At one point," says Carrie Fisher, "I felt like I had to de-Leia the house." Clearly, the effort did not completely succeed: There's a life-size Princess Leia doll on the porch of her Beverly Hills mansion (in a phone booth, for some reason); once you go through the doorway, there's also a glowing light-bulb sculpture of Leia made for Fisher by a Japanese artist and a footrest upholstered with ancient Star Wars bedsheets, among the other artifacts. Long ago, Fisher made her peace with her semi-permanent residency in a certain distant galaxy. So despite a heavy cold that turned out to be pneumonia, she was happy to spend an hour lying in bed and talking Star Wars. Here's her full interview from Rolling Stone's new cover story on the making of The Force Awakens.
Was your dog, Gary, okay with Chewbacca on the set of Force Awakens?
It wasn't Chewbacca that did it. I don't know what the name of the creature was, but Simon Pegg was involved somehow, and he came down a little hallway and Gary almost fainted [laughs]. Anyway, he never got over it. I think he accepted Chewbacca. But there was no way to accept this other thing and we had to really, like, had to go to therapy about it. I kept thinking J.J. would say, "Oh, well, come on. We'll put Gary on set and then we'll handle it in post." That's my favorite saying: "We'll fix it in post." I want them to fix me in post. That's yet another book title, probably.
What is the new book you're working on called?
Well, for the moment it is called The Princess Diarist.
And is it based on those diaries that you found from filming the original Star Wars?
Yeah, partly. Well, either I do it or I burn them now and no one does it, 'cause I don't wanna leave them for someone else to interpret, God forbid. I actually said to Harrison that I'm gonna put out a book based on the diaries, and he went, "Lawyer!" [Laughs] But I'm not the type of person that says, "My goal is to write something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Go!" They wanted it out this year. I'm in a lot of trouble, so that's what I'll be doing for the next three fucking months. I found some stuff that I hadn't seen in 40 years.
What would you want to tell that 19 year old now?
Just relax! That wouldn't be possible, so … something else. Oh, I know! What I always wanna tell young people now: Pay attention. This isn't gonna happen again. Rather than try to understand it as it's going along, have it go along for a while and then understand it.
"The biggest thing where I'm bad is the first scene I shot: 'Governor Tarkin, I thought I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board!' I had no film experience, and I'd gone to drama school – in England!"
Did you and Mark ever assume that Star Wars would lead to the kind of career that Harrison ended up having?
No, not at all. Completely no. I think Mark may have hoped, but I didn't. I knew what show business was, which was why I didn't want in on that action. I saw what happens! You get it and then you lose it. And since I grew up with "lose it," I had to say no, but the first Star Wars script was really cool. I didn't make the choice knowing it would affect my life like it did. I knew Harrison was gonna be the star … yeah, period, end of story. But I didn't know until I saw him in the costume, and he was sitting on the set in the bar, that – what's that bar called? The … Jesus Christ! [Hums Cantina tune]
Okay. So he's sitting there and then I thought – given how I grew up, also, which is to say on movie sets watching. I thought Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, you know – that. I knew I didn't have that. And Mark … not in the same way. This is a very unusual thing. Focus pulling. It's like a big responsibility and it follows you around.
Yeah, as Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher's kid, of course you grew up with this more than anyone.
And watching it. That was how I tried to protect myself from it — to watch it as though I wasn't part of it, but it didn't keep me safe. I do remember someone saying to me, "God, it must be so great having a movie star for a mother," and I said, "Yes!" But I didn't know what that was. I was, like, three. And I ran in the house to find out.
Mark Hamill described the lunch that you guys had with George where he told you that he was selling Lucasfilm and that he wanted you to come back.
It wasn't lunch even, I don't think. Maybe it was; I didn't notice [laughs]. But we were around a big table, which is not a lunch-like table. The main thing I remember reacting to was that he was selling Lucasfilm, and then he said they were gonna make more movies but I didn't understand the implications of that. I think I just was like, "Oh, okay." I mean, people asked me why I decided … I've always been in Star Wars. I've never not been in Star Wars, but hopefully now they'll pay me again [laughs]. But I am eternally in Star Wars.
