For a whole group of people — most of whom are probably young and female — Matt Lanter is the hot young star of the CW’s soapy Monday night series 90210, playing tortured bad boy Liam. For a whole other audience, he’s the voice of Anakin Skywalker — the young, headstrong Jedi who will one day turn into the evil Darth Vader — in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, now in its third season airing Fridays on Cartoon Network. (The second season comes out on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow.) Disparate roles and fan bases indeed, but Lanter feels blessed being a part of both. I spoke with the 27-year-old actor about his roles on both series and his place in the Star Wars universe, so read below for our conversation and check out some behind-the-scenes video of Lanter as Anakin (and also click here for a featurette clip from the new Clone Wars Blu-ray featuring supervising director Dave Filoni).
Photos courtesy of Lucasfilm, The CW
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What’s your secret in scheduling work on both series? Do you do Star Wars in your off 90210 hours?
Well, I have the help of my manager, who runs my schedule for me, or else I would go insane. I’m contracted on the show, so any time we get dates to record Star Wars, we will take those dates to the show and ask if I could have the afternoon or the day off from 90210. Somehow we seem to make it all work.
You’re a pretty young guy. Growing up, were you first introduced to the Star Wars prequels or the original trilogy?
When I was 13, 14, I went and rented a couple of the prequels, because those were the newest ones out. That’s what I had seen commercials for. It really wasn’t until after booking this job that I watched all of them and really understood how it all connected and how it all pieced together. I am a new fan, I guess, within the last several years. I’m a hardcore fan now. [Laughs]
Don’t you have to be? That seems like it could be a George Lucas requirement.
You kinda do have to be. You don’t ever want to get stumped at a Star Wars convention by some random kids or something coming up and saying, “Well, when Luke was on Hoth…,” and then you have no idea. You have to be on your game. [Laughs]
Three seasons in, what do you still find fun about voicing Anakin?
Everything about it is still fun for me. They’re like these little 22-minute movies, so it’s really, really cool to be able to see it firsthand first before anyone else does. And then you have the process of the actual voice recording, and we always have fun. The cast gets along so well and Dave is such a great guy and such a talented supervising director. He knows exactly what he wants and he’s a Star Wars super-fan, so we’re always in good hands. Everyone is so passionate about the project, from the cast to the animators and everyone at Lucasfilm, and it comes straight from George. We all understand how huge this is. We are making Star Wars history — it’s every bit as important as the films and filling in gaps. And then on to the fans and signings and Star Wars conventions, I actually love doing that stuff. It’s fun to get out there and celebrate Star Wars with everyone else and be a fan and geek out on it for a bit, and you get to hear the reaction to our work live and in person. As a purely selfish thing, it’s really satisfying and validating to hear and talk to people who like it so much and to see the Clone Wars influence on the Star Wars world.
Anakin has always been slightly tortured, but The Clone Wars finds him more heroic than anything. Everyone knows the path he eventually goes down, though. Does the Dark Side ever slip into your performance, to show shades of the Anakin who will come later?
We are very conscious of that. Dave loves to throw in those dark moments, and so do I. I think it’s fun. It helps connect everybody. Some people think it’s just for kids — I happen to think the show is for everybody. Those moments like that really help to validate that it is Star Wars and it is for adults. It’s happening a lot more and more as the seasons go on. But as far as playing that as a line-by-line performance for me, I’m not. Anakin’s not thinking about that either. He doesn’t know that he’s going to do that. We take those moments and we do them, and Anakin becomes dark in those moments, but for the most part, he’s still a fun guy who’s charming and witty.
Who is your favorite Star Wars character other than Anakin?
I like Han Solo a lot. He’s just so charismatic and he’s just like a guy’s guy. Other than Han, I like R2-D2. [Laughs] He’s a best friend, like a good dog.
What similarities have you found between Anakin and Liam?
Liam and Anakin both have their dark moments, that’s for sure. They both have grown up and been raised with some bad things happening. They both have trouble with their parents. In some ways, they’re similar. I feel like hardcore Star Wars fans would hate me for even trying to compare a 90210 character to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, but just because you’re asking me, I’ll do it. [Laughs] Of course, they do have their brooding dark sides, but both of them actually have good hearts and they intend on doing the right thing and they want to do the right thing. Even as Anakin is turning into Darth Vader, he believes he’s doing the right thing. He believes the Republic has gone corrupt and he is on the right path.
Are any of your 90210 co-stars Star Wars fans? Do any of them geek out because you’re Anakin on TV?
I can talk to a few of them. Tristan Wilds and Michael Steger think it’s pretty cool. AnnaLynne McCord is a big Star Wars geek. In fact, I keep meaning to get her a Star Wars shirt. She grew up on Star Wars and is a huge fan of Han Solo — I’ve seen a particular shirt I need to get, a blue shirt with Han Solo on it — and I’ve got to get that for her.
When you go to conventions, do you find that you’ve converted 90210 fans to Star Wars, or Star Wars aficionados to 90210?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve experienced that at signings and stuff, but I have a Twitter that’s open to fans. It’s actually me tweeting and I get a lot of fan reaction there too. I know there are at least a group of fans out there who are fans of both and have watched 90210 because they knew my voice and knew me as Anakin, and vice versa. It’s kind of cool that I’m spanning two different types of fans.
Have you been able to get more into “geek” stuff with your Star Wars experience?
Even before Star Wars, I leaned toward geeky anyway. I’m a huge fan of electronics and a big tech nerd. I’ve got tech and gadget websites that I visit daily, and this is all before Star Wars. Star Wars really appeals to that side of me, and I’m just a fan of sci-fi in general. Always have been. My dad’s a big fan, so I think I get that from him. I’m into the old Twilight Zones that play on Nick at Nite and all that stuff, so Star Wars fits right in with me. It’s not a stretch for me to be a fan at all.
Have you been given the official R2-D2 Droid phone?
No, I don’t have one yet. I have an iPhone. Maybe I should ask somebody for it. I saw Dave tweeted a picture, so I think he’s got one. I gotta tell you, though, I do have The Imperial March as my ringtone.
When that goes off on the 90210 set, does anyone give you any grief?
No, because there are so many Star Wars fans out there, you wouldn’t even know it. People who aren’t super-geeks, they still enjoy Star Wars. So when I come to set wearing my Stormtrooper or Boba Fett hoodie, it usually strikes up a conversation, like ‘Oh yeah, Boba Fett is one of my favorite characters!” I don’t get grief at all. I think there’s a perception that you have to be geeky or nerdy to like Star Wars, and I don’t think that’s it at all actually. It’s very mainstream. We see it with all these really cool clothing lines, like the Marc Ecko Cut & Sew collection and the Adidas shoes. Anybody would like them. It’s not a geeky thing anymore.