Mark Hamill Speaks

Mark Hamill Speaks

By Mike Shaw - Posted Jun 01, 2005

Mark Hamill, the actor formerly known as Luke Skywalker, has forged a career as a voice actor for cartoon series like Justic League and Robot Chicken. But his current gig as Skeleton King on Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! may be his most unusual. Segment producer Mike Shaw succeeded at getting a lengthy interview with Hamill, but we weren't able to use all of it on the show. Thus, here's the bonus expanded interview for your reading pleasure:

What’s your experience with anime-style cartoons?

My father was in the navy and he got transferred to Japan. So I spent the last few years going to high school in Yokahama. What a cultural shock it was because they already had anime big-time. They had Kimba, Speed Racer and Astro Boy. We didn’t watch a lot of television over there. What I am saying is manga and the fact that grown-ups read comics on the subways really made an impact on me. It gave me a different view on how material like that can be presented. There’s still an onus here in the United States. The phrase “comic book” seems to conjure up images of Mickey Mouse, Little Lu-Lu, and Archie, I guess. When people see adult material in graphic form it’s shocking to them. It’s not that way in Europe, either.

What did you think when you were offered something called “Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!"?

You never know what is going to fly. You read the script and you think well this is fun. It goes nowhere. With the monkeys I’m thinking it has got the energy of Ninja Turtles and it’s got the apoplectic bent of a Marvel comic, and Dr. Doom, and all of these elements. There is an episodic nature. Yes, stories are solved within that half-hour but there’s an arcing sort of reach to this thing. Those are always a gamble. A lot of times they prefer them to be more self-contained so you can run them out of order and do whatever you want. I kept my fingers crossed because I had a lot of fun doing it and I love the guys that write it. They’re just a good bunch. Low and behold we got picked up and we are going for a second season.

Who do you play, and what do you like about your character?

I am Skeleton King. It’s funny because you sort of get known as Luke and everyone thinks “Oh, he is this icon of valor.” But you know actors are hams. They want to play scenery chewing lunatics and goof balls. I didn’t want to play you know, scenery chewing lunatics and goof balls. I have been very lucky, at least on-Broadway and in animation, playing a lot of character roles that I love. I realize with animation that you are not going to be seen or get a lot of recognition. It was really good and healthy for me to realize, “who cares?” I mean, if you really enjoy what you are doing and the people you work with and you really enjoy your part of the process, then there is no downside. I don’t know how that happened. I think it was because I did the Joker and that went so well. They see that you can do that well and then they want you to do the same thing over and over again. It’s not easy because I was very protective of Joker. I didn’t want to do variations on that voice. With Skeleton King, that is not a problem.

How are your various cartoon villain characters different from one another?

My kids were all like “Are you going to haul that old tape out and watch yourself on the Flash?” I said no. I mean really it’s not the same continuity and it is a team-up with other villains. I am going to go in and see how Captain Cold sounds and I don’t know who else. There were about four of us in there. If he is doing lots of low tones-you want to work as a unit. It’s a case by case basis. So I don’t know how I got typed as a villain. They are really rich roles. It is fun to be the reason the antagonist can’t succeed and irritate everyone around you. People also forget that you don’t think of yourself as a villain. I mean I certainly don’t think of myself as a villain. As Skeleton King he knows the way the world or the universe should be run and he wants the job. Hey, what is the problem there? Joker, he is a comedic genius. He would get his full recognition if it weren’t for the psycho in the bat suit. You really tend to see the series from your point of view. Remember that these robot-monkeys are these irritating little creatures that stand in your way of world domination.

Which is your favorite animation project?

As a teenager I did a few things: I did a Ralph Bakshi movie, Wizards, and then I did a series at Hanna Barbara. Then for some reason, it was partially my fault for not pursuing it. I really loved animation from the start. But I was so anxious to do so much. I really wanted to do live theatre. I really wanted to do TV. So it kind of slipped by the wayside. It wasn’t until it came back, I think in ’91. I got spoiled. The Batman series was still one of my favorite shows I’ve ever done. It was so well written and really had a nice sense of variety from the dramatic moments to the silliness, satire and all of it.

Do you ever examine how other actors have approached the role of Joker?

