Mark Hamill on his collector impulses, a definitive Joker, and the role he'd still like to play

To just about everyone on the planet, Mark Hamill will first and foremost always be Luke Skywalker. From the second he appeared on screen in May 1977 as the character in George Lucas' Star Wars, there was no separating the actor from the part. But in his 65 years on this planet, Hamill's played, or voiced, a lot of roles, created many impressive things (including three children), and experienced a lot.

His latest endeavor is producing and hosting Comic–Con HQ's new original series, Mark Hamill's Pop Culture Quest, which celebrates the actor's personal, lifelong obsession with pop culture collecting.  The show's 10-episode freshman season goes into the homes, offices and even the faux attic of Hamill's own collecting den to dig into the stories behind a host of eclectic collector obsessions. Episode 1 dives into a character Hamill is now synonymous with voicing, DC Comic's The Joker.

Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest: Episode I – Joker’s Favor

 

Hamill recently got on the phone with Blastr for an exclusive chat that ranged from what compelled him to make a TV series about the stuff filling his house, to some of the roles that have helped shape his career most and what characters still beckon, aside from that Jedi Master returning to screens in Star Wars: Episode VIII next year.  

What was your entry drug into the world of pop culture collecting?

I was in college in 1970 and was just devastated that The Beatles had broken up. I can't convey to you how traumatic that was. We couldn't believe it. It just didn't make any sense. We hadn't seen Let It Be yet and the discordant aspects of what they went through. So there was a girl [on campus] that needed money for textbooks and stuff, and she was selling her entire collection. I said, 'What is it of?' And it was all her Beatles stuff. I asked how much she wanted. We just found the receipt on three-ring binder paper, folded into quarters just last week in the attic. It was 14 items, like the Beatles bobble-head dolls and the blue lunchbox with their faces on it, all for $124. Now of course, any one of those items would be worth way more than that now. And it's interesting, when I was a fan when they were a band, I looked down on that stuff. The Beatle Flip-Your-Lid game was so stupid. I was into the records and didn't pay attention to toys, trading cards and the rest of it. But suddenly faced with the loss of them, I wanted everything that had their name on it and that was the first time I bought a collection.

As a kid, did you amass little collections?

I grew up in the middle of seven children, and we moved so often - I went to nine schools in 12 years - so we weren't allowed to keep a lot of stuff. My mom would be packing and when we'd get to a new house, I'd look around and say, 'Hey, where is my Mr. Ed board game?' She said, "I gave it away. It's a baby game."

My mom did that when we moved with my mint collection of Topp's The Empire Strikes Back trading cards. I feel your pain.

You know, you love your parents, but sometimes they do things we just can't understand. Why would you do this?! They try to shame you into growing up. (Laughs) But to tell you truth, I went through phases where I thought I should stop reading comic books because I didn't want my friends to know in junior high school and high school that I was still reading Jimmy Olsen. I just wanted to be cool!

So when did pursuing your own collections really take root?

As I got older, and I was making some pretty good money in television and had some recreational money, I decided to get some of those items my mom gave away. I went on a streak of buying anything that I felt like. So that was the initial jump into the world of collecting.

Is there a primary focus for your collecting?

My problem is that I don't focus on anything! My wife collects Tinker Bells and I thought that was smart because it's one character and how many of them can there be? Well, there's a lot more than when she first started collecting. (Laughs) But I'm all over the place with board games, lunch boxes, model kits, and all rock and roll memorabilia because I love The Kinks and such.

Do you have any collecting wisdom that you share with those embarking on their own binge-buying?

I always tell people don't collect because you want to turn it around and make a profit on it. Collect what you love and what makes you happy, and what you want to share with other people. A real eye opener is when your accountant calls and asks if x, y, and z is in a safety deposit box because it's not insured. Then you have all this stuff locked away in vaults where nobody can see it. The show is a way to continue my collection without physically adding items that need to be stored.

How much is put away and how much is displayed?

I'm sitting in a room right now where everywhere you look is what we've just been talking about. It's down in the pool house, the basement, and the attic. I'm sorry that the house next door to us went on sale eight or 10 years ago, and now we think we should have bought it for the collections.

With the Comic–Con HQ show, what was your criteria for a collection being episode worthy?

The first batch of shows were tricky because they came around when I was really overwhelmed with a lot of other work [ed. note - reprising Luke Skywalker again] in England from January to July. It was a lot of long distance [planning]. I relied on [producer] Howard Kazanjian, who was a producer on Return of the Jedi, and [executive producer] Scott Kinney, who is a bona fide collector himself. I probably had less input than I would have had I been here. We communicated with emails and on the phone, but we were trying to find ourselves. There's a lot of me asking how did we not end up doing a show on x, y, z? They said, "Season 2." Look, I'm open-minded but I don't think like that. I think that we've done these 10 and if we only do these, I'm happy with it. But if they want more, I have a long list of things we missed that I'd love to see.

But mind you, there is an episode about shoes and I don't care about shoes. But then you meet this guy, and see his collection, and there are such interesting stories. A lot of times the items themselves are almost irrelevant because of the background of these people and what motivates them. So even though I don't collect shoes, there's a kindred spirit you have with a person who is as obsessively compulsive as you are, just about something else.

You've worked alongside The Muppets before. Is that how your series co-host, Pop the puppet, come into play?

