When we meet Mark Hamill in a London hotel, he looks uncannily like a Jedi master, even if he is wearing a comfy blue jumper rather than a hooded robe: he sits cross-legged in a large chair, looking calm and serene despite the barrage of journalists who’ve been marching in and out of the room for much of the day.
His latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, introduces a wearier, more jaded Luke – a quite different character from the plucky young farmer-turned Jedi knight we first met way back in 1977. All the same, Hamill appears to enjoy playing this more reclusive Skywalker, tucked away on the windswept planet of Ahch-To; his performance is equal parts menace and mischief, and even today, as we sit down with him, he talks enthusiastically about his franchise and his role in it.
While our time with him was sadly all-too-brief, our conversation rambles enjoyably from the demands of fandom, his presence on social media and, perhaps best of all, what non-Star Wars movie he’d pick out as a recommendation for his legion of fans.
Here’s what Mark Hamill has to say…
It’s strange meeting you, because I grew up with Luke Skywalker. Do people, even now, come up to you thinking you’re some kind of kindred spirit?
When I read the screenplay [for the original Star Wars], I thought, “Everyone’s more interesting than I am”. Carrie’s royalty. Harrison’s a womaniser, a gambler and a smuggler. Obi Wan’s got the interesting backstory. But the beauty of Luke is that he was meant to be just ordinary – a commoner. A farm boy with no special talents. For young people, he’s the entry-level character. I would be comfortable around him. Han Solo’s a little intimidating. You’d have to be on your best behaviour around royalty. The wizard is a little scary. Darth Vader’s definitely scary!
I thought, “Well, that’s smart.” Because the nine, 10, 11 year-old kid – boy or girl – could say, “I could do that.” You know? It’s so relatable. I thought it was really smart of George to include a character who’s so accessible.
In this one, we meet an older, more jaded Luke. So did you relish having the character having those added dimensions, or do you sort of wish you could’ve played the hotshot pilot one more time?
Well, part of it is letting go of the past. [Pause] And it could have gone a different way. I remember JJ [Abrams] saying, “Oh, we’ll probably put in a couple of floating boulders to show that [Luke has] the power of the Force.”
So I was led to believe that it would go another way. I didn’t know it was like handing over the baton rather than having the arc already set. So when I read Rian [Johnson’s] script before [The Force Awakens] came out, the first thing I did was call him and say, “Did you take the boulders out?” [Laughs]
Rian had other plans. He said, “Oh no, we’ve sorted all that out.”
So you know, I thought in a way it would be nice to become the benevolent emperor – someone that’s so strong, but on the side of the protagonist rather than the other way around. But I think it’s good to be pushed out of your comfort zone. I mean, it was certainly unexpected. Luke says, “This is not going to go the way you think”, and – ha! You said it, pal. That’s exactly the way I felt. But that’s the difficulty now, because with these Star Wars films, you want to deliver everything the audience wants, in terms of action and adventure, strong characters and humour, but find a way to make it surprising for people. It gets more and more difficult each time.
Yeah, the reactions to this film have been interesting, haven’t they? It doesn’t play safe.
Yeah. And I love that about. I was surprised that there was some backlash to it, but I get it, because I’m a fan too. It’s hard not to feel a sense of ownership, because they’re so invested in [the characters]. I totally get that. Because yeah, I feel a sense of ownership with Luke, but he’s really not mine. I’m the host body, but it doesn’t belong to me. The investment I totally get, because yeah, when I’m making the film there’s nothing more important. I question everything, I want it to be the best it can be. But once it’s finished, it doesn’t belong to me anymore, it belongs to the public. I’m more interested in what they think about it rather than me telling them what I think about it.
So, again, back in the day, you didn’t have the internet, where people could deliver their opinions directly into your computer every day. Nobody wrote letters to say, “Dear Mr Hamill, I’m so not a fan, you stink. Sincerely, JG Jones.”
Now they can! Again, I’m surprised that people go to the effort of hacking the scores at Rotten Tomatoes. I dunno, they don’t like diversity, they don’t like the minority characters, they don’t like the females. I mean, really? Don’t you have something better to do with your life than spending your time venting because Star Wars doesn’t give you what you wanted?
But that’s part of the fun.
I get the impression you enjoy social media as well, though. I love your Twitter feed.
Thanks. Well, before, old-school fan mail was almost like you were doing homework. My wife would say, “Look! It’s all piling up. Just answer 40 and then we’ll go and watch The Sopranos.”
[Mimes the act of very weary writing] “Dear Rachel, thank you so much for your kind words…”
Here, it’s almost like a combination of chat room and electronic fan mail. I didn’t think of going on it – I did a low-budget film that didn’t have any money for publicity, Sushi Girl, and they said, “You should go on to help us.” I said, okay. I didn’t really think it through. Because I went on and talked about Sushi Girl, and tweeted.
First of all, I was surprised: I said, “Why can’t I be @MarkHamill?” And they said, “Well, it’s already taken.” I said, “By who?” They said, “We don’t know. Anybody.”
