Star Wars Day - An Interview with Darth Maul: Sam Witwer

May the fourth. It's known the world over as Star Wars Day for its obvious pun, but it's a great day to reflect on the things about the Star Wars saga we all hold dear. For the last few years, I've been a great fan of the Cartoon Network Show, The Clone Wars.

The last two episodes of the last season re-introduced everyone's favorite Sith assassin to the world of Star Wars: Darth Maul. It turns out he didn't perish down that reactor shaft on Naboo as we thought. Broken by Obi-wan and fueled by his hatred and the dark side of the Force, Maul was swept away to a junk planet and left to cobble together a robotic lower half.

To give a voice to the new, animated Darth Maul, supervising director Dave Filoni turned to Sam Witwer. Star Wars fans were already familiar with Sam's work; he gave voice to Darth Vader's secret apprentice, Starkiller. He was the main character in the series of Force Unleashed video games.

Fans of science fiction never have to go far to see him. He was in Battlestar Galactica (as a Viper pilot Crashdown), The Walking Dead (as the soldier in the tank), Smallville (as Doomsday), and Being Human (as Aidan). And that's just a small taste of what he's been up to over the years.

I got a chance to talk to him about his portrayal of Darth Maul, and you can tell instantly he's a fan of the material and the character.

Fans should be very happy he's the man behind the voice. Those interested in a sneak preview of what's to come on the next season of the show should read carefully, as there are many clues.

I wanted to start the first question by asking about your geeky background. Do you seek out geeky parts? I mean you've done Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Superman, and Star Wars. The only thing left is for you to become an Avenger.

That's right. I don't seek them out. Well, I sought Battlestar. I saw the miniseries. But the rest of it is... maybe people are to the fact that I dig it, and they seek me out. It certainly gives you a leg up when you understand the subject matter.

As far as the subject matter, we're talking about the return of Darth Maul. How does one even wrap one's head around that, since as far as anyone thought he was dead? What's that like, getting that call from Filoni, and he says, "We'd like for you to bring Maul back from the dead"?

Well, it was ridiculously exciting, because he calls me up and I'm driving and it was really hard to concentrate on the road once he described it to me, because I was trying to wrap my brain around how to perform it. That was a ridiculously good piece of fortune right there, but at the same time it was feeling frustrated, like "if I don't get this right, then that's a problem." (laughs) This is important, and people love this. I love this. And the last thing I want to do is let down my fellow Star Wars fans.

In the two episodes you're in, in season four, there's two very distinct Darth Mauls: there's the crazy, spiteful Darth Maul, and there's the one that's made sort of whole again. What's the different approach you take with crazy Maul and vengeful Maul for you?

Well, you start with what Peter Serafinowicz and Ray Park did, and then you start asking a lot of questions about what this character will be. The insane Maul will be stripping away all civilization and humanity to see the Dark Side of the Force completely uncensored. The Dark Side is not about being an awesome fighter or having cool things or being able
to swing a laser sword really well. The Dark Side is madness and despair and agony, and a longing that can never be satiated. So, really, the madness was what all that it was about for me. It wasn't like, "Oh I'm going to make some crazy sounds!" It was about the purpose. And the purpose was to display what happens and what it at the center of all this, happens when you let this consume you, and they let me ad lib a lot of the dialogue so I pushed that idea quite a bit as to what he'd been through.

Also, I thought it was an interesting thing to show what these last 10 years have been like and what he'd done to keep himself together. And then when it comes to the vengeful Darth Maul... The Darth Maul that we see at the end of this season has been waiting for so long to finally exact his revenge on Obi Won Kenobi, and when he actually confronts him, it had not occurred to him that this is not satisfying. Now, he's half-right that vengeance will not get you anywhere; it will not actually fulfill you. But that's not the way that he interprets it; he interprets it as, "Well this isn't good enough revenge." It's got to be super, super satisfying, and he starts hatching bigger and bigger plans, more ambitious plans in terms of how to get back at that one man. If he were a smarter man, he would have just left it alone and just walked away and said, "You know, I get it now. Life isn't about this." But he's not.

People over the years have described Maul, and the beauty of the Maul character is that he represents the attack-dog side of the Force, and you have Palpatine who finds Dooku, who represents that elegant planning version of the Force, and Vader is sort of that mix between the two. But now to see the attack dog truly unleashed on his own, that's got to be scary.

