The Flash's Mark Hamill Talks His Return as The Trickster and Working with John Wesley Shipp Again

FLA117A_0397bThere's little to get your viewers more interested than Star Wars legend Mark Hamill making a guest appearance, and the producers of The Flash know that.

Hamill returns to the role of James Jesse, the Trickster, more than twenty years after his last appearance on 1990's The Flash, in which he starred with John Wesley Shipp, who plays Henry Allen in the show's current iteration.

Following a screening of this week's episode of The Flash, titled "Tricksters," Hamill and The Flash showrunner Andrew Kreisberg joined a group of reporters for a Q&A about the episode.

You can check out a selection of questions from that interview below. Hamill joins The Flash in Tuesday's episode, which airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.

FLA117A_0031bCan you talk a little bit about how they got you to be on this version of The Flash and what you thought of when it came up?

Mark Hamill: Well, I'm a fan, you know? I loved the comics when I was a kid and I watched the original series before Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, who I should mention, and the casting director April Webster, I don't know whose idea it was, called me and got in touch with me and asked me to come over to meet and see if I wanted to do something on the show. If it weren't for Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, I'm sure I wouldn't be here at all, but...

Andrew Kreisberg: I wouldn't be here.

Hamill: But of course then when this version came on, my daughter Chelsea is a big fan and I watched it from the first episode. In fact, I even thought, since they were doing Mirror Master and Weather Wizard and various other Rogues Gallery characters, I wonder if they're going to do The Trickster.

And then I got a call from my business people saying that they wanted me to do something on The Flash. And I was thinking, like a colleague of John Wesley Shipp's, a professor, something age-appropriate, you know? I'm not getting back into that one-piece jumpsuit, you know? The spandex deal.

So I said, "Who do they want me to play?" And when they said The Trickster, I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't figure out how that could be, unless it's some kind of weird time-travel episode, I don't know.

I was very skeptical but then I called Andrew and the one thing that impressed me about the show is how smart the writing is. I mean, it's got the fantasy element and the comic book elements but it's really strong in characters, I think. The backstory of the father wrongly accused, from the very first episode that's really a strong hold on the audience. And you get to know so much about the personal lives of these characters. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when they had such an ingenious idea as having Devon Graye play a new Trickster with me appealing to -- all of these villains have unwieldy egos. 

And it worked! When I read the script, I said, "Who's this punk getting all my stuff?" I reacted just like I was in character. Because he gets to do all of the fun, Trickster-y things with all the parachute bombs and whatnot...

FLA117B_0081bKreisberg: This time.

Hamill: Oh! Okay. Well, as far as I'm concerned, I am just so enamored of this young actor, Devon Graye. I just think he's so vulnerable. When I was on set, I did the EPK -- the electronic press kit -- just before we did our last scene....

Now I'd seen Devon working and I thought he was very very good, but there was a take where he confesses his devotion for me and he was so real, it was astonishing, how troubled a kid this was. I'm just doing my crazy comic book guy; it's just not tethered to reality in my mind, and he brought it so close to home in terms of how emotionally damaged he was, I'm telling you, it just moved me beyond words.

And I felt bad, because in the electronic press kit, I went on and on about comic books and I didn't mention Devon at all; I'm just so sorry because I think the world of him and as far as I'm concerned, he's a worthy successor.

Kreisberg: Devon actually starred in the pilot I did with Paul and Danny at Syfy.

Hamill: Is that right?

Kreisberg: Yeah. Red Faction

Hamill: He's just tremendous. But all of the cast. One thing that struck me is how happy everyone seems to be. They all get along, and it's just a happy set. And having been on sets that weren't quite as happy, it makes the world of difference. I only got to work with Grant and Jesse and Candice, so Danielle and Carlos and Tom...well, Rick was in the scene, the mayor scene. And by the way, the mayor is played by Vito D'Ambrosio, who was one of the original cops on the '90s Flash. I kept thinking, "This guy looks familiar." [Laughs] Couldn't quite place it!

Kreisberg: You blew up his car!

Hamill: I did. You'd think I'd remember that. I actually had to ask him, "Why do you look so familiar to me?" Because this happens in this business I'm sure all the time: Do I know this person, or have I just seen him in a play or a movie?

And he said, "Mark, it's me, it's Vito." And I felt so embarrassed, but what great sense of continuity. I'm just very pleased and honored that they would think of me at all. And they were very gracious in terms of letting me play around and having a few of my own little...I was throwing those things out there. That's very much like Paul and Danny because they were comic book fans, too, and we were all on the same wavelength.

