Cool Hand Luke
If you thought you knew everything about Mark Hamill, you were wrong. Joseph McCabe talks to the iconic Skywalker.
Mark Hamill's the kind of science fiction icon one rarely gets the chance to meet - the kind who's more fun to hang out with than the character he made famous. Not that throwing back a few glasses of blue milk with Luke Skywalker as he told tales of battling the Empire wouldn't be a blast. But Hamill's got a few stories of his own. And he's soon to have more - he's rumoured to return to the role of the farm boy turned Jedi Knight when Star Wars Episode VII, the first installment in a sequel trilogy, arrives in 2015. The actor says he was "shocked" when Lucas told him of his plans, and that he's as anxious as anyone to know more. So while we wait patiently for additional info, Hamill joins SFX in reflecting on 35 years of life in a galaxy far, far away...
"I used to come to the San Diego Comic-Con before I was a quote-unquote celebrity," says Hamill, in the midst of promoting his new grindhouse-style crime thriller Sushi Girl. "Because I was a fan myself, and I could wander around. I'd like to go over to the artists' row and see the artists actually draw. I collected Silver Age and Golden Age comics and so forth. But it changed... I remember the year, 1976. We went and brought Artoo and props from the movie before it came out, trying to explain Star Wars before anybody had seen it. They'd go, 'Wait a minute - Sir Alec Guinness and an eight-foot-tall monkey creature in the same scene? Ha!' So it was really hard to describe. It was like, 'Well, I guess you had to be there...' Because we really didn't have any clips or anything. We just had props and so forth. But I bond really easily with fans. Some people say, 'Aren't the fans so weird?' I say, "You know, in many ways by being able to act on their deepest fantasies, they're probably more well-adjusted than a lot of people who are lying out on the couch for their psychiatrist every week.' I mean, they're totally in tune with what they like and they don't care what you think about it. So it's wonderful in a way, and it's overwhelming to get the kind of reception they have for projects you've been involved in."
Of course every once in a while, a Star Wars fan can take their enthusiasm just a little too far.
"One time I was being driven back from the airport by a cabbie, who was going on about how Darth Vader was the archangel Lucifer and that Luke was blocking his re-entry into our realm from another dimension. I'm looking at the little card and memorising his name. He reaches over at one point to get something out of the glove compartment, and I thought, 'If he comes out with a handgun I don't know what I'm gonna do, because I can't jump out of the car this fast.' I do know when I got home I told him I lived about five houses down, and I waited until he left and then snuck back.
"When you talk about fantasy and other worlds," laughs Hamill, "there's a tiny, tiny infinitesimal segment of people that are not like you or I. And when you come face to face with them it's like, 'Gulp...' But I'm singling out one oddball experience in the 30 years that it's been going on. For the most part it's been wonderful because people feel that they know you. Kids are taught not to talk to strangers, and they don't think I am one. So it's really a gift I think."
Hamill's own inner fanboy is most evident in his post-Star Wars roles. He's won a new generation of admirers for providing the definitive voice of Batman's arch-nemesis the Joker in numerous DC animated projects and the hit videogames Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. And he portrays another kind of psychopath in Sushi Girl But the actor first proved he could get his crazy on when he essayed the role of DC villain the Trickster in the short-lived 1990 Flash TV show.
"I loved it," says Hamill. "If The Flash had been picked up they were going to open up the second season with the Trickster teaming up with Mirror Master and Captain Cold and Captain Boomerang. I love those supervillain team-ups. They always fall apart over ego, over whose plan is the best. But what I loved about the Trickster was, because he was schizophrenic, every time you saw him he was a different character. In one character he's kind of goofy and off-the-wall and in another character he's a scary grind-your-teeth psychopath. Physically they were always putting noses and wigs and coloured eye contacts on me; it was a dream come true for someone who always wanted to be a character actor. I guess that's why I love animation so much. Because animation defines what a character actor is - if you can disappear and people don't think of you and you lose yourself in the character, there's nothing more sublime than that for an actor. Because you don't have to take responsibility for yourself. You're just inhabiting the vehicle of somebody else, and that's the thrill of acting. My brother is a doctor. I couldn't hack academics. I could play a doctor, but he's still considered the success of the family - because science trumps the arts. Let's face it: 'Doctor Hamill' is always gonna be better than some weirdo who played the Trickster on The Flash."
