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SWU Interviews Sam Witwer

Posted By Mike on June 15, 2009

The good people over at the French fan site StarWars-Universe.com recently scored a detailed interview with the secret apprentice in The Force Unleashed, Sam Witwer. While the original interview is posted in French, our buddy NemeXis was nice enough to send over a translated version that you can check out below:

"Hi Sam, how are you today? What did you do?

Hi. I jogged, I did a little workout, I ran an errand, and I'm a bit under the weather so I think a nap is in my future.

Could you please introduce yourself? What were your previous projects?

I'm Sam Witwer. I've been lucky to bounce around the entertainment industry for a number of years. Uh... some of the projects I've worked on include Battlestar Galactica, Smallville, Dexter, The Mist, and I suppose Star Wars the Force Unleashed would be the one of most interest to you guys.

Are you a Star Wars fan? Do you know the Expended Universe or just the movies?

I'm a huge Star Wars fan. I was born into that, along with most of my generation... or at least the ones of us lucky enough to have parents that love us (I kid). I'm aware of some of the expanded stuff. Certainly not all. I'm a fan of the Karen Travis Republic Commando novels.

In Batllestar Galactica (2003), you played as Crashdown, a raptor pilot. What was it you like the most at the time?

Well, if you can imagine what it's like to read up on Vipers and Cylons and Raptors for fun, it was like that only I got paid.

That show was truly amazing the way that Ron Moore and David Eick ran it. Total open door policy. If I had a problem with a story point or a character moment, I could walk right into their office and express that with no penalty - of death or otherwise.

They were brave enough to allow the actors to improvise on the set, as well. Now that, under most circumstances, is suicide. You don't hand the keys of a very expensive show to a bunch of yahoo actors. They'll blow it. Their egos will get in the way and they'll say ridiculous things. They'll de-rail the story so that the next scene you shoot doesn't make sense...

Yeah... not on that show.

They hired actors they trusted enough to shoulder that responsibility. They allowed everyone to be creative collaborators. It was an extremely brave move and it paid off big time.

But it should be noted that their scripted material was so brilliant that often times it wasn't desirable to change too much.

Did you wanna be the Final fifth?

I actually did not. I felt that bringing Crashdown back would have cheapened his story and his mark on the series. Here was a guy who demonstrated how difficult these situations truly were. Most of the time you see Lee or Kara handle something. It looks tough, but our steely eyed regulars win the day. It was interesting to me to see the opposite. To tell the story of what happens when you have a good, competent man running the show, but unfortunately he's good and competent at being a Raptor pilot, not a man in command of infantry. I thought that was interesting and it was my intention to make that as real and reasonable as possible.

Making him a cylon would have gutted or at the very least invalidated a very important part of that story.

How had you been hired by LucasArts to work on The Force Unleashed?

I was hired because an artist at Lucasfilm, Amy Beth Christenson, painted a piece of concept art that was approved to be Starkiller. It's just my dumb luck that the concept she painted was literally ... well... ME.

I mean, I guess not ME. Just an image that looks exactly like me. She didn't know who I was. I guess she just thought this character should look like me.

So when my dear friend David Collins, the audio lead on Force Unleashed, saw this concept... he and Darragh O'Farrel and I *believe* Peter Hirchman said to each other, "Hey. That looks like Sam Witwer. Should we like... uh.. get him in to audition?"

So David slipped my headshot into the pile which quickly made it's way to the top of the pile since the headshot and the concept art looked exactly the same... Then after that I got a call to come in.

To say I was excited is an extreme understatement.

And then they put me through an extreme test of performance and ... I suppose Star Wars aesthetic. I think we were all aware in that audition that we wanted this character to feel like he could stand together with Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, and that's a very specific type of performance that you don't see a lot of these days. We played around for 45 minutes, which was exhausting, if not for my enthusiasm for all things Star Wars. Very unusual for an audition to have 45 minutes of acting in it, by the way... So I knew that either they really wanted me, or I was blowing it but they wanted to give me every chance to get it at least a little bit right.

Turns out the former was true. Haden Blackman, the project lead, later told me that they put me through my paces in that audition because, while they had seen a lot of guys for the role, they didn't believe it could be THAT easy to cast the role. To essentially be handed the Apprentice by David Collins.

