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NEW YORK — Mark Hamill, who famously played Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” flicks in the late Seventies and early Eighties, turns up in the unlikeliest of places: as a voice on animated series like “The Powerpuff Girls” or “Striperella;” in video games like “Wing Commander” and as Wolverine in “X2: Wolverine’s Revenge;” in person in B-movies like 1991’s “Black Magic Woman” and 1998’s “Village of the Damned,” and now, on Broadway, in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.” He stars as an angry dance instructor who develops an unlikely friendship with an aging widow over — you guessed it — six dance lessons in six weeks.
Though he is no stranger to the stage — he played the title roles in “Amadeus” in 1980 and “The Elephant Man” in 1979 — exchanging a lightsaber for dancing shoes has not been easy. “I’m still not satisfied with how I dance. I can’t wait till I stop counting completely,” Hamill says, over a late dinner of filet of sole (cooked simply with lemon is how Skywalker takes it) post-performance at Café Un Deux Trois. “They all have a personality to them. The swing is joyful; the tango is sexy; fox-trot is bad boy. That’s probably my favorite. The cha-cha is just absolute fun.”
“Mark doesn’t believe that he can dance at all,” says Polly Bergen, Hamill’s only co-star in the play. “He said to me, ‘Why don’t you just lead?’ and I said, ‘Mark, I can’t lead because I’m the student and you’re the teacher.’”
In terms of “Star Wars,” “It’s OK as long as I never mention it,” adds Bergen. “I loved him and loved it and then I moved on to the next movie. I don’t think of him as Skywalker. I think of him as Mark Hamill, a wonderfully inventive actor.”
Hamill, who has a tendency to speak breathlessly and without pause, calls this new production “two living legends for the price of one.” He is surprisingly circumspect about the strange paths his career has taken. “Some people say that I’ve gone from blockbusters to cartoons, but for someone who was born too late for radio and who always wanted to be a character actor, doing voice-overs is perfect,” he explains. “When I looked at the statistics [of how much actors make] when Hollywood went on strike, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this actor’s family has to live off the one commercial he did in 1987.’ I’m one of the lucky ones.”
The whole issue of celebrity makes Hamill a little bit uncomfortable. “It’s really hard for me to know how to behave during the curtain call,” he says, as he draws pictures of the Batman signal and Woody Woodpecker in crayon on the paper tablecloth. “I never wanted to be a big action star. Let Jean Claude Van Damme be one. That’s not really me.”
Instead, Hamill has used his fame in the world of film geekdom to develop an animated series called “The Wrong Coast” for AMC this fall, write a comic book called “The Black Pearl” and even direct a “faux documentary” called “Comic Book: The Movie,” a send-up of the comic and film industries that stars a “who’s who of voice-overs” and will be available on video early next year.
“If they all come to a screening and terrorists hit the place,” Hamill says, “the whole cartoon industry is over.” His wife, however, doesn’t necessarily approve of the sometimes expensive habit of collecting comics. “She retaliates with jewelry.”
As for the new generation of “Star Wars” films, he doesn’t exactly approve, either. “We had fun but, now, what’s everyone so serious about?” he wonders. “They better lighten up. I mean, why did they make Samuel L. Jackson a priest? George Lucas has got to get out more.”