By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Mark Hamill is keenly aware that he is no Brad Dourif—the actor who supplied the voice of Chucky, the serial killing doll, in the original horror movie franchise. That is why he had to come up with a different characterization of the red-headed menace in the rebooted (possible) franchise, beginning with “Child’s Play,” which arrives in theaters this Friday.
“I’m a huge fan of Brad’s interpretation, but in this one, Chucky has a different origin,” observes Hamill, best known for his Luke Skywalker character from the “Star Wars” movies. “It’s not the soul of a serial killer. Someone deliberately goes in and alters (the doll’s) operating system and takes off the safety measures. So (Chucky) was really like an innocent child, really, just learning from what goes on around him. I thought that was crucial.”
The 67-year-old actor, who has also made a career of doing other voiceover characterizations—notably that of The Joker in the DC Comics TV shows and videogames—reveals during a press conference promoting “Child’s Play” that he actually was a bit intimidated at the idea of taking on the iconic deadly doll role, but decided to go for anyway it because he loves challenges.
In the newly reimagined “Child’s Play,” a disgruntled worker at a Third World sweatshop changes the safety settings on one of the mass-produced electronic dolls called Buddi set for shipment to America. The altered doll ends up in the hands of an overworked/underpaid big box store customer service clerk (Aubrey Plaza), who decides to bring the returned item home to her young teen son, who’s a bit of a loner. The boy, Andy (Gabriel Bateman) quickly takes to the doll, whose electronic innards allow it to speak, imitate and learn from the humans around him. That extends to watching slasher films on TV, and being protective—even a little over-protective—of Andy. The slasher film is directed by Lars Kelvberg from a screenplay by Tyler Burton Smith. The film also stars Brian Tyree Henry as a police detective that tries to stop Chucky from his deadly crime spree.
Hamill, who is both a father and grandfather, spoke about taking on the iconic antihero Chucky and making the twisted character his own.
Q: How did you come up for with the voice for Chucky/Buddi. Did you purposely try to distinguish him from what Brad Dourif did in the original horror franchise?
Hamill: I got a letter from Lars (Klevberg, the director), and he already laid out his vision for the film before I had read it. Then they sent me the script and I thought the crucial element that was different from the original, which I love.
Q: What are some of the differences between this Chucky and previous iterations of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s?
Hamill: The age of the boys (is different). Instead of being like five or six (as was Alex Vincent in the 1988 original) Gabriel (Bateman) plays a character who’s a young teenager. That was, I thought, a very fundamental difference from the original. He does an amazing job, I have to say. When I read (the script), I said, if they don’t find the right actor to play Andy, the whole thing falls apart because you see the story through his eyes.
Q: How long did it take you to learn the haunting “The Buddi Song?”
Hamill: Early on, we had a placeholder. I was singing it to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine,” and so I sort of got used to that. Then Bear sent me the disc with his song on it. First of all, I thought, “Oh, my God, this is like ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ lullaby. Good,” where it works authentically but it sort of creeps you out in a way. I do a lot of voice-over, so I was going into the (San Fernando) Valley from Malibu, and I listened to it 18 times on the way over, and I think 22 times on the way home because there was traffic. It bore into my head like an earwig. I’ll never be able to get it out of my head as long as I live. I thought Bear did just a great job.
Q: What are your personal thoughts on talking electronic devices like Alexa and Siri that are supposed to help us?
Hamill: My appliances all hate me.
Q: You could have played this role completely campy if you chose to, but there’s almost a poignancy to the way that you voice Chucky. How did you find the right tone?
Hamill: We always try and be guided by the script. I had Lars and three producers that were all together, and it was a really open collaboration. I’d try and do maybe five in a row and do slightly different nuances. The interesting thing is to see it assembled and what choices they made, because he pretty much stays innocent throughout the film. Early on, we were doing things (such as saying), “If I can’t be your friend, then nobody can,” where I do a big (mood) shift, but it was too early. It’s really like giving them jigsaw puzzle pieces that they can assemble later to their liking. They held my hand through the process because, obviously, they know what they want much better than I did. But I love challenges. It was so much fun to do it. I was so impressed. I saw the film over and over and over and over and over and over and over, and over, and everyone, it’s just pitch perfect in terms of the casting and the performances as far as I’m concerned.
Q: What’s your favorite slasher movie or slasher character?
Hamill: I like the original “Psycho” because it was the only movie I remember my parents getting home from seeing it and they were scared. I’d never seen my dad like that before, so I waited about another 10 years. But it’s amazing that film. It’s perfectly made.
There’s something about creepy toys. There was a “Twilight Zone” in ’63. I was too young to see it in primetime, but in the summer I got to stay up late and watch it. It was called “Living Doll,” and Telly Savalas was the abusive husband and there was a doll called Talky Tina, which was a takeoff on Chatty Cathy. June Foray did the voice. The most chilling line in it, because when no other people are around, Talky Tina instead of saying, “My name’s Talky Tina and I love you very much,” she says to Telly Savalas, “My name’s Talky Tina, and I’m going to kill you.” I go, “Holy moly.” Yeah, that was pretty much the height of horror. She didn’t go on a rampage like Chucky, but I thought this is a genius idea.
There were other “Twilight Zone” (episodes) that had malevolent ventriloquist dolls that were really alive or another one with Jackie Cooper where it was a variation on a theme, but there’s something about scary dolls. Gabriel (who plays Andy in “Child’s Play”) was in “Annabelle, another scary doll movie.
Q: Do you think your fans will enjoy your performance in “Child’s Play?”
Hamill: I have people on Twitter saying, “Look, I love you, Mark, but I’m sorry, I just can’t do horror.” One person even said, “I’ll buy a ticket, but I won’t watch it.” That’s a fan, right?
Q: You’re associated with one of the most successful movie franchises in the world (“Star Wars”). Do you feel like a hot commodity these days?
Hamill: No. to tell you the truth, when I agreed to (provide the voice of Chucky/Buddi) and it sunk in that they wanted me to do this, I felt intimidation like I hadn’t felt since I did the Joker (in various DC videogames and TV series). I thought, when I auditioned for the Joker, there’s no way they’re going to cast this icon of virtue. Luke Skywalker as the Joker? Forget about it. So, I had no performance anxiety because I knew they couldn’t hire me. It was only when they hired me that I really thought, “Oh, no, I can’t do this because so many people have expectations of what he’s supposed to sound like.”
I didn’t feel that kind of intimidation until it sunk in that I was doing this—because the originals have such a partisan following. There’s people that’s saying, “Oh, you can’t touch this. You’re no Brad Dourif,” which I agree. I love Brad. It’s a great responsibility, so I’m anxious to see how people react, because it’s not the Chucky that we all know from before.