Star Wars legend is unrecognisable as vampire
Star Wars veteran Mark Hamill says he's very well versed in playing "nonsense, so seriously".
His long-time colleague and friend from that galaxy far, far away, Harrison Ford, once famously told Star Wars creator George Lucas "you can type this s---, but you can't say it" and Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the beloved space western franchise, can relate.
"I have experience with that," he says with a chuckle over the phone from his nerd-paradise, memorabilia-filled man cave in his Malibu home. "We laughed so hard on Star Wars with some of these things that we were expected to take seriously. But then of course on the take, you take it dead seriously."
But Hamill says that approach held him good stead for his guest appearance in the vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, which airs this week. As Jim, a centuries-old bloodsucker with a grudge, the veteran actor plays it dead straight, despite wearing fangs, a flowing cape, over-the-top accent and the general absurdity of the situation.
"That was one of the things that was such a joy to do because you don't play comedy, you play reality and if you do that then the comedy comes through," Hamill says.
As a long-time horror devotee, who loved the Universal monster movies and Hammer films as a child, Hamill had been a huge fan of the 2014 What We Do In the Shadows film, which was created by Kiwis Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit) and Jemaine Clement (Flight Of the Conchords, Moana). He was "bowled over" by the reality TV approach to four ancient vampires sharing a house in downtown Wellington and trying to come to grips with the mundane minutiae of modern life and accommodation etiquette.
"I love the fact they take the vampire mythology and break it down into such relatable elements," Hamill says. "I remember they were preparing to go out for the night and since they can't see themselves in the mirror, they are doing sketches of one another to show what they look like. I mean, who thinks like that? It's incredibly inventive."
He admits his hopes weren't terribly high when Clement conceived the small-screen spin-off, which relocated the action to New York, but was immediately impressed with the new cast and the additions to the world.
The prolific, and often hilarious, Tweeter also showed his support for the show on social media and before long he'd been approached to appear in the second season. He swears he wasn't angling for an invitation, but rather doing for it selfish reasons as a fan.
Having seen some of his favourite shows cancelled, he'd previously sent shoutouts to Brooklyn Nine-Nine (which was reprieved) and The Kids Are Alright (which wasn't) and wanted to make sure What We Do In the Shadows stayed on air.
Indeed, when the invitation to appear came, he wasn't even sure he wanted make the transition from admirer to participant.
"I really enjoy being in the audience," he says. "There is no pressure. You just love it and enjoy it and when I accepted the part I went 'uh oh, now I am part of the show, there is much more pressure'. You don't want to go and ruin something that you like."
Hamill was expecting the part of a "member of the city council or a next-door neighbour, or somebody working at the department of motor vehicles", but was delighted to be able to vamp it up and go full Bela Lugosi for his episode, which has his character trying to settle an old score with Matt Berry's vampire, Laszlo.
The show had previously featured vampire-affiliated guest stars including Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive), Wesley Snipes (Blade) and Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood) and Hamill fit the criteria thanks to a voice role as Vlad in an animated series from the mid-'90s called Mina And The Count. It was also belated vindication for a kid who used to tape his horror heroes so he could imitate them for his somewhat sceptical parents.
"Here I am nine or 10, walking around the house going 'listen to them, please, you are getting sleeeepy' and my mum would say 'honey, that's a very nice Dracula impression but being able to imitate Dracula is not going to help you in life when you have to go out and get a job'."
Although his name will forever be linked with his much loved Jedi alter-ego Luke Skywalker - a fact he resented early in his career - Hamill has defied his parents' prediction that he'd never be able to make a career from show business.
From playing the Elephant Man and Amadeus' Mozart on Broadway, to his acclaimed and award-winning vocalisation of Batman's nemesis The Joker and the current historical drama series Knightfall, he says he's glad he ignored their advice to seek a steady job.
"I suppose I could have become a lawyer but I thought I'd rather play a lawyer than be one," he muses. "So, I love the idea of not knowing what's coming your way. Like in the case of What We Do In The Shadows, to have an opportunity to present itself, recognising it as an opportunity and then really committing to it and doing the best you can."
Hamill's success as an actor also enabled him to fully embrace his inner fan - one of the first things he did when he got "recreational money" was to buy all the model kits of monsters his family couldn't afford when he was growing up as one of seven children.
Since then he's been an avid collector of movie memorabilia, to the point that his wife of 42 years, Marilou, had to tell him to stop because the house was full and his storage overflow unit was a 90-minute drive away. Hamill's own son was shocked and disappointed to learn that his friend's dad didn't even have a Batmobile and that not every basement was stuffed with pop-culture gold.
"I said 'son, Josh's dad is a lawyer - not everybody's dad collects toys the way I do," Hamill says with a chuckle of his beloved man cave. "I also collect board games and if you come in here, it's pretty much like a vintage collectable store because that's the sort of thing I like. I watch television in here. When we meet 'grown-ups' I go out into the living room where you can't tell that I am suffering from arrested development."
What We Do In the Shadows, Thursday, 8.30pm, Fox Showcase
Originally published as Star Wars legend is unrecognisable as vampire