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From Jedi to Joker: Mark Hamill at SWCVI – Part 2

Animation, Comic Books, Conventions, Movies, News, TV 5 Comments 11

Mark Hamill describes his voiceover work as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series to James Arnold Taylor and the audience in the Chapin Theater at the Star Wars Celebration VI event in Orlando, Florida. Credit: Deborah J. Bell

This is the second part of an onstage panel with actor Mark Hamill, who is best known for playing Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy, at the Star Wars Celebration VI event in Orlando, Florida on August 24, 2012.

[Featured image: LA Times]

Being cast as the voice of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series
I read about Batman becoming a series in the Comic Buyers Guide. They said they were going to do 65 episodes, which is a big buy. That’s 13 weeks of original shows.

Mark Hamill at Star Wars Celebration VI. Credit: Deborah J Bell

They were going to model them after the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, and they were among my favorite cartoons ever, so I knew they were going for quality. Plus they were signing people like [writer/producer] Paul Dini, good writers, [producer/director] Bruce Timm. I said to my agent, Oooh; I want to be on that show!

They came back and said that I could be in “Heart of Ice.” They just gave me a part! It’s the first Mr. Freeze episode, and I read the script and I thought, awww, I’m not Mr. Freeze. [fake whining] I wanna be Mr. Freeze. [laughter]

But they said Michael Ansara was going to be Mr. Freeze, so I was fine with that. I’m actually the guy who pushes Freeze into the solution, so I’m sort of the villain’s villain.

When I went in I was really excited, because they had backgrounds there, they had character sketches of all the characters. I totally just geeked out on them. I wanted them to know that I knew Batman backwards and forwards. I asked them, are you going to do Hugo Strange? Are you going to do Clayface? Are you going to do episodes where there aren’t villains, because I thought the downfall of the one with Adam West was that they got into a formula too quickly. They didn’t really make him a detective enough, or they didn’t do mysteries and so forth. And as much as I loved the TV version as a kid, I knew that this had to stand on it’s own.

About six months later they were casting the Joker, and they asked me if I would like to come in and audition. I was so sure that there was no way that they would cast somebody that was known for an iconic good character like Luke. [I thought] there’s no way they’re gonna stretch…because they don’t have that much imagination. [laughter] I thought there’s no way I’m going to get this! And because I was so sure there was no way I was going to get this I was kind of relaxed.

I went in and had to loop an episode, that’s where you add dialogue to already preexisting animation, which is inhibiting. I also read some “wild” copy which wasn’t synced to stuff.

I always tell people that I went through both ends of the emotional scale, because when I was pulling out of the parking lot I thought, Ha ha! That’s the best Joker they’re ever gonna hear! If they don’t hire me, they’re out of their minds! [laughter]

Then a week later they called and said they wanted me for Joker and I thought, Oh no! I can’t do that! [laughter] I wanted to play somebody that no one has any preexisting notions about, like Clayface, like Dr. Hugo Strange. I never said Joker – it’s too high profile! There’s no way I can do that and satisfy everybody, because everybody has an idea of how the Joker should sound.

To the total delight of the audience, Hamill performed a live dramatic reading of one of the Joker’s monologues from Batman, as written by Paul Dini. The monologue begins at approximately 4:12 into the clip.

Latest project: Sushi Girl
A clip of Hamill’s latest film, the darkly comic revenge thriller Sushi Girl scheduled for release in late 2012, was shown.

I knew I wanted an arresting look for this guy, because he’s really bad news, a psychopath, a sadistic guy. So I thought how about if I shaved my head bald?

I don’t know when my marriage became a democracy, but my wife immediately voted ‘no.’ And I forgot that Tony’s bald, so it would have looked bad if we were two cueballs. So I went in the opposite direction, and that’s how we ended up with Kurt Cobain on a bad hair day.

It’s very intense. When I first read it, I thought this is too much! So I had my daughter Chelsea read [the script] and my second son Griffin read it, and they said it was no worse than Reservoir Dogs, which it sort of resembles.

So I thought that instead of reading it as “Mark,” I should read it as “Crow,” that’s my character. When I read it in character it was practically a comedy. Seriously, because this guy loves violence, he really gets off on it. So it’s me that’s kind of squeamish.

Will he appear in The Clone Wars?
Doesn’t Clone Wars take place between the prequels and the original trilogy? So Luke would either be an infant to 17-18. [here audience members suggest that he could play somebody else] Hey, start a letter-writing campaign!

