Your Favorite Star Wars Actor Gets Personal
Written By: Charlotte Farrell
Photography Provided By: John Wilson/Lucasfilm (c) 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
I don’t get starstruck, but at 12:55 p.m., I felt a little nauseous. I had two laptops and two phones at the ready. In five minutes, I would hear a voice come over one of those phones, a voice that I grew up listening to through the speakers of my television. At 1 p.m., the phone buzzed and I jumped to answer. A few seconds later: “Hello, Charlotte!” That voice was none other than Mark Hamill. Luke Skywalker, the Joker, the Trickster, the list goes on. Whatever that voice means to you, it probably means a lot.
When it came to taking time out of his busy schedule for our interview, it was a no-brainer. “We had to do it, because it’s San Diego,” he said. The city holds a special place in Hamill’s heart. His father was in the Navy, so moving from place to place was the norm. But San Diego stuck, at least for the longest amount of time. “I was constantly the new kid,” he reflected.
Hamill was always interested in being in show business, and from the summer of 1960 to the summer of 1964, Hamill’s itch to perform became stronger while in SD. “I was always putting on shows in the backyard…I did magic, I had puppets and I recruited other kids to come…I was that weird kid that was annoying them with magic tricks…‘pick a card any card’.” But duty called, and after four years in the sunshine, the family packed up again and moved across the country. “San Diego was the first place I really was sad to leave. It’s the first place I felt like I could stay forever. It’s the perfect community…it was an idyllic sort of suburban life. I have so many great memories there.” And if he had to pick a hometown? “It would be an easy pick. It would have to be San Diego.”
And San Diego is proud of that. In fact, they named a street after him in Clairemont, and proclaimed July 30 as National Mark Hamill Day. “It’s overwhelming…when I first heard about it on Twitter I thought someone was pranking me,” said Hamill. “They had to go to every house in Clairemont to get a thumbs up or a thumbs down. And the fact that they were in support of it was really moving. It meant a lot to me.” It was an honorary naming, of course, but all the same, to live on that street would be something to brag about. “I wish someone would address it to Mark Hamill Drive and see if it gets there,” he said with a laugh.
San Diego is also home to Comic-Con, where Mark has found himself many times, surrounded by fans clamoring for an autograph from the legend, be they devotees of his character on the screen or behind the mic. “Comic-Con is a gigantic enterprise now! I was so glad they were able to keep it in San Diego. They deserve it! They started it!” But the comic book scene wasn’t always the sold-out mega-event that we know and love today. “I’ve seen it grow from a convention held in a basement of a hotel…[to] now, of course, it’s absolutely gigantic!” The Marvel and DC machines have been pumping out blockbusters left and right, capitalizing on the untapped market of comic book fandom. Hamill agreed, explaining that “a lot of that has to do with how comic books have become mainstream in entertainment with TV shows and movies…I’d never thought I would see the day with several [comic book movies] every year. Right now it’s full speed ahead.” And at the moment, Star Wars is at the helm.
Before we dive into Star Wars, it is important to touch on the side of Hamill’s career that has been somewhat undercover but is still impressive and noteworthy. As a voice actor, Hamill found comfort in the freedom of using his voice to bring life to animation. “I really enjoyed doing voiceover because it’s not as high profile. With Star Wars, it’s almost too high profile for comfort…there’s worldwide interest. The great thing about animation is that they cast with their ears, not their eyes. You get to play a lot of characters that you never get to play if it were on camera.” One of his most iconic voices lies behind the evil mastermind in the Batman comics, the Joker. “I’m usually happy doing whatever it is I’m doing, but little did I know that the Joker would have such an impact. All of a sudden, I was hot in voiceover,” he exclaimed. “The Joker is 180 degrees removed from the icon of virtue that I was known for [as Luke Skywalker]. I loved it…you’re liberated to make outrageous choices you would probably not make if you were on camera,” and I could tell from his clarity that he was truly as big of a comic book nerd as the rest of us.
Hamill’s relationship with his fans is something remarkable, too. From the die-hards to the newbies, each generation holds significance in Hamill’s eyes. “The fans that were fans all those years ago are parents themselves, and they are passing those stories on to their children..that’s so gratifying,” he expressed with true humility. “The world feels like they know me and that’s one of the most incredible things about being in my position. No matter where you go, people share these stories, personal stories…[like] how the films got them through terrible times or illness, or how they met their wife standing in line for the movie, and had twins named Luke and Leia…it’s jaw-dropping,” said Hamill. And the joy of meeting the fans never gets old. “Here I am, talking to you on the phone, and after this I’m going to go swimming and take the dogs for a walk. It’s a sort of mundane existence, but when you go to these conventions and you meet these fans face to face…you can’t believe the passion they have and it’s palpable…they’re just shaking with excitement.” And he genuinely is grateful. You can feel the honest gratitude through the speaker of my iPhone.
