When actor Mark Hamill read the script for his new grindhouse-style thriller “Sushi Girl,” he immediately turned it down.
“It seemed way out of my comfort zone and ultra-violent and just nasty,” Hamill told me during an early October interview. “It felt way too dark. I said to my agent, ‘I can’t do it.’”
The film, which is now available with XFINITY On Demand, chronicles the reunion of six career criminals as they confront one of their colleagues, a recently released convict who may have stolen a cache of diamonds during the botched heist that landed him behind bars in the first place. The story unfolds over a sushi dinner, where the main course is raw fish (including the deadly fugu fish) laid out upon the body of a naked woman. The cast includes well-known pop culture figures such as Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Noah Hathaway (“The NeverEnding Story”), Michael Biehn (“The Terminator”), Jeff Fahey (“The Lawnmower Man”), Danny Trejo (“Desperado”) and martial arts film icon Sonny Chiba.
Hamill plays Crow, a spineless psychopath with a surprising penchant for violence, who tortures the evening’s guest of honor by drilling chopsticks into his kneecaps and pulling out his teeth. “I have been married to a dental hygienist for 34 years,” Hamill quipped. “Just from a dental point of view, it’s highly offensive.”
Though seemingly against type for the man known around the world as “Star Wars” hero Luke Skywalker, director Kern Saxton chose Hamill because of the 20 years the actor spent lending his voice to one of the world’s most famous villains – Batman’s arch nemesis, The Joker.
“The fact that I could play a psychopath in an animated series – they wanted to see what I could do on camera,” Hamill explained, referencing the popular ’90s cartoon “Batman: The Animated Series” and several new versions of the franchise that followed.
Seeking a second opinion, Hamill handed the script to two of his three children, Griffin and Chelsea Hamill. According to Mark, Griffin shrugged off the violence as par for the course in today’s movie market. Chelsea, on the other hand, gave her dad some tough love: “She said, ‘If you don’t do this, I don’t wanna hear you complaining about you never getting parts that Steve Buscemi or Philip Seymour Hoffman get. You should be grateful they even thought of you for something so extreme,’” Hamill recalled.
The 61-year-old actor agreed and, after reading the script a second time as his character Crow, found the violence more comical than gratuitous. Even still, Hamill remarked, “I think it’s the biggest gamble of my career.”
Keep reading for more of my interview with Mark, where we discuss “Sushi Girl,” learn his vocal inspiration for The Joker, uncover his most unusual piece of “Star Wars” memorabilia and blow his mind.
David Onda: In “Sushi Girl,” what do you think brought these very different men together in the first place?
Mark Hamill: I think, in a way, they’re sort of that dysfunctional family; they all sort of complement one another in different ways. You have the father figure in Duke, the Tony Todd character, and you have Andy Mackenzie playing the enforcer, and James Duval is the soulful member of the group. Every character serves a different function. If Crow was left to his own devices, he would probably be forging checks and pulling scams. I don’t know if he has the depth to pull off a robbery on his own, but within the family, it all works.
Onda: It’s funny you mentioned the dysfunctional family, because I sort of amused myself imagining Luke Skywalker, the Candyman and Atreyu pulling off this diamond heist together…
Hamill: [laughs] It’s chock-a -block with iconic figures – not only the main characters, but to be able to get Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo and Sonny Chiba. I mean, it’s like a pop culture dream. It’s not “A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” where you know you look up and say “Oh, look, the gas station attendant is so-and-so.” They all have something to contribute and they all did just a great job and it was just a great thrill to be able to work with them.
Onda: One of the things that struck me about your performance is that you use many of the same mannerism as when you’re performing the voice of The Joker.
Hamill: You know, the only time I ever saw footage of me doing The Joker – we were recording the tracks for “Mask of the Phantasm,” the feature film. And they were doing a first-look for HBO, and they had placed cameras around the studio, but very unobtrusively. And when I eventually saw the little promotional film, it was appalling! I had no idea that I looked like that. I was performing and pulling my hair and gesticulating wildly! One of the things that I love about voiceover is that it’s a situation where – because you’re not encumbered by being seen – it’s liberating. You’re able to make broad choices that you would never make if you were on camera. But I wasn’t aware of how I looked or how ridiculous I looked doing that character.
Onda: Throughout your career, have movie roles been more attractive to you when they were so much further than what you’ve been known with “Star Wars”?
