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Mark Hamill on Games

The force is strong

Mark Hamill unleashes a fiendish cackle that simultaneously sounds like skin ripped from flesh and fingernails dragged across corrugated iron. If the bowels of hell have a soundtrack, this is it.

But the actor's descent into madness is only momentary and for anyone familiar with Batman: Arkham Asylum, it is all too familiar. In rehearsing his role as Joker, Hamill would laugh to himself in his car: a practice, he jokes, that wasn't so unusual in Los Angeles.

"I have this absolute abandon when it came to Joker's laugh," he says. "It's like a musical instrument. He laughs at really inappropriate times and finds things funny that sane people do not. I wanted to make that a large part of my arsenal in terms of approaching the character. There are so many people that I pay homage to: a little Dwight Schultz [the A-Team's 'Howling Mad' Murdock] here, Dracula's Renfield there."

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For anyone who thought his career died with the first Star Wars trilogy, Hamill is having the last laugh. After portraying Luke Skywalker, the actor seemed to drop out of sight from the movie world. But he's been under our noses all along in PC games: Arkham Asylum, and a few classics like Wing Commander III and Tim Schafer's Full Throttle. He was a mentor in Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix, a narrator in Call of Duty 2, and played the hairy hero in X-Men: Wolverine's Revenge.

While established actors usually dabble in games for contractual movie tie-ins, Hamill has embraced the genre wholeheartedly. Star Wars launched the career of Harrison Ford, but it sent Hamill (and his co-star Carrie Fisher) free-falling toward typecast hell. As his father was a captain in the US Navy, though, he spent much of his childhood on the move. After Luke was left with the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, he did what he'd always done: move on.

It was this need to break convention that led him, in 1993, to a new medium: the videogame talkie. In Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, he was one of the first established actors to voice a game character. Some saw it as a step back, but he could hardly have cared less. "I'm sure there's a range of opinions, from 'You're slumming it', or 'Can't you get more legitimate work?' But that snobbishness comes with the business."

By the time of PC gaming's full motion video (FMV) craze in the mid-'90s actors were eating their words. The titles may have been camper than a row of tents, but they were not short on talent, as Hamill discovered when he played Colonel Christopher Blair in three Wing Commander games.

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"There were great actors in that: Malcolm McDowell [A Clockwork Orange], John Rhys-Davies [Lord of the Rings], and John Spencer [The West Wing]. Malcolm is one of the most hysterically funny actors I've ever worked with. He's just brutal in his humour and merciless in terms of torturing you on camera. He would be making smoochy faces and I'd tell him, 'You know, I never look you in the eyes, I'm looking you in the chin, you S.O.B.'"

As he developed a parallel career in animation voiceover - becoming a cult star by playing Joker in Batman: The Animated Series - he went on to play characters in games like Starsiege, relishing the challenges of interactive entertainment. In films, actors rarely explore every nuance of a character. In games, characters change depending on the player's decisions. Some games, such as Full Throttle, even gave him a chance to play numerous roles. This was the only time Hamill acted on a LucasArts title.

Considering the amount of Star Wars games released, has he intentionally resisted portraying Skywalker in a game? "When I played Luke from 1977 to 1983, games were in their infancy," he says. "I talked about turning a page and starting a new chapter. Those movies had a beginning, middle and end, and everyone sort of moved on.

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