Skywalker, The Joker, Now Chucky: Mark Hamill Takes On Another Iconic Character

Jun 24, 2019
Originally published on June 24, 2019 10:14 am

Mark Hamill remembers the first time he learned about voice acting — he was watching a Walt Disney special about animation and he saw Clarence Nash "this guy in a suit and a microphone" doing the voice of Donald Duck. "I must have been five or six and a light bulb went off in my head ..." Hamill says. "Suddenly it occurred to me that somebody gets up in the morning, goes to work, and does Donald Duck for his job. I want that job!"

Hamill has gone on to have some pretty incredible jobs — he played Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, he's the voice of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, and now he'll be the voice of Chucky — the murderous doll — in a remake of the 1988 horror movie Child's Play.

Hamill says he's not going to "be doing some Joker-like demonic voice" for Chucky. The whole point is that he should sound innocent. Hamill says he's totally drawn in by the idea of a toy as a force for evil. "Children have imaginations and they run wild," he says.

Hamill has done plenty of acting on screen and on stage, but with voice acting he says, "You can be more emphatic, a little more over the top. ... You're liberated to make choices that you would never make on camera."


Interview Highlights

On remaking classic movies such as Child's Play

It reminds me of the campfire stories you tell, you know? "It was a dark and stormy night ..." They're just part of our folklore now — telling these stories over and over. ... I only bring this up because there's been a backlash, to a certain extent, from the people that love the originals and don't want us to be doing what we're doing. Hopefully they'll understand that good stories are meant to be told over and over.

Gabriel Bateman plays Andy in the 2019 reboot of Child's Play.
Eric Milner / Orion Pictures

On the 1963 Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll" which, like Child's Play, features a talking doll that turns out to be alive and evil

I remember seeing this. I couldn't stay up late enough in those days to see it in primetime, but when summer came around, oh you know, I wouldn't miss The Twilight Zone. I'd watch it by myself. ...

It's a 25-minute teleplay. The line that just stuck with me since I was a kid was towards the end of the episode when [the doll] says: "I'm Talky Tina and I'm going to kill you" in that sweet voice. It was so startling. ... The idea of a toy being an evil force is fascinating. ... They're just such a part of your childhood. And you know, alone, at night, when you're trying to go to sleep, and it's on the shelf staring at you with this grin on its face ...

On his early interest in voices and accents

I had a little tape recorder my father gave me for my birthday and I would record Dracula and the Frankenstein films and Laurel and Hardy because I was interested in their accents. ... My father was in the Navy so I went to nine schools in 12 years, so I was used to regional accents. ... I'd listen back [to the audio of the movies] and I'd try and imitate them. I mean, I was a weird kid. What other nine-year-old says: "Let me make this perfectly clear." They'd go, "Yes, that's a good Richard Nixon, go do your homework."

On voice acting

The actors in voice over are some of the best I've ever worked with: on screen, on television, on Broadway, off Broadway — they're just incredibly talented. Not only that, a lot of them have come from the world of stand-up comedy or improv, you know, Second City, Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade. They're so versatile and some of them are just brilliant mimics or impressionists. Like Maurice LaMarche — he doesn't sound like Orson Welles, he is Orson Welles.

On auditioning to be the voice of The Joker in Batman

One of the things that really helped me in that audition was, a lot of times, if you really want something, your neediness comes through a bit. It's uncomfortable, your timing can be off, it can make the people watching you uncomfortable. ...

[The audition] came right in the wake of the backlash to Michael Keaton sight unseen being rejected by fandom as Batman — "Oh, he's Mr. Mom, he can only do comedy." ... I went in thinking: You think the Michael Keaton backlash was bad? What are the fans going to think when this icon of virtue, Luke Skywalker, is announced to play this icon of villainy? ... So I looked at it as an acting exercise. ... Even if you're not right for the part. You should go and do it, it's all part of the learning experience. It's all part of something that you can use in the future.

