September 13, 2018
Darth Maul Voice Actor Sam Witwer on Returning to the Galaxy With ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ [Interview]
Darth Maul has been in the collective conscious for 20 years. His debut was in 1998 with the release of the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. That film is aging better than anyone expected, and one of the key ingredients in that mix was this enigmatic villain. From that first image of the doors on Naboo separating to reveal that demon-faced monster unveiling his double-bladed lightsaber, we’ve all been captivated by him, before we even knew his name.
Before the film came out, his face was on every bit of marketing. Every package had that distinctive red facial tattoo pattern and horns. And we still didn’t even know what his voice sounded like.
When The Phantom Menace hit theaters, he was instantly a favorite character, though some were intensely disappointed by his ending. Being chopped in half at the end of the first film of a trilogy didn’t bode well for the villains in the future of the franchise.
But Maul still endured in our hearts. And with the help of actor Sam Witwer, he has lived longer than anyone ever expected.
When the Clone Wars TV series began, no one guessed that we hadn’t seen the last of the character and he was brought to life by Witwer. Witwer was no stranger to being in geek properties, with turns in Battlestar Galactica, Smallville, Star Trek, and many others, but stepping into the world of Star Wars as one of the most iconic villains in the saga was something else entirely.
After Maul’s surprising return on The Clone Wars, everyone once again thought the character was gone for good. And then he turned up on Star Wars Rebels, which was a shock because it took place more than a decade after the end of Revenge of the Sith.
And then came the surprise cameo at the end of Solo: A Star Wars Story, with Ray Park (the actor who provided Darth Maul’s body in The Phantom Menace) and Sam Witwer returning to bring the character to life. Even Witwer didn’t believe it was going to happen. As he explained in our interview with him, he thought it was a joke.
I’m curious how you found out you’d be coming back to voice Maul?
Matt Wood decided it’d be funny to kind of throw that information out to me once. He was like, “Hey, just so you know he’s in the movie, and what do you think?” I was just thinking of how he taunted me with that. This was just before my reps were contacted. So yeah, you know, Matt Wood being a very close friend of mine, and also, aside from being the sound design and mixing genius that he is, he also voices General Grievous. So I think he totally understood what this was going to mean for me as a Star Wars fan. So he, I believe, wanted to be the guy who taunted me, mercilessly by first teasing the information and then smacking me in the face with it and watching me bleed happy tears. I don’t know. Strange moment.
Did you believe him the first time he said, “Maul’s in Solo,” because…
No! No, of course not.
I thought, I almost didn’t believe it when I saw it.
Yeah. Yeah, no, why, no. Look, I’ve had fans come up to me at cons. And the fans, they say these wonderful, sweet things. They say, “Hey, do you think you’ll ever go back and finish The Clone Wars?” And you go, “No, sweetie, no. That’s not gonna happen.” And they’ll go, “Do you think that Maul will ever be in a movie, and you’ll voice him?” “Aw, that’s adorable. No. No, no. It won’t [happen].” Because, you know, I’m a professional. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I know how the business works. And the fans, while they have all the enthusiasm, they don’t understand how the business works. And now after Solo and the revival of The Clone Wars I’m starting to ask myself, “Wait maybe I don’t know how this works, and maybe the fans do. Maybe they’re locked into something that I don’t understand.” Because, all of these things that have been happening, fans have called these things out to me at cons, and I didn’t believe them. So, my apologies to anyone for not listening more closely to your words. I will listen from now on.
I’d heard that this was recorded a little bit differently than you would ordinarily, and correct me if I’m wrong, you’d recorded everything first, and Ray Park sort of lip synced to it.