Kevin Michael Richardson is now the Joker on the new incarnation and he is in Comic Book: The Movie. He is a friend of mine. He almost was apologetic when he said he was going to be doing Joker. I said, “Good for you.” I mean, it was the longest run I had ever had. It was 13 years. You should be lucky to go that long. Joker is one of those characters that will be reinterpreted like Hamlet. I mean there’s no definitive. I loved Jack Nicholson. I thought Cesar Romero was great. I would have asked him to shave the mustache. But other than that, it’s perfectly legitimate to reinvent it for other generations.

How did you interpret the Joker as a character?

The teeth really reminded me of the blue Meanies from Yellow Submarine. So I wanted to have that feeling like I’m teetering. I always pictured the Joker as a guy who is trying to maintain his sanity at any given moment. And that the danger is that he would go off. It was interesting to me that Frank Gorshin said it was not so much the sound of the Riddler’s laugh, it was what he laughed at that made it creepy. So that was a nice clue. With Joker I just thought he had to be larger than life and very harlequin and theatrical. So I got to use that mid-Atlantic British which theatrical impresarios tended to affect, especially at the turn of the century. Other than that it was usually the writing of Paul Dini and just what was required in the script. People were always nailing me. I would say a line and they would say that is so Bette Davis. Bette Davis? I would ask them how they got that. "Well you just said 'Isn’t that fine,' with that kind of 'What a dump.'” I mean I didn’t mean to do it intentionally. People would point it out to me. I would say to them you know you are right that does sound a little like Howard Cosell there. I don’t consciously model it against everyone. He is such a myriad of personalities that you can kind of shove everybody in there from Jerry Lewis to Charles Laughton.

How do you relate to fans?

I am really lucky to be involved in something that at least in some way allows me to be connected with the kid that really should be in all of us. No matter how old you are there is that part of you that really remembers that sense of wonder and desire, that sort of voracious appetite for adventure and excitement. I really feel a kinship. I think the fans know that I am one of them. The San Diego Convention got a little nervous near the end that I was going to go down there and take an attitude. They said, "This is not going to be like Trekkies." I have never even seen Trekkies. I said, if you think it’s going to be snarkey and I am going to be looking around for people that are overweight in spandex, I am not Howard Stern. I mean, he is legitimate for what he does and I can laugh at some of the mean stuff he does, but that is not my humor. If anything, I am going to use this as a way to stay off the psychiatrist’s couch and analyze why I would still be so enamored with something that society thinks I should have given up at age 12. I mean, I still love games. The only reason I try to stay away from them is because they takes over your life. It’s like quarter-to-three in the morning and you are like “Oh my god, I started playing this when Leno was on.” But if I could just get to the next level, all I need is one more sword. They are really sort self-perpetuating time-eaters. There doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do everything you need to do.

What other projects are you working on?

I am producing an animated series right now. So I am interviewing animation houses right now. I am one of the team of directors on Revenge of the Brick, which is on Cartoon Network. It is a parody of Episode III, not in its entirety but an aspect of it. That was great for me because I was sort of leaning towards using live actors manipulating low tech puppets. Everyone said no you have to do it CGI. I thought yeah, but I don’t want to give up control. They kind of by default let me in on the process because they said I would be able to see how similar it was to directing live actors. Because the animators are very expressive and they are actors themselves, they have to be. Again, I love getting involved in something I never expected to do. I think that is what keeps you going, the challenges of the future. Is there something else left to conquer. When I was offered the musical I was like I have to do it just because I had never done it before. What would that be like to be doing a scene and then start singing? I mean it just seemed so absurd to me. I really loved the storyline. They thought I would be competent at it. They really put me through the ringer as far as singing all of these different songs. Then they sent me to dance class for six weeks before the first day of rehearsal just to see that they could drill this thing into my head. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. I have such respect for people who are able to pull that off. Now having done it, I probably never want to do it ever again.

What about directing movies, like Comic Book: The Movie?

