“My face was on a ce­real box”

To mil­lions of fans he will al­ways be Luke Sky­walker. And as the Star Wars phe­nom­e­non rolls on, Mark Hamill tells Stel­lar why he’s per­fectly fine with that

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Stellar - - contents - In­ter­view by SARAH BLAKE

COVER STORY Ahead of the re­lease of the hotly an­tic­i­pated new Star Wars film, Mark Hamill talks to Stel­lar about the en­dur­ing suc­cess of the cult fran­chise, his close friend­ship with the late Car­rie Fisher, and why he has no prob­lem be­ing de­fined by Luke Sky­walker.

Mark Hamill is pac­ing in­side a ho­tel suite in Bev­erly Hills, at the end of a long day spent spruik­ing his sig­na­ture role. He’s rum­pled in a beaten brown leather jacket, blue T-shirt and black jeans, and is itch­ing to join his fam­ily, who are gath­ered in the hall­way out­side, wait­ing to take him home to Mal­ibu for din­ner.

But first there is busi­ness to dis­cuss, and lucky for Hamill, talk­ing Star Wars is one of his great­est joys. Still boy­ish at 66, Hamill ad­mits as he sits down with Stel­lar that even if he weren’t recog­nised by mil­lions as Luke Sky­walker, he would still be “the hugest fan” of the epic film fran­chise. Pos­si­bly even one who dresses up.

Some ac­tors might re­sent be­ing known for one role their en­tire ca­reer, and there’s ar­guably no tighter type­cast than that of Sky­walker, who grew from nasally farm boy to would-be saviour of the galaxy be­fore mil­lions of eyes in the orig­i­nal Star Wars tril­ogy of the ’70s and ’80s. But for Hamill, a self-de­scribed lucky clown, there is noth­ing but joy in repris­ing his role in lat­est in­stal­ment The Last Jedi, which will be re­leased next month. Ex­cept for one press­ing ex­cep­tion.

Af­ter work­ing out twice a week for more than a year to film just a few sec­onds in 2015’s The Force Awak­ens, Hamill was de­ter­mined to get more screen time this time around. Re­call­ing his prepa­ra­tion for that movie – his first Star Wars film in 32 years – Hamill ex­plains to Stel­lar that “I had to drive in my car to Santa Mon­ica, park my car, go to the gym. They called it phys­i­cal train­ing… which is a eu­phemism for tor­ture. And they changed my diet. No su­gar, no dairy, no bread, no fun. Ba­si­cally, if it tastes good, don’t eat it. And I lost, I don’t know... [around 20kg]. My wife was thrilled. Not only was I get­ting in bet­ter shape, but I was out of the house.”

His ap­pear­ance in the last film may have been fleet­ing, but it was un­doubt­edly cli­mac­tic. That story cen­tred on pro­tag­o­nist Rey (played by Daisy Ri­d­ley) and her search for Sky­walker, who was liv­ing in ex­ile; in its clos­ing mo­ments, she fi­nally found him mys­te­ri­ously perched atop a cliff.

Of course, like ev­ery­thing in the al­ter­nate uni­verse of Star Wars, the sto­ry­line for The Force Awak­ens was shrouded in se­crecy for as long as pos­si­ble. “I should’ve sus­pected, ’cause when they were gonna de­liver the script, [di­rec­tor and writer] JJ [Abrams] was on the phone and he goes, ‘OK, I’m send­ing the script over – and read it from page one straight through and imag­ine it like a movie.’”

He did, and ad­mits he was shocked. “I lit­er­ally get to the last page, and I said: ‘I trained for 50 weeks to re­volve and re­move a hood?’ I mean, I could be the size of Mar­lon Brando in Apoca­lypse Now with the robes that they have.”

So upon re­ceiv­ing the script for this lat­est film? “I went right to the last page and read it back­wards,” he says.

HAMILL IS NOW roughly the same age as veteran Bri­tish ac­tor Sir Alec Guin­ness was when he played Obi-wan Kenobi, who men­tored Luke Sky­walker and first taught the young Jedi about the Force. What has hap­pened to Sky­walker in the in­ter­ven­ing years since Re­turn Of The Jedi re­mains se­cret, and is to form much of the back­story for this lat­est film.

