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Hamill Resurrects the Trickster for “Flash,” Reminisces About Joker Days

by  in TV News Comment
Hamill Resurrects the Trickster for “Flash,” Reminisces About Joker Days

At last — Mark Hamill is back in the role he made famous! Nope, not that one.

In 1991, still less than a decade after completing his tour of duty as wide-eyed-farm-boy-turned-Jedi-Knight Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars,” Hamill, himself a longtime, very vocal aficionado of sci-fi, fantasy, comic books, pulp fiction, animation and pop culture, signed on for a guest appearance on the first attempt to bring “The Flash” to television, bringing the enduring, elaborately practical joking con artist known as The Trickster to life — a turn that proved popular enough to inspire a second appearance a few episodes later. Not long after, the show was cancelled and that was that, minus a few in-joke stints providing the voice — and, frankly, the look — of the character when he appeared on the animated “Justice League Unlimited.”

Nearly a quarter-century later, Hamill finds himself once again walking in The Trickster’s shoes as the role is re-imagined for The CW‘s hit series “The Flash.” This time, James Jesse is a colorful but deadly prank-centric anarchist who terrorized Central City before being caught and spending the past two decades behind bars — until a copycat Trickster surfaces and Barry Allen and Joe West are forced to turn to the older but still ingenious villain for insight on the new baddie, Hannibal Lecter-style.

RELATED: DC Isn’t Stunt Casting “Supergirl,” It’s Honoring its Hollywood Legacy

Hamill joined with “The Flash’s” executive producer Andrew Kreisberg (whose team has previously cast veterans of the ’90s series, including star John Wesley Shipp in a recurring role as Barry’s dad Henry, and who once again shares scenes with Hamill) for a press conference to reveal the tricks of recruiting the genre icon into reprising his trickiest role.

How did they get you to do this version of “The Flash,” and what did you think when the idea came up?

Mark Hamill: I’m a fan! I loved the comics when I was a kid, and I watched the original series, before Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo — who I should mention, and the casting director, April Webster — got in touch with me and asked me to come over to meet and see if I wanted to do something on the [’90s] show. If it weren’t for Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here, at all.

Andrew Kreisberg: I wouldn’t be here!

Hamill: Of course, when this version came on, my daughter Chelsea is a big fan, and I watched it from the very first episode. 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, “They want you to do something on ‘The Flash.'” I was thinking I would be a colleague of John Wesley Shipp’s, a professor or something age appropriate. “I’m not getting back into that one-piece jumpsuit spandex deal.”

So, when they said they wanted me to play The Trickster, I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t figure out how that could be, unless it was some weird time travel episode. I was very skeptical, but then I called Andrew. The one thing that impresses me about the show is how smart the writing is. It’s got the fantasy element and the comic book elements, but it’s really strong in characters. The backstory of the father wrongly accused, from the very first episode, is 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 of having Devon Graye play a new Trickster with me. All these villains have unwieldy egos, and it works. When I read the script, I said, “Who’s this punk getting all my stuff!” I reacted just like I was in character. He really gets to do all of the fun Trickstery things, with the parachute bombs and whatnot.

Kreisberg: This time!

How was it to work with Devon Graye?

Hamill:  I was just so enamored of this young actor, Devon Graye. I think he’s so vulnerable. I did the EPK on set, just before we did our last scene, which was the scene in the lair, with John Wesley Shipp tied up. 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 that it was astonishing, how troubled a kid this was. I was doing my crazy comic book guy, who was not tethered in reality, and he brought it so close to home, in terms of how emotionally damaged he was. I tell you, it just moved me beyond words. I think the world of him. 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, “Red Faction.”

Hamill:  He’s just tremendous. One thing that struck me was how happy everyone seems to be. They all get along, and it’s a happy set. Having been on sets that weren’t quite as happy, it makes a world of difference. I only got to work Grant [Gustin], Jesse [Martin] and Candice [Patton], but not Danielle [Panabaker], Carlos [Valdes] and Tom [Cavanagh]. Rick [Cosnett] was in the scene with the Mayor. 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,” but I couldn’t quite place it.

Kreisberg:  You blew up his car!

Hamill:  I did, yeah. You think I’d remember that.

Kreisberg:  You think you’d remember trying to kill a guy.

