Face To Face With The Masters
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Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+
Interview with Mark Hamill - Director and Star of Comic Book: The Movie
Conducted January 20, 2004 - Part 3
As my conversation with Mark Hamill continued, we eventually drifted from “Comic Book: The Movie” to Star Wars. But first, we had more discussion about movies based on comic books.
Scott Chitwood: What in your opinion does make a good comic book movie when they are adapting these comics to the big screen?
Mark Hamill: Embrace the source material rather than run from it. I think one of the most egregious examples of people not trusting their source material was the Kathy Lee Crosby version of Wonder Woman. Where they said, “Fighting Nazis, that’s so anachronistic. And the invisible plane is prohibitively expensive, and bullets and bracelets, that’s kind of cornball, and that outfit is so anachronistic and creepy.” What is she the Girl from Uncle? She’s like a spy in a jumpsuit. It has nothing to do with putting down Kathy Lee Crosby in any way, but it just seems like a lot of times, instead of getting people that really love the material, they get people who are unfamiliar with it, they go away and read the best of Wonder Woman over the weekend, and try and figure out how they can change it and make it relevant to modern day audiences. X-Men is a great example where they are able to take potentially fanciful material that’s so over the top that it’s going to alienate the mainstream and make it seem more credible. A lot of it had to do with the color scheme. No turquoise blue and canary yellow for Wolverine. Let’s get him into an outfit that looks more like a motocross outfit. They even joke about it. “What did you expect, spandex?” That’s a great example of retaining that comic book sensibility, but making it a little bit more gritty and real. That’s sort of like what we’re dealing with in this. If Donald were more pragmatic, he wants to keep it exactly as it was and the filmmakers want to make it radically different. Probably the best way to do it is to put it somewhere in the middle. You say, “How am I like Don Swan and how am I not?” I would probably not object changing Liberty Lad to Liberty Lass. I wouldn’t do it for the reason the filmmakers do which is so there could be sexual tension between the two. If that is needed at all it might be a female villain like the way they go with Catwoman in Batman. God bless the Donald Swans of the world. I said I wanted him to be sort of sepia toned. Almost like a faded photo album. His hair and his beard is dyed that reddish brown and even his glasses, at one point he says, “Believe me, I’m not looking at the world through rose colored glasses.” He literally is wearing a pair of rose colored glasses. There’s an example of the kind of subtle humor that I like. Now we had a wide range. Jeff could just really knock out those just joke jokes and impressions that were just dead on. In fact I said, “If I don’t get you a job as a wacky next door neighbor on something, you are the Kramer of the next millennium.” Jim Cummings just floored me with how gifted an actor he was. It’s not really easy to play a drunk like that.
SC: I never would have thought I would see Winnie the Pooh as a drunk at a party.
MH: Exactly, smashed at a party. I knew I wanted somebody to be the guy where you look at your wife at 12:30 a.m. and say, “Who invited him?” There always seems to be one person who stays too long, talks too loud, who tells off-color jokes, or is just somehow the one who is the spoiler of a party and Jim just knocked it out of the ballpark. Again we had back-up in case he wasn’t the way I wanted to go. We were constantly doing that, accounting for “What if we do this, what if we do that?” We had several different endings in mind. I remember originally I wanted Billy West to be the one who runs through the convention hall in that (Commander Courage) outfit. We were jockeying for his heart and soul, not so much with me. But as we got further and further into it, I was totally alone in thinking that. Everyone else said, “No, it’s got to be you.”
SC: It took a lot of guts to run through the convention in that costume, by the way.
