Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Mark Hamill was blessed and cursed to rise to prominence playing one of the most iconic and beloved characters in the history of pop culture, Luke Skywalker. Rather than be typecast as a clean-cut hero, however, Hamill reinvented himself as a character actor and prolific voiceover artist best known for his career-redefining turn as The Joker in various Batman shows and videogames. Hamill has also branched out into writing and directing, penning the Dark Horse comic-book miniseries The Black Pearl and directing and starring in the 2004 comedy Comic Book: The Movie. He has remained a ubiquitous presence in television and film, providing voices for shows like Metalocalypse and Regular Show. He recently turned in a very entertaining, out-of-character supporting role as a foppish sadist in the blood-splattered dark comedy/thriller Sushi Girl, which pairs Hamill with other veteran character actors like Tony Todd, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, and Sonny Chiba, as well as newcomer Cortney Palm, who plays a naked woman a group of hardened criminals eat sushi off of while trying to discern the location of the money they stole in a heist long ago. In this follow-up to his previous Random Roles entry, Hamill talks to The A.V. Club about how he chose his Sushi Girl character’s hairstyle, being on The Simpsons, and his two decades playing The Joker in animated Batman series.
The A.V. Club: We would be remiss if we didn’t ask how you felt about the big announcement.
Mark Hamill: What big announcement? [Laughs.] The $4.05 billion announcement?
AVC: As someone who was at the epicenter of the Star Wars universe, how do you feel?
MH: Well, I’m happy for George [Lucas]. Obviously he’s thrilled that this happened. It’s a great surprise. I read it online like anybody else. I have mixed feelings about it, but I think Disney certainly hasn’t done badly by the Marvel universe. They’ve done well with the Muppets, and I guess they own Pixar as well. So, hey, it’s George’s toy box. He can sell it to whomever he’d like. It’s kind of sad to see what, in my mind, is a mom-and pop-operation… which is foolish, because I’m talking 30 years ago. But whatever makes him happy. The problem is, I don’t have enough information. If you’re asking whether we’re involved in [Episodes] VII, VIII, IX, I don’t have enough information, so I can’t make any comment at this point.
AVC: So you’re not getting back into shape, doing a bunch of crunches so you can fit back in your old costumes?
MH: They can green-screen my abs. But seriously, I don’t have the information. He’s told us a lot—he told us about wanting to continue the episodes last summer, but we were sworn to secrecy. And between Carrie [Fisher] and I, and Harrison [Ford] and George, I don’t know what’s on the record and what’s off the record. I don’t know who’s involved and not involved, and until I know more, I can’t really make an announcement. That’s why I thought, “Well that’s odd that we haven’t resolved all this before he makes his announcement about going with Disney.” Again, I’m not in the driver’s seat, he is. But it put us in an awkward position because nothing has been… I mean, we don’t have enough information to make any kind of announcement at all.
AVC: This is obviously a huge part of who you are or who you were, but it’s also Lucas’ baby.
MH: Well, first of all, when it was over, it was over. There was a beginning, a middle, and an end. I didn’t know he was going to wait as long as he did to do the prequels. And with the prequels, I just said I’m going to let it be. I don’t want to be someone that hangs around and says, “Well, in my day, blah blah blah.” It should be approached as an entirely new project. Now, if they invite me to visit the set, I’d love to, but I’m not going to ask myself. I didn’t, and I wasn’t. I never met any of those people. It was one of those things where it was over for me. Emotionally, it was over. That’s why we were so shocked that he decided to do what he’s going to do.
