"It's the crux of my dilemma right now. For an actor to have massive facial surgery is traumatic. I thought it jeopardized everything," he admits, wincing when I note that a small lip scar is still visible. "I thought it could possibly be pretty much over for me, unless . . . "
Since Star Wars, Hamill's only other film stints have been the role of "an emotional hard-luck case" in the obscure Corvette Summer and the slightly meatier part of a fragile young infantryman in Sam Fuller's The Big Red One, a World War II story filmed in 1978 and only now being released.
"After I came back from filming Empire Strikes Back, my first job offer was to walk on nails and swallow fire on some celebrity circus in Las Vegas – whatever that was. It's so bizarre. Here I am a grown-up and this is how I earn my living. What's my son gonna think of me? All of a sudden there are so many elements that aren't in your control. You wind up almost being another one of the public watching this 'public' you.
"I'd work for scale for somebody willing to take a chance with me, because it's real frustrating to be in something this big and popular and not really feel you're stretching yourself. I met Milos Forman yesterday on an interview [for the film version of the best-selling novel Ragtime], and I would kill to work with that man!
"I was dying to get a reading on Midnight Express, 'cause I thought for them to use that squeaky-clean image of Luke and then have that [drug imprisonment] happen to him would be great dramatically.
"You keep saying to yourself, 'Don't worry, you won't get trapped.' I can stick it out," he decides, "as long as I'm careful with my money."
He changes the subject, speaking with enthusiasm about his wife, Marilou, their infant son and the house they've just purchased in Malibu. I wonder whether his wife knew of his interstellar alter ego before they began dating.
"I didn't think so," he says, "but since then I've discovered that she knew. But then again, I don't think she was impressed by it. Seriously, from being a dental hygienist in Westwood, she knows more people in the business than I do. That's how I got invited to a recent Eagles concert – she knows them from doing their teeth!
"A lot has happened to me since the first movie," Hamill confides wearily. "And you feel that to go cross-country on these promotional tours is sort of a waste. They're hard, real hard. One of the reasons I feel so empty and lacking when I talk to interviewers is because you ask me these questions and I don't know, I'm searching for the answers myself."
Do you want to see the scars?" asks Anthony Daniels, the suave, soft-spoken British actor who animates the gleaming gold hardware known as C-3PO, Star Wars' fussy butler of a robot. Seated next to Hamill on a long couch in a suite at Manhattan's Sherry-Netherland Hotel, the delicately handsome Daniels unbuttons his tan silk shirt to reveal a gruesome network of old wounds.
"The whole first film was a miasma of pain," says Daniels. "It was the metal pieces of the suit shoving me about, meeting with another piece of metal to pinch me horribly. It was like sticking your fingers in an electric socket, again and again.
"Fortunately, it was much easier for Empire, because the costume was redesigned. It's slightly more flexible. I even tap-danced recently, did a metallic soft-shoe on The Muppet Show. What makes it bearable is that, between us, we make up a somewhat beautiful piece of sculpture." Daniels frequently discusses C-3PO in terms of "we."
"In the end, I turned him from an American version of a robot programmed to be a servant into a swishy British twit, but he's quite nice.
"I think a psychiatrist would enjoy being in there with me," Daniels observes, "because you can really watch people, and watch people's reactions to me. It's fascinating. Sometimes I would be standing next to the costume and people would come up and say, 'That guy must be incredibly stupid to do this part.'"
He then relates the mortifying experience of nearly being expelled by security guards from the backstage area of the 1977 Academy Awards ceremony because he was, of course, out of costume.
"I'd forgotten my ID badge." He shrugs, rolling his eyes. "I literally had to beg them to find the guy who was looking after me. There's not a lot of dignity involved in being in these Star Wars films; I have no dignity left whatsoever. I mean, if I've got an itchy crotch, somebody has to scratch it for me. I actually can't do that – my hands don't go that far."
"He's one of the most famous characters in cinema!" Hamill exclaims, jumping up and stalking about the room like an exasperated press agent. "Yet no one would recognize him on the street!
"Just to show you how famous / am," Hamill offers, "a lady came up to me after a reception and said, 'Are you the skinny guy in the gold robot suit? I know he's here someplace and you're the skinniest person here.' I said, 'Okay, I'll sign an autograph,' and wrote: 'Best wishes always, the skinny guy in the robot suit.'
"I took the Star Wars trivia test and failed," Hamill says to Daniels impishly. "They asked who your former owner was and I couldn't remember."
"Somebody in Tower Records on Sunset [Boulevard, in Los Angeles] recognized my voice one day," says Daniels, striving to cheer himself up. "All I said was, 'I want to buy a record. Can I have this please?' And he said, 'You're Anthony Daniels!' I was really shocked."
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