And on that same theme, David Collins later won the role of PROXY, the droid sidekick. PROXY was the only role not cast when we started shooting, and David was filling in. Among his many abilities, David is an extremely talented actor. We all slowly came around to the fact that he just WAS PROXY. Haden was the last to fall in line for the same reason I was auditioned for 45 minutes. He didn't believe it could be THAT easy to find that role. ... And they tried in any case. Couldn't find anyone they liked better.

In Star Wars : The Force Unleashed, you gave your image to Galen Marek (Starkiller), how does that feel to be Darth Vader?s powerful secret apprentice?

Ya know, I'm gonna tell you a little secret here. I hope this doesn't get me in trouble. As far as I'm concerned, he's Starkiller. If he has a name beyond that, it's Jacob. That's what we shot. That's also a moment we decided not to use, the reveal of his name. We thought it'd be cooler if you never knew his name... only his code name, Starkiller.

I understand Galen Marek came out in the novelization, but that, somehow, got messed up and was never run by us. Probably because everyone was in crunch to get the game done.

If you like Galen Marek, it's all yours. The alternative, I suppose, belongs to me and some others. Starkiller or Jacob. That's kinda how I like it. Matter of opinion.

Now, as to your question. How does it feel? Awesome. Wonderful. Having Vader as an adopted father isn't so great cuz he's a terrible Dad. As a Star Wars fan, however, it is truly a dream come true.

Can you talk to us about the steps of the production for you (captures, voice recording for Starkiller and the Emperor?)? Was it fun? How was the cast & crew?

The process was this. We went to ILM at the Letterman Digital Arts center on the Bay on San Francisco. We got "Clone Cammed" which is a process where everything about your head and the way your face works is captured and parsed in a computer. Not just geometric detail but also expression. It's all captured through the Clone Cam process. Mike Sanders and the boys at ILM are geniuses.

We then had a couple read-throughs with the cast. I think I may have terrified Haden because on the first read-through, I was very bland an unemotional. I do this sometimes in read-throughs because I like to save the performance for the stage. When I learned later that Haden wasn't going to be able to join us for most of the actual shoot, I realized that the read-through was an actual full-fledged rehearsal and I actually started ACTING. I think he breathed a sigh of relief.

Next was 2 weeks in an audio recording studio where they also set up the motion capture cameras. This was the first time ILM had used this portable motion capture rig, and the idea was to capture clean dialogue recordings while we shot the motion capture. So for the next 2 weeks, we shot the cutscenes just as you would shoot a film... except we had ridiculous dots all over our face.

The cast was lovely. Cully, Nathalie and Adrienne were a hell of a lot of fun. Jimmy (Smits) was wonderful.

Ya know, on a side note. Nathalie and Adrienne are not, shall we say, unattractive. And the boys at Lucasarts would get a bit tongue tied when they were around them. That's fine. They're beautiful. I get it.

You know what isn't fine? Throwing Sam under a bus.

So we'd be doing a read-through or discussing an upcoming scene at lunch. Nathalie or Adrienne are casual fans of Star Wars, but certainly not experts, so they'd ask some Star Wars question like, "What is Order 66?"

Suddenly every male head at the table would turn to me.. all scratching their heads... "yeah... hmm.. what IS order 66? Sam, do YOU know?"

They'd all pretend they DIDN'T KNOW! We're here at LUCASARTS! These guys have worked on Star Wars for YEARS! But when the PRETTY GIRLS ask a rudimentary Star Wars question, everyone would feign ignorance and then leave it to ME to "GEEK OUT" in front of the pretty girls.

It was truly pathetic, man. Surrounded by my fellow geeks, and yet none of them were brave enough to talk Star Wars with these lovely ladies when they needed to be told for professional reasons. ... So it was left to me to look like a total geek.

What's worse? They do that to this DAY! ... Problem is, now I embarrass them by calling them on it in front of the pretty girls. So I have some fun with that. Hysterical.

And the Palpatine thing. I told them I thought I could do a good job for them. They called me out in a read-through, so I broke into the emperor in those scenes... and I guess the rest is history.

Did you know the script before shooting? What does that make you feel that your character is the seed of the Rebellion?

