From the very beginning, George Lucas knew he had a life-force of a young actress on his hands.
When first casting his “Star Wars” films, creator-director Lucas seriously considered such other budding teenage talents as Jodie Foster and Terri Nunn. Yet Carrie Fisher, still barely an adult at the time, had a silly, fun-loving presence that melded well with future co-stars Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford during auditions. She also had a precocious sense of self — a quick mind and a feisty steeliness of spine. In short, Fisher reminded Lucas of his own younger sister.
The combination would prove to be perfect for her role as Princess Leia, the iconic character for which she would become most known.
“Fisher had a wicked sense of humor and a foul mouth — fueled at times by a drug habit she managed to keep mostly hidden — and she had no trouble at all playing a tough-talking princess,” Brian Jay Jones wrote in his new biography, “George Lucas: A Life.”
Everything about Fisher, in fact, seemed irrepressible on set, from her blunt honesty to her physical vitality.
“Lucas didn’t want her looking too aggressively feminine, using gaffer’s tape to hold down her breasts,” wrote Jones, who quoted Fisher’s memories of that time:
“No breasts bounce in space, no jiggling in the Empire,” Fisher snickered, as quoted in Jones’s book. “(Producer) Gary Kurtz had to tell me that. George didn’t have the nerve.” (Later in the original trilogy, of course, Lucas would pivot on that sexuality, costuming Fisher in the infamous chain-mail bikini as a slave of Jabba the Hutt. Fisher would recount personal anecdotes from those scenes in her wonderful one-woman show “Wishful Drinking.”)
Yet as much joy and swagger as Fisher embodied during filming, she was still a green actress who had only recently had a bit role in “Shampoo” (in which her character memorably flirts and sleeps with the considerably older hairdresser played by Warren Beatty). At 19, insecurities plagued her.
“She never felt she was pretty enough, disliked her earmuff hairstyle, couldn’t decide what accent she should be using, and fretted about dropping her prop gun during her swing over a chasm with Hamill — but also worried that if she expressed any displeasure or discomfort, she would be replaced by Jodie Foster or any of the countless other actresses had rejected for the role,” Jones wrote of Fisher, who, though already quite lithe, was told to lose 10 pounds for the role.
As Fisher recently revealed in her memoir “The Princess Diarist,” she found comfort and reassurance in beginning a steamy affair with the then-married Ford (who portrayed Han Solo), who was in his early 30s.
Last year, Fisher and Ford reunited on screen, as estranged parents of a son who’s gone to the Dark Side in the blockbuster smash “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Portraying General Leia, Fisher was again subjected to the double standard of harsher body scrutiny for women, both in Hollywood and on social media.
Yet Fisher owned the occasion, marrying her characteristic winning honesty and beautifully blunt wit with the gravitas of lived-in wisdom. On press tours for the film, she quipped. She championed. And as always, she charmed.
We, in other words, got to fall in love with Carrie Fisher’s crucial attachment to “Star Wars” all over again. She long had a love/hate relationship with the Leia role, yet she spoke often of accepting all the good that the role brought her.
Carrie Fisher died Tuesday in Los Angeles, shortly after a massive heart attack. She was 60.
And she was beloved, by co-stars and fans alike the globe over.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Michael Cavna