CON­FES­SIONS OF A VET­ERAN JEDI

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

The Sunday Times - - NEWS -

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 The Sun­day

Times 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 nasal 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.

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 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 on 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 hap­pened to Sky­walker in the in­ter­ven­ing years since Re­turn Of

The Jedi re­mains se­cret, and is to form much of the back story for this lat­est film. There was no guar­an­tee Hamill and co-stars Har­ri­son Ford and Car­rie Fisher would reprise their roles when the Star Wars se­quels were fi­nally made. But Hamill reck­ons the char­ac­ters “never re­ally went away”.

Af­ter 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.

“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 says, “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.

Hamill ad­mits part of his move into voiceover work was driven at times by his limited op­por­tu­ni­ties in film. But he is quick to point out he’s not com­plain­ing.

“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.”

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. 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”, his per­sonal as­sis­tant and so­cial me­dia man­ager.

To­wards the end of this chat, Hamill vis­i­bly re­laxes on the ar­rival of Mil­lie and Ma­bel, two res­cue dogs who promptly fall asleep.

“They are Chelsea’s an­i­mals, but I like to think they are my sur­ro­gate grand­chil­dren,” he says.

Hamill mar­ried Mar­ilou, a for­mer den­tal hy­gien­ist, in De­cem­ber 1978 — right in the mid­dle of the ini­tial

Star Wars craze. He couldn’t have mar­ried an­other ac­tor, a les­son he learnt af­ter a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship with Anne Wyn­d­ham, whom 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.

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!’

Life’s work: Top; Hamill as the young Sky­walker and in scenes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with Daisy Ri­d­ley, above.

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