Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mark Hamill, of Star Wars and Corvette Summer fame, talks about the many things he’s done since—including his impressive new comic book

Mark Hamill attends the 'Griffith Park Observatory Museum Foundation Honors Jane Goodall' on May 13, 1996. (Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

The A.V. Club, which started as a non-satirical pop culture supplement to The Onion, first went online in 1996. In honor of 1996 Week, we’re republishing vintage interviews from that year.

Mark Hamill will forever be inescapably tied to the name Luke Skywalker, the boyish hero he played in George Lucas’ billion-dollar Star Wars enterprise. But in the nearly 20 years since his stardom began, he’s done much more: He’s provided voices for over 200 cartoons, including a recurring role as the Joker on the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series. He’s had roles in B-movies from 1978’s Corvette Summer to last year’s Village of the Damned. His Wing Commander CD-ROMs have proven to be massively lucrative. He’s starred in seven Broadway plays. And he just co-wrote a five-issue comic-book series, The Black Pearl, which he plans to develop and direct as an independent motion picture. The Onion recently spoke to Hamill about his past, present and future in Hollywood.

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The Onion: In the last 10 or 15 years, you’ve kept yourself incredibly busy. Yet people still say, “What’s Mark Hamill done since Return of the Jedi?”

Mark Hamill: I feel like I should just make copies of my resume. [Laughs.] I don’t usually have to confront that question, so I don’t have a prepared answer. I mean, there have been highlights and lowlights, no question about it. I tend to live in an insular world, and I do have three children, and I try to stay as active as I can in their lives, so I don’t know that I really confront either the public or the business at large on that issue. So I sort of take each thing as it comes, and I do the best I can in whatever project it is. It’s weird, though, because I feel like maybe I’m the only one who has it in proper perspective.

[The Star Wars trilogy] was a really good job, and I was glad to be a part of it, but that is not a forward-looking situation for me. They’re going to go on and do their other trilogies, and I’ll be there in line buying popcorn with you guys. But, you know, it’s firmly in my past at this point. Also, people who are sort of single-minded like that, you’re not really going to change their impression anyway. You can list everything under the sun that you’ve done, and it doesn’t make a lot of difference to them.

I never expected Star Wars to be the kind of project that would be that financially successful, and yet, both Wing Commander CD-ROM projects were $100 million projects in terms of profit, and in a town where the bottom line is profits, you’d think that would make a difference too. But I still think Hollywood thinks doing CD-ROMs is semi-slumming it. Which is kind of funny, because they think that way until they see the profits, and then their eyes bug out of their heads. To me, the CD-ROM was one of the more innovative situations I’ve ever been in, because it seemed like we were in an area that had never been tried before. And the possibilities for computer-generated backgrounds—making certain projects that were prohibitively expensive affordable—is what excited me. I thought, you know, if you could computer-generate period movies—say, you had a detective story set in the ‘30s—you wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of the sets. That’s the wave of the future, where you’re going to be able to build your multimillion-dollar sets inside the computer, and that’s exciting. The Wing Commander projects, which were enormous successes beyond anyone’s dreams, seemed to me to be an indication of where we’ll be in a few years’ time. Who knows?

O: So now you’ve got the new comic book, which you’re looking to not only adapt into a movie, but also direct.

MH: The only reason I want to direct The Black Pearl is because it’s like composing the music and then finally wanting to conduct the orchestra. I’m not sure I want to go and be a director for the rest of my life, but I also don’t want anyone else to do it at this point, and I want to see if I can, with a kind of single-mindedness, will myself into seeing it all the way through to the end.

Critical, of course, in that goal, is getting people to go out and buy the graphic novel, because I know it won’t hurt if it’s based on a successful something-else, whether it’s a record or a novel or a comic book, or whatever. It helps when you can say, “Based on…” There’s an irony here: In our contract it says, no matter where the film was made, even if Dark Horse doesn’t make the movie, it has to say, “Based on the Dark Horse comic book”—the irony being that we wrote it as a film, so we’re sort of coming full-circle by being diverted into drawing it as a book, and then coming back and making it as a film. But, you never know. I thought, “Let’s take a real lurid, trashy piece that’ll really appeal to the lowest common denominator. Aim low.” This is what I say to my children. Aim low, and you will not be disappointed. [Laughs.]

