Mark Hamill

A Force of na­ture

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - WORDS BY TARA BRADY POR­TRAIT BY LU­CAS­FILM

Mark Hamill has touched down in Lon­don on a global press tour for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And even if I wasn’t ex­pect­ing him, I would have guessed from the ker­fuf­fle. It’s the sound, to para­phrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, of a mil­lion voices cry­ing out sud­denly for a selfie. It’s the sound of au­to­graph-hun­ters ask­ing the most ran­dom things. “Do you like sports?” says one. “Oh sure,” says Hamill. “I like the Olympics; you get a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing.”

It’s a diplo­matic an­swer from a man whose ev­ery pref­er­ence makes head­lines.

Last Septem­ber, when he liked a tweet from Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers, he had to swiftly de­flate a flurry of re­lated head­lines, by declar­ing: “Never re­ally fol­lowed foot­ball much, but would fa­vor Liver­pool FC be­cause The Reds live where The Bea­tles are from & I’m a #Beatle­ma­niac!”

When he left Ire­land last year, pic­tured clutch­ing his daugh­ter’s dog Mil­lie and a packet of smoky ba­con-flavoured Tayto, his en­thu­si­as­tic part­ing tweet (“How I will miss IRE­LAND! Its’ Beauty-Its’ Peo­ple-It’s...Snack Food”) was soon tem­pered by a tact­ful fol­low-up (“KING crisps great too – but I meant to ex­press my LOVE for IRE­LAND not en­dorse a prod­uct or do an #Inad­ver­ten­tAd­vert”) lest the na­tion be plunged into potato-re­lated con­flict.

Hamill, an ami­able, still boy­ish-look­ing 66-year-old, doesn’t mind the at­ten­tion. “Look,” he says. “I love all of this. Look at you. Lis­ten­ing to me. Hang­ing on my ev­ery word.”

If talk­ing about crisps is tricky, that has noth­ing on the busi­ness of talk­ing about Star

Wars: The Last Jedi. Or rather not talk­ing about it.

“It is frus­trat­ing,” says Hamill. “Be­cause the fans want to know. But we’re so well trained. Yes­ter­day a guy said: Was it hard get­ting used to a lightsabre again? And I said . . .”

He opens his mouth as if to launch into a patented Hamill yarn – he’s a great man for the yarns – only to snap it shut.

“As I al­ways say: ‘You don’t want to know what you’re get­ting for your birth­day, do you?’ I re­mem­ber see­ing the trailer for Cast­away and you saw Tom Hanks crash­ing, then sur­viv­ing, and then ar­riv­ing back in civil­i­sa­tion. Ev­ery­thing but the end cred­its.

“I get it. It’s a paradox. You want peo­ple to go see the movie. But I love go­ing in to see a movie not know­ing any­thing about it. Brigsby Bear is a re­ally good ex­am­ple of that. Great movie. But the more you tell peo­ple what the story is the less spe­cial it seems when peo­ple see it.” When we left Luke Sky­walker at the close of

Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens, he had taken up res­i­dence on Skel­lig Michael, just off Co Kerry. And who could blame him? His sis­ter Leia (Car­rie Fisher) and her hus­band Han (Har­ri­son Ford) had split up. Their son, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), hav­ing been trained in the ways of the Force by Un­cle Luke, had turned to the Dark Side. No won­der trail­ers for the new film, which will clock in at 150 min­utes (a record length for the Star Wars fran­chise), are down­right ni­hilis­tic.

“I only know one truth,” Luke in­tones, glumly. “It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

Maybe that’s just the hike talk­ing. Hamill cer­tainly had mixed feel­ings about re­turn­ing to the Iver­agh penin­sula for the shoot.

Phys­i­calex­er­tion

“So I got the script for The Force Awak­ens and I have to re­move my hood,” says the ac­tor. “And I’m think­ing: easy. The set is 15 min­utes away from my house. It’ll be blue screen. I’ll be fin­ished be­fore lunch. And then I find out we’re go­ing to a real phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion. And I’m think­ing: fine. I’m a movie buff. So I’m a pro­po­nent of prac­ti­cal ef­fects as op­posed to over-re­liance on CGI. But then – if you ever go to Skel­lig Michael – you’ll re­alise it just never ends. The he­li­port is at the base of the is­land be­cause, well, build­ing one at the top would be ob­scene. So it’s step af­ter step af­ter step. It goes on and on. It re­quires un­be­liev­able phys­i­cal ex­er­tion to get to the top.