Hamill:  I actually had to say to him, “Why do you look so familiar to me?” That happens in this business, all the time. And he said, “Mark, it’s me. It’s Vito.” And I felt so embarrassed. I’m just very pleased and honored that they would think of me, at all, [for this]. And they were very gracious, in terms of letting me play around.

Kreisberg:  My favorite line in the show is when you say, “Cut off his head and throw it at his face!” Every time I see that, I laugh out loud. That is a Mark Hamill original

Hamill:  I had a professor in college who said, “And if the papers are late, I’ll be forced to cut off your head and throw it right in your face.” That just stuck with me, the absurdity of it all. It’s such a violent image, and yet it’s [off-set] by the humor of it being a physical impossibility. So, I was throwing those things out there.

Do you typically like to do a lot of improvisation?

Hamill:  I try to do things a little bit different each time, so they have the different puzzle pieces and can put they together the way they’d like. It’s just fun. If it stops being fun, I’ll stop doing it, but I had a great time. The last time, we did it over here on the Warner Bros. lot. I’m so in awe of their history. The backlot is one of my favorite Golden Age studios. I was already saying yes to this before I realized they were in Vancouver. Nothing against Vancouver — I love that city. I usually love wherever I am. I hate getting there. The airports and all of that are awful. 

Was it easy for you to take on this role again, and fun to jump back into that wild and crazy mind-set?

Hamill: I loved it, but it is intimidating. It always happens; they asked me to do a cameo on “The Neighbors,” which is a series I loved. It was a variation on “Third Rock from the Sun,” and it was very witty and clever. When they asked me to do the cameo, I said, “I’m going to ruin the show for myself.” 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 to see a live recording of “All in the Family.” You’ll never see it the same way again after you’re in the studio.

I didn’t want to show up and ruin a series I liked. That’s the danger. But I thought, “Well, if it’s really terrible, it’s only one episode. They can survive me.” It was terribly intimidating, until I got there. Once you get into the spirit of it, it’s like slipping into a comfy old pair of tennis shoes.

How does The Trickster compare with your other famous DC villain role, The Joker [which Hamill played to great acclaim on various incarnations of “Batman: The Animated Series”]?

Hamill: I played The Trickster before I ever voiced The Joker. People ask me, “Is that what made them think of you for the animated series?” and it’s not. The television department, the movie department and the animation department are all separate entities, and they don’t really coordinate. I had read about them doing the animated series, and the benchmark they were aiming for was the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. I thought, “Oh, boy, they’re going to get this right.” There were 65 episodes ordered, so they had the ability to go beyond just the villain of the week. So, I said to my agent, “I just want to be on that.” They gave me a part in the “Heart of Ice” episode, which was the first Mr. Freeze [episode], and I just went in with full fanboy flags flying and nerded out — actors are never satisfied. I got on the show and I thought: “How come I’m not Mr. Freeze?” I wanted to play something a little juicier.

I guess they thought of me, later down the road, when they decided to cast The Joker. Unlike the first episode that they just gave me, I went in and read for that. Part of the reason I feel like I was in the right frame of mind was that I thought, “There’s no way I’m gonna get this. They just will not cast the guy who played this icon of virtue, this farm boy puppy dog guy, as this arch icon of villainy. There’s no way! From a public relations standpoint, I can’t get this.” So instead of being nervous about it, I went in thinking, “Since they can’t hire me, I’m gonna make them really sorry that they can’t.” As I was driving out of the parking lot, I thought, “Top that! That’s the best Joker they’re ever gonna hear!” I was really cocky and full of myself.

And of course, ten days later, they said that they wanted me for it. I said, “Oh, no, I can’t do this! It’s too big! The Joker is too big! If I were Two-Face, or somebody down the line… There’s no way that I can satisfy the fans. I can’t scratch that itch.” I went 180 degrees in the other direction. I was driving to the first recording thinking, “I don’t even remember what I did!” I was practicing the laugh on the way to the studio, forgetting they would have reference tapes that they could play.

In Los Angeles, by the way, no one bats an eye if you’re laughing maniacally behind the wheel of your car.