So there wasn't really a choice in your mind.
No! Ever. I mean, you know, I think I said once it followed me around like a vague exotic smell. I have been in Star Wars since I was 20. And they're not just doing some goofy sequel, like, to service the hunger of it. It actually has been thought out and it has integrity and they took it seriously, which they didn't have to do, you know? It's hard to do, given the appetite and the angles from which everybody's coming at it.
In some part of your mind were you always expecting to be called back to do this?
Not expecting to, but it was not surprising. It was surprisingly not surprising. Doing this again and writing about it has been the first time I sat down and thought how intensely Star Wars has been in my life. It has used up part of my life. Well, it hasn't used it up, but it certainly has gone all over it.
In the Rolling Stone interview for The Empire Strikes Back, you said that the three of you are gonna be seen as your characters until you die, and at the time you said that made you feel helpless.
Well, it can. Or else I could take hold of it and participate in it a way that made me feel like I wasn't helpless, which I've done. I mean, I think it's used me and I've used it. It's stupid or foolhardy to not like it and resist it ... ugh, it would be exhausting.
This year I've watched the phenomenon. I've actually quieted down and watched to discover what it is, 'cause on a certain level I don't understand what makes it not a movie, but this experience, this family member. It's cherished! It's fucking cherished! [Laughs] Why? You're not just an actor in this movie; you're a diplomat to a country you didn't know existed, and didn't until 1977. It's the first time that Disney's been involved [too], so it's funny, because they send people to, like, make sure I don't spill the beans on everything. You wanna say, "I've been careful about this for years." Maybe it doesn't look like it, but I have! I respect it. I respect what it is to people because it's just mindboggling.
What was it like to be back on the set of a Star Wars movie, playing Leia again, interacting with Harrison as Han Solo again?
I was very nervous, had a lot of memory problems initially – just horrific – and then it got better. I settled in. You know, think about it, what it would be to make three of these movies a million years ago, and now, "Let's do it again, only you're 40 years older and there's a lot to live up to or down – take your pick." People want it to be the same but better ... I don't know. So there's pressure on it, more than most films. But then you get over yourself and say, "By the way, it's the younger people doing it." You have to sort of like get over yourself fast.
"She bossed them around and … I don't know what your idea of distress is, but that wasn't [it]. Also I wasn't some babe running through the galaxy with my tits bouncing around."
On a feminist scale, Leia does pretty well, really.
She starts off as a little bit of the damsel in distress, but then she picks up the blaster –
But not in distress. What distress?
Well, they had to rescue her but she ended up rescuing herself.
You know, they opened the door, but then it was, what are we doing now? And she bossed them around and… distress? [Laughs] I don't know what your idea of distress is, but that wasn't [it]. I was locked up, but, you know, so were the guys later on. What about them? And also I wasn't some babe running through the galaxy with my tits bouncing around.
George made sure of that, I guess.
Yes, exactly. Thank God. But, you know, women were not threatened by me. So when their boyfriends or their brothers or whatever said, "I have a crush on her," that was okay. Because I was very accessible.
Looking back, how do you assess your performances?
The difficulty was, you're given dialogue where you literally do not know what these words mean and you have to really stand behind it, and that's hard. The biggest thing where I'm bad is the first scene I shot, which was, "Governor Tarkin, I thought I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board!" I tried to do it quietly and calmly, you know, like a human [laughs]. And George said, "You're really upset. It's your planet, that's everything." And it ends up sounding British, and, you know, I'm embarrassed by that. You know, everyone I'm talking to in those scenes has that kind of style, and it was very intimidating to have your first scene with Peter Cushing. I had no film experience, and I'd gone to drama school – in England! [Laughs] But the main thing is that at least I'm not sort of sexy and self-conscious.
On Empire, Irvin Kershner was known as an actor's director. But he also seemed to be really tight with Harrison…
Well, they're all tight with Harrison, they think. Harrison is the star and it's tempting. But it's funny to me because he's not a real conversationalist. It's just that he's not incredibly eager to socialize, let's say, and so that people would want to get in on that action, it shows that they've got some nerve.