Now, thanks to social media like Twitter and Instagram, his following goes beyond just lovers of Star Wars. There is a whole new fanbase that he is interacting with, and on a massive scale. When it came to promoting a film he had just starred in, Sushi Girl, he had an “aha” moment. Compared to the legwork involved in answering hand written fan mail, these platforms offered instantaneous interaction. “You establish a relationship with the public, and it’s sort of a chat room, electronic fan mail, an exchange of ideas and so-forth.”
But his love for the fans doesn’t stop him from joking around. He does voice the Joker, and has also donned the face of the Trickster, so don’t put it past him to have a bit of fun, especially on social media. “I’m always teasing the fans.” Hamill just can’t help himself. “Lucasfilm would rather me ignore these things but I just love it. I don’t call it trolling, [more like] I’m teasing them and having fun with them.” One event in particular made headlines. Hamill decided to play a prank on his followers, posting on his Twitter that he would be releasing a sneak preview of the trailer, only to post a video of himself peeking out the door of his actual trailer. Some laughed, some not so much, but it didn’t matter. Hamill is a child at heart with a playful attitude when it comes to all the mayhem and hype that surrounds him.
Now, back to Star Wars. At the tail end of our interview, I told Hamill that we would finally be addressing the subject I was sure he was tired of talking about. But his response was just what I had hoped it would be. “I never get tired of talking about anything,” he declared.
I began with the fact that we need a Luke Skywalker right now. The film seems to have landed at the peak of tension between good and evil in the real world. I asked Hamill what the biggest theme or draw that he hopes fans and first-timers will take from the films, and how important this kind of storyline is in light of what is happening currently. He took a moment, then went on to describe how escapism is therapeutic. “When we’re having these casual comments about World War III, I mean, it’s absolutely terrifying! I think now more than ever, people need some happy place to go to, whether it’s Middle Earth or Hogwarts or The Land of Oz, there’s some comfort in being able to go to a place that’s not related to the harsh realities of everyday life,” he said. The message of Star Wars has always been one of hope and optimism, and the idea that one can do good solely for the purpose of doing good. “You don’t think of yourself. You think of what the right thing to do is for everyone. It’s an idealized sentiment, but one that I believe in,” he added.
The films are a modern fairytale. In the originals, “We had a princess and a space pirate, and a wizard and a farm boy…all of those elements have stood the test of time in terms of storytelling.” And even though having a female protagonist as the heroine in the recent films is long overdue, Hamill reminds people that Princess Leia was no “shrinking violet.” “She didn’t need anyone to rescue her, in fact, she took over the rescuing herself and started bossing us around! It was effortless feminism without hitting you over the head. Actions speak louder than words, and she was one of the pioneers.” The “she” that Hamill refers to is, of course, Princess Leia, whose iconic character was played by the late Carrie Fisher. When the news of Fisher’s passing broke, the grief was worldwide. “We’ll never stop missing her…even if you didn’t meet her, the world feels they knew her. There’s no happy spin I can put on it…it’s just unthinkable…she is wonderful in this movie and in my mind I can’t think of her in the past tense,” he said as he cleared his throat. “Her spirit will live forever.”
As the healing continues, so grows the anticipation for the next installment. Hamill will find himself once again at the center of it all, as both young and old fill the theaters to watch with bated breath to find out what will happen to Luke Skywalker and the rest of the gang. Looking back on this revival of the saga, Hamill isn’t taking one second for granted. “It’s like when you find an old pair of pants that you haven’t worn in years, and when you reach in the pocket you find a $20 bill. Well, that $20 bill is worth so much more than a $20 bill you have in your wallet, because you didn’t know you had it! It’s a wonderful surprise and an unexpected one, and the last five years of my career have been that for me.”
I saw my first Star Wars movie at age seven, and it has stuck with me since. As a tween, I followed his career behind the mic, but the geek in me will be just as elated to see him in the Dec. 15 release of The Last Jedi as I was to see him in the last few seconds of The Force Awakens back in 2015. And whatever happens to Luke Skywalker, I know Mark Hamill will be enjoying every minute doing what he loves; keeping hope alive in the hearts of his fans across the globe.
Coming Soon: Up next on Hamill’s schedule is utilizing his golden voice once again for the Star Citizen Squadron 42.
Roots: Hamill’s favorite planet in the Star Wars Universe? Tatooine, “because there’s no place like home” he said.
So Techy: If Hamill could take one piece of technology from the films, it would be hyperspace. He broke it down: “You can get from LA to London in a minute and a half. I love being places but I hate getting there. These 12-14 hour flights are brutal!”
It Takes Two: When asked who was worse, the Joker or Darth Vader, the answer was instantaneous. According to Hamill—and anyone else who is a fan of DC—the Joker is truly the worse of the two. He is unpredictable, but also never boring!
The Next Generation: A scene from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, featuring actor Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, out in theaters Dec. 15.