In April 1976, a 24-year-old Mark Hamill found himself in the Sahara Desert, in Tunisia, working on the opening sequences of what would be a seven-time Academy Award winning film; ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’.
As a young actor struggling to make a living from his craft, he was a little awestruck by director George Lucas, who had already written and directed Science Fiction film, THX 1138, and the critically acclaimed American Graffiti.
“We had a lot of down time while they were setting things up out in the desert,” Hamill explained to Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi, at the closing keynote of Content Marketing World 2016. “I was already a fan of Lucas’s work, and so I asked him, what’s your formula for success?”
“The only thing I know about show business,” the then 32-year-old director replied, “is that nobody knows anything.”
It was a sobering insight for Hamill, who would go on to become spectacularly famous for his role as Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars Trilogy.
“At the time I was shocked. I thought if George Lucas says he doesn’t know anything, then it’s kind of a confidence boost for the rest of us, it’s OK if you don’t know what’s going on because no one does,” Hamill said. “It wasn’t until later on that I realised that’s the thing about show business. It changes all the time, and it doesn’t matter how much success you’ve had in the past, your next movie might still get rejected.”
After almost five decades working in show business, initially on screen, and more recently as voice actor – famous for his portrayal of The Joker in Batman animations and associated computer games – Hamill has come to terms with the vagaries of the industry. And while his conclusions have been derived from show business, they could equally apply to other highly competitive fields.
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“A career in show business is like playing roulette. You might need to spin the wheel 450 times before your number comes up, but you just have to stand there and keep on spinning. That speaks to the tenacity you really need to have to survive in this business,” Hamill said.
“You need to believe in yourself to survive, because if you don’t, no one else will. You need to work hard and you need to never, never give up – I think tenacity will trump talent every time.”
Following his own advice Hamill has been continually employed in this notoriously fickle industry, turning his hand to everything from voice acting to writing and directing, and enthusiastically embracing social media.
“You’ll always hit a point in your career where you’re stumped,” says Hamill. “You just have to reboot your brain sometimes and go on with something else, something that’s completely different from what you’re currently doing.”
Most recently Hamill has rediscovered the delighted audiences and UPFs (Ultra Passionate Fans) associated with the Star Wars genre, thanks to his reappearance as Luke Skywalker in the 2015 release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
While he says he was a little reticent to participate in the movie, he didn’t want to risk becoming the “most hated man in fandom” by turning the picture down. He was however slightly put out by the level of commitment he dedicated to an exceedingly small part.
“They sent me to months of physical training and I lost 48 pounds just to turn around to the camera and remove my hood,” Hamill says. “But it is great to connect again with a new generation of the Star Wars fans, and with a really optimistic film about how you can do anything with the help of your friends. It’s a story that just doesn’t age.”