Mark Hamill is cooler than any of us.
He’s been on The Muppet Show, Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons.
He’s done voice work for both Miyazaki and Ralph Bashki.
He’s been on Broadway.
He has acted opposite Lee Marvin, Sir Alec Guinness, Gary Busey and Jay and Silent Bob.
He’s also done voices on such iconic animated series as Robot Chicken, The Cleveland Show, Batman: The Animated Series, Scooby Doo, The Boondocks, Winnie The Pooh, Afro Samurai, Futurama, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Spongebob Squarepants, Pokémon, The Powerpuff Girls, and Ren & Stimpy.
Oh yeah, he’s also Luke Skywalker.
Mark took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss not only his latest project, the noir ensemble, Sushi Girl, but also his career and future projects.
You play Crow in Sushi Girl. What can you tell me about the character?
He is a sort of low-level thuggish gangster. He has a few redeeming qualities of a sadist, a psychopath, possesses a perverse sense of humor, and a knack for mayhem and violence.
These characters are out of that sort of noir world of wet streets and back alleys. It’s very stylized. It’s sort of a throwback to those 70’s Grindhouse movies, I think. I think it’s the kind of movie Tarantino could like, very sort of Reservoir Dogs-y. But it’s unusual for me to get offered a character like this. That’s just one of the fun things about taking on the challenge, because it sort of pushed me out of my comfort zone, and allowed me to do a larger-than-life character, the kind of thing that I went back to Broadway to sink my teeth into.
You were actually one of the first fanboys who made good. You were a big comic and sci-fi fan before Star Wars, weren’t you?
Yes, very much so. In fact, I wrote an article when I discovered that Kerwin Matthews was on my soap opera, I interviewed him for FXRH, which is was a fanzine about special effects of Ray Harryhausen. So that was published way before I was in Star Wars. I think that was in ’72? Something like that. ’73.
So being on set must’ve been like being a kid in a candy store, with the spaceships and the robots.
I know, c’mon? It was just a thrill beyond words.
I actually remember seeing in a Comics Interview magazine, probably two decades ago, a photograph of a dinner party at Bill Mumy’s house with you and Miguel Ferrer –
– Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, and Bob Kane. How did that come together? What was that like?
|(From left; Bill Mumy (Lost in Space), Jack “The King” Kirby (co-creator of Marvel Universe), Jerry Siegel (co-creator of Superman), Bob Kane (co-creator of Batman), Hamill and Migel Ferrer (Robocop)|
Well, Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer are two actors that I know, not through acting jobs, but because we all are comic book collectors. And it was just one of those situations where we had an opportunity to invite – it was Jerry and Joanne Siegel, Roz and Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, and Elizabeth. At that time that it was, I’m guessing – oh, gosh, was it ’85 or ’86? Whatever it was, it was a chance to have dinner with these living legends, but also to sort of let them know how much what they had done had meant to us. Everyone gets honored after they pass away, and it’s too bad, because it’s too late for them to really know that. And I don’t know. It was just a monumental night, because I thought, “Gee, is this where in animation it’s the equivalent of having Walt Disney and Max Fleischer and Walter Lantz all in one room.” So it was a thrill of a lifetime, especially for fanboys like us.
You’re known obviously for your film work, but actually you’re known quite a bit for your stage work, for Amadeus and Elephant Man, and other productions you were a part of. Do you have a preference for performing on stage, or in front of the camera?
I don’t know. They’re both very different. I would say that stage work is the most immediately satisfying for an actor, because the audience is present and very much a part of the process. The film work is much more sort of technical and removed, and you might do something that you don’t see for a year or two years later. So there’s an electric thrill of performing live. The adrenaline’s there. The Rolling Stones never stopped touring. I’m sure they liked the money, but there’s no thrill like performing for a live audience.
You had done voice work for Hanna-Barbera before a lot of your acting work. A lot of people obviously know your work on current animated series as The Joker, but what prompted your initial interest in voice acting?
Oh, I know what you’re talking about. You’re talking about Jeannie, right?
Yes, Jeannie and I think you did one of the early Scooby-Doo series also.
Well actually, I was on General Hospital at that time, when I first got auditioned to do a voice-over for Hanna-Barbera, and it was one of those things where I think they hired a guy who was in his 40’s or 50’s that did all of their teenage voices, and changed their mind and said, “Let’s get a real teenager.” So I was only like 18 then. I did it with Julie McWhirter.