“They can use my name, and…?” They said, “Yeah.”
So they said, “How about RealMarkHamill.”
I said, “I like alliteration, so how about HamillHimself?”
My daughter said, “Dad, don’t be so political. It’s divisive. You’re gonna get all the red states hating you.”
I said, “I’m not in a popularity contest.”
I really don’t care how many followers I have. I mean, I’d be tweeting the same thing if I had 300 or 300,000. But it is kind of tricky, because you’re at a point now where it’s almost like publishing a newsletter. Where you look at things and you go, “Oh, that’s good. I’ll save that for next Thursday.” It’s just nuts. I said, I should probably establish something like Tweetless Tuesdays, where you just take 24 hours off. Like today! I had so much to do, I just said, “No time for a tweet between back-to-back interviews, so here’s a random shot of a Star Wars-themed t-shirt for you to like or ignore at your leisure.”
Whatever it was. Hashtag, “That’ll hold the bastards.” [Laughs]
There’s an old story about a kid’s show host – this may be apocryphal – but he was supposedly on live television, and he was doing a sign-off.
[Adopts wholesome host’s voice] “Be good to your neighbours. Brush your teeth. Do your homework, and may God bless.” Then the stage manager says, “We’re out.”
So the host goes, “Ah, that’ll hold the little bastards” – and they’re still on the air! [Raucous laughter]
Now, as I wrote that hashtag, I thought, “I’m 66 years-old, and there are probably 14 year-olds who have no idea what I’m referring to. I’ve just called them bastards in my hashtag!”
Part of the fun of playing The Joker and playing the trickster is, if people have any sense, they know not to take these things seriously. I don’t take myself seriously, I like to laugh, I like to have a good time. You have to understand, sometimes I’m so sarcastic and I don’t realise. You have followers from Argentina and Lithuania where the sarcasm or the wordplay doesn’t really translate.
And you get yourself in trouble.
I remember I tweeted something like, “R2 Me Too”. Which to me was good wordplay, but I didn’t realise the nuance for people in the Me Too movement who’ve had sexual harrassment and so forth, that it was trivialising it. It was belittling it in a way that I didn’t intend. So I deleted the tweet right away.
In fact, my son called me and said, “You’re getting a lot of backlash.” I said, “What do you mean?” I read it and I went, “Oh gee, I didn’t even think it through.” But, you know. That’s me, and people know I can be thoughtless and callous about things that I shouldn’t be.
I don’t do Facebook. My daughter will repurpose… the only one I do all myself is Twitter. She goes, “But Dad, Instagram is so much hipper. Twitter’s for old people.” I said, “I am old people!” [Chuckles]
I also think, I gotta just stop at some point. But it’s fun. It’s changed the world, social media.
Oh definitely. I have to ask, is there a non-Star Wars film that you’re really proud of that you’d recommend to your fans? One they might not have seen?
Well, the director’s cut of The Big Red One, the Samuel Fuller film, I liked. Sushi Girl was one of those films where I thought, “I’d like to see this, but I don’t know if I want to be in it.” It’s very Tarantino-esque, it has a Reservoir Dogs vibe to it. I turned it down.
I’m married to a dental hygienist. I said, “For the dental violence alone, I can’t do this. You torture somebody with pliers.” I thought, this is going to be such a grim film to make. But I had the time of my life! Tony Todd and James Duval and Noah Hathaway. It was just a great cast. Andy Mackenzie. And again, when I got into my Crow gear with the ridiculous, age-inappropriate hair, I looked in the mirror and it wasn’t Mark Hamill. You just sort of become whoever it was.
But I turned it down! And my daughter said, “You know, you’re always complaining you never get the parts that Steve Buscemi gets offered…” Or Philip Seymour Hoffman, or Woody Harrelson, or Michael Keaton – eccentric character parts that I love. I said, “You know, you’re absolutely right.” Just because I’m squeamish about torturing someone with pliers on their teeth… Oy-yoy! [Shudders]
I was lucky. Because I said, “Let’s meet with the director.” Because they could have cast… I turned it down flat out, and I was wrong. I’m glad I did it. But that’s why I went on Twitter, just for them. And I forgot about it! As soon as I tweeted about the movie, I was, “Okay, what’s next?” About a month went by. My daughter said, “Are you crazy? People are going, ‘where are you?'” I had, what, a thousand followers?
It’s just a number, you know? I remember saying to my son, “I just passed two million followers.” He goes, “Dad, get over yourself. Justin Bieber has 47 million” or whatever it was! [Laughs] Anyone with a TV show has 20 times as many as I have.
See, I’d have suggested Slipstream.
Oh yeah! See, even though it wasn’t really successful overall as a film, I said, “If I ever have a shot at being a Bond villain, it’s as that bad ass [Will Tasker].” So I was really hoping more people would see it, and I’m glad you noticed!
I certainly did. Mark Hamill, thank you very much.
The Last Jedi is out on Blu-ray and DVD on the 9th April.