It’s raining hard in Brooklyn on the day we arranged to meet with Luigi Mario. Better known mononymously as “Luigi”, he’s the brother in green and partner in crime to Mario Mario, who tragically died this week at the age of 35. He’s running a little late, but we can’t blame him – the last time he was out in public was for the grand state funeral of his only sibling.
We spot him, about to cross the road opposite the café where we agreed to meet. It’s easy to tell that he’s trying to keep a low profile, with sunglasses, a coat with the collar pulled up, and a plastic bag over his iconic green hat, but it’s not working – the paparazzi are following him like a pack of dogs.
When he enters the café, the customers watch him in silence, whispering unsubtle remarks, pity etched across their faces. He sees us, and grabs the seat opposite.
“It’s-a-me,” he says, wearily – the catchphrase of his departed brother sounding unfamiliar in his moustachioed mouth. “Woo-hoo.”
We begin gently, asking how he’s doing, enquiring about the state of his career. It’s been almost two years since his last solo turn on-screen in Luigi’s Mansion 3, a thrilling game about a haunted hotel.
“I had to sell the mansion, of course,” he says, taking a deep inhale on a cigarette. “I couldn’t get insurance on a place that big, with that many issues.” The hotel trip was supposed to be a respite from the stress of his fame, but it didn’t work out as planned. “I’m still on the medication that [Dr Mario] prescribed me,” he says, taking a small orange bottle from a coat pocket and rattling it.
Right now, he’s taking a break from the limelight, even though he was always in Mario’s shadow. His various obligations and press meetings – other than this one – have been delegated to Paper Luigi. “He’s doing a great job,” Luigi notes, but adds – slightly bitterly – “of course, his brother’s still around.”
I ask about 2013 – the highlight of his career, The Year of Luigi. What was that like for him? And how did it feel to step out of the wings onto centre stage, for once?
“Ah,” he sighs. “It was wonderful. But, at the same time… it was a lot of pressure. After thirty years of being the sidekick, it’s tough to adjust to the fame. And… well.” He trails off for a moment, looking wistfully out of the rain-streaked window. “Let’s just say it increased certain tensions in the family.”
Luigi and Mario launched their career together as the “Mario Bros.”, a title which Luigi is quick to point out comes from their shared second name, although it also happens to be Mario’s first name. Like many sibling-based acts, they had their fall outs – notably their televised fight in 1999, which would later be retconned by Nintendo into the title Super Smash Bros., in an attempt to hide the disagreement between the two brothers.
“I’ve-a always been the Player Two to Mario’s success,” says Luigi, staring into a cup of coffee darker than the bags under his eyes. “You know, I didn’t mind, at first.” But, since the bombshell revelation that Mario was paid twice what Luigi had been for Mario Tennis Aces, the rift between the brothers grew once more. Mario was secretly recorded at the time as saying, “It”s-a my name on the box, and Luigi couldn’t win a single match just like-a he can’t grow a beard.”
In the days following his brother’s untimely death, Luigi hasn’t seen anyone other than at the funeral. “Peach keeps sending cakes,” he says. “Yoshi just leaves a bunch of eggs at the door. But I need to get used to being alone.”
Now that Mario is dead, will Luigi take the helm as the new spokesman of the huge Super Mario franchise? “I don’t see how I could,” he says. “Mario’s face is everywhere. I mean, you wouldn’t ask Squirtle to take over for Pikachu, would you?”
Luigi’s watch beeps, and he finishes his coffee in one gulp. “I have-a to go,” he says, apologetically. “We’re reading the will later, and I imagine there’s going to be a lot of disagreement over who gets all the coins and 1-Ups.”
One last question, then: who is Luigi, without Mario?
He pauses for a long time, deep in thought, before finally settling on an answer.
“I’m-a Luigi,” he says. “Number one.”