Anthony Daniels and Mark Hamill reflect on long-ago battles and the new ones ahead
When veterans of Star Wars get together they tend to tell old stories from the trenches, just like anyone who forged a friendship in battle. The same is true of the guys who played Luke Skywalker and C-3PO.
Last week at the Celebration convention in Anaheim, Calif., The Force Awakens united two generations of Star Wars actors onstage for the first time. Familiar faces from the original trilogy, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, and Peter Mayhew joined with newcomers to the galaxy Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac to give fans a new look into the Dec. 18 film.
For Star Wars geeks, it was historic. Backstage, it was like a family reunion.
Daniels, who has appeared as the golden protocol droid in all seven Star Wars films, and Hamill, reprising his role as Luke more than 30 years after he thought he had left the Jedi life behind for good, seemed more than a little taken aback – even though they’ve lived with these characters for a long time.
They talked with Entertainment Weekly shortly after their appearance before an arena of beside-themselves admirers (and countless others watching via live-stream from around the world.)
As they reminisced, one of their favorite stories was the awkwardness surrounding Obi-Wan Kenobi co-star Alec Guinness during the making of the original film. It is well-known that the Oscar-winner for The Bridge on the River Kwai was slightly chagrined to be co-starring in a movie with a space-ape named Chewbacca.
Let’s just say that when C-3PO jokes about how fussy you were, you must have been high-maintenance indeed…
Entertainment Weekly: You’ve been to events like this before. With The Force Awakens coming out, was there anything about this particular Celebration convention that felt different?
Anthony Daniels: Slightly scary.
Mark Hamill: It’s never anything you can take for granted. You go back to your normal life and it recedes into the memory banks, but to confront it like that…
Daniels: You couldn’t live like this everyday.
Hamill: The waves of passion…
EW: Sort of like being a rock star?
Daniels: I’ve never been a rock star. But a film set’s not like this. You just get, ‘Action! Cut! Next!’ So there’s no enthusiasm, no joy, and here, it’s like … wow. Waves of it.
Hamill: You forget, actually. I remember going out [to a sci-fi convention] with [Star Wars producer] Gary Kurtz in the fall of 1976 when nobody knew what this was. So we did photographs and I think had an R2 unit, but I thought, ‘I better talk this up!’ because I had a feeling that it wouldn’t connect, certainly not the way it did.
EW: You thought Star Wars would fail?
Hamill: I predicted we’d find success on the midnight cult circuit like Rocky Horror Picture Show — because it has humor, so I thought, ‘I bet a lot of college students will really endorse science fiction with great comedic elements like his character [points at Daniels] and R2. It was wonderful that these robots were so damn funny. I loved it from the start but I just didn’t expect everybody to agree with me like they have.
EW: What’s it like sharing Star Wars with newcomers like John Boyega and Oscar Isaac? You guys are sort of like the seniors in high school — you can either pick on them or mentor them!
Hamill: [Laughs] They are so talented and so diverse. Far from asking advice from us, I want them to give us advice.
Daniels: It’s daunting to watch them because they seem to take to it so easily. With a director like J.J., they were allowed to blossom and try things. They were encouraged and sort of brought on by J.J.. And that wasn’t … always the case in the past. It seemed to be a tight schedule, and the adjectives to describe how one might act were slightly limited.
Hamill: [Quoting George Lucas] “Faster. More intensity.”
Daniels: That’s both of them.
Hamill: [Points a finger] Hey, that’s Oscar-nominated direction, my friend.
Daniels: It’s more direction than I got. But with these [new actors], J.J. made a field, a playpen where you were allowed to take your time and suggest things, all within the budget, I guess.
Hamill: My favorite original [trilogy] direction was, ‘Do it again. But this time, do it better.’ [Laughs.]
EW: That’s good direction. There’s a lot to work with there.
Hamill: It was okay for me, but I sort of looked over my shoulder to see how Sir Alec [Guinness] took it.
Daniels: [breaking into an impersonation of the Obi-Wan Kenobi actor] ‘I’ve never been on a set like this before…’
Hamill: I said to him one time in his dressing room, why would you want to do something like this? And we were so lucky to have him. I think it set the precedent for getting Marlon Brando for Superman or Sir Ralph Richardson in Dragonslayer.
EW: A prestige actor who classes up the joint?
Hamill: It gives it a legitimacy it wouldn’t otherwise have. But [Guinness] was quite frank, he said, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to do something for children!’ [Laughs.] ‘And the idea of playing a wizard was very appealing to me.’ I’m sure he had, you’ve read his books, he had great reservations about how it went crazy with the merchandising. That was something that he didn’t expect — or particularly enjoy.
Daniels: He wasn’t crazy about autographs, was he?
Hamill: No, and I think he was aware that this entire generation knew him simply from that film rather than his long resume.
EW: Well, some of us know him also from Murder by Death!
Daniels: That was hysterical, that film! [Daniels and Hamill laugh and recreate various scenes from the 1976 murder-mystery comedy.]
Hamill: Oh my gosh, I couldn’t stop talking about The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob…
Daniels: Didn’t he pay you 5 pounds to shut up?
Hamill: [Laughs] He said, ‘No, no, no! I want to hear about your career. I said, ‘Really? A soap opera and a dog food commercial? You want to hear about that?’
Daniels: But also The Bridge On the River Kwai. I was just there, we were traveling in Asia. And it all came back to me how they’d had to wait for the water level to drop. [The Guinness impersonation returns.] ‘And they never paid me the overtime I was due.’
EW: That’s a fantastic impression.
Daniels: And of course he was beaten up in that movie, but not as severely as he was in fighting Vader. Do you remember?
EW: Did he get beaten up in the lightsaber fight?
Daniels: He got knocked down. [To Hamill] Do you remember?
Hamill: [Guiness impression] ‘It was SO difficult to see ….’ Now, did [stunt man] Bob Anderson double?
Daniels: No, that’s when they brought Bob in. [Impersonating Guinness complaining] ‘Did you hear what happened this morning …?’
Hamill: He got conked on the head? Did he get knocked out?
Hamill: Oh, dear I’d forgotten, I think I blocked that out. [They laugh.]
EW: Mark, you’ve said this new trilogy was a chance to enjoy Star Wars rather than worry about it, what it means for your career, etc …
Hamill: Exactly. I’m enjoying it in a way that I never could the first time around — and vicariously in many ways, through these new kids, through Daisy and John and Oscar.
EW: John is a fun guy. We were just exploring some of the Star Wars toys over there. He’s got that boyish enthusiasm but a lot of maturity and sophistication, too.
Hamill: Very loveable. He’s sort of unchanged by all of the fantastic things happening to him, and that’s what’s nice to see.
EW: Was he really bringing action figures around for you all to sign?
Hamill: I thought the most remarkable thing was that he kept the secret from his parents for so long. I couldn’t imagine doing that myself.
EW: I can understand why he wouldn’t tell people because it’s like, ‘Until I’m in that photo, until it’s out, I don’t want to reveal anything.’ It could always go away.
Hamill: Those things happen. Ask Eric Stoltz what it was like doing Back to the Future!