But then, I didn’t work in voiceover for like 20 years. When I heard about the animated Batman, I thought, “I want to be involved,” because they want to make it like the Max Fleischer cartoons of the ‘40’s. They really are aiming high, in terms of the writers and the design and all that, so hopefully I can do something that’s never been done on a TV series or in movies before.
But between the time I did that first job and Hanna-Barbera and Batman, I didn’t know that there are agents that are just for voice-over. I didn’t even have one of those. And like I said, I was aiming for somebody less high-profile than The Joker, and I did one episode with Mr. Freeze, where I played Ferris Boyle. I pushed him into the solution. It was Michael Ansara as the villain. And I was happy with that. I just did one episode, but I didn’t think much about it.
I did tell the producers, “If you something that’s never been done before – Hugo Strange or Clayface, or whatever – I’d really love to play a villain.”
I no idea that they would think me as The Joker, which I auditioned for. And I know they probably thought of me, because I was so enthusiastic about the whole process. They were overwhelmed with all the minutia I had in my head about Batman, because I’d been reading it since I was a little kid. But, be careful what you wish for, because when The Joker came along, I thought, “Oh, I’ll never satisfy the fans,” because they’ve all heard it in heads all their lives, and there’s no way you can live up to that.
I was really lucky. The writing was great. It pulled the team together in a way that seemed to satisfy the majority of fans. I guess people that don’t like it don’t’ come up and tell me, “Hey, you stink.”
I think you and Kevin Conroy have really become the definitive voices of both those characters.
I love Kevin. I can’t express it – he’s one of the nicest guys in all of show business. What I love about him: he’s the absolute opposite of me. He’s never read a comic book in his life. The very first job he ever had in voice-over was Batman, which I couldn’t believe. I just found this out this past Comic-Con. And I thought, “Really? I think you’ve done voice-over for years and years and years.” “No, that was my very first animated voice,” so gung-ho –
|The definitive Batman and Joker|
And the thing is, that voice has become so iconic that you can’t think of it as anything else.
That’s wonderful. That’s from your lips to Warner Brothers ears because, I’m telling you, I loved Under the Red Hood. And I think John DiMaggio did a great job, but I’d love to do an adult script like that. I’d love for them to do The Killing Joke or something like that.
This brings me to my next question, which is: Bruce Timm said an animated Dark Knight Returns is finally being produced. Well, would you like to do The Joker’s last story?
Of course. Any challenge, in that regard – and that’s a character that’s hard to quit, because he’s insane, and because he’s insane, he’s unpredictable, which just brings us right back to Sushi Girl. Crow is the same way. You have no idea whether he’s going to kiss you on the forehead or slit your throat. I love that kind of uncertainty and ambiguity. It’s a fun thing to play, and it’s rare that you get that chance.
I asked them, “Why did you think of me for Crow?”
And they said, “it was because of The Joker, because of the craziness that you imply in the cartoon. I wonder if you can do it on camera?” So it’s the first role that I got directly because of The Joker, which is fun and a nice pay-off.
The last couple of years, there have been a number of superhero movies that focus on real-life superheroes. Will we see The Black Pearl anytime soon?
Listen. I have been working so hard to get this done, and it’s the usual two steps forward, one step back. I’ve announced it before, only to rejigger the schedule. I can’t say anything right now, but we’re working on it very hard. The two guys that co-wrote it with me are two-thirds of the writing team that wrote The Fighter. That got all these Oscar nominations, and Writer’s Guild, and Golden Globe, so their profile is raised. I think with Sushi Girl, my profile is rearing its head a little bit, with Arkham City coming out. So, hopefully it’s going to be in the very near future.
I’ll tell you something: The Black Pearl was a screenplay before it was ever a comic book, because it’s meant to scrutinize in harsh reality what would happen if somebody really tried to be a costumed vigilante. So, even though the premise is the same in the comic books, we could go crazy with the comic book and draw whatever we want. We made it way over-the-top and sort of a black comedy about tabloid journalism. This one is a much more edgy character study. It’s someone who’s having a slow, nervous breakdown and acts out in a way that’s informed by him having read way too many comic books. But it’s a wonderful tour-de-force for an actor, because it’s first-person. It’s told completely from Luther Drake‘s point of view. And I get excited every time I talk about. So if it’s the last thing I ever do, that’s what I want to do in my career, is direct this movie.
