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How these Star Wars actors found out they were cast

Over 40 years ago in this very galaxy, the original Star Wars moved the limits of what movies could achieve, made space cool again, and changed the lives of its three main stars forever. 

Back in 1976, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were just three actors taking each job as it came — even if that job involved carpentry rather than acting, in Ford's case. One by one, they happened upon this kooky space fantasy, masterminded by a bearded visionary named George Lucas, who had an idea in his head and a twinkle in his eye that could've been genius or insanity. A little over one year later, Star Wars exploded with the force of a Death Star, staying in cinemas for over 12 months and changing how future films were released. 

Suddenly, the three stars had the hottest jobs in Hollywood, especially since they'd already signed up for two more sequels. And today, every actor understands the significance of being cast in a Star Wars movie, whether or not they spent their childhood wielding imaginary lightsabers (with self-generated sound effects). From the original trilogy to the modern-day movies, here's how these Star Wars actors found out they'd been invited to the galaxy far, far away.

Mark Hamill wasn't rooming with Robert Englund when he was cast

The story of Mark Hamill's casting as Luke Skywalker is often made out to be a typical Hollywood fairy tale, where the penniless actor is on the verge of giving up on his dreams of stardom, when one audition lands him the role of a lifetime.

Luke Skywalker definitely was the role of a lifetime, but Hamill was no penniless actor. He's used his highly entertaining Twitter account to correct the myth that he was sleeping on his friend Robert Englund's couch (that's Freddy Kruger, by the way) when Englund told him to try for the role. In fact, Hamill not only had his own one-bedroom apartment in Malibu at the time, but his agent had already set up an audition. 

Even back in 1977, he was pointing out how mundane the process really was, saying in one interview, "I wish I had an adorable anecdote to tell you, that I was in a restaurant and George Lucas, the director, was having a meal, and he leaped up and said, 'There's Luke Skywalker!' No, unfortunately I auditioned like everybody else." That audition process started in 1975, as a joint casting call with Brian De Palma's Carrie. Hamill was called back for a screen test with Harrison Ford in 1976, and footage of this fortuitous meeting recently resurfaced on Twitter, with commentary from Hamill.

Harrison Ford auditioned for Star Wars by accident

Harrison Ford's Star Wars story is closer to that aforementioned fairy tale. In 1975, when casting began, Ford hadn't appeared in a film with a theatrical release since Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation in 1974. He'd started working as a carpenter to make extra money, and it was while he was fixing up Coppola's office that he ran into George Lucas, who'd directed Ford in 1973's American Graffiti.

Neither thought much about the reunion until Ford's friend, Fred Roos — who happened to be the casting agent helping Lucas find his Star Wars heroes — recommended Ford stand in as Han Solo with actors auditioning for other parts. According to Ford, he read with over 100 hopefuls, before being told that he was on the shortlist. Lucas' version mostly backs this up. As the director put it, "I said, 'We're short one Han Solo ... Harrison, you want to do this, you want to stand in, read some parts against these other parts so we can get through this thing?' And he said yeah, and he started reading, and he read them better than anyone else did." 

Ford was characteristically matter-of-fact about landing the job, saying, "They asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said, 'Sure, why not?'"

Carrie Fisher danced in the rain when she found out about Leia

While Hamill and Ford were finding work but no name recognition, Carrie Fisher had the name recognition but not much work. Her parents, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, had been the Hollywood golden couple and then the Hollywood scandal, thanks to Eddie's affair with Elizabeth Taylor. Fisher had made a brief appearance in Shampoo in 1975, and at the end of that year, while on Christmas break from drama school, she auditioned for Lucas and Carrie director, Brian De Palma.

