Dragon Con 2014: An Hour with Sam Witwer

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Greetings all! Bethany Blanton of the Star Wars Report here to give you more coverage of Dragon Con! What follows is a recap of the Sam Witwer panel at Dragon Con this year, but first I’ll quickly tell you how my brother and I met Sam.

Riley and I first met Sam Witwer at Dragon Con a few years ago, where he was kind enough to take the time to do an interview with us. He’s an awesome Star Wars fan who is passionate about the franchise. One of Riley’s highlights of this year’s convention was when, while in conversation with him later, Sam mentioned listening to the Star Wars Report. Yes, Riley’s face at that moment did make me laugh. :)

This year saw me, Teresa, Riley, and Aaron all together again for Dragon Con! While the convention is over, we are still releasing coverage of it including photos, event coverage, and panel recaps like this one. Dragon Con has so much wonderful content from Marvel panels to parties, from Doctor Who to My Little Pony, and of course the Star Wars track, which had panels, parties, a costume contest, a trivia contest, and more. Riley and I attended the Sam Witwer panel on Sunday morning. Moderated by Bryan Young, this panel was more like a conversation with Sam, Bryan, and the audience than a panel. Sam was cool and entertaining as usual.

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Disclaimer: Questions, discussion, and answers are paraphrased, as it is difficult to capture every word. With that, let’s dive into the panel!

Bryan: So, let’s start with Darth Maul.

Sam: Yeah, that was fun! It started with the Son character. It was kind of intimidating, because everyone knew what they were playing, they knew their characters well. I was told: “you’ll be playing the Dark Side of the Force, have fun with that!” So yeah, I was scared, and I didn’t know if it was going well. I was worried that the character would sound too much like Starkiller.

Dave Filoni said that didn’t matter though, that because the Son was the Dark Side, he’d sound a little like Starkiller. So, I decided to put more of the Dark Side characters we know into the Son’s voice, a little bit of Vader, and a little bit of the Empower. Dave noticed, and I asked if I should do it less; he said to do that more. After this, Dave said he might have something for me in “The Clone Wars.” He asked what I would think if he brought back Darth Maul, and I said it didn’t make sense. But, I got the call a year later asking me to do it. Of course I said yes, even though it was a terrifying call to get because I wasn’t sure how I’d play it. When it came time to play Darth Maul, they told me he would be muttering in the corner of the cave, but they didn’t tell me what he was saying.

Bryan: Was there any point where Dave was like: “Sam, dial it back, you’re getting too nerdy?”

Sam: All the time. *laughs* But Dave is a huge fan too. After all, he made his own Plo Koon costume.

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Bryan: As far as things outside of Star Wars go, you, for instance, did awesome work for “Being Human”. (At this point the crowd cheered.)

Sam: We had an opportunity to do pretty much anything we wanted to do with that character. I’ve never played a character for four years before, and we knew season four was the last, so we didn’t hold back at all with character moments. I was able to take the gloves off approach to the performance. You don’t want to go all out in the first season of something, because that leaves you with nowhere to go.

Bryan: You’ve done a lot of video games too, like “The Force Unleashed.”

(At this point, Sam called up a General Rahm Kota and Starkiller cosplayers, and took awesome photos of both.)

Sam taking a photo of Starkiller and General Kota.
Sam taking a photo of Starkiller and General Kota.
Sam's photo from his Twitter account.
Sam’s photo from his Twitter account.

Sam: It started with this. I’d do these sketches where it would be a serious scene, but then I’d turn it into something funny. For instance, I did a whole thing where Yoda in “The Return of the Jedi’ is talking about how he wished he’d dated more. Or one with Yoda getting bitter that Darth Vader told Luke he was Luke’s father.

When it came time to do “The Force Unleashed”, I asked who was playing the Emperor, and they didn’t know, so I offered to. David Collins told me not to do it during the read through, because he was going to record me in high quality and play my voice during that time. But during the read through, I was told to try out the Emperor; I hadn’t prepared for it! But I did it, and the Emperor is really actually a funny guy. He’s like the funny, evil Yoda.

Bryan: I’d like you to talk about the Star Wars Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, and Episode 6 viewing order.

Sam: If you’re going to do all of Star Wars, starting with a kid, start with “The Clone Wars.” Maybe not all of it, but enough for them to be familiar with it. Then you go to Episode 4. You always start with it, and it’s the only film with a beginning, a middle and an end. We see the movie through Luke’s eyes. If you start your kids on “The Clone Wars” before Episode 4, and they hear “Darth Vader betrayed and murdered your father,” the kids want to go after Darth Vader. Then, the big reveal in Episode 5 when they find out the person who supposedly killed their hero WAS their hero. And then there’s the cliff hanger of finding out “there is another.” Once you get to Episode 6, you’re kind of reintroduced to the characters, which is the perfect thing. And, when you see Luke, he’s behaving like Anakin was! He’s dressed in black, choking out guards, and you’re worried about him. Plus, you get introduced to Luke and Leia being siblings during the drama and excitement of Episode 3, instead of just being told about it. There are endless ways you can mix this up and show people, but you want to preserve the surprises. The biggest surprise you must preserve is the “I am your father” moment. If you don’t do “The Clone Wars” then Yoda is still a surprise, the “that guy is the head of the Jedi!?” surprise.