I want to direct Black Pearl just because I want to see it all the way through. I am very encouraged by Frank Miller being able to direct Sin City. Not that I would put myself in his category. He is in a category all of his own. In terms of Hollywood saying, yeah Mark should direct this, instead of saying well what has he directed? I mean it was hard getting the gig on the commercial because they said well has he done any commercials before? Well no! I mean come on, where do you start? I mean do I have to start directing MTV videos to get a gig directing? I have grown up more than half of my life on sound stages working with actors, working with writers, directors, whoever.

Doing Comic Book: The Movie, even though it was way more work than if I was just showing up to do a scene on Thursday afternoon being involved with the music, the art direction, all of it, was wonderful. The quote I love is someone asking a director what teamwork is. He says teamwork is a whole group of people doing exactly what I say. That is not the way I am. I am really interested in your opinion. This way or that way? Ultimately you have to make that final decision and it doesn’t always make you popular. There’s an actor in the Comic Book movie that is still mad at me over a choice I made. You know, the buck stops somewhere. I really loved the whole process, I really did. Like I said hours and hours spent in that editing room thinking this is the worse thing I have ever seen. This makes bad SNL look like Neil Simon. That’s how bad it was. Then you see 15 seconds of brilliance and you’d write down the code numbers. Then you’d cobble together something from just hours of stuff that we had. I am proud of it because we made something out of nothing. Jonathan Winters won a direct-to-DVD acting award and the movie won best feature direct to DVD. Thank God they split us up from the other animation, because we got our butts kicked from the other animation like Lion King One and a Half, another Disney product. I was up against all of these other animation directors and they rightly won. They were like $20 million productions. Ours was the cinematic equivalent of rifling through couch cushions and hitting your buddy up for money. Hey, get those bottle deposits we need to shoot a new scene!

How did you get the idea for Comic Book: The Movie?

With the resurgence of interest in all of these comic book movies, I said “No one has done the anti-comic book movie yet.” It would be set in the real world. It seemed like the time was right. I did this Broadway show that I had expected to run about a year and it tanked in a month. So I had this free time on my hands. I thought the scripts that we had written, the drafts, were maybe a year after the comic book came out. Now is the time to start from scratch with the same premise and really accentuate what makes it unique. Another word for it is a character study, it’s really not about comic books per se. It takes place in the real world. There’s a guy that does something very foolish influenced by comics but it’s much more in the category of Fargo than it is a legitimate comic book movie. And I just want to make it before someone else gets the idea, because it’s such a rich one. It allows me to sort of scrutinize the conventions of comic books under the harsh glare of reality. And that appeals to me because I do have this sort of dual relationship from the time I was five, six, seven, eight, nine through probably 12 or 13, then stopping for about seven years and rediscovering them in college. How they look different to me now, and how they have changed.

What do you think of the Star Wars prequels?

Well, you know, it’s just a whole new set of stories for a new generation. I am not really objective because there is a certain emotional disconnect I have. I don’t know all of these people. You don’t take it personally. We had a beginning, a middle, and an end. In my mind, it was really over. I mean I just couldn’t conceive of the way it just goes on and on in games and novels. I am sort of like George. I am more fascinated with the technology now. I probably watch them in a different way than some people because I am mesmerized by the waterfall. Wow, that was really dry salt pushed over the edge. See? Now I love that. Me, I would go send a B-camera down to the Amazon and just isolate one waterfall. But, it was beautiful. So I mean it’s sort of like looking at George’s toy collection and he has got it all buffed up and gleaming. It’s like the guy who has the best train set. This looks so different. Yeah well I put in a new depot and put in some new pine trees and brushed away the old stage coach. And you go wow that’s awesome. That is what it’s like. I went up and looked at simplistic animation techniques. I wanted to have virtual puppets that could be manipulated by the keyboard, almost in real time. Instead they are showing me this magnificent, 70mm, ultra-expensive animation. And I said now you guys are just showing off. I mean mine is set in a building with six pets. I don’t have 800 wookies running across the land and fighting robots. It’s fun because they have such enthusiasm for what they do. They are real fans themselves. You know they have all of the little Burger King toys. Will you sign my cereal box? They are not cynical and that I appreciate. It is really just a way to retell basically the same stories. I mean certainly the same themes and characters with new technology. It’s fun to play. I think it is better to compare the modern ones within themselves and the old ones within themselves, rather than to cross-generate.

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