Sunday, December 11, 2011

Echo Base News interviews Sam Witwer

Back in June our much missed reporter Mike Martinez (who passed away in July) conducted a very cool interview with actor Sam Witwer that covered his Star Wars experiences starring in The Force Unleashed video game and voicing The Son in the fan-favorite Mortis story arc of The Clone Wars. Sam Witwer will also be voicing Darth Maul in his highly anticipated appearance in The Clone Wars! As Season 4 takes a month long hiatus, we're revisiting a few of our past interviews with the people who have helped bring the show's various characters to life! Read on to view the full interview again!

Echo Base News: How did Star Wars become a part of your life? Were you a fan of the movies before you landed your role(s)?
Sam Witwer: Like many of us, I was born into it. Star Wars came out in '77 and so did I. As far as I'm concerned, I was born quoting those movies. I do, however, remember seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater. My dad was able to get bootleg copies of Star Wars and Empire on VHS, but Return of the Jedi in the theater...that was something special.

EBN: The Force Unleashed was one of the best selling games of all time. How do you feel being part of such a successful franchise?
SW: It was amazing. As an actor, I'd mulled over for years how I'd approach playing a Star Wars character, but I never thought I'd have an opportunity to put those ideas to use. It was a dream come true.

EBN: How did you land the role as one of Star Wars' coolest characters? Did you read the script and say, "Oh yeah! This is the one!"
SW: My pal David Collins who worked at Lucasarts at the time called me up one night and said, 'Hey, I need you to send in your materials. Headshot, resume and reel.'

'How come?'

'Well, you can't say anything, but Darth Vader has a secret apprentice.'

'What?! WHAT?!'
'Never mind! Shut up. Send in your stuff...I'll tell ya, dude. The weird thing is you LOOK like the character they're casting.'

...And that last part ended up being very true. Amy Beth Christenson created a piece of concept art that was approved by Lucasfilm, and that piece of art looked like me. So eventually, since my headshot looked exactly like the character, I was called in to audition.

Your average audition consists of maybe 3-10 minutes of acting, and any other time you spend there is just chatting. In this audition, Haden Blackman put me through an exhausting 45 minutes of performing. The script pages didn't lock down the character specifics, so being a Star Wars fan I made the mistake of telling them that I could do the character a dozen different ways. Haden obliged and we did every conceivable read on those 2 scenes. Some were Luke-like, some sounded more like Solo, some sounded like Darth Maul.

If nothing else, you can see that both Haden and me were equally concerned with how the hell you bring a new Star Wars protagonist into canon. It's not something you take lightly, and I lost a lot of sleep over it. In fact, I've lost sleep for every Star Wars gig I've had...and I suppose, counting Palpatine and the Son, I've now done four. The fourth hasn't been announced yet. [UPDATE: It's Darth Maul, coming up later in Season 4!]

EBN: What are your thoughts on the game and Starkiller?
SW: We set out to deliver an experience that feels like the classic trilogy. We set out to tell a story about a photo-negative of Luke Skywalker, which is how I came to think of Starkiller. I think it's interesting to take Luke Skywalker and put him into a 21st century environment. In the 70s we had a naive but well-meaning farm boy who aspired to be something greater who goes on this hero's journey. In Starkiller we made it a bit more relevant to today in that Starkiller has to shed so much darkness before he can even begin to be his own man, his own Luke Skywalker. I think people related to that.

I mean, let's be honest. As Americans, we feel like we're victimizing someone somewhere if we carelessly throw a Coke bottle in the garbage instead of the recycling...and in some ways, that's true. We also have this incredible media machine. The 70’s were definitely a time of cynicism, and corruption certainly isn't a new concept, but I don't know if they had such an overwhelming white-noise generated by an increasingly obtrusive media machine. We don't know who to listen to, who our friends are, or what we should be doing moment to moment. Well, that's Starkiller. An evil empire hangs over his head and manipulates him into victimizing others. He's learned not to trust. He's a bit lost, but at the center of all that is a good kid who has the potential to be Luke Skywalker.

EBN: How do you feel about your voice and personae being immortalized as Starkiller?
SW: I love being recognized in the street for that character. It happens often, and I'm very appreciative that people responded to him. I love that he shows up in the media like he did in the film Win Win. I never thought it would help my career the way it has.

EBN: The Force Unleashed 2 was even bigger & badder than the first game. Did you expect it to get so much attention from the fans?
SW: It's dangerous to expect things like that. As I said, I lose sleep over Star Wars projects. I'm damned happy for the positive feedback, though.

EBN: Rumors have been flying around for The Force Unleashed 3. Can you break the rumors, maybe give a comment or even possibly give us a hint of truth behind those rumors?
SW: I cannot comment on anything that hasn't been announced. But hey, go ahead and make noise about it! I dare you.

EBN: With great games and great characters come great action figures! Did you ever think you would have not only one but several action figures based on yourself and your portrayed character? How does it feel having your own action figures?
SW: I've said it before, I'll say it again. I have theater training. I studied the hell out of Shakespeare at drama school...but all I ever really wanted was an action figure with a damned lightsaber. Didn't think it'd be red though! Oops!

