I’m on my third glass of ice water—poured by a terribly attentive waiter—in a cordoned-off area at the rear of The Carlyle Restaurant, a moneyed Madison Avenue haunt fit for a Don Draper and Roger Sterling six-martini lunch. The walls are adorned with black and white portraits of bygone rebels, from Bobby Kennedy to Dennis Hopper. Every five minutes or so I lock eyes with Hopper, sending a chill up my spine. Two tables away, a pair of publicists field distressed calls from writers, some in far-off places, whining about the ever-shifting schedule. Yes, Carrie Fisher is running late. And yes, Carrie Fisher is worth the wait.
We’re here, of course, to discuss her role as Princess Leia—now General Leia Organa—in filmmaker J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The film, set 30 years after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi, is the seventh installment of the space opera set in a galaxy far, far away, and the first under the Disney banner. And given the movie’s omertà, with a plot that’s proven more difficult to penetrate than the Death Star—journalists weren’t even allowed to screen the film prior to conducting interviews—we’re relegated to discussing Fisher’s past escapades.
But first, she introduces me to Gary, her cute French bulldog who’s accompanied her on the whirlwind, globetrotting press tour for The Force Awakens. “Here’s Gary,” she says, pointing to him. “Gary is very, very famous.”
Fisher is, simply put, a boss. As the daughter of screen icon Debbie Reynolds, she’s Hollywood royalty, and ever since her debut in Warren Beatty’s Shampoo, she’s lit up the screen in films like The Blues Brothers, Hannah and Her Sisters, The ’Burbs, When Harry Met Sally…, the list goes on. In addition to her acting roles, including the most famous of trilogies, she’s a brilliant writer, penning page-turning novels (Postcards From the Edge) and memoirs (Wishful Drinking), and serving as one of Hollywood’s most prolific script doctors. Fisher’s seen and done it all, and has entered that glorious gives-no-fucks stage of her career that makes chatting with her a true pleasure.
First, I ask her about the rumor that she beat out Meryl Streep for the role of Princess Leia—a question that causes her to scream, “Bullshit!” She laughs. “I’ve never heard that one. But Jodie Foster was up for it… that one I knew the most. Amy Irving and Jodie. And I got it.”
There’s also the rumor that she and co-star Harrison Ford partied with the Monty Python troupe and the Rolling Stones while filming The Empire Strikes Back. The very mention of this causes Fisher to smile widely.
“Yes, that one’s true,” she says. “I was renting Eric Idle’s house for five months, and he was doing Monty Python down in Tunisia, and they had a drink that they would give to the extras to make them more ‘compliant.’ And they called it ‘The Tunisian Death Drink.’”“We had an early call, and Eric called down and said, ‘The Rolling Stones are here!’ and I came down and it was all of them,” she continues. “I called Harrison and said, ‘Get over here! This is ridiculous!’ I wonder how he remembers it. I remember that we never went to sleep, so we weren’t hungover—we were still drunk when we arrived in Cloud City the next day. We don’t really smile a lot in the movie, but there we’re smiling.”
Apparently, Fisher had a really good time while filming Empire—which she says is her favorite Star Wars film by a mile. And she’s made no secret of her past drug use, even going so far as to dispel a rumor via Twitter that she had a “coke nail” while shooting Return of the Jedi.
When I ask her if she went through “a difficult time” while shooting Empire, alluding to her well-publicized battle with drugs, she chuckles. “Actually, no, I didn’t go through a difficult time! I said I did blow a couple of times. That’s not a difficult time!”
She pauses. “Oh god, that will be fun for Disney! It’s a billion years ago, and if I could tell you the truth, you would laugh so hard. And… I can’t. But it was location. Location means everything is permitted. I went without being needed to Norway [on Empire]—that’s how much fun I was having. I was upset that I didn’t get to go to Tunisia for the first one. But I had a good time on the movies.”
Well, she had a good time on the first two movies. The third one, Return of the Jedi, was a nightmare for Fisher, who was subjected to a constant stream of verbal abuse from director Richard Marquand.
“I hated him,” she says, with emphasis. “He fell all over Harrison, but he would yell at me constantly. He yelled at me one day, and I burst into tears, and it felt great because it fucked up the makeup. I thought, ‘Oh, I fucked up your shot? Now you see who really fucked up.’ It took an hour for them to do my makeup again.”
