Interview: The Wizard's Luke Edwards
Posted by Damien McFerran
A Nintendo icon talks exclusively about starring in the cult classic that defined a generation of gamers
Although critics will tell you that The Wizard was little more than a brazen Nintendo advertisement masquerading as a movie and box office statistics will suggest it was a dismal commercial failure, there are legions of devoted fans that will argue just as passionately that it's a cult classic and one of the defining moments of their childhoods.
We're happy to be part of that legion here at Nintendo Life, as our in-depth look at the production of the movie no doubt illustrates. Recently we were lucky enough to speak to Luke Edwards — better known to Wizard fans as Jimmy Woods — about his involvement with the film, what he's up to now and whether or not he's still as deadly with a joypad twenty years since winning Video Armageddon.
Nintendo Life: What acting work had you done prior to working on The Wizard?
Luke Edwards: The Wizard was one of my very first jobs. I did some commercials and then a few very small TV roles, including playing a very young Johnny Depp in 21 Jump Street. Then I got quite a big break when I was cast as a young Steven Stayner for the mini-series I Know My First Name Is Steven. That piece got great recognition and it was actually a very well made piece of work, especially for a TV mini-series. To this day I still get recognized for that role, which is surprising as it was so long ago and I was so young. I think it affected people deeply.
NL: Fred Savage was something of a hot property when the The Wizard was produced. Was it daunting to work with such a well-known face at such a young age?
LE: I have to admit that at that time I was completely oblivious to his level of success and fame, which was probably for the best. I've always been the type of person who doesn't necessarily pay a lot of attention to who is doing really well in the industry. I have my own favourite shows and interests, so if he were for instance voicing one of the roles on The Simpsons, I would've known exactly who he was and been very impressed — starstruck, even. As it turned out, I didn't watch The Wonder Years at 8 years old — I think I was primarily concerned with my G.I.Joes!
NL: Although your character doesn't say much during the film, director Todd Holland has praised the depth and emotion of your performance. Was it easy to get your head around such a complex and testing role at such a young age?
LE: That's sort of a difficult question to answer; my memories of that time are spotty at best. I remember always having an ability to access emotion easily, which is still the case. I've always been the very sensitive type, which serves me in my pursuits as an actor but then of course doesn't really serve me very well in lots of other hard life experiences. It's always a trade off, I guess.
As far as that specific character, he was a very introverted type, which I naturally was as a child. So in a lot of ways I didn't have to work too hard to inhabit that person. Also, I have only one sibling, my sister Malaika, whom I'm very close to and who is incredibly important to me, so I had some real life connection to draw from.
As with so many film and TV roles that come around, I think you either are that person or you're not. There's so much to be said for hard work, talent and flexibility as an actor, but most of the time the roles that come your way do so because of luck. You just happened to be the right person in the right place. I suppose I just happened to 'be' Jimmy Woods in 1988.
NL: This was one of the last films Christian Slater did before he really hit the big time. What was it like working him and Beau Bridges, another Hollywood legend? Were you aware of the stature of the people you were working with at the time?
LE: Again, I was pretty oblivious to who anyone really was. Christian and Beau were both so nice to me and my mom; I really only knew them as friends. You have to remember also that I didn't have a ton of material with the both of them. The great majority of my time on set was spent with Fred and with Jenny, so I got to know them pretty well.
A side note; one of my favourite movies right after that job was Heathers, which I was probably too young to be watching but Christian was so good in that movie, and for me that's the character and performance that I'll always remember him for. So I guess I was sort of introduced to actors on the job and then after began to appreciate their body of work.
NL: Were you a fan of video games when you did the film?
LE: Definitely! I had just recently got my NES and I was an avid gamer. One of the great bonuses was hanging around shooting in arcades all day. Whenever I wasn't in school or shooting, I was rolling around playing all these arcade games which were opened up so I could basically rack up as many credits as I wanted. I spent HOURS on those games having the best time. Then we would go shoot out in the middle of the desert! Boo.
NL: Director Todd Holland has stated that he got into all kinds of trouble with the studio over the film, and had to re-write the ending the night before it was filmed. What are your memories of recording that emotional scene at the conclusion of the movie?