EBN: George Lucas, the man behind it all! How did you feel standing in front of such a huge icon and talking to him?
SW: I don't generally get nervous around well-known people any more. Having said that, yeah...I was nervous. However, he was great. Extremely gracious. We talked about the 1940s pace of the dialogue of the movies and how I tried to emulate that for the game. He was kind enough to sign my Force Unleashed poster. It was extremely wonderful of him to allow us to play in his sandbox.

It was truly a privilege to thank the man who gave us this wonderful myth, and I don't think I'm alone when I say that it made a real difference that goes far beyond mere entertainment.

EBN: How did it feel landing another Star Wars role, this time in the Mortis arc of The Clone Wars?
SW: Wonderful...and terrifying! Dave Filoni explained I'd be playing the Dark Side of the Force! No pressure!

EBN: What was your experience working with supervising director Dave Filoni like?
SW: I love Dave. He and his entire team have been ridiculously good to me. If someone told me when I was 15 that I'd have an open door to Skywalker Ranch, I'd punch them in the face. Dave and team have really brought me deeper into the Lucasfilm fold.

As for [Dave] being the right man for the job or not...Okay, look. I know more about Star Wars than most. I'm gonna out myself and say that I played the West End Games Star Wars RPG for years. Those sourcebooks are the founding backbone of the Expanded Universe and were the first encyclopedic-type volumes on info in the Star Wars universe. Lemme go geek on you...I was reading about Ryloth and Sienar Fleet Systems in 1987. Now that we got that out of the way, Dave Filoni is the ONLY man for this job. He knows his Star Wars. He knows storytelling. He knows filmmaking. He's exceptionally talented, motivated, and creative.

I had my doubts when he was hired too, but I think the proof is in the work itself. Watch the show and tell me we could find anyone better to run it. Having worked with and spent time with the guy, believe me when I say that I've taken him to task and I find him to be the guy we need him to be, and this is speaking as a professional and as a fan. I will also say that I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up being the successor to George fifteen, twenty years down the road. And believe me, that would be a good thing.

EBN: The Mortis arc has people buzzing all over the web. What did you think of the story arc and what do you think about The Clone Wars in general?
SW: I was honored to be given the opportunity to contribute to such a provocative piece. I mean, this wasn't just laser swords and ray guns here. This was Joseph Campbell stuff. As for my thoughts on The Clone Wars, I'm a huge fan. Another bonus.

EBN: The Son is one of the coolest new Star Wars characters made in a long time. What is your opinion of the character and how were you able to bring this character to life?
SW: Well, early on I was trying to find the voice of the character. I asked Dave, "Hey man, are you concerned that this guy is gonna sound too much like Starkiller?" Dave responds, "Nah, I mean...well, Starkiller had a connection to the Dark Side of the Force, and your character IS the Dark Side, so if we hear a piece of him in there, that's fine." So that got me thinking. If he's the dark side, and we can hear Starkiller in there, then why not Darth Maul, why not Palpatine, why not Darth Vader?
So the next time I came in, I started playing with that. Putting little moments in there where the voice would change very slightly in the direction of some of those characters. Filoni picked up on it. I asked, "Too much?" He said, "Not enough!" So we had fun with it.

And Christian Taylor's exceptional writing made that easy. I mean, the guy says he only has a passing knowledge of the films. Lies. The guy wrote Star Wars dialogue! Vader dialogue! He wrote Emperor moments in there. He really nailed it! It made it easy for me to dip into those characters because those scripts were so reminiscent of those iconic moments. Christian Taylor is the head of their writer's room, and I'm very happy about that.

EBN: We recently interviewed Adrienne Wilkinson (Maris Brood in The Force Unleashed and The Daughter in The Clone Wars) and she speaks highly of you. What was your experience like working with her in The Force Unleashed video game and in The Clone Wars?
SW: I like Adrienne. Her, David Collins, and I get together every now and again. She's an awesome chick. Lovely lady. Talented actress. And I certainly got a kick out of our roles being reversed in the Mortis episodes. In The Force Unleashed, I try steer her away from the Dark Side and tell her ‘we don't have to fight.’ In Mortis, she tries to tell me ‘we don't have to fight.’ Nice little symmetry there.

EBN: Now that Star Wars has been a big part of your life, what can you tell us about your overall experience, what has changed and how you are taking it personally?
SW: Well, I was a huge fan before The Force Unleashed and The Clone Wars. I didn't think I could become a bigger fan. However, the Vader replica helmet on the shelf behind me has proven me wrong.

EBN: Who is your favorite Star Wars character and why?
SW: Luke Skywalker. He is the eyes through which we see the movies. He also has the most interesting character growth of any Star Wars character. He's our hero and Mark Hamill nailed it so completely that we've been trying to recapture Luke in films since then. Frodo, Harry Potter, etc. and we've never quite gotten it as right. We owe the guy. The films don't work without him.

EBN: Will we hear or see more of Sam Witwer in Star Wars?
SW: Yep. Sorry dude, can't say more. It's that fourth character I mentioned.

EBN: Last but not least, would you care to share some words of wisdom for your fans and our readers?
SW: Words of your enemies, see them driven before you...or something. Yeah, scratch that. Oh...please go to this link and donate. We gotta stick together.

We'd like to once again thank Sam for giving us an awesome interview and sharing all these great details about his Star Wars experience! Be sure to listen for him coming up in Season 4 in The Clone Wars when he'll be voicing the one and only Darth Maul!

Interview by Mike Martinez

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