Leia’s looks also changed dramatically from film to film. “I wore that damn white thing for the whole first movie!” Fisher exclaims, adding she preferred the padded outfit she wore in Empire. “I’m in a similar one in [The Force Awakens],” she says. “I call it ‘the gas station attendant look.’ A high-fashion gas station attendant. ‘Will that be regular or… would you like some Force in it?’”
Fisher tells a story of how George Lucas asked her to come out to San Francisco to discuss the script for Return of the Jedi. When she arrived, he pulled out a picture of Leia in that iconic bikini, and she remarked, “No, George, but seriously.”The slave bikini, chosen by Jabba the Hutt, left her vulnerable to the occasional wardrobe malfunction, too. “If I lay like this”—she arches her back flat—“and it doesn’t adhere, it is like plastic, so that is a problem here”—she points to you-know-where—“because if I lay down, it doesn’t go with me. I didn’t inform him, but I always thought that if Boba Fett were of a mind, he could see all the way to Florida.”
Despite the slave bikini’s unwieldiness, Fisher thinks the rumors that Disney may be phasing it out of future merchandise are absurd.“There’s so much bullshit about that,” she says. “There was this thing on Fox News about this father not being able to explain to his daughter what the outfit was. What, that my character was forced to put on that outfit against my will, and I took it off as soon as I could kill the guy who picked out the outfit? I had so much fun killing [Jabba]. They asked me if I wanted my stunt double to kill him, but I wanted to. I sawed his neck off with that chain. I really wanted to kill him.”
Plus, she looked damn good in that bikini. I bring up the famous on-set photo of her and her body double lounging in the bikinis, and she smiles.
“I have serious body dysmorphia issues,” she says, “but I must admit being somewhat proud looking back at the photos.”
There’s also the matter of the kiss—you know, the strange kiss between Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in Empire to make Han jealous. When it was revealed in Jedi that they’re brother and sister, fans were left pondering whether their relationship wasn’t hashed out until the final film in the original trilogy.
“I think so!” answers Fisher. “For us, we weren’t told until far along. I think maybe that kiss wouldn’t have happened—but there’s no tongue! I think the chemistry with Mark does have a more sibling quality to it, though.”
As for the first Star Wars film, 1977’s A New Hope, there exists a famous letter by Sir Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi, written to a friend from the set. In it, he complains about the movie’s dialogue, writing, “…new rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges of pink paper—and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable.”
“None of us knew what we were saying,” she says of Guinness’s complaint. “There was a line in the new one I had to say where I didn’t know what the fuck I was saying. I mention a character, I forget who it was… ‘Tell Langlaw that he has to stop gambling,’ or something. Who?!”
“But it was a great script,” she adds of the first Star Wars. “It was brilliant. Just fuckin’ brilliant. You just saw it, and that’s so rare. When you think it’s a visual medium, then you tend to overlook that you’re saying, ‘Scruffy-looking nerf herder,’ because what the fuck is that?”
I mentioned Fisher’s job as a script doctor earlier—a gig that began with her helping Lucas’s longtime pal Steven Spielberg tweak the screenplay to 1991’s Hook.
“I’m in Hook with George—we’re extras,” she says, “because I rewrote that. That was my first rewrite. We get pulled up in the air kissing. I forget what scene it is. Go look it up somewhere. It’s under ‘weirdness.’”
She also concedes to working as a script doctor on the Star Wars prequels, and says she even helped craft a “short story” to help Guinness get into character on the original film. “George had me come and talk to him. I would help George doing certain things,” she recalls. “He had me write a short story thing for Sir Alec, so I helped him write that, but I wasn’t really writing until I was in my early thirties. George would come and say, ‘Look at this,’ so I would come and help.”
I ask her what plot points she tweaked in the prequels, and she chuckles, giving me a playful nudge. “Oh, no! I can’t play.”
In her memoir Wishful Drinking, Fisher jokes that George Lucas “ruined” her life by casting her as Princess Leia. Of course, judging by her deliciously entertaining press tour for The Force Awakens, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“People want me to say that I’m sick of playing Leia and that it ruined my life,” she says, stroking Gary. “If my life was that easy to ruin, it deserved to be ruined.”