'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Mark Hamill ('Knightfall')

The screen legend best known for playing Luke Skywalker in six films over 42 years reflects on fame and typecasting, why he loves theater and voice acting, "'Star Wars' fatigue" and why he took on the role of a medieval SOB on History's drama series about the Knights Templar.
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Mark Hamill

"I love the little piece of land I have, playing with the dogs, hanging out, reading," says Mark Hamill, the legendary screen actor best known for playing Luke Skywalker in six Star Wars films spanning 42 years, as we sit down at his Malibu home to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. So why, then, did the easygoing 67-year-old, who has been in the business for a half-century, agree to take on a key supporting role on the second season of History's Knightfall — Talus, a battle-hardened member of the Knights Templar, an ancient Catholic order of warrior monks, who trains its initiates — that required him to spend months in Prague and hours of each day memorizing stylized dialogue and sitting in the hair-and-makeup chair? Because the show's creative team believed that he could do it and sent him screeners of their first season, which he watched and loved. "This is unlike any series I've been a part of or movie I've been a part of," he emphasizes. "It's epic, it's a largely British cast and that they would think of me to play such a hardened bastard is a compliment!"

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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.

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Hamill, the middle of seven children, was born in Oakland, California, but, as a Navy brat, was raised all over the world, forcing him to "reinvent" himself wherever he went. For as long as he can remember, he harbored a desire to be an actor, but felt he "had to keep it a secret" for fear of being teased — until, that is, a high school teacher in Japan expressed his belief that Hamill had real potential. Then, at 17, while on his way home from his brother's wedding, he stopped in Los Angeles to perform in a friend's play. It was the summer of '69. He was living in a gardener's apartment for $55 a month. He landed an agent. And he never left.

Hamill's early jobs, some of which he performed while attending community college, included parts on The Bill Cosby Show, The Partridge Family and, for nine months, the soap opera General Hospital. In 1975, he was invited to a "cattle call" at which two movies were being cast — Brian De Palma's Carrie and George Lucas' Star Wars, or, as it was known at the time, The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as Taken From the Journal of the Whills — and he was called back for the latter. In early 1976, following a chemistry test opposite Harrison Ford, who would play Han Solo, Hamill was cast as Luke Starkiller (who, of course, eventually soon became Luke Skywalker). "I didn't read the [full] script until after I got the part," says the actor.

The first installment of what became a franchise, 1977's Star Wars, was, of course, the only one that didn't come with great expectations, pressure or secrecy. "It was so much fun," Hamill recalls of its making. "It was like this giant playground where they gave us robots and floating cars and laser swords — I mean, it was so much like I used to play in my backyard." Nobody was sure if the film would work, but, says Hamill, "I was one of the few true believers." He hastens to add, "Of course, I had no idea we would become electric toothbrushes and sleeping bags and Pez dispensers!" Star Wars "was put together in a way that was unlike anything anybody had seen at that time," Hamill reflects, which is why it became a phenomenon — the highest-grossing film to that point — and turned him, Ford and Carrie Fisher into overnight superstars. He marvels, "It's still inexplicable to me how it was so big from the very first day."

Three years after Star Wars came The Empire Strikes Back. Directed by Lucas' teacher Irvin Kershner and from a more "cerebral" script than the first installment, it features the most famous scene in any Star Wars film, in which Luke learns the true identity of his father. "This was the first time where anyone really cared about secrecy and leaks and so forth," Hamill notes. And three years after that came Richard Marquand's Return of the Jedi. Following each installment of the original trilogy, Hamill pursued his original passion, theater, appearing in four Broadway productions throughout the 1980s. "It was a way to do character parts [and avoid typecasting]," he explains. "You do one thing well in Hollywood, they want you to do it over and over and over again."

