In Episode 17 of The CW series The Flash, entitled “Tricksters,” a copycat killer using the name The Trickster (Devon Graye) starts setting off bombs in Central City. In an effort to stop him, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) meet with the original Trickster, a criminal mastermind named James Jesse (Mark Hamill, reprising the role he first played in the original series), who has been imprisoned for 20 years, hoping for some insight into how to stop this new incarnation.
Following a screening of the episode at The CW offices, actor Mark Hamill talked about bringing back The Trickster, working with counterpart Devon Graye, improvising, why it was terribly intimidating to show up on set, why he also enjoys voicing The Joker for various animated projects, his look, working with John Wesley Shipp, and how amazing it is to see the comic book medium getting the respect and love that it’s getting now, while executive producer Andrew Kreisberg talked about his favorite improvised line, paying homage to the original series, and getting Mark Hamill and John Wesley Shipp into the same scene. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: Mark, 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 show. If it weren’t for Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here, at all. 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.
How was it to work with Devon Graye, also playing The Trickster?
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. 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. 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.
ANDREW 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.
How much fun was it to throw the Star Wars line into the episode?
HAMILL: In rehearsal, I said, “I am your daddy,” which got a big laugh in the table read. I’m sorry I didn’t give them that option, during filming, because it would have been fun to have the option to self-parody the line. But it got a big laugh, so if you’re happy, I’m happy.
Was it easy for you to take on this role again, and was it fun to jump back into that wild and crazy mind-set?
HAMILL: I loved it, but it is intimidating. They asked me to do a cameo on The Neighbors, which is a series a 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.
Could you have imagined you’d be playing this role again, over 20 years later?
HAMILL: The first day of shooting for me [on the original series] was December 26th, the day after Christmas. It was the middle of the season when they first came up with a costume villain. And then, they did the trial of The Trickster to make it a seamless feature to release overseas. But what was exciting about it was that they said, “Now, when we come back for the second season, it’s going to be a two-hour movie event. 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. It will be the first time I’ve worked with him since I was on The Partridge Family, playing Laurie’s boyfriend.” That was my third or fourth job. And so, we were crushed when it was canceled. I just couldn’t believe it. I said, “It’s so smart, and they lavished so much money and time and energy.” I really couldn’t believe they would cancel it. And they had dangled, “It’s going to be a villain team up.” So, this was satisfying.
How is it to also voice The Joker, for the various animated projects you’ve done?
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, 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 here!” 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 far. 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 that 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.
Andrew, aside from having the biggest Easter egg of all with Mark Hamill, there are a lot of others, from set design to props. 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. 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 ‘cause 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.
How did you decide on the look for The Trickster, this time around?
HAMILL: I said to the prop department, “When we’re in The Trickster’s lair, can you have a hair clipper and we’ll save some of my hair, so we can explain why my hairdo changes.” No one is going to notice, but I made a big argument. I said, “If you see him in prison and he’s still got that Sex Pistols hair-cut, that’s really wonderful.” It’s so age inappropriate and sad. I thought there was something poignant and just really creepy about it. Andrew said, “No, I want to see you with your long, grey hair.” I thought, “Grey hair?!” But, I’m not autonomous. I don’t come in and say, “It has to be this way. The Trickster wouldn’t say that.” I love collaborating, so I went with it.
What I love about the show is that you feel like you’re in this continuum. In the old days, the capture of The Trickster would have been the end of the act, and then there would be a little tease at the end, and it would be over. Here, there’s a whole other storyline going on. It’s really wonderful, the way they sweep you into wanting to come back, week after week. For the original run, they were avoiding costumed heroes, in the beginning. I remember one week, I said to my elder son, “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?” 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 Brothers has been so incredibly supportive, and they’re so excited to do Arrow and The Flash. But then, as soon as we say, “Okay, we’re going to have the villains on,” they get worried about the villains being too cartoony. 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. One of the reasons The Trickster, both in the comics and the old show, is so cool, is 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.
Andrew, John Wesley Shipp is playing a different character in this version of The Flash, but what was it like to have him in scenes with Mark Hamill?
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, one of the things we said, when we were constructing the story, was that Trickster should kidnap Henry because it would satisfy both the fan in all of us and getting to see the two of them act together. You also want Barry to really care about The Trickster. He took his dad.
HAMILL: He’s a tremendous actor. Both of them are rocks. John Wesley, on the original series, was really underrated and such a good actor. Well, he’s not underrated. He’s got a mantle full of Emmys. I don’t have a mantle full of Emmys. And Grant is just tremendous. He’s so likable, so natural, and so perfect for this character because The Flash was always much more sunny and upbeat than some of the other darker characters. You couldn’t do better than have a foundation like that to build a series around. And then, Jesse Martin is just money in the bank. That guy has done more episodes of Law & Order than Lucille Ball did of I Love Lucy.
Mark, you were one of the highest profile fanboys before there were high-profile fanboys. What does it mean to you to see the medium get the respect and love it’s getting now?
HAMILL: Well, it’s amazing! I remember back when they were trying to get the film version of Batman made. I knew they wanted it to be dark and like the original concept, before it got stamped with that Adam West look and feel. And I’m someone who loved the Adam West version. 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 Riddler. I just absolutely adored him. But, I never would have dreamed that it would be a whole genre of film. I’ve seen the slow evolution. I remember them announcing in the trades that the film version of Batman was cast with Bill Murray as Batman and Eddie Murphy as Robin. 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, I’m really happy that they were able to do comic book properties that are aimed at an older and smarter audience.
The Flash airs on Tuesday nights on The CW.