There was no guar­an­tee Hamill and co-stars Har­ri­son Ford and Car­rie Fisher would reprise their roles when the much-an­tic­i­pated Star Wars se­quels were fi­nally made – in the end, they very much did – but re­gard­less, Hamill reck­ons the char­ac­ters “never re­ally went away. It al­ways had a pres­ence, even if it was on the low end of the scale.”

Fol­low­ing the re­lease of the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, Hamill re­calls en­coun­ter­ing fans while he was per­form­ing in the­atres. “There’s peo­ple with their play­bills they want to be signed,” he says of the crowds who waited for him at the stage door. “There’s peo­ple with lightsabers and ac­tion fig­ures. And bub­blegum cards! For­tu­nately for me, I love all that stuff. I thought you had to be an ath­lete to be­come a bub­blegum card. I’m a ter­ri­ble ath­lete. Now I’m a bub­blegum card – thank you very much, Ge­orge Lu­cas.

“I love all the gim­micks,” he con­tin­ues. “I love the mer­chan­dis­ing. I was the only one that was ex­cited when our faces were masks on the back of ce­real boxes. I’d say: ‘Har­ri­son, look! I’m a mask on a ce­real box!’ You should have seen the king of eye rolls: ‘Argh.’ He hated all that stuff, or at least was slightly an­noyed by it. But I love all that stuff.”

Hamill has re­turned to the role with the same sense of won­der – and a new grat­i­tude.

“Back in the day,” he tells Stel­lar, “you just fig­ure: ‘Oh, all my movies are go­ing to be nom­i­nated for 12 Academy Awards and be­come pop-cul­tural phe­nomenons.’ Lit­tle did I know. But I think I’m able to ap­pre­ci­ate it in a way that I wasn’t able to in my 20s, be­cause you don’t take it se­ri­ously. It’s all for fun, it’s all for peo­ple’s amuse­ment.”

While he never re­gret­ted tak­ing on the role that would come to de­fine him, Hamill has won­dered what course his life might have taken if he had not. “The road not taken is al­ways fas­ci­nat­ing,” he says. “I thought, ‘Did I get this back­wards?’ Be­cause I [had] es­tab­lished a ca­reer in tele­vi­sion for about six years be­fore I got Star Wars. Then Star Wars hap­pened, then even­tu­ally I made it to Broad­way. I said, ‘I got this all screwed up… I should have started on Broad­way, or off-broad­way in lit­tle the­atres and so forth.’ I al­ways imag­ined my­self driv­ing a cab or wait­ing a ta­ble un­til I be­came an ac­tor.”

In re­cent years, Hamill has carved out a huge sec­ond ca­reer as a voiceover artist, most notably por­tray­ing The Joker in Batman: The An­i­mated Se­ries. “I’m a huge comic book fan, and I knew the cal­i­bre of tal­ent they were putting to­gether for the se­ries, be­cause I’m also a huge an­i­ma­tion fan,” he says. “I adore the fact that I’m the voice of The Joker, be­cause 180 de­grees re­moved from this icon of virtue [in Sky­walker] is this de­praved icon of vil­lainy. One of the things I love about voiceovers is it al­lows you to play char­ac­ters you’d never get if you were on cam­era. And it’s lib­er­at­ing not to be seen. You can make out­ra­geous choices that you wouldn’t make if the cam­era were this far from your face.”

Hamill ad­mits part of his move into voiceover work was driven at times by his lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties in film. Un­like Ford, he was never able to thor­oughly shed his Star Wars per­sona. In­evitably he was “stuck in one role. Peo­ple weren’t let­ting me go out for [films] like Mid­night Ex­press, which I re­ally wanted to go out for. They would say, ‘Oh no, we don’t need to see him. We saw Star Wars, he’s not right for it.’

“I thought well, you know, I’m an ac­tor. If I am only go­ing to play parts that are vir­tu­ous, and cal­low, and naïve, it’s re­ally go­ing to be lim­it­ing.”

Still, Hamill is quick to point out he’s not com­plain­ing about what Star Wars pro­vided – which was a lot. “I mean, I am just so lucky, be­cause I’m a fool. I’m a player, I’m a clown. That’s all I wanted to do when I was a kid. I was the mid­dle of seven chil­dren. I loved to make my broth­ers and sis­ters laugh. I had an ear for di­alects, and I could im­i­tate our rel­a­tives. I used hu­mour as a weapon, or as a de­fence mech­a­nism. If there were bul­lies, or jocks, I could al­ways make them laugh – and that’s re­ally dis­arm­ing. If a guy wants to punch you in the face, you make fun of your­self. That’s re­as­sur­ing to an ag­gres­sor.”