Sushi Girl (2012)—“Crow”
MH: When I read the script, I thought, “This is awfully extreme. I don’t know if I’m comfortable with this.” I married a dental hygienist 30-plus years ago, and there’s the dental mayhem of it that I’m not comfortable with. But I knew Tony Todd. I think he’s a wonderful actor, and this is a career-defining role for him. I felt secure knowing that he would deliver and provide a real foundation for the picture. Everybody else was unknown to me. Kern Saxton, the director, Andy Mackenzie, Noah Hathaway, James Duval, David Dastmalchian, Cortney Palm, all these people were unknown, and it definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. But that’s invigorating. I wasn’t really sure. I thought, “Maybe I should just go see this movie rather than be in it.” It’s really kind of grim and violent, so my son Griffin read it, and he said, “No, Dad. It’s no worse than, like, Reservoir Dogs and certainly not torture porn, if that’s what you’re worried about.” I don’t feel like I have a responsibility to be a role model or anything, but I thought this guy is just beyond the pale in terms of his sadism. He’s so depraved. Then my daughter read it and said, “You know, you always talk about how you wish you got the parts that they give to Woody Harrelson or Philip Seymour Hoffman or Steve Buscemi. If you don’t take this, I never want to hear that again. You should be flattered they even thought of you for this.”
That really made me decide to read it again, and this time read it more in character as Crow, as opposed to reading it as Mark Hamill. If you’re getting into the head of somebody that’s a sociopath or a psychopath, it’s pretty tame stuff by his standards. And when I decided to go for it, I thought, “When he walks into this restaurant, the audience should look at him and know instantly there’s something wrong with this guy. Something’s not right.” And I didn’t know which way to go. I was thinking of a shaved head with a Van Dyke kind of beard and an earring, I was kind of basing it on the people I met when I was doing a musical on Broadway. But I thought that would be redundant if Tony’s bald. So what if we went the opposite way, with long hair. Neal Fischer, one of the producers, sent me an artist’s rendition of this long, blond, coiffed, almost Doris Day-like hair. It was too well-done. Like a hairdresser had done it. And I thought, “I like the idea of inappropriately long blond hair, but let’s make it like somebody in a grunge band or something.” And that’s what’s so off-putting about it, it’s so age-inappropriate on this guy. A teenager could pull it off if he had a surfboard under his arm. Or somebody who was in a band in Seattle who idolized Kurt Cobain. But not on a man like this. On top, he’s not quite right, in the middle he’s got a three-piece suit, then you look down, and he’s got these child-like tennis shoes on. It’s visually arresting and off-putting in a way that was right for the character.
AVC: It seems like he just crawled out of a sewer, not just that his hair is dirty or he is dirty. It seems like there’s something dirty about him on a biological level.
MH: Yeah, he’s hygienically challenged. I love having backstory that the audience doesn’t know about, because I think he’s one of these guys who can really get off inflicting pain on other people, and yet he has a soft spot for Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. He’d be really cheap and eating at real dives and mooching and dumpster diving and doing that kind of stuff, but saving up money so that he can see Elaine Paige in Sunset Boulevard, and go to London just for that. It’s oddball stuff like that that’s not important to the audience, but makes you understand who this guy is, so you’re on firm ground when you’re playing him.
AVC: There were times when he seems to have a little bit of a Truman Capote thing about him—both in terms of his dress and his manner of speech, being this foppish dandy—in a strange, unlikely context.
MH: Yeah, that’s a paradox, because usually the enforcer, the guy that does the violent dirty work, is more of a Charles Bronson type. Again, I was trying to go against the grain and find ways to make him not somebody that can fit into a groove. By default, he’s sort of the comic relief, because of his sort of grim, dark sense of humor. And in a movie like this, you kind of need that. But it was a wonderful experience. I had no idea how well we’d get along. Not just the cast, but the crew. I think we all felt like we were working on this little gem that can’t really be pigeonholed. It’s kind of a specialty item, not for everyone, but confident in what it is. And it was so much fun to do, which seems odd because of the sinister atmosphere of the movie. It was just a pleasure to go to work. I couldn’t predict how well we bonded, to the point where we still see each other at barbecues and birthday parties. And that’s rare. It’s only happened to me a few times in this business.
AVC: The film takes place largely in one setting. Did making it feel like being back in theater?