LE: I do remember having the material for the scene relayed to us right before shooting. That was interesting as usually you receive your material long before it's time to perform. I recall a sort of hectic atmosphere for the shooting of that scene, but it came off I think. For me, Beau really made it work. He brought some honesty to that moment and I've always enjoyed watching that.
NL: Holland said the same himself! Do you recall any other issues during production?
LE: Not really. I don't want to say too much about it, but Fred Savage at that time was a very big deal — and he knew it. It was wonderful to have Jenny there for support.
NL. What are your fondest memories connected with The Wizard?
LE: A lot of wonderful memories. It was great fun to work on. The highlights definitely include forming a close friendship with Jenny, and Fred's brother Ben. Getting to play a lot of awesome video games and shooting on the back-lot at Universal, that was cool.
NL. Did you get any freebies or perks from Nintendo as a result of your involvement with the movie?
LE: Multiple times I was promised a copy of Super Mario 3 by the producers of the film. I don't want to name any names, but that copy of Super Mario 3 never arrived. Being a big Nintendo and Mario fan, I was not happy about that turn of events!
NL: What’s it like being connected with a film that clearly has a special place in the hearts of so many people worldwide?
LE: It's really wonderful that it has the meaning it does for people. Overall, it was seen as a failure, which was difficult for me to understand at the time, and of course this has a profound effect on your professional career. To think about how popular gaming is now and then consider the minimal amount of attention the film received and money it made in that era is a bit confusing; frustrating even. But in the end if the film affected people and was meaningful in their lives, then there is definitely an artistic satisfaction to be felt there.
It's been interesting walking through life and every so often you meet someone for whom the film was a big part of their childhood and you then get to see their excitement and nostalgia when talking about it — that feels good. We were a part of peoples' lives from afar.
NL: You've been busy since appearing in The Wizard. Can you tell us a little about your work since then?
LE: I've been on the actor grind pretty steady my whole life since then. I've been fortunate to get some really great jobs in my time but I'm always hungry for more. In addition to that, I also coach actors in Los Angeles for their auditions and teach a few classes here and there.
Most recently my passion has been producing and educating myself on the work that goes on behind the camera. I'd really like to get to the point that I can arrive on set and feel like I can do any job. Also there's the draw of creating content that you find really interesting and creating great roles for yourself and others. I have so many great friends from years of being around the industry, my aim is to create jobs for people whose talent I'm very familiar with but who aren't yet getting the recognition they deserve.
NL: Have you been in contact with any of the Wizard cast or crew in recent years? There have been a few special showings of the film recently.
LE: Those events are pretty much the extent of the contact I've had. There was a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse down in Austin, and Fred and Todd came out to that. It was a great time and I hadn't seen either of those guys in so long. Todd is such a wonderful guy; he was great to work for then and he's just as kind and generous now. He's paid me some of the most meaningful compliments I've ever received.
I ran into Jenny probably ten years ago now and it was a very brief interaction as we were both at a house party (it might have been her house) and she had social obligations and I was dead drunk. I hope to see her and hang with her again at some point down the road. Jenny was so wonderful to me during production, so it would be great to catch up.
NL: The Wizard has a famous cameo appearance from the former Spider-Man Toby Maguire. Do you recall having any contact with him during production?
LE: None whatsoever. I was as surprised as anyone when I was told that he had a part in the film. I had to go back and watch it again to investigate and sure as hell, there's little Spider-Man.
NL. Jenny Lewis has gone on to become something of a musical legend in the band Rilo Kiley, and Fred Savage is now directing movies and TV shows. However, not everyone involved with the production has gone on to forge bright careers. Were you aware that Jackey Vinson — who played the villain Lucas Barton — is now a convicted sex offender?
LE: I was not aware of that until now. Bit weird I guess. He was always very nice on set.
NL. What can we look forward to seeing you in soon?
LE: I'm staying very busy. Lately my work has been in producing. I'm developing some film projects and until money becomes available for those, building my experience producing on a number of web shows. They're still in various stages of production, but very soon I'll have three or four new shows coming up. Some of them I'm acting in and some I'm just producing.
NL. Do you still play video games?
LE: I do indeed, and I'm still quite good! It's funny, my friends still call me 'The Wizard' from time to time because of my ability to pick up a game I've never played before and whup their asses at it!
We'd like to offer our thanks to Luke for giving up his valuable time to take part in this interview.