Usually I save it so you see it in rehearsal and you can say "Don't do that," or if they don't say anything just let it go and Ralph Hamaker who directed this episode was very congenial. What we would do is I would try to do it a little different each time so they had the different puzzle pieces and they could put them together in any way they like. It's just fun, it's just fun and so if it stops being fun I'll stop doing it, but I had a great time.

The last time though, we did it just over here on the Warner Bros. lot and I was just in awe of their history, you know? John Garfield and Jimmy Cagney and all that, and the backlot is just one of my favorite golden age studios. I was already saying yes to this before I realized you guys were in Vancouver. And nothing against Vancouver; I love that city. I usually love wherever I am; I hate getting there. It's awful, the airports and all of that.

Just the idea of being asked to play a part decades later. I mean, that never happens!

tricksters-flashWas it easy for you to take on this role again? Was it fun for you to jump back into that wild and crazy mindset?

I loved it, but it is intimidating. It's like, the thing is, they asked me to do a cameo on The Neighbors, which was a series that I loved. Sort of a variation on Third Rock From the Sun, but very clever and witty and when they asked me to do the cameo, I said I'm going to ruin the show, for myself anyway. Because once you go down and you're on the set and you meet all the people, even though you know it's not real, it's like going down to see a live recording of All in the Family or something; you'll never see it the same way again as when you're seeing it in the studio. So I didn't want to show up and ruin a series I liked, and that's the danger. But I thought, "Well, if it's really terrible, it's only one episode so they can survive me." But yeah, it was terribly intimidating until I got there. Once you get into the spirit of it, it's like slipping into a comfortable pair of tennis shoes.

FLA117A_0104bIs there any chance we'll ever see The Trickster in a scene with the other Rogues?

Kreisberg: ...Sir?

[Ed. note: No audible response from Hamill]

Yes, that is the plan. What's so fun for us and why we were again so grateful to Mark for wanting to be part of this is, when I sit down and I think of Wentworth Miller and Mark in a scene together and watching the dichotomy of them...

I think that sometimes there's a tendency to just spit out the same villain week in and week out on these shows and for us, having people who are so different and having people who have powers and having people who are slightly unhinged but geniuses, it's...that's the other reason we wanted to do the Trickster, too. You have so many villains who have these amazing abilities, either because they're metahumans or because they have this incredible weaponry. And what was always cool about The Trickster on both series is that he was smart. No matter how crazy he was, he was smart and he thought like four steps ahead. Watching The Flash and our team going up against somebody brilliant, a lot of the times our shows are about how to chemically or scientifically or how The Flash can use his powers to stop somebody, but this time it was, they really have to outthink him.

Hamill: One of the things that happened in the original run was, they were sort of avoiding costumed heroes in the beginning. And my older son, I remember he didn't come down one week til I said, "Come down, The Flash is on." And he said, "When he fights the villains, what are they going to do? Run? I told that story to Danny Bilson because he was fighting like motorcycle gangs and gangsters and stuff like that. You need to have a super adversary to match the extraordinary powers of The Flash.

Kreisberg: That's what we go through every week, and it's funny becuase Warner Bros. has been so incredibly supportive obviously to do Arrow and The Flash but then as soon as we say, "Okay, we're going to have the villains on," they're like, "Ehh..."

They kind of get worried about the villains being too cartoony or they look back and it's like the Batman '66 stink. We said, if The Flash can move at super-speed, he can't just be fighting bank robbers. Or if he is fighting bank robbers, they have to be able to do something pretty special. Again, that's one of the reason The Trickster in the comics and in the old show and hopefully people will think on our show is so cool, is because he doesn't have any of that, he's just really smart and he's able to use that smartness to outthink the gang.

Mark, you were one of the highest-profile fanboys before there were high-profile fan boys. Now that geek culture is so "cool," what does it mean to you to be here in this moment?

Like you say, I was back remembering when they were trying to get the film version of Batman made. And I knew they wanted it to be dark and like the original concept before it got stamped with that sort of Adam West look and feel. And I'm someone who loved the Adam West version. For little kids, I think that's the perfect entry point for comic book shows and I don't think anyone's ever been more delicious than Frank Gorshin as The Riddler; I just absolutely adored him.

But I never would have believed that it would become a whole genre of film. I've seen the slow evolution. As Andrew points out, they shied away. I remember them announcing in the trades that the film version of Batman and Robin has been cast with Bill Murray as Batman and Eddie Murphy as Robin. Michael Uslan told me there was a  time when they were going to go full-on comedy with it.