To me, I loved being part of George Lucas’ extravaganza, but I’ve played much more interesting roles. More dimensional, and with more gray areas. That’s nothing against George: I mean, obviously a fairy tale is going to have those sort of black-and-white characters. And not only is it a fairy tale, but it’s for small children. But in terms of character parts and comedy, I did lots of more interesting stuff on Broadway. And then, of course, in animation you’re playing all kinds of character parts. I mean, if you’re not really having fun, if you’re not doing new and interesting things to challenge you, don’t still do it.

I don’t have a drive to be out there just to be out there. Otherwise, I would have taken a TV series or hosted game shows or done a lot of things that have been offered to me over the years, just to keep my face out there. And that’s not me. In fact, I made up a game show. I went out and pitched it, and people were, like, “Well, we like it this much with you as the host, and this much without you as the host,” indicating very little. And I thought, is that really what’s going to happen to me? I’m going to turn a certain age and turn into a game-show host? That almost sounds like a Twilight Zone plot.

O: And imagine what people would say.

MH: Well, yeah, but again, I’m not someone who—I guess I care what people say, but there’s a certain point where you hear so much in this town, it’s like, it all bounces off like bullets off Superman’s chest. Because, what hasn’t been said? This is a town of talk and rumors.

O: So how do you envision the making of The Black Pearl movie?

MH: Well, we saw it as an independent film, and when you’re an independent film you can be defiantly independent. I say, if you’re not going to do a big, gigantic formula picture, why not surprise people? Because the trouble with these gigantic budgets is that there’s so much at stake; they have to do focus groups, and committee analysis, and all of this stuff. They show Fatal Attraction, and the audience doesn’t feel Glenn Close is punished enough, so they go back and do a reshoot of what would probably be the entire budget of The Black Pearl. You know, because we see this thing as, like, five million dollars or less, and we think you’ve got to take advantage of what you have going for you, and what you have going for you as an independent film is that you can really surprise people. Part of this was trying to get to a place in a script that’s not a fantasy, where the audience wouldn’t bat an eye when one of the characters decides that putting on a costume and going out into the night to fight crime is a reasonable option.

The comic is what’s actually been kind of a challenge for us, because a lot of things that’ll work in a movie won’t work on the comic-book page. A good example is that at one point, and you’ve seen this a million times, the protagonist is in the antagonist’s lair, and the antagonist arrives home. This is known to the audience, but not known to our protagonist, or not yet, so you milk the suspense out of that as much as you can. In a comic-book situation, you’d have to have a guy with a thought balloon, thinking, “He’s home!” So that whole sequence, which maybe lasts four to six minutes on the screen, becomes two panels. I would say that the process we went through to get it into a comic-book form that was compelling, and that made you want to turn the page, was not an easy one.

O: So are you going to act in the movie?

MH: I doubt it. I mean, originally, I wrote it thinking, “Hey, I’ll play [the lead].” But then, that’s what made me realize: “Hey, I must be becoming a director,” because I started thinking of all these people I would like better than me in the part.

O: Who would you like?

MH: Well, a real wish list would include someone like Kevin Spacey. There’s lots of people that we liked, you know what I’m saying? The character’s not so firmly etched in our minds that we wrote it for a specific person. But that’s an interesting question, because depending on who you go after, that sets the tone for what kind of movie it’s going to be. If you got somebody huge, that would complicate me directing it, because if you got somebody who’s so far advanced—say, let’s just pick somebody like Tom Cruise—well, there’s going to be a certain list of directors who will be acceptable to him, and I can guarantee you I’m not on it. Mostly because when you get somebody of that stature, there’s no way it can be less than $50 million. Probably more like 80.

The way I see it, it’ll be an ensemble of all unknowns, but I’m living in a dream world. I like going to movies where you don’t know who people are. It’s like Dustin Hoffman playing Lenny Bruce: Do you ever really forget it’s Dustin Hoffman? I don’t know. So there are advantages to lesser-known people, and believe me, I know so many people I’ve worked with on stage, off Broadway, on Broadway, on the road, and in voiceover, who are not big names, but are superb actors. So who knows? Time will tell. If the script is as good as we hope it will be, and it can get to the right people, all we probably need is one anchor centerpiece.

O: Are you pretty much at the point where you figure you might as well have control of a project? You’re in a situation where you can say that if a project doesn’t go well, it’s not like you’re ruined.

