Mark Hamill is best known to gamers as Luke Skywalker. But, in addition to reprising that role in the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII movie, coming out December 15, 2017, the actor is reconnecting with Cloud Imperium Games developer Chris Roberts on the upcoming video game, Star Citizen: Squadron 42.
After working with George Lucas on the first three Star Wars films, Hamill partnered with Roberts on the Wing Commander game franchise throughout the ‘90s. Those games pioneered a blend of live action acting and interactive space dog-fighting battles.
Now Roberts and Hamill are together again, this time in a much more massive Star Citizen universe, which is an open world video game. Hamill stars as Lt. Cmdr. Steve “Old Man” Colton in the story-driven Squadron 42 game set within this sci-fi world, alongside Hollywood actors such as Gary Oldman, Gillian Anderson, John Rhys-Davies, and Jack Huston.
Hamill talks about his new video game, as well as his love of comic books, in this exclusive interview.
Innovation & Tech Today: What was it like re-teaming with video game creator and Hollywood director Chris Roberts after so many years?
Mark Hamill: It was one of those situations where it’s kind of like pulling an old pair of trousers out of the back of the closet you haven’t worn in many years and discovering a $20 bill in the pocket. It’s worth more than $20 because it’s so unexpected. And that’s what happened here.
To be back with Chris is great. I trust him. I’d ask him a question about continuity and he’d launch into an explanation for 20 minutes. He’s so enthusiastic about the project that you ask a simple question and you get a complex, thoroughly annotated response like you never expected.
I&T Today: What attracted you to Star Citizen: Squadron 42?
MH: When I first met with Chris, I didn’t really understand what he was asking me to do – the extension of scripting for the very scenarios that cover everything the player might do. And as he’s describing it to me, there’s something about doing something new. I love doing things I’ve never done before. I love challenges. I did a Broadway musical. I don’t know if I’ll ever do another one, but it was unbelievable because I had never done anything like that before, and same with this. As he was describing it – he’s so passionate for the material – he has such a firm grasp of what it is that he wants. I was completely mesmerized by his description.
I remember way back when thinking, “Oh, there’s no question I’ve got to do this. It sounds like so much fun,” even though I’m giving up a lot of what you have in the typical situation for an actor. In a usual movie or play or television script there’s a story arc with a beginning, a middle, and an end. So, you can shape your performance. You can make choices that will achieve an arc that you want to attain for your character. Here you give that up because you’re giving the choices to the players themselves, so that a character might in any given situation have a neutral reaction, a negative reaction, and a positive reaction. Some guy comes into my office, throws down an idea on my desk, [and] a neutral reaction is, “Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I’ll get back to you.” The negative reaction is, “What a load of rubbish. [Why] are you wasting my time? Get back to your station.” And the positive would be, “This is genius. I never thought of this. Let’s get to it right away.” It’s a very schizophrenic endeavor in the sense [of] allowing the players to decide who your character really is.
I&T Today: Some actors compare this high-tech performance capture to working in theater, do you agree?
MH: It’s a question people [ask], “How is theater different than, say, television or movies?” And obviously for television and movies, people have front row seats. Sometimes they have a seat just a foot in front of you, because when you’re doing close-ups, you have to pitch your performance to a certain extent. You want to make sure that the people in the balcony are understanding what you are trying to achieve. Your body is your instrument, so your attitude and movement is very pronounced. In this case, it’s a really essential tool to have had that background and that training because you become self-conscious of your movements. The camera is reading you in a way that’s probably more intimate than a traditional camera, which is taking the picture and playing off where you are. Here you’re sort of enveloped by cameras. The camera is right in your face to capture whatever it is you care to give them.
I&T Today: What are your thoughts on the visuals this game world brings to life?
MH: I’ve learned so much just participating in this project, but when I saw what they were able to do with virtual reality, I saw them bring the cost of the tentpole epic extravaganza way down by being able to build virtual sets. There’s a fine line and people can say, “Well, it’s too much to the eye. It doesn’t look real. It looks like an animated picture rather than an actual three dimensional way a practical set would look.” But in the case of this space adventure, it’s highly realistic. And the technology improves every single day, so I don’t see that there’s any sort of limits on the possibilities of what could be achieved. I’m sort of in awe of it all.
I&T Today: Where does being in video games rank with all the cool stuff you’ve been able to be involved with from blockbusters like the Star Wars trilogy to animated TV shows and movies?
MH: Well, it comes under the category of “unexpected thrills.” The earliest memories I have of becoming a fanboy are loving the comic strips that got delivered to my door in the newspapers every day. Before I could even read there were silent strips like Henry and The Little King. Then there were strips that had simple words that I’m sure helped me learn to read. I read comics every day. I loved drawing and trying to copy the comics. I thought maybe I could be an artist and that was the gateway into comic books and the wealth of material – not just the super heroes. I loved Superduperman and Mad Magazine and Mad Comics. I loved Charles Schulz. I loved the Classics Illustrated. Eventually, I loved Batman, Superman, and all that stuff. But it was a whole part of my childhood that I thought I had outgrown and become an adult now, and then to come full circle and be involved in projects that were so near and dear to my heart. Good Lord, to think that I could ever become associated with something as iconic as the Joker was beyond what I ever dreamed. And then you get to a point where you’re being paid to do things that as a child you dreamed of doing and would just say, “Oh, I’d do that for free. Are you kidding me?”
I&T Today: When did you first get the acting bug?
MH: I remember being at Disneyland where they showed Clarence Nash doing the voice of Donald Duck. I guess I was maybe 6, 7, or 8, and a little lightbulb went off in my head and I thought, “Wait a sec, grownups go to work and their job is to talk like Donald Duck? I want that job!” I looked a lot to comedy when I was a kid and I recognized June Foray in St. George and the Dragon, which was a parody of Dragnet. I said, “Oh wow, that’s the lady that does the witch in Trick or Treat, that Huey, Dewey, and Louie cartoon. That’s the lady that does the squirrel on Rocky and Bullwinkle.” This was before the Internet where you could just Google it. I remember looking at the back of record albums to learn the names of Daws Butler, Don Messick, and Mel Blanc who did all the Hanna-Barbera cartoons and so forth, so it’s something I really aspired to as a kid.
It’s funny to me that there was a period in Hollywood where you thought, “Oh my gosh, they’re doing cartoons now. That means they can’t get work on TV or in movies,” and I never looked at it that way. I’ve always wanted to be a character actor, and the animated world allows you to…it’s fairly well defined what character acting is, which is disappearing into the role to where they don’t even recognize the actor involved. Animation has done that because you can’t see the actor, so that was a dream come true. I’m really lucky to have done Broadway, television, movies…I’ve done a lot of what I wanted to do, and there’s always still challenges ahead, but the video games can mean a whole different dimension.