Well, the attack dog is smarter than people think, and you're not going to see that until season five. This guy really was a good apprentice for Palpatine. I know there are some stories out there that suggest Darth Maul was never supposed to be the ultimate apprentice. But there's also another interpretation of that story -- that he was a great apprentice and Vader is the attempt to replace that.

Darth Maul was not supposed to be lost on Naboo. It really depends on what you've read and what you buy into, but I don't think there's a clear-cut answer to that. I think the most clear-cut you can get is talking to George, and it gets definitely complicated. Darth Maul was Darth Sidious' apprentice, and because he was there is a lot of Darth Sidious in Darth Maul, and you'll get to see a lot of that next season.

We'll basically see, episode by episode, you'll get to see new character traits added to the
guy and see, my God, he was supposed to participate in the Clone Wars, he was supposed to be front and center and he was prepared for it and he was not just a great warrior. He was also someone who could've been a great general.

What do you see are the differences in your approach as Starkiller and Darth Maul?

Starkiller is looking for an identity. Darth Maul had an identity and it was stripped away, and he's trying to re-establish that identity. So he has that kind of ambition toward reasserting himself and getting back what he had lost. Starkiller is just trying to figure out who he is, and what is the right thing to do, and he starts out doing everything that he is told, and being the exemplary agent of what he's told is justice and doing the right thing and putting the bad guys away, and then he discovers that's been a whole big lie, and the path that he was on was not constructive and that he was manipulated. And then he finally, just like Luke, begins to put together his own ideas of what the right thing is, and he starts thinking for himself. It'll be interesting to see if Darth Maul gets to that point where he truly starts to think for himself. He's reacting off of his training, he's reacting off of his emotional state, and I don't
know how clear he is thinking.

However, whether he's thinking clearly or not, he's certainly thinking effectively, and I wish I could tell you what that's about.

As far as working with Dave Filoni -- I know Dave is probably of the biggest fans of prequel lore that I've spoken to in my life. What sort of advice did he give you? What was the best bit of direction he gave you in Darth Maul's character and his mind state?

Well, me and Dave -- and when he gave me those scripts, he gave me a number of them. One of the things you got to love about Dave is he has respect for all the different disciplines that go into filmmaking. Most of them, some of them I've worked with, and they think, "Oh, you just give the actor the script and they say the lines, and that's they're job!" And then there are other people who really get that, "No, if you want this to be great, it's a collaboration." And it is, no matter what, and it always is. But the people who embrace and understand that create a better product, and Dave... he didn't just give me two scripts, he gave me a lot of scripts concerning Darth Maul I could chart a course for the season that could take us beyond how the story evolves so I could really give a defined start point. And we had many talks on the phone about -- and my favorite of it is, "Okay, now that I've seen the scripts, here is our story and let's see if I understand it the way you want me to understand it, and so we talked through the whole thing from beginning to end and it was quite informative, but the wonderful thing was we were both thinking the exact same thing. We were both on the same page, and I think me and Dave... I can't say I agree with everything he says at all times, but there's a lot in common for us to get on the same page.

The guy is uncommonly good at his job, and honestly I can't conceive of anyone better for this
job, and I'm saying that from having quite a bit of experience in this field. I don't know if there is anyone sharper for the gig that out there, that knows it as much as he does. One of the most talented people I've ever worked with.

That's high praise!

As far as I'm concerned, that's the guy you need to tap for live action. He works really well with George, and understands what George wants and carries it out completely.

As far as the scripts are concerned, what was it that you felt watching Maul's journey through these scripts when you got them? What was it like for you? How did you process it?

Well, first, as a fan, just thinking it was a really good story. Like I was very excited to and I understood how they were going about it and why, and I thought the problems they were faced with they were tackling it in very intelligent and creative ways. So that was exciting. And secondly, my next job was to empathize with Darth Maul, you know? To be on his team, to really make it clear as to the ways he's justifying himself in what he thinks right is and what he thinks wrong is. That's truly, I think, any actor's job when it comes to these characters. So, it's funny. Somebody was asking some question about Darth Maul's motivations and something about him being villainous, and I actually remember feeling offended, like, "Wait, what?! He's really not a villain!" And I took a step back and went, "Of course, he's a villain."

I empathize in a large degree to him, but again it's part of the job.

What's up next?