MH: It did. I’m so glad you picked up on that, because No. 1, I’ve done a lot of theater. And this piece… It’s one major setting. I mean, they cut away and there’s flashbacks, but we were able to do it in continuity like a play, which was a dream come true for an actor. It’s one of the reasons I loved working in New York so much. It’s really the actor’s medium, not the director’s medium like you see out here. With very few tweaks, I think this could be done as a stage play. And it did remind me of… What was that thing I saw with Al Pacino, that three-character David Mamet—
AVC: American Buffalo?
MH: Yes, yes, it reminded me of that in its profanity and its look at the underbelly of lowlife criminals. It didn’t glamorize the violence in any way. It didn’t make it look like, “Oh, that would be a cool thing to be.” It made it look like what it is. Ugly and unsavory.
AVC: The film is engaging to the point where there is a very attractive naked woman in many of the scenes, but after a while you stop thinking about her, and she becomes the scenery.
MH: Exactly, she’s part of the furniture or something. First of all, Cortney Palm is ravishing, and she’s got incredible discipline to be able to stay like that. The fact that she was able to stay so still, that’s what made me think of doing that Three Stooges poking-the-eye gesture when I’m circling around her. They were lucky to find her, because sometimes when you’re doing minimalist roles like that, it’s more difficult than if you have monologues on every page. But she did a great job, and she is flawless. We couldn’t help but notice as she got on and off the table. [Laughs.] She’s like a Greek statue.
Various Batman animated series (1992-2005) / Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) / Batman: Arkham City (2011)—“The Joker” (voice)
MH: I just won a BAFTA, I’d love that to be mentioned. I won a British Academy Award for voicing The Joker in the second of two videogames I did. We did Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. They both made hundreds of millions of dollars. I think the first one might have even crossed the billion-dollar mark. They’re certainly making more money in videogames than they are in movies these days. And I’m particularly proud of The Joker, because it is the ultimate character actor’s role, and it’s like the 180-degree reverse of that icon of virtue that I played in George’s movies.
AVC: Could you talk about your approach to the character? It’s so iconic.
MH: At that time, it had only been played by Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero. Ironically enough, I just wrote an introduction to a Joker book for DC, a coffee-table book [The Joker: A Visual History Of The Clown Prince Of Crime], their first book devoted to a villain as opposed to a hero. And my research told me that the original voice to an animated Joker back in the ’60s was—are you ready for it?—Larry Storch! Of F Troop fame. And Car 54. He’s really one of my favorite comedians. But I was a big Batman fan, and when I read they were going to do 65 episodes and they were aiming to approach the quality of the Max Fleischer theatrical cartoons, I said, “Oh, this is going to be sweet. If they have 65 episodes, and they’re going to be engaging Paul Dini and Bruce Timm and all these high-level people that really are from comic books, this has the chance to be the definitive Batman. More than the movies, because they’ll be short, like comic-book stories are, and they won’t have to be tied down, like the TV series, where there’s a new villain every single week. I love the TV series, but it really fell into a formula so quickly that they couldn’t go into the depth of the comic books. They were stuck in that satirical mode rather than being able to get dark and scary and all that.
So I was really up for doing it, and I told my agent that, and they got back to me and [initially] gave me a role in the first Mr. Freeze episode called “Heart Of Ice.” Written by Paul Dini, it eventually won the Emmy for best script. And when I read it, I thought, “Wow, this is really melancholy for a children’s cartoon. And really intelligent.” It’s not dumbed down. And Michael Ansara played Mr. Freeze. I got in, I met all the people, I saw the drawings, I saw the backgrounds, I got even more enthusiastic, and I guess I sort of let my fanboy flag fly. On the commentary—when I was writing this introduction I watched all the Jokers again—Bruce Timm recounts my first engagement with the Batman people. I kind of said, [mock whiny voice] “Wah, I want to be Mr. Freeze,” but Michael did such a great job, and I hate to use that corny phrase, but he was chilling in the role. It was hard for him, too, because he’s a passionate actor, and he’s not really familiar with comic books. They’d say, “No, that’s too much emotion.” He had to be sort of, [slow and sinister Mr. Freeze voice] “I would weep for you if I still had tears.” [Michael] would emote too much, and it was really hard for him to understand. He wound up coming back again and again and being brilliant.
