We talk to Sam Witwer who voiced Maul in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo: A Star Wars Story will be released digitally on September 14 and on Blu-ray September 25, and we had a chance to chat with Sam Witwer (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, Being Human) who voices Maul (formerly Darth Maul) in the film. Witwer voiced Darth Maul in the earlier animated Star Wars series, and the reveal of Maul in Solo was a huge surprise. We spoke to Witwer about keeping the secret, clues about Maul’s return that are scattered through the film and what his hopes are for Star Wars: Episode IX.
Tell us a bit about how hard it was to keep this a secret.
Okay, so you walk around [laughs] — it’s awful. You walk around constantly with these little syllables that are fighting to force their way out of your mouth. And if they do make their way out, if they do escape, if these syllables escape your mouth, you lose and 11-year relationship with a company that you love. That’s what my life has been like for the past 11 years. And by the way, the syllables constantly change. The things that you are holding inside your brain that are trying to escape out of your mouth, those things are constantly different. They are constantly fascinating and interesting. And all you have to do is just let ’em out and you’re done. And you’re finished. Yeah, it’s hell. It’s terrible. It’s awful. It’s great. I love it.
I know Maul’s appearance was a shorter part of Solo, so did you work with Phil Lord and Chris Miller, or Ron Howard or both?
It was Ron Howard and his team. So what had happened is that Matt Wood calls me up and goes, “How’s it going, man?” “Oh, how’s it going?” We’re good friends. Matt Wood is the sound designer/mixer extraordinaire. So he says, “Hey, so Maul’s in the movie.” I’m like, wait, what? [He said] “Should we call you up? I don’t know if you’re interested or available.” He was taunting me mercilessly. So I start having one of my Star Wars heart attacks, of which there have been many over the years. And Matt, having voiced General Grievous, knows exactly what this means to me as a fan. He had a really good time with that. Then my reps were contacted. And then, I believe my sort of cynical Han Solo self, the part of me that is cynical about Han Solo said, they’re going to shoot a scene with Ray Park, and then I’m going to voice it, and that’s wonderful. That’s great. But I didn’t really understand how detail-oriented Ron Howard and the Kasdans would be about it. For example, that there would be hints all over the movie that it was in fact Darth Maul and Crimson Dawn, for example. The red Mandalorian armor. The holocron-looking thing in Dryden Vos’ [Paul Bettany] collection. And all of that stuff throughout the film that points to the fact that this is the context, this is the subtext of the entire film, this character and his organization and the darkness that it’s bringing to the galaxy. And they felt that that was so important that they really wanted to make sure that the character was seamless from animated character to live-action back to animated. They wanted it to feel like exactly the same character.
It kind of blew my mind with me coming in for a record session, and me expecting to do it to picture, and them saying no, do it with your timing and do it the way you think it should be done and we’re going to have Ray Park lip-sync this on set. And I was like, wait, what? Really? And then they said Ray is going to going to have the freedom to do what he wants to do, and then you’re going to come back and do it again, to do what Ray does. So you will eventually be doing this to picture to do what Ray does, but we want your input on the performance as a guide track. That was just a shock. And then discussions and phone calls, and talks with Dave Filoni and talks with Ray, and talks about what weapon he would use to sort of knight Qi’ra. And the story implication of those weapons. There are really only two choices. You can go with Darksaber, which I think Jon Favreau [who voices Rio Durant] who is also in the movie would be very pleased with, because that was his sword in The Clone Wars, which was something I brought up with him, or you can go with the Inquisitor lightsaber, and then we can talk about the implications of that and the story implication here is, we will be making the statement that the head of Crimson Dawn is also being hunted by the Empire because the Inquisitors — he killed an Inquisitor and took the saber off him. [laughs] So Star Wars geekery is happening as they’re preparing for the shoot. There were discussions about what chair he should sit on and the wardrobe and all these really interesting details. So it was far deeper of a gig than I thought it would be. I thought, oh, I’m just going to come in and voice it, and that was not what they wanted from me. Ron Howard invited a lot of collaboration to ensure that it felt like the character that people were familiar with. And that it followed and tracked the growth of that character from Phantom Menace all the way to Clone Wars.
So yeah, it was a real pleasure. You kind of look at that and you go, oh, these people really do care. They really, really want to get it right. And I have this little joke that I make whenever I go onto a new job. I wait for people to like me before I become a difficult actor. And in this case, Ron Howard and his team, and the Kasdans, Pietro Scalia they all invited me to be difficult from day one! [laughs] And then they didn’t fire me! So it was extraordinary! It was an extraordinary gig. I mouthed off way too much, and they encouraged me to do so. Hey, you should growl here. No, well, I think he would laugh. Okay, you’re fired. Just kidding. They were wonderful.
No one actually threatened to fire me, but again, working with these incredibly talented people, you think, do as you’re told. But they kept asking, what do you think? Tell us what you think.
I know Dave Filoni is the best at telling you lots of things without telling you anything.[laughs] Yeah!
So I’m curious about how much you actually know about the future and that meeting on Dathomir.
Listen, weirdly I’m on a need-to-know basis. I actually had a discussion with Filoni about this the other day where there’s some stuff I feel I need to know, and he informed me, no you don’t. [laughs] So I can’t really report on much, unfortunately, so there you have it.
I know what a huge fan you are, so I’m curious about your hopes and your thoughts about Episode IX.
You know, I’m just going to go in as a fan and I will take what they give me. The interesting thing about this stuff is that obviously the fans, we love Star Wars and we want to dive into the stuff and love everything with all our heart, and ultimately that takes an act of trust and an act of enthusiasm on the part of the fans, and I’m willing to go in there and trust that J.J. [Abrams] has something good to show me. I really have no idea what they’re doing over there. I have no direct knowledge. I have no secrets that I am holding back when it comes to that.
When we do the re-watch on Blu-ray, are there any little clues that we should be looking for?
Well I would urge people to [re-watch] because my first viewing of Solo and my second viewing of Solo were entirely different because the subtext about who it is they are fighting, who Enfys Nest is, that Enfys Next is part of a Rebel — that they are fighting on the wrong side for the whole first part of the movie. The subtext of the movie, in a way, you can see it’s Qi’ra’s movie. It’s about a woman who is trying to save this man she loves from going to hell. She knows she is going to here and it’s too late for her, but it’s not necessarily too late for him. And that she understands that this guy has sort of an ascended destiny. That this guy, his trajectory is upward, and that his heart, that the goodness inside him could be subverted, and that he would follow her wherever she goes if she doesn’t break his heart. Now, that’s a very interesting story. Kind of a 1940s noir story in a way. You’ve got to break his heart to save him from the devil, and I suppose it’s my great pleasure to play the devil in this particular story. It’s one of those wonderful things — this is why I get movies on Blu-ray and Ultra 4K. I love those things because I love to scrutinize the details and watch films over and over again from different perspectives. And I think Solo has a starkly different perspective the second and third time you see it, from the first time, and that’s really what I love about it.
Solo: A Star Wars Story will hit digital media on September 14 and Blu-ray on September 25. What did you think of the film? Were you shocked when you saw Maul? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. You can follow Sam Witwer on Twitter @SamWitwer.