Hopefully we’ll see it soon.
I do, too. Now, the Sushi Girl people have read it. They love it. They want to help me. So, I think we’re getting some traction here. We’re getting more and more people on board. People say, “Do you stay in touch with the people from Star Wars?”
Well, one person I stayed friends with, since the very beginning, is Peter Kohn, who was a production assistant on Star Wars, who’s gone on to be one of the biggest first assistant directors and co-producers of Pirates of the Caribbean movies and all that. He loves The Black Pearl. He wants to be a co-producer, and my first A.D. So, like I said, really, it’s picking the momentum – and, believe me, as soon as it happens, you’ll know. I’ll come to your door, and force an interview on you (laughs).
Did you ever foresee that, thirty five plus years later, not only would you still be talking about Star Wars, but also –
Of course not. No.
The thing that’s bizarre to me is that you have a generation-plus of die-hard fans that weren’t even born when it came out.
I know. It’s astonishing. I thought it was good. I really thought it was great fun, and then I thought, “Oh, well, it’s humorous in a way that most science fiction isn’t.” And I said, “It’s not even science fiction. It’s like fantasy, like a fairytale in outer space.” But then I did get that it has potential to be a cult movie, like the Rocky Horror at midnight or something. But in terms of it becoming this industry of all it’s become, no one could’ve imagined that.
Looking back, though, on the trilogy, is there a particular scene that you can say, “This is my favorite work that I did in these three movies?”
Not really. There’s scenes that stand out. I remember when I read the first one, the Cantina scene stood out, because after all this time, waiting for THE monster in a movie like that that, you walk in and there’s hundreds of them. So that I thought was interesting, but not particularly because of my work.
I did like the stuff I did with Yoda, because I did appreciate Frank Oz saying, “If you don’t believe, no one’s going to believe.” And it was really easy for me to really believe that Yoda was a living, breathing entity, even when it was a stick with a piece of paper on it.
Because I’d seen what Frank would do with the puppet, and even though he was in repair mostly whenever they were on my close-ups, he wasn’t in the shot. I’m proud of those scenes, because almost nobody mentions that I was working with a puppet. And that, alone, is praise enough. Well of course, now they do it differently in the new ones.
Yeah, but you know what? It’s not nearly as effective.
Well, you know, again, I don’t like getting critical of any property that I’m not particularly involved in, which is why I stayed away from the prequels pretty much. But it’s a matter of whether you like old school models, miniatures, and matte paintings, and a lot of people prefer CGI. That’s just their own personal taste. But at least they both have their separate identities. One is very much of the CGI world, and one is very much of the last vestiges of old school special effects.
Well in actuality, it seems like the CGI effects age much worse than –
– practical effects.
Yeah. Well, I don’t know. I think it’s re-training your eyes to look at things a different way. Some of the CGI, and I’m not talking about Star Wars, but I think there’s a tendency, more and more, for video games to look like movies and movies to look like video games. I did Darksiders. I just couldn’t believe the special effects they have, or even this new Arkham City. It’s sort of like the animated graphic novel. The technology just never stops moving.
|Mark returns as The Joker in Arkham City|
How do you feel about your place in pop culture?
Well, I don’t’ think I take a long view. I didn’t get into this business to be famous, I didn’t get in this business to make a fortune. I got into it because I love going to work and doing the things that I loved as a child. So, to be to work in comic books and video games and movies and cartoons, I’m just really, really grateful that I’ve been able to sustain and raise a family and pay for my children and their schooling and the rest of it, doing these things I love. Sometimes I think it’s very insular.
I think at Comic-Con, yeah, I’m exalted there because I’m in something that everybody loves. But I think in the mainstream, the people that aren’t real fanatics and believe me, I’m a fanatic – I’m not saying that in a pejorative way – it’s no big deal. I think there’s a nice balance there. There’s intensity amongst the fans, which I really appreciate in the ways that I can’t express, but I think in the real world, in the larger scheme of things, I’m just another actor from Hollywood and I don’t think that I’m anything special.
Thank you so much for your time. And really, thank you so much for everything you’ve done. I’m a huge fan of your work.
Thank you, thank you. If it weren’t for people like you, I wouldn’t be on the phone now. If it weren’t for you, we would have nothing. And I always say that to fans. I wish I had a better way of expressing it, but I’m so grateful for their support and for the motivation they give to keep on going. If it weren’t for them, I’d be nothing.