If he wasn't cast as Luke Skywalker, Hamill confesses he'd have enjoyed voicing one of the many aliens in the Star Wars universe.
"I'd venture to say that I wouldn't have chosen Jamaican for Jar Jar Binks," he says with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "I might not have been hired for that part because of that. But even Darth Vader would have been interesting. John Carpenter came to me after we worked on Children Of The Damned and said, "Will you do a trailer for me, a voiceover trailer? And do your Christopher Lee? Remember when you talked about working with Christopher Lee [on obscure 1989 film Fall Of The Eagles], and how he said [impersonating Lee], "I don't wish to be known as Dracula forever. Do you know that I played Mephistopheles in an opera based on the life of Mephistopheles?'
"Right now, thanks to Underoos, people all over the world are sitting on my face!"
"That happens to me all the time - if I tell a story about Harrison Ford, I try to 'take on' that person... When I saw the finished Children trailer, I swear to god, my own mother wouldn't have recognised me. But that's the thrill - I love when you do something and people don't realise it's you. That's what I would dig in all of those Star Wars movies, where some other actor wore the mask and the voice actor went in and dubbed it before lunchtime. James Earl Jones would finish before lunch!"
The man who taught a generation of young people how to look beyond the horizon tells SFX that after 35 years of the Force he has mixed feelings about the success of George Lucas's space saga.
LIFE WITH THE GREATS
"Guinness, Sir Alec, took me out to lunch to an Italian restaurant. And you know, he didn't really like the way it all went. The merchandising really troubled him. I can see his point of view. None of us were signing up to be lunchboxes and electric toothbrushes and Underoos. Right now people all over the world are sitting on my face! So the pop side of me kind of enjoyed it, you know? Because I loved being a bubblegum card. I remember asking him why he accepted the part. This is when we were still making it, when we were in Africa, the first ten days of shooting. He said, 'Well I always wanted to play a wizard in a children's fairytale.' Which is the way he looked at it. He didn't really look at it as science fiction; and I saw his point. It had a wizard, a farm boy, a pirate. The first three especially were much more fairytale-ish. He just thought the merchandising grew to the point where it was just egregious; and who's to argue with him?"
"Especially," he chuckles, "with the crappy deals we got."
Hamill shares his admiration for another Star Wars acting veteran, the late Peter Cushing, himself a genre icon for his many Hammer horror roles.
"I had days off when Peter worked, because we never worked together. And I said, 'Oh, I've gotta come in... Oh my god, I've gotta come in!' Because I was a Hammer fanatic. I read Famous Monsters and built the Aurora model kits and all of it. He was the ultimate English gentleman. He had a lavender glove, because he would smoke. I asked him about it, and he said [impersonating Cushing], 'I don't want to taint others' hands with my bad habits.' So he would smoke with this lavender glove on. It was mind-blowing. He was such a sweetheart. To see him play Moff Tarkin, so cold and evil, it was just thrilling. Because he could do anything - he could play Doctor Frankenstein, he could play Sherlock Holmes. There's no limit to what he was able to do. One of the things that happened was, when World War Two broke out, the patriot that he was, he gave up a potential Hollywood career and went back to England. Because he had come out to America - that's how we wound up in A Chump At Oxford and James Whale's The Man In the Iron Mask."
Hamill sounds not unlike a Star Wars fan as he describes meeting one of his heroes.
"The one time where he was sort of floored was when I brought up, 'What was it like working with Laurel and Hardy in A Chump At Oxford?' Because no one would ask him about that. Everyone was stuck on the Hammer films. I was guilty of that - working with Christopher Lee, talking only about Dracula." "But Peter," adds Hamill, his eyes lit with the warm glow of nostalgia, "he loved Laurel and Hardy."
5 REASONS WHY LUKE IS COOLER THAN HAN
- A LONER AND A REBEL No Wookiee needed! Save for the occasional assist from Artoo, Luke is a solo act.
- THE LADIES MAN There's only one lady in the original trilogy, but she kissed Luke three times before laying lips on someone she wasn't related to.
- AT-AT ATTACKER For all Solo's bravado, there is nothing as badass as single-handedly destroying an Imperial Walker.
- THE MAN WITH THE PLANS As his audacious rescue of the Correlian from Jabba's vile clutches proves, Luke is a master strategist.
- HE'S FULL OF SURPRISES "Oh you want me to stop Darth Vader? How's about I do that and save his soul?"
[Source: SFX Magazine #230, February 2013, P.84-87]