Mark Hamill's Long Strange Trip
Those blue eyes will never change, will they? The part, always reaching for the right ear, isn't too different, either. Gone is the blonde that's been interpreted on action figures as everything from highlighter-yellow to butterscotch gold over the years; it's gray now, and the beard is creeping white. Black collared shirt, unbuttoned, showing another shirt (also black) underneath. The background, intentionally blurred—oh, the places we never go, the wonders of Zoom—is a family room, I think. Outside is Malibu, which I'd very much like to see, but won't.
Anyway, there's something a touch unsettling about speaking with Mark Hamill.
"Hey, Mark. How are you doing?"
"Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it, especially on a Friday."
"What's going on? How's your week been?"
"It's been pretty good. Lot of focus on this movie. It must be a tricky movie to market because it's sort of a mashup of a really gritty Russian espionage thriller with however you describe the comedy of Bert Kreischer. I'd never read anything like it."
It goes like that for a while. Full speed into the new project, set up and small talk be damned.
Maybe it's because Mark Hamill profiles often end, and sometimes even begin, with the interviewer confessing that Mark Hamill is their childhood hero. It's reasonable that the 71-year-old might have developed any manner of methods, workarounds, niceties, dodges, ducks, and rolls to prevent journalists from Luke-Skywalkering him so hard that he can't even murmur, in the privacy of his own skull, the title of whatever he's promoting. (In this case: The Machine, an action-comedy in which standup Bert Kreischer stars as Bert Kreischer, in theaters now. Hamill plays Albert, Kreischer's uptight father. It is very funny.)
But I saw A New Hope for the first time in college. I liked a girl, she liked Star Wars, and she didn't like that I hadn't seen A New Hope. I'm not here to learn what it's like to spend time with Luke Skywalker. I’m here to go inside the comedic mutation of a man who just entered his eighth decade of life. To understand the muse that led him, after starring as one of the most famous fictional characters ever—a feat he followed with a legendary, 100-plus credit voice acting career—to an entirely new, chaotic era of creativity. One in which he takes on a Hangover-esque gross-out flick that sees, at one point, Kreischer jam his hand through another man's throat, stick his head out of a moving train's window, and accidentally decapitate him. Hamill also does a lot of movie drugs as Mr. Kreischer. It's full throttle, and the most subversive thing he's made in a long time.
For now, though, I think he thinks I'm about to ask him if Luke Skywalker, as a baby, could beat Anakin Skywalker, also a baby, in a UFC-style brawl. No Force. Just baby fists.
We get past it. I promise.
If you want to see Mark Hamill light up, talk about the dogs. Three pups live in Hamill's orbit: Trixie, Mabel, and Millie. Trixie used to go by Molly, but her personality, cantankerous and feisty (his words), demanded the name change. "I'm one of those we-don't-deserve-dogs types," Hamill says. "I love them so much. They just bring us such joy, and I envy their lifestyle, which is just napping and eating. What else is there?" Millie and Mabel make an appearance, so I offer that there's a cat, sleeping, to my left. "How many cats do you have?" he asks. I tell him just the one, Callie, presently snoring. "I love cats, too," he offers. "We've had cats. But cats are so different. They just tolerate you. They don't really need you the way dogs do. But I find that intriguing in and of itself."
Otherwise, at times, Hamill can skew a little more sober. We start talking about The Machine's earnest detour into a father-son story. He and his wife of 45 years, Marilou, share three children: Nathan, 43, Griffin, 40, and Chelsea, 34. I want to know what he's learned about fatherhood over the years. "You have to stay in the moment and stay involved," he says. "You just can't assume that things are going to go the way you expected. All three of my kids are different from one another."
It's a decidedly different environment than the one that surrounded his own youth. "I had a troubled relationship with my father," he says, starting to recount an anecdote that has shown up in other Mark Hamill interviews. "He was a career naval officer, very authoritarian. I was the middle of seven kids. He just could not understand why I love puppets and monster movies and comic books. These were all frivolous things that I should outgrow. Towards the end, I guess we sort of... It's funny, he was completely unimpressed with Star Wars. He kept thinking I would eventually outgrow my childhood obsession with movies and get a real job. You know what really turned him around? When Bob Hope asked me to be on his Christmas special."
I relate. While always proud of my work, my dad, who I lost last year, felt the same when I interviewed Terry Bradshaw. To Pittsburghers, Bradshaw is male pattern baldness Jesus.
"Well, at least he lived to see that," Hamill says. "Be grateful for that."
I tell him something about how you learn, at the very, very end, that if you were with them and they were with you, it was enough. "I don't know what you learned toward the end, too," I say.
We don't go there.
"Yeah," he deadpans.