I always wanted somebody to talk to [in the series]. The venue that you are pitching [a series] to really shapes the show. If we sold it to The History Channel, it would have been a different show than if we sold it to SyFy. If we sold it to FX, they probably would have wanted a blonde, buxom cover girl as co-host. The fact is that we are on Comic–Con HQ, and Lionsgate has been so accommodating in terms of letting us do what we want, so I wanted someone to talk to.

So Pop is your collecting protégé?

I wanted both sides of collecting represented. I said I want a character that's like a kid from the neighborhood that is a super-passionate fan, which is what we got with Pop. But on the other hand, I also wanted a really cynical character, like a Culture Vulture, who is like a dealer who has no love of the items and is just in it for profit. To me, that would have been the perfect yin-yang. But we didn't have a budget to do two puppets, so I said if we have to choose one, I would rather go for hope and optimism than sarcasm. It's like Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. Everybody knows one of those guys. They're hugely knowledgeable and that's fascinating. But they have zero joy and that's funny. But we had to pick one. So when I was little, there was always the guy in the neighborhood who had the legendary house that you would go to on the weekend and hangout. So Pop comes and hangs out with me. But I'm sure there is a whole group of guys who wish I had the girl co-host, but that's a whole other show. (Laughs)

Well, I'm a huge fan of Greg the Bunny so I appreciate puppet co-hosts, and I see creator Dan Milano voices Pop?

Oh my God, yes! At first, I thought I would call Frank Oz because he would have a list of people. But then I thought of Dan Milano, who I met at a recording session, and I flipped out. Warren the Ape was one of the best, unsung comedies ever. He was such a tragic figure and his own worst enemy. Just hilarious. He's epic, up there with Ralph Kramden or Archie Bunker, as one of my all-time favorite sitcom characters. So I geeked out on [Dan]. He and his wife came over and he gave me one of the rare Warren the Ape puppets. When this came up, I wasn't sure if he was available but we were lucky to get him.

 

Ok,  let's talk about some of your other career milestones. Many think your Joker vocal performances are seminal for the character. So what Joker performance do you admire the most?

It's interesting because I've always loved the character. I remember the first time I ever saw him was with Cesar Romero in the Adam West Batman. He had a fantastic energy, but it bothered me he never shaved his mustache. I thought boy, if I got a part like that, I'd shave that mustache. But I digress. The first animated version I saw was Larry Storch. So what I'm getting at is whether it's Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger, or John DiMaggio, Kevin Michael Richardson, Jeff Bennett, Michael Emerson, Brent Spiner or Jared Leto, there's something that I love. Ledger was a complete reinvention. I never thought of a joyless Joker. He's almost like a heroin addict and it works like gangbusters. Like I said, I never saw a Joker that's terrible. There's always something they capture. I think that the Joker is an epic character like Hamlet who is destined to be reinterpreted by actors forever.

You've done many variations on The Joker for animated series, films and even videogames. How do you get into his various skins?

He's an archetypical character and there's so many different approaches. The Joker of The Killing Joker is miles away from Joker's Favor, or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. In each case, I try to wipe the slate clean and pretend like I've never played the part before without preconceived notions. I read the script and try to figure out what is required of this incarnation of The Joker. What do they need? In Batman Reanimated: Harley and Ivy, which is like a parody of Thelma and Louise, he is left behind in his fluffy slippers so he's pathetic in a comic way. So that's different from a more malevolent or menacing Joker. Every time you get behind the wheel of the clown car, you have to figure out where they want you to drive.

You've recently come full circle playing Trickster on two TV versions of The Flash?

The Trickster, in the original 1990 incarnation, I realized once I was in the outfit, the cape, the mask and the Trickster mobile, I knew this was the closest I would ever get to playing a villain in the Adam West Batman. I absolutely loved every single minute of it. [Creators] Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo were really open about me collaborating with them because they are comic book geeks too. I had a blast. I came back and did a second one. We were scheduled to do a season two opener, which would have been a TV movie where I team up with Mirror Mask and Captain Boomerang, so I was crushed when it didn't happen. I never believed I would ever revisit that character, believe me. But there's a theme that's emerged in my career where you think you've done the last of The Joker, but the Arkham Asylum games come along. Or you think you've done Trickster for the last time, and then the Grant Gustin, Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg version comes along. Then [game creator] Chris Roberts asked me to come back for Squadron 42, and it's not officially a sequel to Wing Commander because he doesn't have the rights to it anymore, but for all intents and purposes that's exactly what it is. And then, there's Luke! Those are four major things that I have loved in my career that I never expected to come back. What a treat because I am able to appreciate them in a way now that I never was able to in my 20's or 30's.

So what's the role that eluded you, or you still want to play?

I'm not really sure. The appeal of a live audience is very strong for me but theater is a real grind. Nothing really jumps to mind, but a new challenge is just around the corner. I'm always looking for things that are a challenge and something I've never done before. It's why I did aBroadway musical. I don't belong in a musical but it was something I never did before, so when I auditioned and got it, I had to do it. You are always looking for the "Great White Whale" of that character you never expected to play. But hey, how about a Bond villain? That would be fun!

New episodes of Mark Hamill's Pop Culture Quest drop Tuesdays on Comic–Con HQ.

Episode 2: Monsters vs. Robots

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