And to those who won­der if the ac­tor is up­set to “only be re­mem­bered for one thing”, he has a ready an­swer.

“Look, I never ex­pected to be re­mem­bered for any­thing. So al­ready that’s a win,” Hamill says. “I was just happy be­ing a work­ing ac­tor. I’m as happy when I’m do­ing off-broad­way for 500 seats as I am do­ing a movie that [will] be seen by mil­lions. I mean... to be able to say it’s my 47th year as a pro­fes­sional ac­tor? That’s some­thing I never would have dreamed.”

If there is one loom­ing re­gret, it’s that his dear friend Car­rie Fisher is no longer here to cel­e­brate Star Wars’ con­tin­ued legacy at his side. Last De­cem­ber, shortly af­ter she com­pleted film­ing her part in The Last Jedi, Fisher died. “We were the old guard,” Hamill says as he re­flects on his beloved co-star. “And they had all these new kids run­ning around. But she trusted me. She knew I was the same per­son I was all those years ago.” Hamill says it took some time to ac­cept Fisher’s death, and that he had to let go of some of his anger over its cir­cum­stances – an au­topsy re­vealed she had died from sleep ap­noea, but also that she had co­caine, heroin and ec­stasy in her sys­tem at the time of her death. “Car­rie was so much fun to be around, and of course ir­re­place­able. But my wife said, ‘You know you’re just be­ing self­ish. You only want her to be here ’cause she could make you laugh.’ And I could make her laugh, which I was proud of. But in­stead of be­ing so up­set with her, we should just be grate­ful for what she gave us when she was here.” Hamill’s wife Mar­ilou is a reg­u­lar touch point in his many anec­dotes, and it is clear from his re­ac­tion when she ar­rives at his ho­tel room that the pair are still very close af­ter 39 years of mar­riage. Hamill is hap­pi­est when sur­rounded by fam­ily. He’s fa­ther to sons Nathan and Grif­fin as well as daugh­ter Chelsea, who laughs that she is a “dad wran­gler”, as well as his per­sonal as­sis­tant and so­cial me­dia man­ager. To­wards the end of his chat with Stel­lar, Hamill vis­i­bly re­laxes upon the ar­rival of Mil­lie and Ma­bel, two res­cue dogs who promptly drape them­selves on an up­hol­stered sofa and fall asleep. “They are Chelsea’s an­i­mals, but I like to think they are my sur­ro­gate grand­chil­dren,” he says as he pats their heads. Hamill mar­ried Mar­ilou, a for­mer den­tal hy­gien­ist, in De­cem­ber 1978 – right in the mid­dle of the ini­tial Star Wars craze. He ex­plains that he couldn’t have mar­ried an­other ac­tor, a les­son he learnt af­ter a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship with Anne Wyn­d­ham, who he starred along­side in US soap opera Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal in the early 1970s. “You be­come com­pet­i­tive in a way, which is crazy, be­cause I’m not go­ing to take parts away from her, and vice versa. But I thought, ‘Well, she’s not the one, be­cause I do want to have a fam­ily, and I’m not go­ing to ask her to give up a ca­reer to raise the kids. And I’ll know when it’s right, I’ll find the right one.’ And luck­ily for me I did.” And with that, the for­tu­nate jester picks up the leads for his dogs and heads home for din­ner. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in cin­e­mas on Thurs­day, De­cem­ber 14.

“Car­rie was so much fun to be around – we should be grate­ful for what she gave us”

FEEL (clock­wise Hamill THE from Wars in FORCE from the a scene new top The Star left) Last C-3PO Jedi; at the with 1978 Academy Awards; as he ap­peared in the in Los An­ge­les with his wife Mar­ilou this year; with “king of eye rolls” Har­ri­son Ford; Hamill and Car­rie Fisher in 2014; with his chil­dren in Au­gust.

THE OLD GUARD (from top) Hamill, Car­rie Fisher and Har­ri­son Ford in 1977, and in char­ac­ter as (from left) Luke Sky­walker, Princess Leia and Hans Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope.

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