“It’s beau­ti­ful. It’s well worth the trip. It’s some­thing ev­ery­one should do if they get the chance. But as I left I thought: Well, that was in­cred­i­ble but I’m never do­ing that again. So I pick up the script for episode eight. And, oh no!”

Un­daunted, Hamill at­tempted to per­suade fran­chise pro­ducer Kath­leen Kennedy that he wanted to “do a Daniel Day Lewis . . . I said to Kathy: ‘Fine. But I’m not com­ing down. If I have to walk up Skel­lig Michael, I’m staying. I don’t need room ser­vice or a body­guard. I just need a tent. I’m go­ing method. Mod­ern con­ve­niences will de­stroy my per­for­mance.’ So she gets back to me a cou­ple of weeks later and says: ‘Oh, they won’t let you stay up there be­cause it’s a pro­tected site. But we’ve found an ad­ja­cent area for your tent.’ So I’m back to room ser­vice and climb­ing.” He laughs: “I’m so spoiled.” Rail­ing against stu­dio para­noia and se­crecy, Hamill is pre­pared to re­veal one ma­jor de­tail about The Last Jedi: “I have a much big­ger waist­line.”

Not re­ally, though. Hav­ing dropped more than 20kg for The Force Awak­ens, Hamill dis­cov­ered that he had only one ap­pear­ance. And that was un­der a cloak. He’s had to stick with the pro­gramme ever since.

“I’ve been on the if-it-tastes-good-don’t-eatit diet. I’m on it for years now. I’m not be­ing face­tious here. If it’s de­li­cious, don’t touch it. It’s like gassing up a car. You dis­as­so­ci­ate your­self from the plea­sure of eat­ing. No bagels. Pro­tein shakes for break­fast. Then you’re go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

Fred­dyandLuke

Bizarrely, we have Freddy Krueger to thank for Luke Sky­walker. Back in 1976, a young Robert Englund was au­di­tion­ing for a role in

Apoca­lypse Now when he walked across the hall where au­di­tions were tak­ing place for Ge­orge Lu­cas’s Star Wars. Watch­ing on, he re­alised that the part of Luke Sky­walker – a role cov­eted by Kurt Rus­sell, Charles Martin Smith and William Katt – would be per­fect for his friend Mark Hamill.

Hamill can still re­call ev­ery minute of the screen test: “There’s one line I’ll never for­get and it wasn’t used in the film. Only in the screen test. You have to un­der­stand when I au­di­tioned for this, they didn’t send me the whole script. I got one scene, which was with Har­ri­son Ford in the cock­pit of the Mil­len­nium Fal­con. And I read it and thought: Is this se­ri­ous or is this a Mel Brooks par­ody? The di­a­logue was crazy. So I asked Ge­orge: ‘Is this sort of a satire of sci­ence fic­tion?’ And I could tell I was mak­ing him very un­com­fort­able. And he said: ‘We’ll talk about it later.’ I soon learned that means ‘we’ll never talk about this again’ in Ge­orge speak.

You have to un­der­stand when I au­di­tioned for this, they didn’t send me the whole script. I got one scene, which was with Har­ri­son Ford in the cock­pit of the Mil­len­nium Fal­con. And I read it and thought: Is this se­ri­ous or is this a Mel Brooks par­ody? The di­a­logue was crazy

“Ge­orge doesn’t want to talk about sub­text or mo­ti­va­tion. Stuff like that makes his skin crawl. He’s a lot hap­pier in the post-pro­duc­tion and editing process when he doesn’t have to deal with ac­tors ask­ing an­noy­ing ques­tions. So I asked Har­ri­son: ‘Do you think we should do this se­ri­ously? Or like a send-up?’ And he said: ‘Let’s just get through this.’ So he was no help ei­ther.”

Hamill later begged Lu­cas to re­move the of­fend­ing line, which he valiantly re­peats to­day: “But we can’t turn back, fear is their great­est de­fence, I doubt if the ac­tual se­cu­rity there is any greater than it was on Aquilae or Sul­lust, and what there is is most likely di­rected to­wards a large-scale as­sault.”

He shakes his head: “Imag­ine say­ing those words? In­tel­lec­tu­ally, it does makes sense. If you di­a­gram the sen­tence first.”

Imag­ine his sur­prise when the com­plete script “read like The Wizard of Oz or some­thing”. And then Star Wars be­came, well, Star Wars.

