Clone Wars' Sam Witwer: Darth Maul 'Going to Be Around for a Little Bit'
Last week’s episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, “Brothers,” featured a canon-shattering revelation: Darth Maul had survived being cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi and was hiding out on the garbage planet Lotho Minor. His reentry into that galaxy far, far away is one of the creepier things we’ve ever seen from the Star Wars saga, not just because of the spider legs Maul’s somehow conjured for himself from the dark side of the Force, but because his shattered mental state hinted at the deepest, murkiest kind of psychological darkness.
Who better to play that than Sam Witwer? He’s already literally embodied the dark side with his character The Son on The Clone Wars’ third season and voiced Darth Vader’s secret apprentice Starkiller in The Force Unleashed videogames. Not to mention that he plays sexy vampire (do they come any other way these days?) Aidan on Syfy’s Being Human and portrayed the decidedly unsexy tank zombie that Rick kills in the pilot episode of The Walking Dead. In a far more awesome alternate universe, he was also the star of Frank Darabont’s ambitious original idea for the Walking Dead Season 2 premiere.
EW caught up with Witwer about Maul and what exactly his resurrection means for the future of the Star Wars saga as we know it. He’ll also be joining us, along with Obi-Wan voice actor James Arnold Taylor, for our live chat of The Clone Wars Season 4 finale starting at 7:40 p.m. ET/4:40 p.m. PT tonight.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What did you think when you first heard Darth Maul was being brought back from the dead?
SAM WITWER: I first heard about it a year ago when Dave Filoni called me up and said, “Hey, I need someone to play Darth Maul. Can you do it?” And whenever someone asks you that, the only correct answer is “Yes.” Then you wonder if you can do it. But you don’t wonder if you can do it before you say yes. You doubt your abilities after you agree to do it. Because then the pressure sets in and you worry about getting it right. The first thing I thought was, “Darth Maul is back! We all want that!” But then it’s like, “Well, we only want him back if it’s a good story, if it really works.” So Dave started explaining the story to me, and then I got excited.
It’s very interesting psychologically. The Sith don’t really look at death as a natural progression — they look at death as a defeat — so some of them hold onto their lives against all reasoning. They’re so egotistical that some of them don’t let go. And what happens to Vader physically is what happens to Darth Maul mentally. There’s a tremendous psychological price that he pays for what happens to him in Phantom Menace, for not just letting himself die.
Getting cut in half has got to take a mental toll. What is he thinking and feeling 10 years later?
I think everyone who’s a Star Wars fan has talked about what would happen if he came back from the dead. I know I did with my friends. Ironically, some of the things that show up in these episodes are things that we’ve talked about. Especially the psychological impact of having lost everything. There was a plan, you know? The Clone Wars were coming. They were 10 years away when Maul was cut down, but they were coming, and this guy was going to be a part of it. And now, the party has started without him. It’s sad really, a real bummer to give up your whole life in service of this grand plan…and be killed right at the beginning of that plan.
Maul’s a real character, not just a guy with cool tattoos who whispers to people and wields a double-bladed lightsaber. There are motivations and talents and arrogance there you wouldn’t have imagined. As we’ve portrayed him he’s a lot smarter, more charismatic, and funnier than anybody would ever have thought him to be. And when I say funny, I mean in the way his master is funny: when things are going their way they might say something they’d find very amusing. You won’t necessarily see all the layers of the character right away, it takes time to unravel. I don’t think I’m spoiling too much when I say that he’s going to be around for a little bit. You will see a lot more of him going forward than you would have expected.
So you’re saying his arc isn’t going to be over after the season 4 finale?
There are major consequences for Darth Maul being reintroduced to the Star Wars galaxy. This guy doesn’t just show up, wave his lightsaber around, have a few mean lines here and there, then pass into obscurity. He makes a major splash in the Clone Wars, and it’s entirely consequential the things that he’s up to and tries to accomplish.
Okay, but you know what everyone wants to see is a rematch with Obi-Wan, right?
Everyone thinks they know what they want to see from Darth Maul. So first, we thwarted your expectations by making Maul this spider creature. We went in completely the opposite direction. But then in “Revenge” we give you what you think you wanted all along. From there, though, we go off in a direction that people would never have predicted.
Revenge doesn’t become as important?
That goal of revenge is not something that goes away, but what does change is how he’s going to go about it. And some of that involves Asajj Ventress. You’ve seen her become a bounty hunter. But Darth Maul would never become a bounty hunter. He’s way too ambitious for that. He was trained as a Sith Lord and that’s what he wants to be. Sure, Ventress was trained as a Sith but she really just wants validation. She wanted a mentor figure to validate her. And when that didn’t work out she sets out on her own. But the revenge that Maul wants starts out very straightforward — I’ll lock lightsabers with Obi-Wan Kenobi! — but then it becomes a lot more complicated. Simple revenge isn’t good enough. It’s gotta be grand revenge, on a huge scale, and the galaxy’s going to know about it.