There are so many great people on that show, I’ve checked it out! It’s really well written, it’s incredibly well cast, so anything could happen. But so far [fake sniffs] no one’s asked. I should play like just a really sickening character on the show, like Darth Barf.

Hamill shows off his grimace as the Joker in Behind The Mask – Making of Mask Of The Phantasm. Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Voice acting vs. screen acting
Well, it’s all so different! People say how’s it different from the stage, how’s it different from TV? Every medium is different. Really, with animation, if I had to say broadly how it’s different is that a lot of the times, because it’s limited animation, you’re going to want to animate your voice. You might over-interpret in certain areas in a way that could be subtle if they could see you.

One of the things I love about voiceover is that it’s so liberating. Because if people can’t see you, you can make choices that you’d never make if the camera were on you. I saw The Making of Mask of the Phantasm, and I was appalled at the way I looked when I’m doing the Joker, pulling my hair and grinding my teeth! But when they can’t see you, it really let’s you let your imagination just fly.

Rehearsal process for the Star Wars movies
There was the physical aspect where they sent me to judo classes and kendo Japanese sword fighting and tumbling, just to get me fit enough to really do as many stunts as I could.

I should point out that Colin Skeaping was my [stunt] double for all three films. He did the flip on Dagobah and they also wouldn’t let me go out the glass door on the middle one [The Empire Strikes Back]. I’m really proud that the British stunt association gave me a [member] card because I did so many of my own stunts.

Behind the scenes still of Mark Hamill and Alec Guinness in Star Wars. Credit: LucasFilm/Twentieth Century Fox

Working with Alec Guinness
Alec Guinness couldn’t have been more like you wanted him to be. He was the kindest, funniest…just a gentleman, just a great sense of humor. He was fantastic.

I didn’t get to work in any scenes with Peter Cushing, so I went in on my day off to meet him because I am a huge Hammer movie fan. He was astonished just how much I knew about his career, because I asked him about working with Laurel and Hardy when he did A Chump at Oxford, and when he was a stand-in for Leslie Howard in The Man in the Iron Mask.

He could do anything, he could play Sherlock Holmes and he could play the insane Doctor Frankenstein, he was really one of the most versatile actors ever.

Mark Hamill as “Luke Skywalker” and Frank Oz performing “Yoda,” in The Empire Strikes Back. Credit: LucasFilm/Twentieth Century Fox

Working with Frank Oz
The most rehearsal we got was with Frank Oz and Yoda, because we didn’t know if it was going to work. It was before CGI. To me Yoda was instantly real. I looked at him and it just worked for me. Frank also was just a really wonderful, easygoing presence. I bonded with him immediately. I was just a gigantic Muppets fan from as long as I could remember.

Does he feel he’s missed out on anything by not being able to experience the Star Wars films the way the fans do?
If you go see a show taped live…you never see that show the same way again, because you’ve seen the sets, you’ve seen the cameras. It just alters your perception of that reality.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but a lot of the time when I see the absolute exuberance that you [fans] display for the stuff that you like I have to put myself back in that head and think, oh yeah, I can totally see it from your point of view, even though the magic is all deconstructed for me.

Next week I’ll be in my backyard picking up after my dog and putting the trash cans out to the curb. It’s only in this [fan convention] experience where I’m somebody that’s considered special. I meet somebody in line and have to remember that oh, they’re really overwhelmed just because I’m here.

Really what you want to do when things go crazy like with Star Wars, you want to reassure yourself that you’re the same person, that nothing’s really changed fundamentally. It’s just the world’s gone insane, that’s all it is. You can’t explain it by any rational kind of logic.

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5 Comments

  1. Eagle-Eyed Editor August 31, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Wow! What a transformation when Mark Hamill does the Joker monologue! Thanks for posting this — I enjoyed reading the behind-the-scenes info about Mark’s experiences filming the Star Wars movies.

    • Deborah J. Bell September 1, 2012 at 10:28 am

      Hamill was a marvelous raconteur. I have no doubt that he’s repeated these same stories a thousand times, and yet he still managed to keep the telling fresh. His addition of a live performance as the Joker truly turned the talk into an experience.

      I have full audio from this panel, which includes a few other behind-the-scenes tidbits that I did not include in my article. I can post a link if you like. :)

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