I got the script a few days before flying up to Northern California. I very very happy to learn that I am the father of the Rebellion.

We can hear rumors on the web about a The Force Unleashed movie. Would you like to play Starkiller again?

Certainly. Absolutely. However, you guys are gonna have to talk to uncle George about that.

Do you think Starkiller enjoyed Juno(Nathalie Cox)?s kiss?

I can tell you from my intimate knowledge of the characters that he absolutely did.

What The Force Unleashed ending do you like the most? Light or dark side ending? Why?

I enjoyed both. Certainly the "Canon" ending because it fits so beautifully into that mythology... The Dark Side ending because it becomes a wonderful cautionary tale. It's not as if he "turned bad." He just decided that killing Vader (who most assuredly deserved it) was more important than rushing to save his friends. He delays their rescue to get revenge and as a result, everything goes to hell and he ends up in his own personal iron lung.

There is a Star Wars live action tv series on the way, have you already been contacted to play in it? Can you tell us more about your probable future in the Star Wars franchise? Do you have any projects with Star Wars?

I know very very little about the live action Star Wars.

As for other Star Wars stuff, I've been back to Lucasarts here and there for little visits and they sometimes find fun stuff for me to do. That's all I'll say.

You met George Lucas at the Skywalker Ranch. What does that feel to be next to the brain that created your favourite universe? Did you talk together?

I actually met George at the launch event in San Francisco. He was very cool. But to answer your question, I actually walked past him at Skywalker before that. He was eating with Dave Filoni and talking lightsabers and I found it very strange to hear the word "lightsaber" coming out of the mouth of the man who invented them. Very strange indeed.

In Smallville, you played as Davis Bloome/Doomsday. Again, you?re suppose to be the powerful bad guy, why is that?

Well, I never looked at Davis as a bad guy. In fact, that's what the Smallville producers sold to me as the concept for Davis Bloome.

Why is that? Well, they said they needed an actor who could go to both extremes. Be incredibly vulnerable and sympathetic, and then go be the devil 3 scenes later. That's what they said they wanted, and according to them, why they approached me.

Is Allyson Mack a great kisser?

I must assume she is.

Is there a chance that you make a comeback for the ninth?s season, as Davis or another character?

Um... As Davis, unknown at this time. I would imagine he could show up in a flashback if that serves some story they have. Other than that, my task on that show is complete.

What are your next projects, generally speaking?

A director friend of mine always said to me, "You don't know for sure until you're eating off the craft service table." ... So while there are some things up in the air, you just never know in this business...

But I will say this, I'd love to get a second Crashtones album out there.

Are you continuing singing with The Crashtones? Is a tour on the way?

Tour, unfortunately no. All the members have crazy entertainment industry jobs so getting time together to just do a few shows in a row is a feat. Album, though? Hell yeah!

And for those who don't know what I'm talkin about, feel free to check it out. http://cdbaby.com/cd/crashtones. You can also find the album on Itunes... and I just wanna say to everyone who's listened, THANK YOU. It's been a real treat to know it's out there and people have... well... not torn their ears off their heads in protest.

Did you ever met French fans? Do you come to France or are you planning to?

I've never been to France... although I'd very much like to see it. It's a must-visit destination.

As for fans, not many. However, the french gaming press people who came out to Skywalker to talk to us about Force Unleashed were very nice. One of them was perhaps one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen, so I guess you guys have that going for ya.

Did you know StarWars-Universe.com before this interview? What do you think about it?

I think you guys rule!

Thank you for answering these questions, do you want to say something to your French fans?

Thanks so much for your support... Very generous of you to spend your time listening to the ramblings of some kid from Chicago. May the force be with you."

Big thanks to NemeXis for sharing the SWU interview with us here at TFN!

Related Stories

April 16, 2011   Sam Witwer At Pittsburgh Comicon
March 10, 2011   Sam Witwer Being Human Event In NY
January 17, 2011   Sam Witwer The Vampire On Being Human
December 31, 2008   Interview With Sam Witwer
September 27, 2008   Sam Witwer In Season 8 Of Smallville
September 24, 2008   Sam Witwer Talks The Clone Wars Film?
December 14, 2007   Sam Witwer Talks The Force Unleashed

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