MH: I’ll say. I’m not somebody who likes to draw attention to myself. I’m really, really not. I know it’s hard to believe, because actors are extroverts in so many other ways. Part of what protects you is that you say, “It’s not Mark doing this, it’s Donald.” Also, you have the added caveat of being in a costume that in my mind was as famous as Superman’s, but for the concourse it was like, “Who is that?” I think one thing that really affected the editing to its detriment is that the idea of me running through the con in a superhero outfit. I wanted to have shots of all these superheroes who were on the floor noticing me and because I am running through, just by instinct, falling into line behind me. Because the lawyers went through the final cut, and said, “You can’t languish that shot of the Flash, it’s copyrighted. You can’t really have that shot of that character.” There’s a feeling of it there, but it’s not really the way it was. It was the idea of the old Seinfeld joke, of the policeman, “When you’re not solving crime, pick up a broom! Sweep the sidewalk.” I just figured that if you have these guys that are at the con in superhero outfits, it’s kind of funny to me. It always reminded me of in Justice League when, at the beginning of the book, between assignments, they would be in the recreation hall shooting pool, and having soft drinks, and shooting the breeze. That always appealed to me. What you do in your off hours. You’re still in this dynamic costume. The idea was that I would run through and people would notice me and fall in line. I wanted this bowling pin formation of all these heroes falling in behind me, and then we run, run, run, run, run and as soon as we get to the escalator everybody stops and we don’t run up the escalator. We stand patiently, because as we all know, superheroes are safety conscious and good role models and we shouldn’t teach children to run up escalators. To me that’s hilarious. It’s subtle, but one of the reasons it was hard to cut it. I wanted a really fast side shot of us all running towards the escalator and then you cut to the front, where we’re all, for some reason, and hopefully in a funny fashion, observing decorum and standing still on the escalator. It was hard to do just because of the copyright.
SC: You managed to get Aquaman in there I saw.
MH: Aquaman’s on there. We had to cut the shot of, when we open the door and it’s the wrong hall, when we came out there was a little kid there and he had all these bottles of water, and in real life while we were waiting for the shot, the kid said to me, “Anybody want water?” Aquaman said, “I do.” I said, “Oh, I’ve got to have that.” So when we turned around and came running out of that hall, I had that kid say, “Anybody need water?”, and I had Aquaman saying, “I do!” We couldn’t include it because they time how much screen time you have of each character before it crosses the line into exploiting that character.
SC:You didn’t have Stan Lee sticking up for you I guess.
MH: Stan Lee is a wonderful guy, but at this point he gets the same mistakes made about his characters as I do about Star Wars. Like I have some influence at this late stage in the game. People would think I do or think he does, but it is not that way. I don’t know, I think there is a nice balance of really overt humor, like I said with Jess Harnell and Billy and all of them, but I love the subtlety, I love the jokes that nobody gets but me. The Star Wars reference when David Prowse says, “Move along son.” To me that is hilarious because if people know he is Dad Vader it is funny, but if people don’t know who he is out of his costume it is just another moment.
SC: That was a great tip of the hat to the Star Wars fans there.
MH: I wanted something like that. Even Mac in his little Jedi outfit, I didn’t know he was going to show up to the panel in that Obi Wan robe. I had B, C, and even D cameras shooting little vignettes all night. I kept cutting Star Wars references. I wanted to acknowledge it, but I don’t want to look like I’m trading on it because that’s what’s expected and I really love the unexpected. Someone said to me, “I couldn’t believe that that cut of Mac in the Obi Wan outfit kept making the cut.” For me there are two things: it is genuine, he chose that outfit to wear to the panel, and it’s so endearing to me. It also shows there’s the next generation of obsessive-compulsives. Here’s the next generation of anal-retentives. I’m sure you’ve seen it in your own kids. “Don’t open it, it’s a collectible.” Almost by osmosis, like DNA is involved.
SC: My kids have never seen a Star Wars movie, yet they know what Star Wars is because they see me looking at it, reading the stuff.
MH: There are references left and right. You can see it on sitcoms, on editorial cartoons. It’s just become part of the fabric of pop culture which is really wonderful. I’m always surprised when people say, “Don’t talk to Mark about Star Wars, he doesn’t want to talk about it.” That’s not true at all. I am really grateful to those films, I love those films, and I have the greatest respect for George and everything he has created. I guess part of it is wanting to prove to myself and the world that I have a second and a third act in me. Part of me is really jealous in wanting to be a part in all the new stuff he does. I don’t want a lot of strangers rifling through my toybox. (jokingly) “That’s MY lightsaber! That’s MY wookie!” The rational part of me realizes we had a beginning and a middle and an end and even back when we were doing the originals we were saying, “When the new crowd comes in, I hope they don’t do x, y, or z.” Everything was joking about it. At that time they were going to do 9. George told me originally there were 12.