MH: Yeah, it’s not the end of the world. I’m very pragmatic about that. I didn’t expect, nor have I become, a major box-office draw on my own. Hey, I’m not exactly the Unabomber, okay? Although people in this town, I’m sure, react in a negative way when they feel like maybe I should be much more successful than I am. But I don’t know if it’s that I’ve got the horse blinders on—or I’m just so grateful for what I do have in my family, in my home life—that I probably took way too long in New York because I liked it so much. I loved doing one show after another, and having that finite schedule: eight shows a week, and you knew you didn’t have to be shooting downtown at four in the morning and sleeping until noon and not being able to see your family. Aside from Saturday matinees, you know, I went to work on Broadway when the kids were starting to go to bed anyway. And for Wednesday matinees, they were in school and it didn’t make a difference. It really was the ideal schedule when the kids were younger.

But now I come back and I see, wow, my stock has really fallen here. And the only thing that’ll get it back up is to create something that people want, something that [I] own. So I think that in a way, it took me too long to realize that I need to create something that’s my own. It’s a problem with being so associated with something that is so much George Lucas’, because I can’t really go out and exalt in the fact that I was Luke, and I can write this story, and I can be in this CD-ROM game. It’s like, you’re part of this gigantic entertainment juggernaut, and the way it is is that my contract is done. They don’t owe me diddly-squat. I tell people, yeah, I was [Luke] for six years, but that guy’s had more adventures since the movies than he ever did when I was playing him. And I’m talkin’ about comic books and games and novels and role-playing games and everything else. It goes on and on. I mean, I’m in awe. George is the prototype person to be like. I don’t know that I would create an entire other universe—most of my projects are set in the real world—but I love doing things that I’ve never done before, because you’re using muscles and skills that you’ve never ever exercised.

With animation, you know, there’s nothing keeping you back but yourself. I didn’t really think of it at the time, but someone said to me when I got the role of the Joker, “What does it feel like to be playing one of the biggest villains and icons since Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes?” And the other person said, “Yeah, and following Jack Nicholson in the role.” And I went, “Oh, my God.” This is after I got the part, and I hadn’t recorded it yet. I’m thinking, “What the hell did I get myself into? This is the end of my career.” And yet, by putting Jack Nicholson out of my mind, if I had consciously thought of him when I was recording, yeah, I probably would have really folded in the crunch.

Ironically, that’s an animated cartoon (Batman: The Animated Series) that to me illustrates exactly the kind of offbeat character comedy/dramatic role that I excelled at in school, that I thought I would be able to continue in a professional career. But that’s not really the case. You maybe wonder sometimes, “Gee, did I get myself set up wrong? And how long is it going to take for me to right the wrong and make people think of me in a different way?”

Never get complacent, that’s another thing. You always try and set your sights for new horizons. I sort of jokingly said to you, “Aim low.” But what I wanted to do with The Black Pearl was work in a realm where it would work on two levels: On one hand, the drive-in crowd and the rednecks would love this thing because it’s kind of a vengeance fantasy. And on the other hand, I think we put some elements in there that call into question our responsibility, not just as journalists but as a civilization—and talk about that loss of civility, that invasion of privacy, that instant celebrity.

So I see my chance, and I’m taking it. It’s taken longer than I thought. And I have to step back. I mean, there are those out there who see nothing but wookies and droids when they see me. But like I say, maybe it’s better to be associated with something that makes people happy than something that makes people sad.

O: You could be forever associated with the Village People movie.

MH: [Laughs.] Can’t Stop the Music! I know! I know, so it could always be worse. I’m so grateful for three incredible children who are all so different, and I don’t think I’m the perfect dad, but boy, I’m sure trying. It’s priorities, too. I mean, once you have a certain amount of financial security—and I say a certain amount because, God knows, everybody including the IRS has way overestimated my wealth—you do have a chance to breathe a little easier and not have to take that job that you’re not really anxious to take just to put bread and butter on the table. But right now, I couldn’t be colder in Hollywood. No agent has rushed to sign me, because I don’t want to rush off and do a TV series where I play a detective whose dog thinks out loud, which is pretty much where I am right now. And if The Black Pearl doesn’t go, I’m working on a children’s television show, because I want to work with kids and I like kids. You just keep on keepin’ on, as the Bradys sang.

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