Kershner was wearing a recording device the day that you shot the "I love you"/"I know" scene. So Harrison's script conference with him where they're reworking that scene has been printed in full – I told Harrison this and he was completely horrified.
And you and Harrison had a fight that day.
I guess you thought that they were reworking the script behind your back.
That's right! That I didn't like! Harrison did have that tendency with dialogue. I learned a lot from him. There was one scene in Jedi where I'm in the bikini, sitting with Jabba, my favorite hangout! [Laughs] I mean, the time we spent on, "Sit just that way, ‘cause there's a line in the side of your stomach." So it's the scene where Jabba goes, "I am going to send you off to be digested for 3000 years in the Sarlacc Sea [sic]!"
And I'm sitting there and none of the other characters ever says, you know, "Hey, hi!" So on one of the last rehearsals, I try saying, "Don't worry about me! I'll be fine, seriously!" And… it was hilarious, okay? Harrison did not like it. He thought it undercut the seriousness of the scene. And I'm sure his argument was sensible. But you can fight for, "It's very serious—" while half the other times we're yelling shit at each other that sounds stupid! I was like, "Why can't I talk, suddenly? Because I'm in a bikini?" [laughs] But that's funny to me, that I had a fight with Harrison.
And right before you filmed your most famous scene together.
I'm glad I had the nerve [laughs]. 'Cause he's daunting. You know, he's not someone where you go, "Hey, maybe I'll go have a fight with Harrison!" But I don't think I did fight him on that Jedi moment.
How was it to reestablish your thing on The Force Awakens?
Not difficult because, you know, I've been in touch with him over the years a lot and it's always sort of been like what it is. There's something that's permanent about the way we handle each other. It was funny because I saw him recently – he came in the office and I went up to hug him and he did a line from the movie. This one! And I didn't recognize it right away because it was really organic.
He's quoting this movie. Imagine that.
Before it's quotable. Well, there's something very organic about how they write us. I mean, yeah, there is something about our energies together that's funny and interesting.
He kissed you right on the lips at Comic-Con.
Well, they acted like it was a porn shot! It was too fast to be surprising. I was surprised at all the pictures and, you know — elder porn.
Oh, come on!
No but, I mean, you don't see a lot of movies where they celebrate older people … making out. Necking! [Laughs]
You know, obviously you have chemistry.
Yeah, we do. Because he makes me nervous and I overcome it.
"They're not just doing some goofy sequel to service the hunger of it. It has integrity and they took it seriously, which they didn't have to do, you know?"
Yeah, I would say so. But I just overcome it faster now. I mean, imagine being 19 and running into that. It was no one's fantasy. It was like, "Can I go back with the kids now?" [Laughs] He deserves a good word. "Formidable" is one. Though I've said the other one, which is "daunting," but that's not a quality. It's a result of a quality. I would try to not get in his eye line [laughs], 'cause then you have to, like, deal with it. And imagine it in the early morning.
He was 34, you were 19 – you were dealing with a grown-up.
I made people nervous a little with my, you know, verbal liquidity, so that would keep me safe, but you're not safe with him. He can get around any of that. And if he's impressed by it, you don't see it.
People think Mark had a crush on you in the first movie.
You know, maybe he did. It was not something that was expressed. We have to work together every day, you're not gonna run around saying things that you're gonna regret saying the following morning.
So overall, you've more than made your peace with the idea that Leia is one of the things that defines you.
One of the things that defines me? [Laughs] No, I've proud of what I've done, and the thing I've liked that I'm proudest of is the one-woman show [Wishful Drinking] because it put it all together. 'Cause I like performing more than acting probably.
I only saw the HBO version. Does that get me 80 percent the way of seeing it live?
The live [version] is better, because I interact with the audience and it's like a scene partner. But I just like that it's more than you ever thought you'd wanna know about someone and still respect.
And you have more memoirs to write, I assume.
I mean, I want to be able to just walk away from it, but when it comes to my life, you can't make up this stuff! So I'm stuck writing it. I mean, it's incredible. Stuff happens and you think, no one will believe this – no one.