In her memoir, The Princess Diarist, Fisher recalled that meeting and being called back to read with Ford. When her agent called to tell her she'd got the part, Fisher wrote, "He laughed, then I laughed and dropped the phone and ran out into the front yard and into the street. It was raining. It didn't rain in L.A. It was raining in L.A. and I was Princess Leia." As happy as she was to become Princess Leia, the role came with drawbacks. In a later interview, Fisher said that she was told to lose 10 pounds before shooting began the following spring, and she lived in dread of being replaced. She also revealed that she'd have preferred to play Han Solo, saying, "That's the best character."

Natalie Portman had no idea what Star Wars was

One person who didn't get the hype around the original Star Wars trilogy was Natalie Portman, who'd yet to turn two years old when Return of the Jedi was released. She was only 14 when she was offered the role of Queen Amidala in the first prequel, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but she'd already found critical acclaim at 13, as a trainee hitman in Léon: The Professional and then in 1995's Heat.

In press for The Phantom Menace, Portman said she'd never seen the other films, and, "I definitely didn't actively pursue this role at all. But I just met with the casting director, like on any other film. ... I met George and talked to him, and then I got the part." Far from leaping at the chance, the famously thoughtful Portman noted, "I was very excited about it, at the prospect of doing this film when they first offered it to me. But I sat down for a while and thought about it. It took me a few weeks to decide about doing this film, because it's a huge commitment to sign on for three films when you're 14, which really means you're giving up 10 years of your life and dedicating it to acting, and that's a hard decision to make when you're that young." That's some Yoda-level wisdom, right there.

Samuel L. Jackson was down to play anything

Like Harrison Ford, Samuel L. Jackson didn't entirely know what he was getting himself into when he met with George Lucas, but as a long-time Star Wars fanboy, he was totally on board. The two first got together after Jackson went on a talk show and mentioned that he'd like to work with Lucas. And soon after, Lucas' people got in touch and arranged a meeting. As Jackson put it, "I went to his house, and he hadn't really completed the script, and he said, 'I don't really know what you'd do in it.' And I'm like, 'Look. Just make me a stormtrooper. I just want to run across the screen, nobody even needs to know.'" 

A few months later, Jackson said he got a call that Lucas was shooting in London, and he flew out without even having seen a script. It was only when he arrived at the costume fitting and was handed the iconic robes that he learned that he was going to be playing a Jedi. He also got to choose his own lightsaber handle, which the prop department inscribed with BMF (er, here's why.) Jackson later said that despite his nasty fate in Revenge of the Sith, he'd happily make more Star Wars movies.

The Force told Daisy Ridley she would be cast in Star Wars

Even before being cast as a Force-wielding heroine, Daisy Ridley was in touch with something supernatural. She told the Happy Sad Confused podcast, "I was walking down the street with ... my friends, who I'd met on a shoot, and one of them went, 'Apparently they're doing a new Star Wars film.' And literally, my whole body went tingly, and I was like, 'I think I'm going to get a part in this film.' I'm not even kidding. This was early in the year. My audition was in August. ... But I literally, that day, I was like, I just think I'm going to get a part in this film."

Psychic revelations notwithstanding, it still took five auditions with director J.J. Abrams for Ridley to land the role of Rey, starting in The Force Awakens. As for when she landed the part, Ridley told Graham Norton that she was outside a London theater when she realized she had a voicemail from Abrams, so she frantically started trying to call the director, who was in the U.S. "I finally got through ... and he was like, 'Yeah, yeah, you're going to be in Star Wars.'" However, Ridley didn't get to celebrate right away. As she told Jimmy Kimmel in 2015, "[I] then had to go back in to the second half [of the play] and not tell the guy I was with." 

John Boyega drained his bank account to meet J.J. Abrams

Before he made six figures for The Force Awakens alone, John Boyega was best known for indie alien thriller Attack the Block, and his bank account reflected his struggles. In 2018, Boyega told an interviewer that immediately after he was cast as Finn, he was stranded in Central London.  As he explained, "J.J. asked me to travel to Mayfair, and I was in Catford, which is like an hour away." So Boyega hopped in a cab and used everything on his debit card to meet with the director. "So I went into Central London, found out I got the part, and had no way of coming back."