But not everybody is a comic-book geek like me. For instance, Kevin Conroy, who’s my Batman, has never read a comic book in his life. So it’s not a prerequisite. All you have to do is read the script in front of you and interpret it the way you would any other script. You don’t have to have the background in comic books that I do. But to make a long story short, after doing that one episode, they called a few months later and said, “Would you be interested in auditioning for The Joker.” And I thought, “Of course. I’ll do that. I’ll never get it, because my association with Luke Skywalker is going to preclude me from being considered.” I remember the controversy when they cast Michael Keaton as Batman, just because he was a more comedic actor. So anyway, without having any fear that I was getting it, I went in and just let it rip. And I had been on the road and on Broadway doing Amadeus so long that I had an arsenal of giggles and laughs that I used for Mozart. That was one of the requirements of that role: It startled Salieri in the Viennese court that this man that was capable of writing this celestial music had a donkey bray of a laugh that was just so unsettling. It just didn’t fit with who they thought he was. And I had to play around with that laugh a lot. When you do eight a week, just to keep it interesting I had a huge palette of different kinds of laughs. And the only reason I say all this is because later I said, “What got me the part, by the way?” And they said, “Oh, it was your laugh. It was your maniacal laugh that really sealed the deal.”
As soon as I got the part, I had a huge rush of insecurity, thinking, “Oh man, there’s no way…” If I had gotten Two-Face or Hugo Strange or someone who had never really been done before—onscreen or in cartoons—there would be no expectation. There’s no way I’ll be able to satisfy all these fans who have an idea of how The Joker should sound. When I don’t have the part, I come out of the audition thinking, “That’s the best Joker in the world. They’re nuts.” Then when you get it, “Oh my God, I can’t do this.” You have friends saying, “You’re brave to follow Jack Nicholson.” I never even thought of that! But each of the Jokers I’ve seen, I like very much. Not just Heath Ledger, but Kevin Michael Richardson, who did it in The Batman, and Jeff Bennett, who did it in The Brave And The Bold. But my Joker is old-school, from the comic books: He’s wildly theatrical, he’s wildly flamboyant, yet he’s all over the place. He can get dark and gritty and malevolent and scary and he can be over the top. Each script seemed to be a separate entity to me. In some episodes, he was meant to be one way. I know we did a parody of Thelma And Louise with Harley and Poison Ivy, where Joker is left as a cuckolded househusband in an apron doing housework. One of my favorite episodes was “The Man Who Killed Batman,” where he thinks some low-level thug has accomplished what his life goal is and eliminated Batman. He has no reason, no raison d’être. He is, like, empty. I love the line, [Joker voice] “Without Batman, crime has no punchline.” It’s wonderfully written.
It’s so ironic to me that despite having gone and done six or seven shows in New York, a Drama Desk nomination for Harrigan ’N Hart, and I got to play real character parts, Elephant Man, Mozart, Gordon Miller instead of the playwright in Room Service—the critics all expected I’d be playing the innocent Midwestern playwright, so it was really delightful to be able to play a sleazy money-grubber like Gordon Miller—but to find the ultimate character role in an cartoon was so unexpected and so joyful. It was just a sheer delight. And we did that from ’92 to 2004 or 2005, and then it ended. And already, it was the longest association I’d ever had with one single role. Then when they asked me back for the videogames, I had some trepidation, thinking, “Well, I thought that door was closed.” But everybody was coming back. Paul Dini wrote it, Kevin was coming back, and it was like a chance at a reunion. It was great fun to revisit such a rich character as The Joker.
AVC: Would you say that that role and that performance did as much for your career as playing Luke Skywalker did?