“It was crazy for us. Be­cause it took off while we were still pro­mot­ing the film. I re­mem­ber we landed in Chicago. And the air­port was mobbed. I turned to Har­ri­son and Car­rie and said: ‘Hey, you guys, there must be some­body fa­mous at the air­port.’ And as we tax­ied closer, I looked out and said: ‘Hey Car­rie, there’s a girl that has your furry head-buns.’ And then I saw some­body dressed like Luke, we couldn’t be­lieve it. I’m not kid­ding. I thought maybe Mick Jag­ger was on the plane.”

Modest­digs

Hamill has been mar­ried to Mar­ilou York since 1978. They live in re­port­edly mod­est digs decked out with comic-book, film and Bea­tles mem­o­ra­bilia and have three adult chil­dren: Nathan, Grif­fin and Chelsea. Hamill’s pro­fes­sional life, con­versely, has been al­to­gether more che­quered. Swings and round­abouts. “I did a TV se­ries in 1974 [the ill-fated sit­com

The Texas Wheel­ers] and I was sure it was go­ing to be a big, big hit. But it got can­celled and I was devastated be­cause it was re­ally funny and I love do­ing com­edy. But had that show been a suc­cess I wouldn’t have been able to do Star Wars. When the movie be­came as big as it did, I thought some­thing else might come along in a cou­ple of years, and it would be a nos­tal­gic thing, they’d play a clip from when I was on a late show. But it just never went away.”

He sub­se­quently blazed a trail as an early pioneer in Imax cinema and be­came a fan-favourite as the Joker in DC’s an­i­mated Bat­man car­toons. But suc­cess in films out­side the fran­chise that made him fa­mous has eluded him. Does he think Luke Sky­walker held him back?

“I was ac­tu­ally told that to my face. I did

Amadeus on Broad­way and when Mi­los For­man was mak­ing the film ver­sion, he asked me to come over and read with the ac­tresses who were au­di­tion­ing as Mozart’s wife. And I said: ‘Of course.’ Be­cause I’m a huge Mi­los For­man fan. So I read with ac­tress af­ter ac­tress af­ter ac­tress. And af­ter sev­eral hours I said: ‘Mi­los, you know I’ve played Mozart?’ And he laughs.”

Hamill adopts a deep Czech brogue: “‘Ho, ho, ho. No one is be­liev­ing that the Luke Sky­walker is the Mozart.’ ”

Hamill shrugs: “Hey. As long as you’ve got a good rea­son. Dustin Hoff­man was dy­ing to play Salieri but Mi­los was keen to cast ac­tors you had never seen be­fore. I get it.”

Sky­walker bunch

There have been com­pen­sa­tions. Hamill plainly adores his Star Wars fam­ily and can cite ev­ery head of depart­ment. He thinks “the world of” cos­tume de­signer Michael Ka­plan and is blown away by the tal­ents of the younger cast mem­bers Daisy Ri­d­ley and John Boyega.

“They’re so ac­com­plished,” he says. “I marvel at how cen­tred Daisy is. When I was her age I was bounc­ing off the walls; I didn’t know which end was up. I guess it was dif­fer­ent for me. When I did the first film I had no idea it

would turn into this. But when they signed up for seven, they knew they were join­ing some­thing that was a pop-cul­ture phe­nom­e­non. They were prob­a­bly a lot read­ier for it than I was. I’m think­ing about ask­ing Daisy for ad­vice.”

The Last Jedi fam­ily has, sadly, got a lit­tle bit smaller. Car­rie Fisher died on De­cem­ber 27th last year fol­low­ing a heart at­tack. (By then she had com­pleted shooting all her scenes.) Her mother, 84-year-old Sin­gin’ in the Rain star Deb­bie Reynolds, died from a stroke on the fol­low­ing day.

“I’m still in de­nial,” says Hamill. “I still think of her in the present tense. And I’m so mad at her be­cause she was nom­i­nated for an Emmy, and she’s won­der­ful in the new movie, and she has a very ex­ten­sive role, and she’s not here. It’s ter­ri­ble. And it adds a sense of melan­choly to the film. But when­ever I start feel­ing sorry for my­self, I think of Bil­lie [Lourd, Car­rie’s only daugh­ter] los­ing her mother and her grand­mother so quickly. In­stead of be­ing an­gry that she’s not here, I’m try­ing to be grate­ful for what she left be­hind. That we had her for as long as we did.” Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens on De­cem­ber 15th

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: STEVE LAR­SON/THE DEN­VER POST VIA GETTY IM­AGES/ ARAYA DIAZ/GETTY IM­AGES FOR THE MID­NIGHT MIS­SION

Mark Hamill, Car­rie Fisher and Har­ri­son Ford take a break from film­ing the orig­i­nal Star Wars. Be­low: Hamill with Fisher at an event in 2014.

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