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Saturday 20 October 2018

In a galaxy not so far, far away, an Irish start was born

The 'Star Wars' legend is making a documentary about his ancestors for Failte Ireland, he tells Anne Marie Scanlon

HERO: Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in ‘The Last Jedi’
HERO: Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in ‘The Last Jedi’

Anne Marie Scanlon

Even as a girl in single digits, I had a thing for 'bad boys'. So Luke Skywalker, the young hero of Star Wars, was never going to do it for me. He was too nice, too blond, too clean and far too much of a 'goody-goody'.

I went to meet actor Mark Hamill safe in the knowledge that because he'd never been Blu-Tacked to my bedroom wall, I wouldn't make a holy show of myself both personally and professionally.

We're meeting to talk about the latest Star Wars instalment, The Last Jedi, which is shrouded in secrecy and we're not allowed to discuss it.

As you can imagine, sometimes trying to have a conversation with someone about something you can't actually speak about can be (as they young ones say) #awks.

Not this time. As soon as I open my mouth and Hamill hears my accent, he volunteers "all my relatives on my father's side are from Ireland and my Mom's from Sweden".

The veteran actor goes on to tell me that he's doing a documentary on his ancestors for Failte Ireland, to promote Ireland as a destination for Americans.

"God forbid you have a bunch of loudmouth Americans mucking up the place," he laughs, "but it's so beautiful, so unique and the people are unbelievably friendly."

Part of The Last Jedi was filmed in Dingle. "I loved it. I wish we could have just stayed and made the whole movie there."

Hamill is one of seven children, his father was in the US Navy and he's no stranger to travel. When he tells me that he attended nine different schools around the world in a period of 12 years, I say that such frequent moving is tantamount to child abuse. Hamill laughs. "When I was younger, it was sort of like an adventure. As an adolescent, when it was more important to have friends and be part of a group, that's when it got to be a real nuisance."

When he graduated from high school in Japan, Hamill promised himself he would "never be in a profession where I would have to uproot my kids…" - he laughs at the irony now.

While the constant travel didn't give him the acting bug, it helped him develop skills as an actor. "You have to be a chameleon; you have to suss out what is acceptable. You move from San Diego to the East Coast and they're like "look at Surfer Joe over here" [said in an accent that wouldn't be out of place in The Sopranos], you're constantly trying to fit in."

Coming from a conservative Catholic family, Hamill had no contacts in the entertainment industry.

"I didn't know anybody in show business and I didn't know anybody who knew anybody in show business." As a young child, "I saw Clarence Nash recording the voice of Donald Duck [on TV] and thought if it's somebody's job, to go to work and be Donald Duck, I want that job!" Similarly, he discovered that films and TV shows had vast behind-the-scenes crews from watching Walt Disney's television shows and thought, "I could find something I could do. If I wasn't in the show I could be near the show and that was important to me."

In the four decades since the first Star Wars hit cinemas, the films have become a pop culture touchstone. Even those unfamiliar with the films know all the characters and catchphrases. How does Hamill feel about being the living embodiment of a cultural icon?

"Wow, it's so much to take in," he replies. "I don't carry it around with me on a day-to-day basis. In some situations, you get so much attention, the photographers are all pointing the cameras your way, there's all the hoopla and adoration, and then I'm back home and Mary-Lou [his wife]is telling me to take out the trash and clean up after the dog."

Hamill goes on to tell me that none of the cast expected the films to become such a huge part of the pop culture landscape. When I ask him why he thinks the Star Wars films so thoroughly captured the public imagination and have remained in the collective conscious and unconscious for four decades, he's on surer ground. "It's really primal storytelling, it goes back to Grimm's Fairy Tales, really harking back to a more innocent time when good and evil were so clearly defined."

Hamill says he was "stunned" when he got the call about the new trilogy. "We [Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Hamill] were not meant to be in the third trilogy. They said if I didn't want to return they wouldn't recast but they'd write Luke out. That was a responsibility and part of me was just terrified to come back and reunions are inherently disappointing."

Hamill was also convinced his former co-star Harrison Ford wouldn't be on-board. "I said Harrison's not going to come back - he's too rich and too cranky and he's too fed up with Star Wars - he gets sick of talking about it." Once Ford confirmed his return, Hamill states: "I knew they were going to kill [Han]. [Harrison] wanted to get killed off in the original, to be a hero's hero." Hamill admits that he was saddened when he read the script as he knew it meant that Luke and Han would not be reunited. I ask him if he got to work with Carrie Fisher (who died at the end of last year) as there is a trailer online that shows them together in a car park. The poor man looks pained. "Well, yes," Hamill replies hesitantly "I certainly got to do photo shoots with her."

Just before I leave, he tells me: "I know I'm not Luke, I'm not virtuous and heroic in the way he is." Maybe not, but if there is a nicer man in Hollywood, I've yet to meet him. I wonder if it's too late to Blu-Tack his picture on my bedroom wall.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi goes on release nationwide on December 15

Sunday Independent

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