SC: There are rumors floating around again that he’s going to revisit the sequels. Do you think he will ever do that?
MH: Do you mean the trilogy that comes after ours?
SC: Like 7, 8, 9.
MH: I don’t know anything about that. For the most part my son Nathan is the one who will read Star Wars Insider from cover to cover and come and tell me these things. “Hey, Dad, did you know Chewbacca is going to be in Episode 3?” “Well I do now!” It comes naturally to him and he loves it all. I get the news when you all get the news. George doesn’t call me up and say, “Hey kid, I’m calling the new one Attack of the Clones.” I see it on Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight like anybody else. Having mentioned that, keep your eyes open for a show called The Wrong Coast. It’s coming on AMC and it’s an animated satire of all those ‘hooray for showbiz’ type of shows like Access Hollywood or Showbiz Tonight. In it I play Jernihoon Birdwright, your host of The Wrong Coast. He’s one of those guys who is way, way, way too excited about “Exclusive, first look, world premier of Mandy Moore getting her driver’s license renewed!!!” or whatever trivial thing it is. So he is way too excited about show business. It’s very funny and as of now it premiers sometime in March on AMC. I co-created it and voiced the lead character.
SC: Being in the cartoon business, have you seen the Clone Wars cartoons on Cartoon Network?
MH: The ones from the Samurai Jack guy? You know I am the voice of the weekend Cartoon Network. If you watch that action block, “You are watching .hack//SIGN. Coming up next stay tuned for Popeye the Sailor man.”
SC: Whenever I’m watching cartoons, I always say, “Ah, there’s Mark Hamill!” You’re all over it.
MH: There’s lots of times you probably wouldn’t because I rarely use my own voice. I was just saying I’m the announcer for the block of cartoons on the weekend, at night. (Back to Clone Wars) I’ve seen the promos and so forth, but I haven’t seen the actual cartoons. I said to Nathan, “Are you taping them so we can transfer them off?” And he said, “No, I’m just going to wait for them on DVD.” He is so jaded, he knows everything is coming out on DVD. I thought, “What a great parent I am”. I taped Seinfeld from the very first episode when it was called ‘The Seinfeld Chronicles’. It was a pilot and Elaine wasn’t in it. And I kept them all at six hours speed. The Ben Stiller Show and all these shows. Get A Life with Chris Elliot. It’s like kids growing up and looking at your old rock and roll collections. “God, Dad, I didn’t know you liked the Ramones!” That kind of thing. I was very proud of that and here I have all the episodes and no one else does. Now, of course, everything is preserved on DVD and even so I thought, “Oh, gosh, I missed it!” I did a Samurai Jack. They told me they wanted a Robert Shaw sound-alike, a Peter O’Toole sound alike, and an Alec Guinness sound-alike. (in the voice of Guinness) “I wound up doing the Alec Guinness voice.” So, we did the voice before it had ever been on the air. You know how stylistically dynamic I was until it came on the air. I haven’t seen the episode that I did, but that guy’s really talented.
SC: They’re (Clone Wars) great cartoons, but they’re just so quick.
MH: Are they? I would imagine they’re pretty much all action. He (George Lucas) loves that kinetic kind of energy.
SC: “Faster. More intense”
MH: But it’s a great way to keep the franchise in the public’s mind and fresh in between the three years or whatever it is between the various episodes.
SC: Well, you heard that they’re kicking off an animation studio, right?
SC: Now they’re doing Lucasfilm Animation.
MH: Up north?
SC: Uh, yeah. San Francisco, I guess.
SC: I guess they’ll start cranking out cartoons. Maybe they can get you back.
MH: Who knows! You never know.
With that, our conversation continued. In the final part of this interview, we discuss where Mark Hamill goes to the comic store, Adam West’s Batman show, where he surfs the internet, and how fans can contact him. Check back tomorrow!
Click here for: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4
Comingsoon.net rates this movie 8 out of 10. Click here for full review.
Click here to view a video clip of Kevin Smith and Mark talking about the original Commander Courage.
The DVD released on January 27th. You can order it from Amazon.com today!