It’s just fun. I feel so lucky to be involved in projects that are things that I loved when I was a kid. I aspired to do cartoons. I got to it fairly late in my career. I did one when I was a teenager, but then I didn’t work in animation for 20 years before I did The Joker. Boy, is it a great job. It’s the ultimate lazy actor’s job. You don’t have to memorize your lines. You can come in looking like hell because they don’t care how you look, they care how you sound. And the people involved are so grounded and so talented. It’s cutthroat, like any part of show business, but there’s a high number of really nice people in voice-over. I love it.

Aside from having the biggest Easter egg of all with Mark Hamill, there are a lot of others in this — from set design to props — that are nods to the old show. What was it like to get those elements together?

Kreisberg: It’s not just me who loves the old show. There are so many people who work on the show that were all so excited to do that. There were a couple of them in the script. I didn’t really need to go back and watch the old episodes, but we all did and we found a whole bunch with the warehouse. The warehouse on the outside was actually what the warehouse looked like, where James Jesse was holed up on the original show. And I’ve always been a fan of Vito’s, not from the old show, but from “The Untouchables,” which is one of my favorite movies.

Hamill: I didn’t know you guys were looking for original props, because I had the Trickster bear that came into the courtroom and the head flew off. It’s in the attic somewhere. I think it traumatized my daughter. She was three years old, so it was hard to differentiate between pretend and reality.

Kreisberg: They made the old Trickster suit to put on the mannequin. As always, with these things, we try to be much more than a show just about Easter eggs. Being so blessed as to have Mark be interested in coming back, I think this is a way in which you’ve never seen The Trickster, if you have watched the old show. The challenge of this episode was that it had to feel both like a legitimate sequel to the old series, but also feel like an episode of our Flash. We feel like we pulled it off.

Is there any chance we’ll ever see the Trickster hanging out with the other Rogues?

Kreisberg: Yes, that is the plan. And again, what’s so fun for us — and why we’re, again, so grateful to Mark for wanting to be a part of this — is when I sit down and I think about Wentworth Miller and Mark in a scene together and watching the dichotomy of them, I think sometimes there’s a tendency to sort of just spit out the same villain, week in, week out on these shows, [but] having people who are so different and having people who have powers; and having people who are slightly unhinged but geniuses…

That was the other reason we really wanted to do the Trickster too, because you have so many villains who have these amazing abilities — either because they’re metahumans, or they have this incredible weaponry — and what was always cool about the Trickster on both series is that he’s smart. No matter how crazy he was, he was so smart, and he thought like four steps ahead. And watching The Flash and our team go up against somebody brilliant, a lot of times, our shows are about how to figure out how to chemically or scientifically or how The Flash can use his powers to stop somebody, but this one, they really have to outthink him.

Hamill: What I love about the show is, you feel like you’re in this continuum. Because in the old days, the capture of the Trickster would have been the end of the act, and then there’d be a little tease at the end, and it was over. Here, we’re taken care of, and then there’s that whole other storyline going on. It’s really wonderful, the way they sweep you into wanting to come back week after week.

That was one of the things that happened on the original run, was, they were sort of avoiding costumed heroes in the beginning, and my elder son, I remember, he didn’t come down one week. So I said, “Hey, come on, ‘The Flash’ is on.” And he said, “Eh, I’m not going to watch this week.” And I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, when he fights the villains, what are they going to do? Run?” And I told the story to Danny Bilson because he was fighting 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. It’s funny, because Warner Bros. has been so incredibly supportive, and they’re so excited, obviously, to do “Arrow” and “Flash.” But then as soon as we say, “Okay, we’re going to have the villains on,” they’re like, “Uh…” They kind of get worried about the villains being too cartoon-y. They think back, it’s like the “Batman ’66” stink — of which 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.”

And again, that’s one of the reasons the Trickster, both in the comics and the old show and, hopefully, people will think on our show, is so cool, because he doesn’t have any of that. He’s just really, really smart. And he’s able to use that smartness to out think the gang.

Mark, you were one of the highest-profile fanboys out there long before there were high-profile fanboys. To see the medium get the respect and love it’s getting now, after all its highs and lows, what does that mean to you?

Hamill: Well, it’s amazing because, 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; I mean, for little kids, I think that’s the perfect entry series for comic book shows. And I don’t think anyone’s ever been more delicious than Frank Gorshin as the The Riddler — I just absolutely adored him.