MH: Well, it certainly opened up an avenue that I’d never explored before. When I was a teenager, I did one animated series back when I was on General Hospital. It was 1971 or ’72. Then I didn’t do animation until Batman. And because of the impact it had—sort of this trendsetting new way to approach animated comic books, it really all came together. The music, the visuals, the writing, the casting couldn’t have been better. It just exploded my career in terms of being a voiceover person—I’ve done thousands of cartoons since.
AVC: You have a 17-page IMDB entry, so you’ve obviously been pretty busy.
MH: I’m on four animated series right now. I’m on Disney’s Motorcity, we’re doing the fifth season of Metalocalypse on Adult Swim, I’m doing Regular Show, which just won an Emmy, and the TV version of How To Train Your Dragon. I took to it like a duck to water. It’s the ultimate in storytelling, in a way, because you’re creating the character with your voice alone. You can come in unshaven and do these elaborate action sequences without stunt rehearsals and green screen and harnesses and stunt doubles, and it’s just really great. I don’t want to talk about it too highly, because I remember back in ’92, there weren’t that many voiceover people that you knew from television and movies. And now, everybody is doing them. It’s very crowded. There’s great competition for every single role. So God knows I need to discourage people from getting into it.
The Simpsons (1998)—“Mark Hamill” / “Leavelle”
MH: [Laughs.] It’s funny that you say that, because I loved The Simpsons back when they were short segments on The Tracey Ullman Show. So when it went to series, I said to my agent, “I want to be on The Simpsons. Just let them know that.” And it took the longest time. I wasn’t on until season nine or 10 or something. But my agent called and she said, “I’ve got good news and bad news.” I said, “What’s the good news?” She said, “They want you for The Simpsons.” I said, “Oh boy! What’s the bad news?” “They want you to play yourself.” Because I had an experience playing myself once before, on that Steven Spielberg animated show about the superfan. [The Freakazoid episode “And A Fan Boy Is His Name.” —ed.] It was funny because it was down at the comic-book convention. But in any case, playing yourself, you become very self-conscious in terms of, “Well, who am I? How do I sound?” I’d be walking around asking the kids, [Adopts different voices, high and low] “Does this sound like me? Does this sound like me?” They were like, [whiny kid’s voice] “Daaaad.” They weren’t willing to indulge me like that.
One thing that was nice about The Simpsons was, because they knew I was self-conscious about playing myself, they let me play the head of a bodyguard school, which was fun. It was sort of a play on that character that Strother Martin played in Cool Hand Luke. [Drill-sergeant voice] “You are without a doubt the worse bunch of recruits I have ever seen!” And he also sings “Wind Beneath My Wings” in that ground-glass voice. I just think the world of that cast. It was so fun to see Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner and Yeardley Smith do these characters that I’ve known for so long. And that’s the magic of voiceover. I mean, that’s why I really hesitate to do Joker live, and when kids say, “Do your Joker voice!” I say, “Close your eyes,” or, “Turn your back,” so that they can imagine the character and not have it spoiled by having it coming out of my face.
AVC: Do you remember your reaction to reading the script for the first time?
MH: Oh, I got up on my high horse! I said, “Oh, I’ve never done dinner theater, I’ve been on Broadway. I’ve never worn my costume in public for money. How dare they.” And my kids were like, “Dad, get over yourself. It’s The Simpsons, for God’s sake.” Some of the jokes still really stand out, like, “Talk about Star Wars!” “I’m happy to talk about Star Wars. But first, I’d like to talk about Sprint.” [Laughs.] And Homer screaming out, “Shut up, you nerds. He’s trying to save you money on long-distance phone calls.” Look, there’s certain benchmarks in your career, and that’s one of them. Talk about your cultural icons. I just adored The Simpsons, and it was so fun to finally be able to meet them and be a part of their universe. I mean, Homer picked me up in his arms and carried me off, like an officer and a gentleman. You can’t get better than that. And if you go to my Twitter account, I’m still using my Simpsons rendering as my photo.