In the late '70s and early '80s, Hamill found non-galactic success on Broadway with roles in The Elephant Man, Harrigan 'N Hart, and Amadeus. "To me it made sense. I had a part that made such an impression on people that I felt I had to break that impression," Hamill told The Washington Post back in 1997. But when 1984's film adaptation of Amadeus came around, Hamill lost the title gig to Tom Hulce. The way the story goes, a studio executive reportedly said, "I don't want Luke Skywalker in this film."
So, what's a guy who can't do a whole lot about the fact his face is instantly recognizable to do? Hamill not only morphed into something else, but everything else. As a voice actor, Hamill has provided the chords for Red Skull, Fire Lord Ozai (that's Avatar: The Last Airbender, people), Hobgoblin, Chucky, and the frickin' Joker. Whereas Luke was soft-spoken, noble, and prone to the teensiest bit of Dark Side influence, Hamill's four decades behind the mic have shown a knack for absurdity, hilarity, and more often than not, villainy.
What Hamill's doing now on-screen feels like he's finally taken the party into live action. That includes The Machine, which prompted me to write "holds testicles" in my notebook, though, given the batshittery that surrounds every plot point, I now forget both who was holding testicles and whose testicles they were; also, his turn in 2017's underrated, sideways-humored Brigsby Bear, which stars Kyle Mooney. Above all, though, there's What We Do In the Shadows, where Hamill briefly signed up for vampire shenanigans as... wait for it... Jim the Vampire.
"The fact that they named him Jim the Vampire, not Vlad or anything," Hamill says, "the mundane with the mythical—it just encapsulates their humor exactly. And it was just a joy. Normally, it's better not to be on a show you like, because it changes the way you see it. You see the sets. You meet the actors. I know it's not real, but in terms of fantasy, you never see it quite the same way again... In a way, I hope they don't ask me back because, for me, that was just the perfect episode."
This is a man who owns all 11 seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm on DVD. ("I never miss an episode, ever.") In moments when, say, he's ordering "ONE HUMAN ALCOHOLIC BEER!" in Shadows, you get the sense that Mark Hamill is finally being Mark Hamill, in a place we all can enjoy Mark Hamill.
While we're discussing his comedy chops: Hamill has never hosted Saturday Night Live!, which surely is some sort of cultural sin. (For context: Rudy Giuliani, George Steinbrenner, and Justin Bieber, three people absolutely not known for their timing, have.) Back in 1997, the actor appeared in the deliciously Will Ferrellian sketch, "Shopping at Home Network: Mark Hamill for Sale," where a gaggle of nerds auction off Star Wars memorabilia, Hamill included. I point out this Jeopardy!-question-in-waiting to him as one of the few things that genuinely surprised me while prepping for the interview.
"Well, let me tell you about SNL," he starts. "Carrie [Fisher] did it back in the day with the original cast. I was over the moon because it was my favorite show, Carrie was great on it, and it made me really want to do it. But it's not one of those things where your agent calls and says, 'Hey, book my client.' They pretty much pick who they want and you go from there. I was asked to host Fridays, which was ABC's answer to SNL. And I think—I'm not sure, again, I'm just speculating—but I have a feeling that that might have been a factor in not being thought favorably of by Lorne Michaels."
For the record, Hamill would do it. "It's one of those things where if they asked me," he says, "you'd have to do it. You accept the challenge. But the fact that they don't ask me is fine, because I'm perfectly happy to be in the audience and not have the pressure of being on live television like that."
Keep in mind, there's not much that the man hasn't done. And in a few years, we could be talking about Mark Hamill, scream king. Earlier this month, we learned that Hamill will star opposite Tom Hiddleston in The Life of Chuck, an adaptation of Stephen King's short story, directed by horror maestro Mike Flanagan. (A release date is likely a long way away, though Hamill noted that he's such a fan of the Doctor Sleep director that, "I almost didn't have to read the material to say I'm in.") So I want to know: What do you feel like you haven't done yet that you'd really like to do?
I envy the response that comes. "In a way, nothing really comes to mind," he answers. "I've done a lot of what I wanted to do, and I always look for things that... I don't want to repeat myself if I can help it. But in terms of saying, 'Oh, I've always wanted to play Hamlet,' or whatever, I really don't have that. I'm sort of good."
Nowadays, Hamill holds a bizarre, unprecedented place in the Star Wars universe, one only made possible by this great deepfaked life. At any moment, across Disney's ballooning film and television endeavors in the galaxy far, far away, Hamill could become—by the stroke of a CGI paintbrush—thirty-something-year-old Luke Skywalker again. He's done it twice before, recently appearing in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, thanks to a mashup of IRL performances from Hamill and his younger doppelgänger, Graham Hamilton, de-aging technology, and AI voice wizardry, which pulls from Hamill's lines in earlier films to make new Jedi wisdoms.
