By George Bate and Josh Bate
Star Wars Holocron recently had the opportunity to speak with Sam Witwer about a range of Star Wars related topics. While Parts 1 and 2 focused on the Siege of Mandalore and Star Wars Rebels respectively, today’s third part of the interview will focus on Witwer’s experience in bringing Maul back into live-action in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
The production on the second Star Wars spin-off film wasn’t always smooth, but Solo proved to be a hit with fans, many of whom have since petitioned for a sequel. One of the most surprising aspects of the film was the reappearance of Maul, nearly 20 years after we last saw the former Sith Lord in live-action. Witwer talked with us about how he didn’t agree creatively with the decision to cast another actor to voice Maul:
“When it came to Maul in Solo, and I was asked about it, I rang them up. At many times, I’ve said it’s okay for you to go to someone else and that’s happened several times. But with Maul, I actually put my foot down and said ‘Listen. Do what you have to do, but I think you might be making a mistake if you don’t hire me for this’ (Laughs). Because you’re counting on the fans. A lot of fans are going to say I don’t get it, he died in Phantom Menace, and then a lot of other fans are gonna say, ‘Oh with The Clone Wars I get what’s happening here with the Shadow Collective. That’s what’s going on here with the Shadow Collective.’ So since you’re leaning on the fans who understand what the Shadow Collective is, and the way you want to construct the scene where you want to hear his voice and then see him, doesn’t that serve to reason that the fans have to recognize the voice? It’s probably got to be me, and not to mention I’ve been playing the guy for a decade.”
Originally, Peter Serafinowicz, who voiced the character in The Phantom Menace, voiced Maul in the film, which didn’t quite work out as they had hoped according to Witwer:
“[Peter] Serafinowicz has even said that he recorded stuff for Maul and it didn’t quite work the way that they thought it would. That wasn’t actually a decision thing. That was actually someone who was not totally in on the Lucasfilm camp going, ‘Okay who played him on The Phantom Menace? Serafinowicz, grab him.’ He’s such a talented, talented guy and I admire the hell out of his work, but it was not recognizably the character and it wasn’t even recognizably The Phantom Menace character. It was a very different thing and they weren’t getting the right stuff.”
Witwer revealed that the version of Maul in the initial script differed from the version seen in the film. The character even growled in the original version:
“[There were] a lot of things in this script where he growls, he does this, he does that.”
Witwer outlined that he disagreed the the growling and other aspects of the original scene with Maul, and was clear with Lucasfilm that he believed he needed to be brought in for the role:
“I don’t think those are right and I can tell you why I don’t think those are right. I can tell you what I think he should say instead (Laughs). So I did run the math and said in this case I’m actually going to play a card I haven’t played with Lucasfilm before and say, ‘You’re making a mistake if you don’t go for me.’ Now, do whatever you have to do, try out whatever you have to try out, but I think you’re making a mistake if you don’t get me in there…There were people at the company who were saying, ‘No, you made a mistake. You actually have to go for this guy. He’s the one who’s been developing the character under George Lucas and Dave Filoni…’ as I was told, one of the producers on Solo was just not aware of The Clone Wars. There were people at Lucasfilm, several camps that were aware of The Clone Wars who said from the very beginning, ‘No! You have to get Sam.’ There was a group at ILM that was pushing it. There was a group in the sound department that was pushing for it. There were a lot of different people trying to make them aware. And then once the Maul thing wasn’t working and they were asking the question of ‘Do we do this? Do we not do this?’ That’s when those voices came out loud and clear and said ‘No, no, no. You can make it work but you have to get this guy and you have to get Dave Filoni on board. You can’t actually make it work without these guys.’ That’s how I understand it all went down. And again, nothing against the producer who’s call that was. They thought they were doing their due diligence by looking through the production notes of The Phantom Menace….Once they realized damn, we didn’t totally research that, they brought me on board…”
Once being cast in the role, Witwer was glad that the creative team behind Solo incorporating his thoughts on how the character should be portrayed in the film:
“…they were very happy to hear what I had to say about what he should be wearing, what chair he should be sitting in, what lightsaber he should have, why he laughs, all that stuff. They were absolutely open to it. When Ron Howard discovered that Clone Wars is George Lucas’ baby, he was very happy to have me come in and continue the George version of the Maul character.”
During the making of Solo, Maul’s scene changed dramatically after the cast and crew did a reshoot, per Witwer and Dave Filoni’s request:
“There was stuff that had to happen once I got hired. There was a reshoot that had to happen because people like me and Dave Filoni were letting them know there were a lot of details that weren’t consistent. That’s not me saying these people didn’t know what they were doing because they were making a movie and doing it at lightspeed. Ultimately, they did the right thing because they hired the people who were the experts on this like Dave Filoni and, I dare say, me, because I’m kind of an expert on what we’ve been doing with Maul for the past decade, y’know? They were very open to hearing what we had to say and, again, they were so open that they did a reshoot. Like I said, you can have the most talented people in the world and people can still drop the ball for a second. It’s always the willingness to go and pick it back up that I give people credit for. I don’t want to say that what Serafinowicz was doing was bad. It just didn’t sound recognizable as the character from The Phantom Menace nor the character from Clone Wars. It was a totally different thing. They needed people to recognize the voice, so there it is.”
Witwer was also clear that he has more behind the scenes stories about playing Maul that he couldn’t yet reveal without getting into trouble with Lucasfilm:
“Look, there’s stories about Maul I won’t be able to tell for another 20 years. There’s just stories I can’t go anywhere near until about 20 years have passed and I think people are going to be very shocked when I eventually tell those stories (laughs). They’re related to all these things. All kinds of stuff. But you can’t tell those stories now. In 20 years, when I’m fully an old man and don’t care about anything, I will say things that will blow people’s minds and make national news and stuff. But no, I’m not that stupid yet (Laughs).”
Ultimately, Witwer saw firsthand the immense challenges in bringing Maul into live-action again, even more so than reintroducing the character in The Clone Wars:
“There were certain challenges in terms of, say, bringing Maul into Solo for the 3 minutes that he’s in it than there were creating spider-Maul mad in the cave, which is a way wilder idea than just putting Maul in Solo, right? Maul with spider legs and being insane and this whole mythology of these legs created of garbage and being animated by the dark side of the force and all that.”
Peter Serafinowicz did a great job in The Phantom Menace and, as Witwer outlined, is an incredibly talented actor. However, it’s safe to say that Witwer was the right choice for the role as he’s been the voice of Maul for 10 years now across multiple different animated shows. It’s a sign of a good studio and talented individuals to recognize their mistakes and correct them accordingly. The road to get to the final product for the Maul scene and, in general, Solo: A Star Wars Story wasn’t always easy, but Lucasfilm and co. definitely created a film that many people will continue to enjoy for years to come.
Stay tuned for more of our exclusive interview with Sam Witwer!
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm, Disney+, and The Star Wars Show.
Interview conducted and transcribed on 04/16/2020.