There is more to his back story that I've been let in on that we'll wait on the line to be revealed, some really, really cool stuff to -- maybe what you're talking about. In terms of his survival and all that stuff, I mean... the clues that you get are the mutterings, the things that he says. You know the fact that I threw in little pieces of the Sith Code there because he's trying to remember his training, trying to through it all as he's crawling in the garbage and the dirt, he's trying to be a Sith Lord. And what is his motivation and what is he trying to hold on. And really, it's very similar to what happens to Vader.

You know, he's lying there, and his lungs are completely burned, his skin is completely exposed, and he should have died. And there are some people that say he did die, but kept moving because of the power of the Dark Side of the Force. And it was his hatred of Obi-Wan, and his need to continue on. The Sith don't look at death as the natural progression of things, like the Jedi do. The Sith look at death with terror and fear, because when you die, guess what? You can't get any more stuff! There's nothing more that can come to you, and you can't accumulate anything for yourself. Your ego does not exist anymore, so that's horrifying for the Sith. The Dark Side of the Force is a gateway to some doors some consider to be unnatural. Well that's the whole thing! Some of these Dark Lords can prolong, extend, and unnaturally create their own existence and hold on to that existence no matter how painful and unpleasant it is. Because the alternative is even more horrifying for them!

I mean Darth Maul... he's been cut in half, and if he were a Jedi he would've let himself go and say, "Well, that's it." But this guy can't let himself go. He absolutely will not let himself go and that's the whole thing with all these Sith Lords is that they become obsessed, and that obsession has extended his life.

Do you think that Darth Maul's story informs Palpatine's/Sidious's decision to go and rebuild Anakin instead of leaving him to die?

That's always a possibility, because you can imagine that Darth Sidious...The thing that I always imagine with Darth Sidious is that it takes a tremendous amount of effort to try and train these Sith apprentices, and he catches on after Darth Maul and goes, "You know the short cut would be in just turning a Jedi." So he does that with Dooku. But still in finding the right candidate, it's still extremely rare.

You can see it throughout the prequels and throughout the Clone Wars that he's looking for
Darth Vader. He's looking for someone to be Darth Vader, and he's pretty sure he's found it in Anakin Skywalker. Some might even say that he had a hand in creating that. But no matter where you look at it, there's obvious potential and there is always candidates that might come in and compete, you know?

I'll say this, I don't what to give away too much on the story, but Darth Sidious -- these events that are coming up -- Darth Sidious isn't all-seeing, all-knowing. But he does observe a lot of events, and it is conceivable to conclude that Darth Sidious at some point becomes aware and observes. And absolutely, if Maul makes a good show of it, then yeah, it would really create an idea in Darth Sidious' head that these lives can be recycled. But if any of them are struck down, that's not necessarily the end. That they can even perhaps be rebuilt stronger. Vader doesn't really work out that way; he's really good, he's really far more effective than anyone Sidious has ever seen, but he's still not the ultimate, because he was damaged and injured. So the interesting thing about the Star Wars story is that it all culminates to one potential Sith apprentice who was ultimate Sith apprentice of all time. He went through Dooku
and Darth Maul, Starkiller, all these guys. The ultimate Sith apprentice is Luke Skywalker. That's the one that Sidious finally learns about him goes, "Here is the one. He is the perfect one of all time. This is the one I've been waiting for!"

And that's the one who ultimately ends up destroying him, with the help of his father. They put an end to Sidious. But it's really interesting to see how that story evolves and climaxed with the son being the one that Sidious has been looking for all along. Luke would've been better than all of them, and thankfully it never turned out that way.

It's interesting when you look at the story from the perspective of Darth Sidious. It's very interesting.

Well, he's like Donald Trump. He's looking for the new employee, and there's a lot of disappointment in that story, and there's a lot of things that go wrong. Darth Maul was not supposed to be killed, that was not something Sidious had foresaw, but at the same time he gained the presidency of the Republic, to his advantage, but that left him in a place where he went, "Well, dammit! Now I got to find someone to take his place!"

And that is where the interview had to be cut off for fear of revealing too much for season five. Though, you can watch a preview of Darth Maul's appearance in season five right now on StarWars.Com. You can also, for today only, watch any episode of season four for free on that site as well, in case you needed to catch up or wanted to watch Darth Maul in action on the cartoon.

It's been my belief for a long time now that The Clone Wars is one of the best television shows on the air as far as storytelling and craft is concerned. I don't think season five is going to break from that tradition.

Season 5 will hit the airwaves sometime in the fall on Cartoon Network.

When he's not obsessing over Star Wars, Bryan Young is the editor-in-chief of the geek news site Big Shiny Robot! and an author.