"When I read The Last Jedi's script, I said, 'OK, well, that's it for me,'" Hamill says of the 2017 film in which Skywalker dies. "And you start that process of disengaging from something that's been a part of your life." Of course, things change when Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, and the artist formerly known as Baby Yoda show up at your house, telling you about The Mandalorian. Hamill took the meeting, watched the series, "was very impressed with it," and that's just about all it took to get Skywalker slicing and dicing droids on your nearest TV screen. But, from the sounds of it, there's unlikely to be more instances in the future. It's just a little weird. During filming, Hamill would do his scene, then Hamilton followed. They'd watch each other: twin images, one young, one not, same farm boy. "It is unusual to see yourself like that," Hamill admits.
There's also this: "It can't be cheap."
And this: "People say, 'Oh, now you're going to be able to do a whole series of Luke post-Return of the Jedi.' I said, 'I don't think so.' First of all, they don't need to tell those stories, but if they do, they could get an age-appropriate actor." Hamill maintains that Luke Skywalker has three things: a beginning, middle, and an end.
As far as we know, recasting Luke Skywalker with a younger actor—sorry to any and all Sebastian Stan stans—isn't part of the plan. What about just another appearance, though, not de-aged? In early April, Disney announced three new Star Wars big-screen projects, one of which will pick up 15 years after The Rise of Skywalker, following Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she attempts to rebuild the Jedi Order. Could Hamill return as Force ghost Luke? He dutifully gives a corporate, yet very-much-not-a-no answer. "One thing you learn working for Lucasfilm: everything is confidential. Everything is confidential. So, if I were involved, I wouldn't be able to tell you. And if I were not involved, I wouldn't be able to tell you. So, I don't know. We'll all find out together, I guess."
Besides the dogs, there is another clear favorite subject for Hamill: The Big Three. A couple weeks before we speak, on a certain important date for Star Wars fans, Hamill honored Carrie Fisher at her Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony. He was somber, yet relentlessly funny. And today, when recalling the princess who died in 2016, Hamill is truthful, loving, and appropriately long-winded. "I have to tell you, we had a tumultuous relationship," he says. "We could be as loving and supportive as possible, then we could have big arguments and say, "Well, I never want to speak to you again," and not speak for six months. But every time you came back, you picked up right where you left off. We had a connection that is special."
It didn't feel quite right for Hamill, trying to capture her that day. "Her daughter, Billie [Lourde] is there," he says. "Billie's father, Bryan, is there. And I thought it so trivializes the reality to try and put it into words. But what else can you do? I didn't want it to be sad, because I knew she wouldn't want people to be sad. But it would've been so perfect had she been there. Not only to see how much people loved her, but because she would've made everything much funnier. She lived to make others laugh. And it was always a point of satisfaction for me to be able to make her laugh."
I tell Hamill that his speech, where he remembered what he wrote following Fisher's death ("She was our princess, damn it"), had me looking up his own Walk of Fame event—especially what Harrison Ford said about him that day, back in 2018. "Mark is a friend that I don't see very often," Ford said. "Our lives have diverged to a certain extent but I am very pleased for him. He has been the master of his own experience, his own life. And he is as he always was: a quiet, sincere, honest person. He's not a grandstander. I think he has found comfort and utility and control of his destiny, and I'm happy for you pal."
Master of his own experience.
I wonder aloud what Hamill thinks of the phrase.
"I was so touched that Harrison and George Lucas would both be there, because obviously they didn't have to be," he says, looking somewhat awestruck by the words all over again. "I guess I don't see it that way because I don't have that audience perspective. I don't see it the way other people see it."
He talks a lot about Ford: their immediate bond, knowing him from American Graffiti, figuring he'd get what would eventually be the Luke Skywalker role. Things he's said before, but never with any less excitement than the last retelling.
He's not a grandstander.
He means it. And I'm pleased to hear it. He goes on.
Comfort and utility and control of his destiny.
When Hamill comes up for air, we finish where we began. Just about.
"Mark, I appreciate you being so generous with your time and answers."
"I really enjoyed this."
"All right. Best of luck with everything, and again, thank you."
"All right. Have a great weekend."
"You take care, Mark. Thank yo—"
"Take care of that cat!"
He laughs, says bye, and signs off.
Story: Brady Langmann
Photos: Christian Högstedt
Grooming: David Cox at Art Department
Styling: Annie Jagger at The Only Agency
Visual Production: James Morris
Executive Director, Entertainment: Randi Peck
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