The Big Red One (1980)—“Private Griff”
MH: This was a life-changing experience. You learn what you learn about World War II academically, but then you make a movie like that with Sam Fuller and Lee Marvin, both of whom were in the real war. It was their real-life experience. We’re at a point now where if they make movies about World War II, it’s secondhand. These guys were there to say, “Well, this is what happened and that’s what happened.” You say, “That seems really odd. I mean, why would that guy do this?” And they would relate to you what exactly happened. We made most of it in Israel and some of it in Ireland, which is ironic, because they were two places that were really sort of troubled themselves. There were bombs going off in Israel and shootings and whatnot, there was mayhem. And a sniper in Ireland shot a groom dead on a location that we had been on the previous day filming. So it was unsettling in that way. Sam Fuller was a one of a kind. I’ll never forget him; he was one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with. I’m wanting to direct a film version of The Black Pearl. We’re trying to raise money for that, and I know that his approach to filmmaking was something that left an indelible mark on me. He was very open, too. He let us come to dailies on Saturday, it was all day on Shabbat in Israel, and we would look at the week’s footage. I know why they keep actors out of dailies, because then you’re tending to say, “Oh, I like take three and the beginning of take one…” I made sure I didn’t do that. I was just an observer. But in terms of being able to go to a real, live film school like that was an experience I’ll be eternally grateful for. He was just a mesmerizing guy. He was so dynamic and so full of fantastic stories.
AVC: The Big Red One seems like a film that Sam Fulller had been wanting to make his entire life.
MH: Yeah, and it’s too bad that he didn’t live long enough to see the restored version, because we were all just appalled when the film was taken away from him and cut to the point where they had to add a narrator just so you knew what was going on. If you see the restored version, it’s two hours and 35 minutes or something, and when it was released it was an hour and 50 minutes. They just cut out huge chunks of it. We were very lucky, because Richard Schickel was able to piece this together. They found portions of the film in a warehouse in Kansas, of all places. It’s just a miracle that they were able to get it all together, because most people think, “Oh, well, they have the uncut version that Sam did somewhere in a vault.” Well, no, they don’t. When they cut it down, they made copies of that and let the rest of it fall into disarray. So even though Sam wasn’t there to see it, and Lee wasn’t there to see it, we went back to Cannes all those years later, and the French gave it a standing ovation that lasted so long that I went to the men’s room on another floor, came back, and they were still applauding. It isn’t just Jerry Lewis they revere over there. They love Sam Fuller, and for good reason.
“Star Wars Holiday Special” (1978)—“Luke Skywalker”
AVC: So from the sublime to the ridiculous…
MH: Well, I just thought it was really inappropriate. I read it and thought, “Why are we doing this?” It’s one thing to do a Star Wars sketch on a Bob Hope special, but this seemed to be like a big, long one. I complained about it, and George said, “Well, look. The movie’s been in theaters for over a year at that point.” It was really just a commercial endeavor to keep the awareness up and sell toys, basically. I’m sorry that they don’t put it as an extra on all the releases that they do, because I think it brought us down a notch. It taught us some humility. Everything we did wasn’t perfect. It was like our version of Magical Mystery Tour. Except without the great music. But I just didn’t get it, and I realized it was done for reasons that were more in the commercial realm than in the artistic realm. But I went ahead. I was a good soldier. I said, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t think Luke would sing.” They eventually didn’t make me sing, thank God, but it is what it is.
AVC: So you held your ground about that.
MH: Yeah. I should have held my ground, because clearly… If I hadn’t done it, then it would have been so, “Well, why did Harrison and Carrie do it, and you didn’t?” But I’m not embarrassed by it. It is what it is. I don’t understand the desire to bury it, because it exists, and we did it. We should take responsibility for it. I haven’t seen it. I never saw it. I didn’t even see it when it was on TV. I seem to remember there was a sequence where they introduce Boba Fett. I have it on VHS somewhere, because we went out that night. I put it on the timer with commercials and everything. I didn’t take out the commercials, so somewhere I have it on VHS. I probably should transfer it to disc, or else it’ll disintegrate. Maybe it should, who knows?