The source for most of the Expanded Universe is the Star Wars Role Playing Game West End books. The Inquisitor is, as well as vehicles that show up in Episode 3, and so much more. People think Timothy Zahn started it all, but stuff in his books were from this too.

Aaron with Sam in the Hall of Fame, where you can purchase autographs and photos of celebrities.
Aaron with Sam in the Hall of Fame, where you can purchase autographs and photos of celebrities.

Audience question: Is voice acting or screen acting harder? And, do you like brooding characters?

Sam: I do those characters for a living. You get a lot fewer bruises when you do voice work. “Being Human” for example had a lot of stunt work. You have more tools as a screen actor though, but you don’t have to dress up to do voice acting. I really liked doing “The Clone Wars” though. They knew what they were doing. For instance, when you breathe in and out, or sigh, so many voice over jobs don’t want any of that. But “The Clone Wars” did, and it feels like those voices belong to those characters. Those characters were there. Another thing they did was have the actors in the room together, and not everyone does that. And that’s why I really liked doing “The Clone Wars.”

Bryan: Have you read the comics based on Darth Maul’s story from “The Clone Wars” scripts?

Sam: I’ve read one, and I knew some of what they wanted to do with him, but the way “The Clone Wars” ended with Yoda was good.

Audience question: You’ve been Darth Maul, a vampire, Aquaman’s nemesis… is there any role you’ll play soon that is simply being human?

Sam: I have played normal people, but for whatever reason the things that people have liked best are the genre things. I’ve done other things, but they’ve just not been as good as I’d hoped.

Audience question: Did you feel like you had to betray the character of Davis Bloome by making him evil in the end, even though you’d mentioned thinking of him and playing him as someone who was innately a good person?

Sam: Firstly I have to thank the writers for writing such an awesome character, but now I have to sell them down the river. At first, we thought season 8 was the last, but then we were able to go for more. Yes, I had the understanding that I was playing a good guy at heart, but with a problem. The more information you feed an actor, the better the acting will be. But for the writers of “Smallville,” their target kept moving and the story kept moving, but they did the best job they could with what they were given. Writers and actors need to work together to create a story. Often the actors get all the credit, but the writers are amazing and deserve that too.

Teresa with Sam in the Walk of Fame.
Teresa with Sam in the Walk of Fame.

Audience question: Were you considered for the Emperor in “The Clone wars”? Will you be in “Star Wars Rebels?”

Sam: I may have been considered. As far as “Star Wars Rebels,” who knows? Tim Curry did a great job in “The Clone Wars” though after Ian. Those guys are awesome though. For them to lose “The Clone Wars” though was a big blow to morale, but now they get to do “Star Wars Rebels,” and they are really enjoying it. I’ve seen it, and it’s a very focused, awesome show. Plus, you might see story lines from “The Clone Wars” in “Star Wars Rebels.”

Audience question: What was the most challenging role: Doomsday, Starkiller or Darth Maul?

Sam: They were challenging for different reasons. Starkiller was like a 70’s character because Star Wars was originally 70’s, and that was when “The Force Unleashed” was set, during the original trilogy. Darth Maul was really challenging though. There was no dialogue for his mumblings. To drive yourself into a frenzy, weeping and laughing, it’s a bizarre thing. After the first time I did his mumblings, there was silence after I read for it in the sound booth. It was very exposing to go that far.

Audience question: Will you audition for Episode 8 or 9?

Sam: I almost did for Episode 7, but they changed the part I could have been right for. I’d love to be in Episode 8 or 9!

Audience question: I wanted to ask you about the one scene you had in “The Walking Dead.” Do you wish you could do that?

Sam: The last time I talked about this at Dragon Con I got into trouble. (Sam started laughing.) Google Sam Witwer and “The Walking Dead” and you’ll see more than you want to know. The director wanted me to play a character who would have a miniseries, but it didn’t work out with AMC and Frank, so the idea died. If you want to know more, you can read about it where Frank wrote about it on Ain’t it Cool News.

The panel was definitely a fun one, with Sam joking and laughing with the audience, telling stories, doing impressions of Star Wars characters, and in general having a good time. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed attending the panel!

~ Bethany Blanton

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  • http://aeiouwhy.blogspot.com/ Dex

    I met Sam at Boston Comic Con and he mentioned how Dave Filoni will sometimes call him up just to talk Star Wars after a day of working on Star Wars. I asked him if Dave mentioned anything about possibly bringing him in to Rebels. He gave me one of those looks that you know means “I can’t say anything,” smiled and said we’ll see.