Once he was home, Boyega said his immediate emotion was relief. As he explained, "I was looking forward to getting a good night's sleep where I wasn't contemplating whether my life would change or not. ... So when J.J. offered me the part, I just had gone through seven months of auditions and meetings and back-to-back gradual stress, so it was good to have a reward for the hard work." However, not everyone at home fully grasped the importance of the moment. Boyega recalled that his dad's response to the news of his casting was, "That is fantastic, I knew it! What is Star Wars?"

Abrams wooed Oscar Isaac over coffee in Paris

Before he was cast in Star Wars, Oscar Isaac was an indie darling who'd appeared in low budget movies that performed well with critics and at the box office. For example, he showed up in Drive and Ex Machina, and he was the lead in the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. However, when Isaac was offered the opportunity to star in The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams had to convince him to sign up for the Star Wars role.

Abrams brought Isaac to Paris in 2014 for a meeting at old school coffee shop/celebrity hangout Café de Flore. And while they were there, Abrams revealed a lot of key details. As Isaac explained to Vulture, "He basically told me the whole thing, the whole story. It was incredibly exciting just to be called in and told that. It was awesome." 

However, Isaac was less enthusiastic about playing the skilled yet rebellious pilot Poe Dameron, telling GQ, "I didn't know if I could make it interesting." After a few days thinking it over, he signed up, but he wasn't necessarily fulfilled by the role, saying, "I actually felt the most green and insecure that I had in a long time. ... It felt weird and like I was not being creative." Of course, it wasn't enough to put him off major franchises, as in 2016, he played the eponymous villain in X-Men: Apocalypse.

The prospect of fame almost scared off Domhnall Gleeson

Before joining the Star Wars universe, Domhnall Gleeson, had already had a minor role in another box office-busting franchise. He played the oldest Weasley brother, Bill, in the final two installments of the Harry Potter series. But how did he move from one franchise to another?

Well, Gleeson learned that he'd landed the role of General Hux the day before the table-read that was shared via photo in April 2014, showing the cast, writer, director, producers, and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. In January 2016, shortly after The Force Awakens came out, Gleeson discussed signing up for Star Wars on a podcast, saying that he met with J.J. Abrams and writer Lawrence Kasdan, and they described Hux as someone who "wanted power, and he was intent on getting it, that he had a cool speech." Evidently, that pitch totally convinced Gleeson, as he explained, "You want to do stuff that's different to what you've done before, and you want to be part of things which are really good, and it felt like it had a really good chance of being really good."

However, he had some misgivings about the fame side of things, saying, "Fame is the end goal for a lot of people, but it is not mine. I worried that the accompanying fame would get in the way of how I live my life. ... It got a little crazy for a couple of months ... and then it died down."

Adam Driver went from hipsters to hyperspace

Adam Driver was working on HBO's Girls, the first project that brought his name to critics' attention, when he got the call about Star Wars. As Driver told Jimmy Kimmel, "It was the last day of the second season of Girls, and I got a call. 'Do you wanna meet J.J. and talk about Star Wars?' Yeah, I would!"

Driver clarified the casting process on The Howard Stern Show in 2016, specifically that he didn't audition. "I just went out and met J.J., we did a kind of meet-and-greet thing. ... He couldn't tell me really anything about the part either. At that point it was just to look at me. ... It wasn't until about six months after [that Driver confirmed he'd take the part] because then it was working out the schedule with Girls, and then I wanted to think about it for a bit." 

Driver said that all that waiting meant it took a while for it to hit him that he wasn't just preparing for any old film but a Star Wars film. He told Mario Lopez, "It wasn't really until I walked in for the first costume fitting ... surrounded by the design for Han and Leia and all the new characters and stormtroopers — the new, updated version of them. And that was the first time that I was like, 'Oh my god, this is Star Wars.'"