I went in knowing that they couldn't hire me. They just couldn't. ... I went in and I had no anxiety at all. I thought the only thing I can do was make them really sorry that they can't hire me. ... I had a lot of laughs in my arsenal because I just spent a year on [the Broadway production of] Amadeus. You can't change the dialogue in a play, but you can play with the laugh. ...

The thing that was so funny: I went from being completely cocky — I was driving out of the parking lot going: "Hah! Top that! That's the best Joker they're ever going to hear!" And then when you get [the part], you go, "Oh no!"

On hearing from Star Wars fans

I never tire of hearing these stories. ... People come up and say: "This got me through my mother's illness." "This is where I met my husband on line waiting to get tickets." ... Parents tell their kids: "Don't talk to strangers" — and then when you become known all around, it's like the whole world is your friend. They all tell me what it meant to them, how it's inspired them, whatever it is. And I never get bored with it. It's astonishing to me, and sometimes really moving to hear how it affected their lives.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You know Mark Hamill as the greatest Jedi the galaxy has ever known.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE")

MARK HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you.

CARRIE FISHER: (As Princess Leia Organa) You're who?

HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) I'm here to rescue you. I've got your R2 unit. I'm here with Ben Kenobi.

FISHER: (As Princess Leia Organa) Ben Kenobi? Where is he?

HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) Come on.

MARTIN: Luke - a beacon of hope and light, a force for good. But Mark Hamill has ventured into the dark side.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANNY ELFMAN'S "'BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES' THEME")

MARTIN: He was also the voice behind this guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES")

HAMILL: (As The Joker) Justice is served hot, Batman. You're going to melt just like a grilled cheese sandwich (laughter).

MARTIN: Hamill voiced the Joker in the TV show "Batman: The Animated Series." Outside of "Star Wars," Mark Hamill has made a career out of voice acting. His latest role - a red-headed doll from a 1988 horror classic, Chucky, in the new movie "Child's Play."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHILD'S PLAY")

HAMILL: (As Chucky) Over here, Andy (laughter).

GABRIEL BATEMAN: (As Andy) Leave me alone.

HAMILL: (As Chucky) Over here. Peekabo.

MARTIN: Our co-host and lifelong "Star Wars" fan, David Greene, stopped by Mark Hamill's home in Malibu to talk about his many voices.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, so are you excited to play a homicidal, deranged doll?

HAMILL: (Laughter) Well, "Child's Play" and Chucky, in particular, has just become part of the fabric of pop culture.

GREENE: Yeah, I'd say so.

HAMILL: I loved the original. And I remember thinking at the time, it took them 25 years to make a movie out of what was originally a "Twilight Zone" episode. It was called "Living Doll." Telly Savalas played this abusive father - stepfather to - so you know he's bad already. Had a daughter who got a Talky Tina doll.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TWILIGHT ZONE")

JUNE FORAY: (As Talky Tina) My name is Talky Tina, and I love you very much.

TELLY SAVALAS: (As Erich Streator) Will you shut that thing off?

HAMILL: When she's alone with the father, who hates the doll and hates that - you know, he's just miserable guy. I'm Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you.

GREENE: (Laughter).

HAMILL: In that sweet voice. Part of it is, you can sort of step out of yourself and realize how ludicrous the whole thing is. I mean, come on (laughter), a doll with a big knife. It's...

GREENE: Still scary.

HAMILL: Well, I mean, the idea of a toy being an evil force is fascinating, you see.

GREENE: Why? Why does that fascinate you?

HAMILL: You know, because - I mean, I don't know. It's like, why are clowns scary to some people? They're just such a part of your childhood. And you know, alone at night, when you're trying to go to sleep and it's on the shelf staring at you with this grin on its face.

GREENE: I had that; E.T. was mine.

HAMILL: OK.

GREENE: Sat on my bed stand, and I would have nightmares about it. Like...

HAMILL: Of course. Children have imaginations, and they run wild.

GREENE: So this is what people call voice acting.