You got it. And then afterward, I came back and recorded again, because Ray needed to have some freedom with what he was doing. My track was there as a guide, sort of like okay, here’s the guy whose been playing Maul in all of these dialogue scenes, but then here’s the guy who created the character and has this extraordinary presence. So we had to marry those, and both actors have to have the ability to do what they think should be done with the character. So me and Ray had a chance to talk and get on the same page about certain things, and he studied up, he’d already seen the animated stuff, but then he studied up on it when it was time to do this again, because Ron Howard and the Kasdans really felt like it was important that this be a seamless transition from animated to live action. That it feels like exactly the same character, and the trajectory of the character and the evolution of the character, that this could be dropped in and no one who enjoys Rebels or The Clone Wars, like it wouldn’t jar them at all. They would feel exactly like the same character. And I will tell you, when I returned to voice what Ray had shot, um, boy I felt like that was the same character. I was like, wow. Ray is absolutely…he’s completely inhabiting where that character evolved to through our animated work. I was so happy.
What’s the reaction been for you personally? I know you do a lot of conventions. I know you’re out there talking to fans a lot, and one reaction I’ve heard a lot is that people won’t understand why Maul is back. But has that been the case?
That’s the interesting thing, right? The reaction that I have been witnessing has been overwhelmingly positive. People are so excited by that, because it’s such a bold choice on the part of the Kasdans and Ron Howard to take something…like I was told at the premiere that this was always the plan. I don’t want to say anything to contradict anything that anyone has to say. I know Ron said to me, “Yeah, I felt that it was important that it be someone of significance. Someone that the audience knows and understands.” But the fact of the matter is that you’re dealing with this criminal organization and you don’t have a lot of screen time to devote to that criminal organization, yet it needs to be significant to the entire piece, right? So, what do you do? Do you sort of create something generalized, you create this dark subtext and somehow that’s going to land and make the audience care, or do you use something that’s already been established by George Lucas? And that was the choice that Ron and the Kasdans came up with, and they decided that this is already there for us, it makes sense if we’re telling the story of Q’ira, this lovely, young lady who is fighting throughout the movie to save the soul of Han Solo, because she of course knows that should she go down this dark path, Han, given half the chance will follow her down there. And she knows that that can’t happen, so she has to break his heart to save his soul, essentially, from people like Darth Maul. If you’re going to do all of that, if you’re going to weave that complexity into the story, then yeah, you’re going to need a lot more screen time. And taking what we did in The Clone Wars, was a nice little short cut to getting that significance in the picture. And for the casual fan, they don’t necessarily need that significance. The story works just fine as a simple story. Star Wars fans demand a certain level of depth and a certain level of mythological continuity, so that’s why the story is peppered with, like I said, a bunch of hints that this is indeed a dark side run organization, and the galaxy is suffering under its influence. So yeah, Jonathan Kasdan and I had a nice little conversation about that.
With the Siege of Mandalore coming with The Clone Wars and then Solo sort of being that next spot in Darth Maul’s life as we get toward his eventual stranding on Malachor, do you see them filling out more of Maul’s story? Do you see you getting to be involved?
Oh, I surely couldn’t guess and if I did know, I surely couldn’t say. We’ll leave it there. But what I will say is that I’ve publicly said goodbye to this character on a few separate occasions. But I think I’ve learned to not say goodbye to this guy and whatever happens happens. The audience doesn’t seem to want to let this guy go and, to be honest, neither do I. I really enjoy filling out the details of his life and creating it. It’s a very unique thing as an actor to come back to a role over and over again and keep fleshing out what this man’s life was like. It’s further unique to flesh out this man’s story from beginning to end through The Phantom Menace, then The Clone Wars, then Solo, then Rebels. Possibly back to The Clone Wars. You know? We get to really visit different points in this man’s life and in what other story or mythology does anyone get to do that? What other actor gets to come to different projects, completely different TV shows, different movies, and tell a chapter of a character’s life? It’s very strange and wonderful and I love the opportunities that have come up. And I cannot thank Ray Park enough for creating a character that the audience is this fascinated with that my dumbass gets to come in and help and assist. So I’m having a lot of fun.
Well, thank you for talking to me. I’m thankful for all you’ve done in Star Wars over the years.
Thank you, man.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is available digitally on September 14 and in physical formats and on September 25th. The full audio from the interview will be available on the Full of Sith podcast. (www.fullofsith.com)
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