And as much as I would love to see that film, and I would, I'm really happy that they were able to do comic book properties that are aimed at an older and smarter audience.

Kreisberg: What was interesting on the old show and I've always said this is, look at Frank Gorshin. If Frank Gorshin at the end of one of those scenes had slit somebody's throat, nobody would be saying he was silly. It wasn't the performance and it wasn't the costumes; it was the stakes always felt so small and again, that's what's so fun about what we can do now. We can have somebody like Mark come in and do their thing, but you see how dangerous it is and I think that's what keeps it grounded and real and scary and fun.

Hamill: I remember when I was on General Hospital and Kerwin Matthews came in to play a doctor and I just freaked out. It was Sinbad! I said, "Can I interview you some day?" And we got together after work one day and I had a tape recorder and I asked him all my questions and it got printed in a fanzine called FXRH: Film Effects By Ray Harryhausen. And it's kind of a collectible now because it's Kerwin Matthews being interviewed by me, and this was in probably '72.

I went to one of the very first Comic Cons, which was like 300 people in the basement of a hotel.

Kreisberg: That's like a slow party at Comic Con.

Hamill: Now, it's like be careful what you wish for because it's just chaotic down there.

Kreisberg: Can you walk the floor? Do you ever put a disguise on, or...?

I made Comic Book: The Movie and comic book fans are very into pretend. We were on the floor shooting, and I grew a beard and I had curly hair and it was kind of dyed sort of to look like sepia tone because Don Swan -- named after Curt Swan, one of my favorite Superman artists, and I loved the rhyming because it sounded funny --  I said, "If you call me 'Mark' or 'Luke,' I can't use it. If you call me 'Don,' you'll be in the movie."

We were just filming everything; we had five cameras and we were trying to capture real. It's impossible. Now, with reality shows, the camera goes up and everyone is trying to perform. We were trying to get real, like the horse trading that goes on where you're bartering for books and guys are smelling the pages and looking at the spine where the staples line up. I love all of that stuff! But you really can't capture it the way I had envisioned it. As it turned out, we had a storyline to fall back on. We had all these improvisational actors so I thought if we didn't get what we need, we can always fall back on the storyline.

I was a curiosity for a couple of hours, I guess, on the floor, but once they got what I was doing, I said this is an alternate reality where there are no Star Wars movies. They're only books like Lord of the Rings at that time. That could explain why there were Storm Troopers and Princess Leias walking around, but they totally get the Earth-2 concept, so they're more than willing to cooperate.

Obviously John's playing a different character this time, but can you tell us the feelings you were having performing with him again, and also Andrew, writing that scene?

Kreisberg: Well, I knew there was no point in doing this if we didn't have Mark and John in a scene together. Early on, it was one of the things that we said, early on when we were constructing the story, that The Trickster should kidnap Henry because it was a great way to satisfy both the fan in all of us but also you want Barry to really care about The Trickster.

Hamill: John Wesley on the original series -- really underrated. He's such a good actor.

...Well, he's not underrated. He's got a mantle full of Emmys. I don't have a mantle full of Emmys.

And then of course Grant is, again, tremendous. He's so likable, so natural, so perfect for this character because The Flash was always much more sunny and upbeat than some of the other, darker characters. And you couldn't do better than having a foundation like that to build a series around.

And then Jesse Martin? Come on, that's money in the bank. You know that guy's done more episodes of Law & Order than Lucille did it I Love Lucy? I have lots of irritating minutia like that.

Kreisberg: Also the trenchcoat that John wears, he wore on the original show. He said, "I have this jacket that on the last day, I took, and it still fits me."

Hamill: He didn't ask to keep the outfit. Boy, that was murder. It was like a SCUBA outfit covered in fuzz, and the new one is just so much more practical and real. I really felt bad for him being in that thing. They try to clean it up over the weekend, you know? They'd spray Lysol. But you can imagine being in this rubber suit, you can't send it to the dry cleaners. 

Kreisberg: And he said that he would sweat so they would just squeeze it and water would come out. It was a horror.

Hamill: Exactly! But he was so accommodating. If kids came on set, he'd put the head on to pose with them. That really impressed me. You figure, you're in this business to make people happy. So why do you suddenly get to a point where -- there are people who come on set and it's like, "Don't look them directly in the eyes, don't say good morning." Really?! I gotta at least feel like everybody's on my side, even if it's fake. I'll be handing out Tootsie Rolls to the crew because you have to feel like they're on your side. You move so fast, you have to be ready for anything, and like I say, this was really a great bunch. I really enjoyed it.

Join the Conversation

Hide comments