It became real for Gwendoline Christie when she put on the armor

While Natalie Portman and Domhnall Gleeson both confessed to not being huge Star Wars fans before taking their roles in the franchise, Gwendoline Christie was all in on the series before they were even casting The Force Awakens. Appearing on Good Morning America in 2017, she said, "I'd wanted to be in Star Wars my whole life. I'd been a fan since I was six years old, when I first saw the films. ... And then when I heard that this was coming back, I was cheering along with the rest of the world. ... I really wanted to be a part of it." 

The Game of Thrones actress said she pestered her representatives constantly. "I was relentless about it," she explained. "And then I was very lucky to hear that they were interested. And then it was a very slow process." Like Adam Driver and Samuel L. Jackson, Christie said that it really hit her that she'd made it when she got to put on Captain Phasma's metal armor and cape. Of course, pre-Phasma, her favorite character was Leia, and she also majorly fangirled over Carrie Fisher. As Christie put it, "She's different. She's unafraid, she's smart, she's brave, she's bold, she's unashamedly herself, she's hilarious."

Felicity Jones immediately hit the gym after she was cast in Star Wars

Felicity Jones wasn't built for battle when she was cast as Rogue One's street smart rebel Jyn Erso. She was most famous for playing Jane Hawking in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, which had earned her an Oscar nomination but no fighting skills. "My immediate reaction was that I have to do a h**l of a lot of fitness and fight training in order to play this incredible leading character," she told The Hollywood Reporter. And indeed, she went on to learn kung fu.

Jones credits her agent with introducing her to the role, telling People, "My agent said there's a fantastic leading female role in the upcoming Star Wars that I think you're really going to love. That was my first encounter with Jyn." In typical top secret Star Wars fashion, Jones met Rogue One director Gareth Edwards at 5:30 AM to discuss the project, and Jones said she knew she had to take the part when she read the script. As she put it, "It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences when you read a role like that. I just was like, I have to do this."

Even after taking the role, it took a little while for the enormity of it all to sink in. However, Jones loved working on the film, even the intense battle sequences. As the actress explained, "There is much joy in being part of it."

Kelly Marie Tran found out she'd been cast during her lunch break

Before she landed the role of Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, Kelly Marie Tran was working full-time in a temp agency by day, occasionally fitting in auditions when they came up, and preparing for those auditions or writing comedy sketches by night. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she admitted it was wearing her down. "When I turned 25," she said, "I had been at it for some years and I was struggling to pay my bills. I was tired. ... I would get up at 5 AM and then I wouldn't be home until 11 PM. The days were like that for years." 

The Star Wars auditions took five months, which meant that quitting her day job wasn't an option. In fact, on the fateful day that she learned she'd been cast in the film, she met with director Rian Johnson on her lunch break. And of course, once she found out that she had the part, she had to keep it a secret. "So I went back to work," Tran explained, "and answered phones and answered emails, like nothing happened. It was the most bizarre experience. Inside I was like, 'Ugh! Crazy!'"

Laura Dern couldn't handle meeting C-3PO

The cast's biggest Star Wars nerd, Laura Dern (aka Vice Admiral Holdo) told Jimmy Kimmel that being in Star Wars was "the dream of a lifetime," since it was the first movie she'd ever lined up to see. 

However, when director Rian Johnson pitched Dern the idea, she told Vanity Fair that it didn't quite register at first. "Rian Johnson invited me to lunch to talk about a role in a movie. He started talking about this thing he was writing ... and he was just like, 'In space, when everything is so overwhelming, and you have to take command of your ship.'" And for a while, Dern thought he was speaking metaphorically about her character, until Johnson finally admitted that he'd called her in to talk about Star Wars.

Once she got to set, Dern felt the full, ahem, force. "I got to set ... and they called action, and I was staring at C-3PO. And I started to cry. ... It was so shocking, because we've all pretended in our rooms, since six, to have a lightsaber — so it's magic." A similar thing happened when she met Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). When the big guy hugged her, she actually started to weep.