HAMILL: Right.

GREENE: But I know some people say, why say voice? Like, this is acting.

HAMILL: Yeah. Well, I - exactly.

GREENE: What's the difference?

HAMILL: There is no difference. I mean, to a certain extent, there might be a technical difference in that you're liberated to make choices that you would never make on camera.

GREENE: Like what? What's an example of that?

HAMILL: Well, I'd never seen myself do The Joker on camera, and I was appalled (laughter). I mean, I'm - ugh, you know, pulling my hair out. And I mean, it's grotesque.

GREENE: So what you're doing when you're voicing this stuff, it's like you normally wouldn't want anyone to actually see that.

HAMILL: Of course not.

GREENE: What's going - what are you doing when you're...

HAMILL: In those days, I stood up because I wanted to be able to use my body because it comes through your voice if you're shaking your fist or whatever you're doing. But the actors in voice-over are some of the best I've ever worked with onscreen, on television, on Broadway, off Broadway, where - I mean, they're just incredibly talented. And not only that, a lot of them have come from the world of stand-up comedy or improv - you know, Second City, Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade. So they're so versatile.

GREENE: What got you into this? Like, I mean, I know you had a lot of siblings.

HAMILL: Yeah.

GREENE: Like, did you act stuff out when you were a kid?

HAMILL: I'll tell you, a pivotal moment was watching a "Walt Disney Presents" show where they - you know, Disney was very good about pulling back the curtain on how movies were made. And then there was a show where they showed how they made an animated cartoon. And then they showed Clarence Nash, this guy in a suit and a microphone doing Donald Duck. I must have been 5 or 6, and a lightbulb went off in my head. I don't know what I thought. I mean, it suddenly occurred to me - somebody gets up in the morning, goes to work and does Donald Duck for his job. I want that job.

(LAUGHTER)

HAMILL: And I was so interested in voices that I got - I had a little tape recorder my father gave me for my birthday. And I would record, like, Dracula and the Frankenstein films because I was interested in their accents, like - listen to them, the children of the night, what music they make. I said to my father, where's that guy from? Why does he talk like - I don't know. He's Dracula. He's from Dracula land. Do your homework.

GREENE: Would you study the tapes after you recorded them?

HAMILL: Yeah, I'd listen back, and I'd try and imitate them. I mean, I was a weird kid. What other 9-year-old says things - let me make this perfectly clear. They go, yes, that's a good Richard Nixon. Go do your homework. You sense a theme here?

GREENE: (Laughter) Well, I'm conscious of your time. I am - before I let you go, I just - I have to tell you how surreal this is. I mean, I went to see "Empire" with my father when I was 4 years old.

HAMILL: There you are.

GREENE: And it's been - and shared a love...

HAMILL: Four? That's awfully young.

GREENE: I mean, I didn't remember it. I mean, he took me...

HAMILL: Oh, yeah. Well, that's pretty startling. I love that.

GREENE: I mean, I'd play it in my living room, pretending to be you, Luke (laughter). So it's...

HAMILL: I never tire...

GREENE: You probably get this a lot, but...

HAMILL: No, but I never tire of hearing these stories because people relate it to their own life. See? You related it to your father taking you to the movies.

GREENE: Oh, yeah.

HAMILL: People come up and say, this got me through my mother's illness. This is where I met my husband online, waiting to get tickets. You know, parents tell their kids, don't talk to strangers. And then when you become known all around, it's like the whole world is your friend. And they all - like I say - they all tell me what it meant to them, how it's inspired them. And I never get bored with it. It's astonishing to me and sometimes really moving to hear how it affected their lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "THE REBEL FLEET/END TITLE (MEDLEY)")

GREENE: Mark Hamill, thank you so much.

HAMILL: My pleasure.

MARTIN: That's our co-host David Greene talking with Mark Hamill. He voices Chucky in the new movie "Child's Play."

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "THE REBEL FLEET/END TITLE (MEDLEY)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.