Anakin Skywalker Interview

We speak to Clone Wars voice actor Matt Lanter about playing the proto-Darth Vader

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Sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. So while we all know that Anakin Skywalker is destined to don that iconic black suit, pick up some respiratory problems and have massive issues with his son (and the entire galaxy), it's kind of fun to find out how he gets there. Matt Lanter has the fun job of playing Mr Skywalker before he turns into sci-fi's most iconic villain, providing some Jedi vocal stylings in Star Wars : The Clone Wars (currently airing on Saturdays at 5.30pm on Sky Movies Premiere). We caught up with him for a chat...

You record your parts many months before the show makes it to the screen. Does it feel like you're watching the story for the first time when you see it on TV?
Yeah, it most definitely does. It’s really hard to remember stuff that we’ve recorded literally a year ago, maybe even longer. Sometimes interviews are a little hard because someone’s asking us to tease what’s coming up or something, and you’re thinking, "I don’t remember what’s coming up!" But it’s cool because I get to watch it like a fan – I just totally forget what’s happened and what the episode’s about. It's kind of nice.

Were you a Star Wars fan before you got the part?
I had seen a couple of the movies, but I really honestly didn’t know enough about the characters and about the story to call myself a Star Wars fan, but after getting the role I went back and obviously watched all the films, and I’m really into it now. I’m pretty much the biggest Star War s geek, so I watch The Clone Wars just like any Star Wars fan would.

Did you pay close attention to what Hayden Christensen had done with the part in the prequels?
It definitely is a different Anakin that we’re seeing in The Clone Wars . He’s much more heroic, much more charismatic I guess, a lot more fun and witty, and it was a conscious decision by George Lucas and Dave Filoni [ Clone Wars ' supervising director] to bring it out, because we didn’t see it in the films. We hear in A New Hope from Old Ben that Anakin was a good friend and a great pilot, this amazing warrior, so we’re actually getting to see that part of him. Having said that, of course I watched Hayden and just picked up Anakin’s characteristics. It’s always good just to pick up as much as you can, whether I’m using that in a daily performance or not, because I’m not really imitating a voice or a tone, I’m kind of doing my own thing.

Is voice acting, where you don't have to worry about your appearance, freeing for a performer?
Definitely. It’s interesting, because I do a lot of on-camera stuff too, and it’s such a different world. When you use your body you use your face, you have to hit marks for lighting, you have to remember the lines... It’s much different to voice acting where all you have to do is read the lines – you don’t have to memorise, you don’t hit marks, but at the same time it’s challenging, because you only have your voice to express emotion in that character, and you have to make sure that by your voice tone alone you’re getting what you need out of the character and what that character needs to be expressing in the moment.

How much idea do you have of what the scene you're about to play is going to look like?
We obviously have what’s written in front of us on the page, but Dave Filoni does a really good job of setting things up for us and explaining our situation and the attitudes of the characters. He knows exactly how he wants to shoot it, so he’ll explain to us as best he can what’s going on in this world or the camera angles. It’s tough, because a lot of times we’re about to hit the record button and I’m like, "Hold on, hold on – Dave, how far are we from each other, are we ten feet from each other or are we 50 feet apart? And are there blasters and lightsabers in the background?" So he’ll stop and he’ll kind of explain there’s a lot of gunfire going on, that it’s a very intense moment, so he does a good job of that. But sometimes it doesn’t work and in the future we’ll do a pick up line or something, but now I guess we’ve got it down to an art, a science.

Do you move around a lot and act out the role when you're recording?
Voice actors all work differently. Corey Burton who plays Dooku and Ziro the Hutt – totally different characters – is cool because you can watch him, and all he’s doing is sitting in a chair but his entire body language changes and you can tell which character he’s in just by his body language alone. I’m kind of animated. It helps, especially when you’re doing a lightsaber fight or you’re doing something active and you’re trying to get the grunts, the hits or the jumps in your voice. Sometimes me and Ashley [Eckstein, who plays Anakin's Padawan Ahsoka] pick up pencils like lightsabers and swing them around. But you’re limited, you’ve only got a few movements you can do because you’re right there at the microphone. And sometimes they do film us – they’ll tape us and take us back to the animators so they can use our facial expressions for the characters.

Are we seeing a different Anakin in season three? Is he moving more towards the Dark Side?
I think he’s always getting a little closer to that. By the third season I think you’re going to see a bit more of the Dark Side coming out here and there. I think there’s going to be some physical changes as the season progresses, into more of a Revenge Of The Sith look and also you’ll see a lot more dark moments. We do know we have to take him to the place of becoming Darth Vader, so we’re very conscious of that.

Does being in The Clone Wars make you watch the movies differently? Do you feel possessive of the character when you see someone else playing him?
I certainly do. I think that every actor feels a bit of ownership of that role - there’s only been a few of us that have played Anakin in the history of Star Wars and I’m very honoured to be one of them. But yeah, it definitely changes the way you see the movies, and that’s exactly our goal, to change the way that the movies are seen, because we’re filling in the time gap with information that is crucial and you get to see a whole other side of somebody’s character like Anakin which we didn’t really know existed – we need to see this fun heroic witty Anakin who’s saving the Republic, and then of course for him to turn to the Dark Side is that much more tragic, and it really makes the story much more sad, because he was such a good guy.

You're also one of the stars of 90210 , which has a fanbase that probably doesn't know you're in Star Wars and vice versa. Is it a very different experience?

Everything is different from the creative process to the way it’s received, to the types of fans that are receiving it – everything is different, which is to my advantage. I think it’s awesome. I have such a good time, it’s a way to be creative as an actor in completely different ways, and of course I have two different types of audiences. As you said, some don’t even know the other exists, but it’s cool because I can be a teen heartthrob I guess, for want of a better word, and also I can geek out with Star Wars fans at conventions because I’m just as big a geek as anyone else.

So you'd be happy if someone were to give you a Star Wars pop quiz?
I would say yes. At this point I’m fairly confident in my Star Wars knowledge.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars airs on Sky Movies Premiere and Sky Movies HD at 5.30pm on Saturdays.

Richard is a freelancer journalist and editor, and was once a physicist. Rich is the former editor of SFX Magazine, but has since gone freelance, writing for websites and publications including GamesRadar+, SFX, Total Film, and more. He also co-hosts the podcast, Robby the Robot's Waiting, which is focused on sci-fi and fantasy.