I have to say, I think Maul’s reintroduction last week was so much creepier than anybody could ever have imagined.
Through his grief, anger, despair, and the power of the dark side, these spider legs have grown out of his torso. He’s literally turned into a giant spider-creature! So that’s why it was so important to nail the psychology here. His physical appearance reflects his mental state. In “Revenge,” he’s put back together, but he’s still not what anyone would say is a stable or healthy individual. He and Savage need some major family therapy.
Dave Filoni said he wanted a Gollum-type version of the character, at least at first, when we discover him again. And then when I finally had the script (written by Katie Lucas, George’s daughter) I saw that there were also some Col. Kurtz similarities. You had Savage looking for this guy and it turns out he’s hidden away in a cave saying crazy things. And I thought it might be an opportunity to do a little Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now stuff. I mean, Marlon Brando does some crazy stuff at the end of the movie. And that’s basically what we went for in the vocal booth.
Can we expect Maul to recite “The Hollow Men” in the near future?
Almost! The script was really well written, but it only said that Darth Maul was “mumbling things.” It didn’t say what he was saying. So when I was preparing for it I started jotting down ideas, like, “What would this guy being doing in this cave for 10 years? How would he maintain his sanity and his health?” And I started thinking that he’d be constantly remembering his training with Darth Sidious, he’d be fantasizing about revenge scenarios, he’d be fantasizing about success scenarios where he goes off into the world and is reestablished and everything’s fine.
Back to the idea of “the party” (i.e. the Clone Wars) having started without him. Wouldn’t Maul feel resentment toward Darth Sidious for pretty much just forgetting about him?
He’s not brave enough to acknowledge that resentment. He definitely feels it. But the Sith are fearful people. If Darth Vader wasn’t so fearful, it wouldn’t have gone down like that. They’re all about themselves, all about accumulating power to protect themselves. Everyone’s always out to get them, everyone’s always limiting them and they want to break through their limitations. But the person they could point to — if they had any logic or reason — who has done them the most harm is their master. Maul takes all that resentment he should have toward Darth Sidious, who put him in that terrible position to begin with, and places it on the most convenient target: Obi-Wan Kenobi. He has this Ahab-type thirst for revenge, but when he finally has a chance to live that out, it’s not as satisfying as he thought it would be. And that leads to a pretty interesting new direction after that…
Maul, as voiced by Peter Serafinowicz in The Phantom Menace, has three lines. You had more dialogue just with his incoherent muttering in last week’s episode, so you’ve basically had to build this character from the ground up. What kind of research did you do to prepare?
Well, I certainly watched Phantom Menace. And also this terrific music video promo that Peter Serafinowicz narrated, none of which ended up in the film. Then I read the comic book series where he goes after the Black Sun, and also just read a whole bunch of stuff on Wookieepedia about his background and tried to incorporate as much of that background into the character as possible. I agree with Dave on that. We have to tell our own story, but whenever we can incorporate elements of the EU in that, we should do it. Like how we included the Sith Code among Maul’s ramblings. I just started reciting that as one of my ad libs, then after the final line, “Through victory my chains are broken,” I added, “The chains…the chains are the easy part. It’s what goes on in here that’s hard.” And that’s a line that the Son has the Mortis trilogy. It’s when the Son is masquerading as that creepy little gnome who frees Ahsoka from her imprisonment. He actually says, “The chains…the chains are the easy part. It’s what goes on in here (points to his head) that’s the easy part.”
You see a real connection between Maul and the Son?
I drew a lot from the Son. If you subscribe to the idea that that character was in some ways all of the dark side characters, then the Son needed to be in Darth Maul. He needed to have pieces of that character. The arrogance of Darth Maul is really from the Son. They have a very similar, arrogant nature about them. And again, what’s funny is that some of the stuff I’m talking about with Maul you won’t see this season. Don’t dare bring this character back unless you learn more about him than you could have possibly imagined.
I also can’t help but see a connection between Maul and Starkiller, Vader’s apprentice who you voiced in The Force Unleashed?
Yeah, there is. When we did Force Unleashed we totally made that connection. In a weird way we did a story about how Darth Maul was trained. So when Starkiller talks to Darth Vader, he should sound just a little bit like Darth Maul. He should be very casual when talking to Juno, but when he talks to Vader he should sound tense and formal.
So what we should take away from all this is that Maul’s story could go anywhere?
And it does, my friend, I promise you.
Have more burning questions for Sam? Ask him yourself tonight during our live chat!
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