But I never would have dreamed that it would be a whole genre of film. Because I’ve seen the slow evolution. As Andrew points out, they’ve 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. [Producer] 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 about the old show — and I’ve always said this — is 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 even the costume. It was the stakes always felt so small. And that’s what’s so fun about what we can do now, is you 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: Right. But to answer your question, I remember I was on “General Hospital,” and Kerwin Mathews [star of “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad”] came on to play a doctor. And I just freaked out. It was Sinbad! And I said, “Can I interview you some day?” And he said, “Okay,” 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 Mathews being interviewed by me, and this was in probably ’72. I went to one of the very first ComicCons, and it was like 300 people in the basement of a hotel.

Kreisberg: That’s a slow party at ComicCon now.

Hamill: Now, it’s like, be careful what you wish for because it’s just — as you know — chaotic down there.

Obviously, John Wesley Shipp’s playing a different character in this version of the show, but talk about the feelings you were having writing the scene for Mark and John?

Kreisberg: Well, I knew there was no point in doing this if we didn’t have Mark and John in a scene together. So early on, it was one of the things that we said, when we were constructing the story that Trickster should kidnap Henry because it was a great way to satisfy both the fan in all of us and get to see the two of them act together. But also, you want Barry to really care about the Trickster. He took his dad, and I think that scene between Joe and Barry, where Barry’s just like, “I can’t lose my dad” — I just cry every time.

Hamill: [Grant] is a tremendous actor. I mean, both of them are rocks. John Wesley, on the original series: really underrated, such a good actor. Well, he’s not underrated — he’s got a mantle full of [Daytime] Emmys. I don’t have a mantle full of Emmys. And then, of course, Grant is, of course, again, just tremendous. He’s so likable, so natural, so perfect for this character. Because Flash was always much more sunny and upbeat than some of the other, darker characters. And you couldn’t do better than have a foundation like that to build a series around. And then Jesse Martin — come on! He’s just money in the bank. You know, that guy’s done more episodes of “Law & Order” than Lucille Ball did of “I Love Lucy.” I have lots of irritating minutia like that.

Kreisberg: Also, he had the trench coat that John wore, he wore in the original show — and that was John. He just said, “Hey, you know, when I get out, so I’m not just standing in STAR Labs wearing my prison grays, I have this jacket that I have from the last day I took because I was afraid.” And he goes, “And it still fits me.” Of course, it does.

Hamill: He didn’t ask to keep the [Flash] outfit. Boy, that was murder because it was like a scuba gear covered in, like, fuzz. And the new one is just like so much more practical and real, that I really felt bad for him being in that thing. And they’d try and clean it up over the weekend, they’d spray it with Lysol, but you can imagine wearing this rubber suit. You can’t send it to the dry cleaners.

Kreisberg: And he said he would just sweat. Like they would just squeeze it. Like water would come out.

Hamill: Yeah, exactly. But he was so accommodating. If kids came on set, he’d put the head on to pose with them. I mean, that really impressed me. Because, you figure you’re in this business to make people happy. So why do you suddenly get to a point where — there are people that come on set, and they say, “Don’t look them directly in the eyes. Don’t say good morning.” Really? I’ve got to at least feel like everybody’s on my side. Even if it’s fake. I’ll go handing out Tootsie Rolls to the crew just 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 is just a great bunch, I really enjoyed it.

Did you ever imagine you’d get to reprise this role?

Hamill: The first day of shooting [the original “Flash” series] for me was December 26, the day after Christmas, so it was like the middle of the season when they first came up with a costumed villain. And then they did “The Trial of The Trickster” to put together to make it a seamless feature, and they released it overseas.

But what was exciting about it was they said, “Now, when we come back for the second season, it’s going to be a two-hour movie event. And we’re teaming you up with Mirror Master and Captain Cold…” and I forget who the third one was. I said, “Oh, I’ll be working with David Cassidy — the first time I’ve worked with him since I was on ‘The Partridge Family’ playing Laurie’s boyfriend,” which I did — like, my third or fourth job.

And so we were crushed when it was cancelled. I just couldn’t believe it. I just said, “It’s so smart,” and they lavished so much money and time and energy — I really couldn’t believe they would cancel it. So it stuck. And the fact that they dangled, “It’s going to be a villain team-up.” So this was satisfying in a way, like the other shoe dropping.

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