Carrie Fisher, best known for for her iconic role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga, has died. Below is an excerpt from Star Wars FAQ (Mark Clark) and how Carrie was chosen for the role.
Even before George Lucas had completed his Star Wars screenplay he was faced with finding actors to portray his still-evolving characters. Auditions began in late August 1975, while Lucas was finishing the fourth draft of the script. While not quite as excruciating a process as writing the films (see Chapter 4), casting soon became another protracted ordeal – both Lucas and for the actors under consideration for major roles.
Lucas wanted to hire young, unknown performers for the picture’s leading roles, as he had for American Graffiti. This was in part a cost-containment strategy, but he also believed that actors not already associated with other characters would be more effective in the fantasy context of Star Wars. It was one thing to ask viewers to accept Wookiees, lightsabers, and the Force, but something else again to ask viewers to accept someone like, say, Ron Howard as Luke Skywalker. To assist with the talent search, Lucas again relied on casting director Fred Roos, who had served marvelously on Graffiti. At the beginning of the process, Lucas, Roos, and several assistants worked twelve hour days, seeing as many as 250 actors per day. After three grueling weeks of this, to save time and money, Lucas joined forces with another young director, Brian De Palma, who was looking for a group of young unknowns to star in his film Carrie (1976). Lucas and De Palma took the unusual step of hosting joint auditions. Hundreds more actors were invited to come in and try out for both films. Lucas’ demeanor during the process was so low-key that some of the would-be cast member mistook him for De Palma’s assistant.
Nevertheless Lucas had definite ideas about what he wanted and placed a premium on chemistry between his leads. During callbacks (without De Palma), he screen-tested actors as ensembles to see how various would-be Leias, Lukes, and Hanes worked in concert with one another. Early on, Lucas wanted to hire legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune to play Ben Kenobi, but Mifune declined. “If I’d gotten Mifune, I would’ve used a Japanese princess, and then I would have probably cast a black Han Solo,” said Lucas in J. W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars. One of the trios in contention for the leading roles featured newcomer Will Seltzer as Luke, former Penthouse centerfold Terri Nunn as Leia, and a young Christopher Walken as Han.
Jodie Foster was given serious consideration as Princess Leia. She was screen-tested, but not hired because she was only thirteen years old at the time, and casting a minor would introduce restrictions on the shooting schedule. (De Palma declined to cast her in Carrie for the same reason.) Other performers in the running for major roles included John Travolta, Am Irving (both eventually hired for Carrie), Nick Nole, Tommy Lee Jones, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (later “Boom Boom” Washington on Welcome Back Kotter) – a potential Hans Solo. Ultimately, of course, Lucas settled on Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carri Fisher for leads; a pair of distinguished British actors for key supporting parts; and four performers with specialized talents (and physiques) for the remainder of the primary cast.
None of their lives would ever be the same.
Roos also suggested that Lucas consider Carrie Fisher for the role of Princess Leia. Fisher, born October 21, 1956, in Beverly Hills, was Hollywood royalty herself – the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds. Her parents divorced when Fisher was two (Eddie left Debbie to marry Elizabeth Taylor). Fisher appeared alongside her mother in the promotional short “A Visit with Debbie Reynolds” (1959) and in the TV movie Debbie Reynolds and the Sound of Children (1969). Beginning at age twelve, she worked in her mother’s Las Vegas revue, and at sixteen she and her mother appeared together in the Broadway revival of the musical Irene (1972). Prior to Star Wars, Fisher had made just a single screen appearance, but it was an unforgettable one – as Lorna, a precocious teenager who beds Warren Beatty (minutes before her mother does the same) in director Hal Ashby’s sex farce Shampoo (1975). Lucas liked that Fisher could believably play a bossy, intimidating, character yet still seem warm and likable. Despite concerns over the actress’ weight, he cast her as Leia, paying her $750 per week. With Star Wars, Fisher would finally step out of her mother’s shadow.
Star Wars FAQ tells a story as thrilling and action-packed as the movies themselves, with bold characters facing apparently insurmountable odds, full of frantic chases, narrow escapes, daring victories, and tragic setbacks, culminating in an unlikely triumph that changed the course of the galaxy – or at least of Hollywood.