After Return of the Jedi, Hamill thought the Star Wars chapter of his life was over. "I had absolutely no inkling that we'd ever do it again," he insists, and the actor spent the next three decades focused on other things. It would be six years before he played another major part in a live-action film — as a bearded bountyhunter, a long way from Luke Skywalker, in Slipstream, which was produced by the producer of the first two Star Wars films, Gary Kurtz. Hamill also became increasingly involved in voice acting, most famously as the voice of The Joker in numerous productions. "What I love about voiceover," he explains, "is they cast with their ears, not their eyes, so you're going to be able to do parts you'd never get if you were on camera." He adds, "Who knew that the real thing that I was looking for to break out as a character actor would come out in animation?"

Then, just a few years ago, Lucas convened a lunch with Hamill and Fisher and told them that he would be selling Lucasfilm, and that the new owners would like to do a new trilogy with the original stars. "Inside, of course, I was freaking out, but I kept a poker face," Hamill recalls. "But Carrie slaps the table and goes, 'I'm in!'" Once Ford agreed to participate, too, Hamill did the same. Hamill, returning as Skywalker, enters 2015's The Force Awakens, which was directed by J.J. Abrams, only near the very end of the film, and spends much of 2017's The Last Jedi, which was directed by Rian Johnson, behaving very unlike the bright-eyed Skywalker from the original trilogy — creative decisions, made by filmmakers who were little kids when the original trilogy came out, with which he strongly disagreed, but went along with anyway out of a desire to serve the greater Star Wars universe. "It has certainly been challenging," Hamill admits with a sigh.

More than screen time or character changes, Hamill seems sad about the fact that there was no final onscreen reunion of the three stars of the original trilogy in the new one. The actor did share scenes with Fisher in The Force Awakens, but not with Ford, which irks him. "Everyone talks about the shock of realizing that on Force Awakens I don't come in until the last page," he volunteers. "A bigger shock to me was them killing Han Solo before Luke could ever see his best friend again." Hamill says he pitched Abrams on a different idea, to no avail. "But they get the keys to the kingdom, and they're the deciders, so you just have to live with it."

Little more than a year after the premiere of The Force Awakens, Fisher went into cardiac arrest on a transcontinental flight, and died a few days later. "I haven't really been able to process that the way I should," Hamill says somberly. "It's hard because when I did the press for The Last Jedi, obviously everyone wants to talk about it, so you find yourself endlessly grieving in public, and it's just hard. It's still so sad. She had impeccable timing, except in this case, because Harrison was more prominent in VII [The Force Awakens], I was more prominent in VIII [The Last Jedi] and she was meant to be more prominent in IX." (Will Hamill appear in the franchise's ninth installment, which has not yet been titled, but is due out later this year? Skywalker "died in VIII," he says, but "people know I'm in IX, so it's not a big surprise.")

A plethora of Star Wars offerings have popped up in the wake of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, including not just the new trilogy, but also spinoff films like 2018's Solo: A Star Wars Story, which underperformed at the box office, prompting some to speculate that the public is beginning to experience something that was once unimaginable: 'Star Wars fatigue.' Hamill's take? "I'm not gonna tell them how to run their business, but is there a possibility of 'Star Wars fatigue'? Yeah, I think there is. I've experienced it, to a certain degree." He adds with a chuckle, "But they never listen to my ideas anyway, so who needs 'em?!"

Meanwhile, Hamill seems to be enjoying the enthusiastic response to his unexpected work on Knightfall, which he describes to people as "Game of Thrones without the dragons." Never before had he appeared onscreen as someone who looks and sounds less like he himself does — indeed, a viewer stumbling upon the show would never know Talus was played by one of the most recognizable people in Hollywood — and he relished that opportunity. "It really liberates you to take chances and do things that you wouldn't ordinarily do," Hamill says. But the part demanded much more of him than just serving as someone else's canvas. He admits, "There was a point during Knightfall where I thought, 'Maybe I've bitten off more than I can chew,' 'cause it was grueling — you know, 16-hour days, all the dialogue and the prep and everything. I thought, 'If I can just get through this...' And I think there's a weariness that's genuine in my performance."

Still, he stresses. "I've been incredibly lucky, and I'm so grateful."