What is it with Mark Hamill and daddy issues?
Tonight, NBC airs the new animated holiday special Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas (8 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. CT) which gives the Star Wars actor a turn at playing the surly father redeemed by his kind-hearted son.
But instead of Luke saving Darth Vader from the dark side, this is Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons as an overgrown elf saving his cranky dad (Hamill) from Santa’s naughty list.
“I’m sort of the Scrooge of the story, who has a big change of heart,” Hamill tells EW. “I thought Jim Parsons did such a great job, he’s so lovable in that part. You had to get somebody who could portray that kind of clueless innocence and without the right Buddy the whole thing falls apart. Luckily for us we had a great Buddy.”
The hour-long special is a stop-motion mash-up of the 2003 film Elf, which starred Will Ferrell and James Caan, and the 2010 Broadway musical, which featured songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin.
Hamill talked with EW about voicing the cranky dad, his own yuletide TV favorites, and that one Star Wars Holiday Special that everyone involved pretends doesn’t exist.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: My favorite thing about Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas is that it’s made with puppets and stop motion. It has that nice Rankin/Bass vibe to the animation.
Hamill: Isn’t that amazing? It’s so retro ’60s. I couldn’t believe it. I’m a big Ray Harryhausen buff. I loved Jason and the Argonauts and Sinbad, and that kind of thing when I was a kid. The black-and-white King Kong was my all-time favorite movie. I’m glad stop-motion animation isn’t a thing of the past. I hope it never completely goes away.
You’ve done a lot of animation work over the years, voicing the Joker on Batman: The Animated Series and other DC cartoons. Is it a different experience voicing stop-motion?
The people from Screen Novelties, who made the special, brought the puppets in when I was recording. I like CGI too, but when you have an actual 3-D model, it has a dimension, and a weight, and there’s an, I don’t know … a huggable quotient. You feel like you could cuddle up with these little dolls.
The Elf movie also featured some stop-motion for the North Pole sequences.
And darned if they didn’t model their costumes after Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and all those Rankin/Bass specials. These kinds of things were really important to me growing up. I always associated Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol and A Charlie Brown Christmas with the holiday. It’s part of our culture.
As I was watching your performance, I was getting a heavy Phil Silvers vibe. Am I picking up what you were putting down?
He’s certainly one of my idols. I’m a proud owner of the complete Sgt. Bilko series on DVD. I don’t know that I was consciously doing him, but if any sense of his timing came through … gosh, learn at the feet of the masters! He was certainly one of a kind, and one of the all-time greats.
Maybe it was the black-rimmed glasses and the little Brooklyn swagger in his voice.
A little bit. They kinda had to rein me in because I wanted to go far more character-y, but they kinda liked my own voice. So I just let it be.
James Caan, who originated your part in the live-action Elf. Is there any part of him you imitated for your performance?
He is one of the great actors of all time. He brings such a realism to the role of Walter in Elf. He’s minimalist, very economical in his performance, and anchors Elf in such reality. It’s a different ball of wax in animation. You can’t get away with that. You have to be a little broader and you have to pop a little more because it’s a different medium.
No pressure to add a little Sonny Corleone toughness?
I couldn’t think of the fact I was following in someone’s shoes as great as him. But that always happens. I remember when I started doing Joker, and somebody said, “Gee, that’s pretty brave …’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And they said, ‘Well, I wouldn’t want to follow Jack Nicholson in anything.’ And I went: “OHMYGOD, I didn’t even think of that!”
You have done a Christmas show before, but this one isn’t very widely seen …
I – oh, for a moment I thought you would be referring to Christmas with the Joker, one of the Batman animated series episodes that they ran for years and years at the holidays.
That’s true. It’s a fantastic episode. But I was talking about the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, which, apparently George Lucas disliked so much he has buried it for decades. I was wondering how you feel about it these days …
I’ve never seen it. I really haven’t. But I do think we should own it. Even when we take a stumble and we’re out of our comfort zone. It’s part of what we did. It shows that we’re human, and don’t always make the right choices.