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An Interview With Mark Hammil

Animation World Magazine, issue 2.1, April 1997, Music and Sound Design for Animation

Mark Hamill.

Before the present trend of star-driven animated films, the voices behind the cartoons where often nameless; and for every industry icon, like Mel Blanc, there were many other actors whose names passed by unknown, only to be briefly glimpsed during closing credits. Today, many of Hollywood's television and movie stars compete for voice work in such hip, prime-time TV series as The Simpsons and Beavis and Butt-head, as well as blockbuster theatrical films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Pocohantas. Mark Hamill is one of today's leading voice-over talents, and can be considered a modern-day pioneer in the field, having spent time and effort honing his craft, well before it found itself became a trend. Unlike other actors who bring only their voice to the animation, Hamill travels with a repertoire of over 200 voices--the result of many years of hard work. "I have always imitated people, and I love the musical sound of the human voice," Mark explained. "When I first began doing voice-over work, I said to my wife Marilou, 'What took me so long?' I came to doing cartoons and voice-overs via Broadway, because that is where I needed to go to be able to do comedy." Mark began collecting voices as far back as 1974, when he provided the voice of Jeannie's master in the classic television series, I Dream of Jeannie (1973-75).

From the CD-ROM game Wing Commander. Photo courtesy of Origin Systems.

With his career as a television actor burgeoning, Mark was cast as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars (1977), and its two sequels--The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). As Jedi was opening, Mark was playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Peter Shaffer's play, Amadeus. His Broadway career also included a starring role as Tony Hart in Harrigan & Hart (1985), for which he got a Drama Desk nomination for "Best Actor in a Musical." In 1981, Mark returned to voice work for National Public Radio's popular adaptations of the Star Wars movies.

Getting Into Animation In 1987, he lent his voice talents for Pinocchio and Norby the Mixed Up Robot on TV. Hamill's voice-over star rose dramatically in 1992, when he was cast as the maniacal Joker and Ferris Boyle in the Batman: The Animated Series (1992-95). The show was later spun off into a Sega Genesis video game, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and a movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), where he reprised his role as The Joker. "What I liked about doing the Joker," Mark said, "was his villainy. I thought, you know, I could use this laugh almost as a vocabulary. Instead of having it be one continuous laugh, I could use it like color on a canvas. There could be sinister laughs, there could be joyful, gleeful, maniacal laughs, there could be malevolent and evil laughs. There are so many different colors that you can give him, so that kids will have more than one laugh to mimic on the playground. I do have to thank the people at Batman, because this work opened up an entire new career for me."

In 1993, Mark provided voices for such TV series as SwatKats, Cowboys at Moo Mesa, Secret Squirrel, Bonkers, The Little Mermaid (two episodes),andthe Flintstones special Hollyrock-a-Bye Baby. While continuing to work in movies and television, Hamill entered into a new type of voice-over work, the CD-ROM game. His debut in this arena was Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father, a minor release, in 1994. Mark followed this by providing voice-overs for such super-hero TV shows as The Amazing Spider-Man (Hobgoblin), The Fantastic Four (Maximus), The Hulk (The Gargoyle). The following yr, he provided voices for The Magic Flute and Phantom 2040 videos. In late 1994, one of Mark's most ambitious and successful works following Star Wars and Batman was the Wing Commander CD-ROM trilogy, for which he provided the voice of Colonel Christopher Blair. Wing Commander III eventually became one of the top selling 'live-action' computer that were filmed using CGI-generated sets, while the actors performed in front of green screens. Wing Commander proved to be so successful that the USA Network commissioned 13 episodes of an animated series with Mark. LucasArts then called upon Mark in 1995 to do the voice of Ben, who is framed for murder in the Full Throttle CD-ROM game.

Hamill's voice-over career continued in 1996 when he was cast as Harris opposite Bruce Willis in Bruno the Kid, which he felt was a personal milestone in his career. "For Bruno, I was hired as what they call a 'utility player,' which means they could rely on me to provide more than one voice--I was actually hired to play three voices. Getting to the point that I was trusted to provide more than one voice actually took me over four years of work, but I got there." Mark also revisited The Hulk to revive The Gargoyle in two episodes, as well as The Joker in a Gryphon Software's The Adventures of Batman and Robin Activity Center.

Mark Hamill's new vigilante, The Black Pearl. Photo courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Projects Mark is currently working include working with various Saturday Night Live alumni Jim Belushi, Shellie Berman, Lorraine Newman, Don Novello and a large cast of others, including the likes of Peter Aykroyd, Nell Carter and Taj Mahal, for the UPN's The Animated Blues Brothers, where he taking on several roles. Mark also provided the voice of Threshold for the Gen 13, based on the ultra-popular Image comic book.

Web Voices His popularity in the computer world is such that he now has his own fan-created site (http://www.markhamill.com), and has been a guest on numerous live celebrity chats on America Online. This past March, he provided his vocal talents to the Sci-Fi Channel's Dominion Web site's Seeing Ear Theater, reading adaptations of Franz Kafka's The Country Doctor and an original story, Into the Sun. Also on Mark's plate is the opportunity to direct a movie, co-written with cousin Eric Johnson, about a super-hero vigilante, The Black Pearl. Originally done as a screenplay, it was picked up by Dark Horse Comics, and Mark and Eric set adapted it themselves to the comic book page. Now, they have just finished reworking the comic book back into a screenplay and there is rumor of interest from several studios.

Bruno the Kid. © 1996 Film Roman, Inc. / Flying Heart, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Following the rerelease of the Star Wars trilogy, Mark has become an extremely busy, fitting in talk show appearances into an already tight schedule. On a March 15, 1997 he appeared on Saturday Night Live, where he not only showed off his comedic skills, but some of his vocal prowess, doing the voices of Darth Vadar/James Earl Jones and Apocalypse Now star Robert Duvall.

The recent rerelease of the Star Wars trilogy will most likely have people saying such things as, "Look how busy Mark Hamill is again, thanks to Star Wars"; but in fact, this multitalented actor has been working and entertaining you and your children for years. You just didn't know it!

Jacquie Kubin is a freelance writer who first became interested in writing about Mark Hamill in the fall of 1996 due to his release of the comic book, The Black Pearl. This is the fourth article on Mark that Jacquie has written or contributed to. Send your comments to popart@ricochet.net or visit her newspaper, The Pop Art Times, at www.poparttimes.com.

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