Hamill: One of the reasons I’ve taken so well to both Broadway and voiceover is the character actor aspect of it. When you are in your gear as Mozart – when you look in the mirror you’re no longer Mark Hamill – you’re transformed. It’s easy to hide inside the shell of another character, and I love it. I love the idea of being able to disappear into another character, and one of the reasons I wanted such an extreme look for Crow was that he was an extreme personality. When he shows up, you should be able to take one look at this guy and say, “There is something wrong with this person.” Whether it’s the inappropriate shoulder-length surfer hair, or the horn-rimmed glasses, or the fact that he wears those tennis shoes with the three-piece suit – it’s a guy that’s not really developed right. When I put myself together and look in the mirror, Mark Hamill was gone and Crow was there.
Onda: What was your inspiration for Crow’s voice?
Hamill: I was sort of channeling an understudy of mine that I worked with in a musical called “Harrigan ‘n Hart.” I mean, his cynicism and his humor I found similar. I would hate to demean or defame this guy, because obviously he is nothing like Crow, but his outlook and dark humor and his cynicism was similar. When I was asked what was my inspiration for The Joker – did I pattern it after Caesar Romero or Jack Nicholson – I said, “Not really.” When I look back, I’m thinking Claude Rains was kind of an inspiration, because I remember loving him so much. As a kid, I loved the Invisible Man with his – [in a gravelly voice] “Crazy?! You think I’m crazy? I’ll show you who’s crazy.” He had that wonderful wit and that dynamic energy, and his voice was really compelling. I wanted to have all the colors in the rainbow with Joker, from dark and menacing to buoyant and exuberant silliness and grand theatricality – a little Charles Nelson Reilly. I mean, I was all over the place. I loved character actors and I loved the sounds of various dialect voices. The Joker is sort of mid-Atlantic. He’s not really British, but he’s not really fully American. The one wondrous thing about playing crazy people, whether its Crow or The Joker, is that when someone’s crazy, they are, by definition, unpredictable. And when you’re unpredictable, you’re never boring.
Onda: “Star Wars” actor Anthony Daniels once told me he still has an old box of C-3P0’s cereal. What’s the most unusual piece of “Star Wars” memorabilia you own?
Hamill: I do happen to have a box of 3-CP0’s, but I notice if it’s food products, and you store it in the attic, the mice will find it. I have a box somewhere without the cereal, because god knows it would be petrified by now. I was lucky – they let me keep my boots from the first one. I got to keep the Storm Trooper helmet that I rescued the princess in. Ironically, the Storm Trooper helmet that I have is not nearly as well-made or constructed as the commercial versions that you can buy. The ones you buy are meant to last forever. The one that I kept was meant to last for 10 weeks of filming. The inner visor is just a piece of green cellophane taped to the inside, with these eye holes. I never expected to be a pair of Underoos . The merchandising aspect of it was great fun for me, because I’m a real pop culture kind of creature. I loved the idea of being a bubblegum card.
Onda: I have an amazing original Darth Vader phone that my grandfather passed down to me.
Hamill: Oh! That converts your voice into his voice?
Onda: Yes. And Vader’s just lights up. It’s one of my favorite things.
Hamill: That’s wonderful! The ingenuity of what they come up with is astonishing. I love the fact that, one time, my face was on the back of a cereal box – probably 3-CP0’s – and it was a mask where you cut out the eye holes and put a string through the side. It makes me feel like I’m 11 years old all over again. I immediately become a child and remember going, “Please, mom, buy me those Cocoa Puffs, because there’s a Superman inside.” When you realize how much those kinds of things mean, especially to the children, I can relate to it.
Onda: For as world-renowned as you are for being Luke Skywalker, it’s funny that, as a ’90s kid, I knew you as The Joker first.
Hamill: A lot of people don’t know I’m The Joker, because who could read the credits that fly by at that speed? And that’s fine with me. It was a learning moment when I realized I don’t mind not getting that recognition, because it works so well. When all the elements come together – the script and the artwork and the music – I don’t need the spotlight and the curtain call. I really am proud of that, and the fact that, for a lot of people, it’s an anonymous actor doing [The Joker] – that’s even more flattering.
Onda: It was like finding out that Uncle Phil from “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was the voice of Shredder in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cartoon.
Hamill: [laughs hard] I didn’t know that!
Onda: Yes! It blows my mind.
Hamill: Well, you just blew my mind.
“Sushi Girl” is now available with XFINITY On Demand. Click here for more information on ordering.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.