AVC: That would be a very early VCR in 1978.
MH: Yeah, [Star Wars] opened May 25, ’77, and this was for the holiday season in ’78. So the movie had been in the theaters for over a year. That’s extraordinary. We never think about that anymore, but that was quite amazing.
The Flash (1991)—“James Jesse” / “The Trickster”
MH: People say, “Was that something that wound up getting you The Joker?” And the answer is, Warner Bros. animation doesn’t know what Warner Bros. TV is doing, which doesn’t know what Warner Bros. theatrical movies are doing. It’s all separate. I was asked by Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson to come in and meet with them. And at that time, I was thinking of pitching villains to them. Because I’d watched The Flash, and I thought, “The problem is, he doesn’t fight any supervillains like in the comic books. He just fights gangsters and motorcycle gangs. What are they going to do, run? Come on. You need supervillains.” So I went in thinking I was going to pitch Mirror Master and Captain Boomerang, whatever. I misunderstood, because what they were saying was, “No, we are going to do a costume villain, our very first one, and we want to know if you’d be interested in playing The Trickster.” “Are you kidding? I’d love it.” I thought it was the closest I’d ever get to being on the old Batman series, because I had a Trickstermobile. In the sequel, I had a sidekick girl. It was great fun. John Wesley Shipp, especially in the sequel when he was brainwashed and became my protégé-in-crime, he had a tremendous comedic flair that was so wonderful to see. He was so straightforward as Barry Allen, as The Flash. But I just have great memories of it. And like I say, we did a part two, which they married together on one videotape and sold as a theatrical movie overseas.
Slipstream (1989)—“Will Tasker”
MH: Again, not a commercial success, but I have a great fondness for it. It was Steve Lisberger, who had done Tron. And it had a very European feel to it, including the ending. Audiences here like things tied up into a neat package and explained to them. It was ironic, because I got some of the best reviews of my career as a villain in that piece. As a coldhearted, heartless bounty hunter. But if it doesn’t sell tickets, you don’t really get… I said, “Oh, maybe this will get me a Bond film.” [Laughs.] Hope springs eternal.
AVC: Is that where your mind was set at that point? Moving into a more villainous character-actor territory?
MH: Well, I always wanted to do that. I always thought villains have more fun. But it was just mostly wanting to be what I was when I started out on the stage, which was more of a character actor. I never thought of myself as a traditional leading man. I usually played comedic sidekicks. I always thought Othello was an interesting part, but Iago was more interesting. The play doesn’t have to be about me. I love ensemble pieces, I love being a part of the entire tapestry of a piece, but I think character actors do have a lot more fun, and there’s a versatility involved that’s challenging and fun, to come up to speed and do what’s required of you.
Comic Book: The Movie (2004)—“Donald Swan”
MH: I was pitching [my comic-book miniseries] Black Pearl. We’re not in a place where it looks like we’re on track to make it to early next year, but this company that I pitched it to said, “Quite frankly, we don’t even do over-a-million-dollar features. So is there something, like, for $500,000 that you could do?” And I said, “Well, certainly not this.” That’s why, on the fly, we came up with the idea of doing a documentary at the comic-book convention. I thought, “What could I shoot that is already visually arresting, and we don’t have to pay for?” That seemed like a natural. At that time, nobody had done it. I ended up hiring all of my voiceover friends as a safety net, since we didn’t really know if we could find footage. We’re in an era now where people are very aware, with cell-phone cameras and the rest of it. You can’t capture natural behavior. So I came up with the storyline of this comic-book fanatic from Wisconsin, Don Swan, who was coming to Hollywood to be a technical advisor on a big-budget adaptation of this Golden Age character he loved. That was probably the most fun, was coming up with the origin, the sidekick, all the backstory for Commander Courage, and making him a Golden Age character. I retained the rights to all of that. I said to them, “If I create all this stuff, I want to be able to use it in the future.” And I don’t rule that out. Hopefully I will be able to at some point.