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Witwer gets to the very (dark side) heart of ‘Clone Wars’ character

Darth Maul (voiced by Sam Witwer) as seen “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” CartoNetwork.

Darth Maul (voiced by Sam Witwer), as seen on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” on the Cartoon Network.

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Updated: February 26, 2013 6:17AM

Darth Maul is about to become the baddest dude this side of Hoth.

Fans were introduced to the tattooed, horned Sith lord back in “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” but he’s finally a tried-and-true villain in the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (8:30 a.m. Saturdays on Cartoon Network), according to Sam Witwer.

He would know — the “Being Human” star is the man voicing Maul’s madness.

“People’s perspective on this guy is going to shift and they’re gong to have some very complicated feelings about him by the time this arc is done,” says Witwer, a lifelong fan of George Lucas’ universe.

“Darth Maul is going to go from that cool guy to looking at him and going, ‘I’m actually really afraid of this guy and someone has to do something about him.’ ”

Near the end of last season, Witwer was tapped by Clone Wars supervising director Dave Filoni to voice Maul, the former apprentice to Darth Sidious (aka the Emperor from the original Star Wars trilogy) who was presumed dead after Obi-Wan Kenobi sliced him in half with a lightsaber and fell down a long industrial shaft. It turned out Maul got better, but not in the head: His brother Savage Opress (voiced by Clancy Brown) found him on a garbage planet in a state of almost complete insanity, with junk pieced together to form spider-like legs and an obsessive need for vengeance against Kenobi. The debut of the fifth season this fall began Maul and Opress’ plan to build a criminal army to battle Kenobi and the Jedi, but left Opress without a left arm and both in dire straits.

Last week’s episode picked up with Pre Vizsla (Jon Favreau) and the Mandalorian Death Watch finding the two Sith and forming a tenuous alliance to both retake the throne of Mandalore but also become a force in the galactic underworld. The epic team-up of Maul and Vizsla is a bit like evil peanut butter meeting nefarious chocolate.

“When Maul takes command here, he really does have to summon all that training he got from Darth Sidious,” Witwer says. “He’s got to now be the strategic genius and also he has to be diplomatic at times. You’re also going to see different personality traits. He has a little bit more of a twisted sense of humor and sophistication that we perhaps never attributed to the character before.”

What’s challenging from an actor’s point of view, though, is layering underneath all that the mad mental state fans saw him in when he was hiding in a cave like a spider. Maul’s decreasing grasp on reality was shown to express for the first time on screen what the Dark Side of the Force looks like in a character’s not strong enough to filter it.

“Darth Vader is very controlled for most of the time we seen him” in the original “Star Wars” movies, Witwer says. “But what we don’t see is what’s going on underneath the mask and all the madness that that character’s dealing with. This character is trying to sound rational when at his core he is deeply insane. That’s a nice little way to describe all of the villains in “Star Wars”: The more evil and self-centered and greedy they get, the madder they become. Darth Vader and Sidious, they’re not what you would call sane individuals.”

So how does Witwer, a good-natured sort who’s played bad guys on screen before (such as Doomsday in “Smallville”), furnish all that with just his voice?

“You have to go to a very unpleasant place and really just launch from there,” he says. “It’s gotta be unpleasant for you. If it’s not unpleasant for you performing it, then it’s not going to have any teeth when the audience sees it. It’s just layers of bad, bad stuff, man!”

Witwer’s times in the recording booth are usually pretty intense for him as he tends to physically embody Maul and his movements while performing.

“If you are indeed trying to embody a guy who is consumed by all the negative emotions that could ever exist in the human psyche — the Dark Side of the Force as it were — then, yes, you need to physically embody that so that the audience feels the effect that that’s having on the character.”

Everybody, though, should be prepared for a strong emotional reaction with what’s coming for Maul, both adults and children.

“I think we’re really going to scare them to be honest, and I also don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing,” Witwer, 35, says. “There are a lot of psychologists out there who will say that scaring kids every now and then is a good thing. You’re preparing them for the real world.”

Gannett News Service

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