THE BATMAN You Don't Know Yet: Roger Craig Smith on Arkham Origins' Big Ambitions
Batman: Arkham Origins
He’s Batman. He’s Captain America. He’s in a Disney movie. And you probably have no idea who he is (but frankly, he likes it that way).
To say it’s been a good year for Roger Craig Smith would be a considerable understatement. The voice actor, who has worked regularly in video games and animation for the last seven years, already has famous characters like Ezio Auditore from the Assassin’s Creed series, Sonic the Hedgehog, and supporting characters from X-Men’s Forge to Resident Evil’s Chris Redfield on his résumé, but it’s hard to hold those up against two of the most famous superheroes in the world.
We caught up with Smith in an extensive interview covering his work as Batman in Batman: Arkham Origins, a game where he has to fill the mighty shoes of Kevin Conroy, as the newest Captain America on Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, and even about why being in Disney’s Planes is an absolute dream come true. Starting with part one, Roger Craig Smith tells us what it’s like to be the Caped Crusader, and why he doesn’t like doing “the voice” outside of the recording booth.
Newsarama: Roger, I got to see you up on stage at the Arkham Origins panel during Comic-Con, but didn’t get a chance to say hello.
Roger Craig Smith: Oh really? That was crazy. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked out onto that stage. It was a fun sea of people that were there.
Nrama: Yeah, you guys managed to pack one of the larger rooms at Comic-Con! What was that experience like for you?
Smith: You know, I keep using the word “surreal” and I’m overusing it I think, but given everything that’s going on recently in my life, it’s a very apropos word. It was crazy. If anything, I didn’t want to look out too many times because if I did I’d start to get a little nervous. When I brought the water bottle up to my lips I realized “oh man, my hand is shaking! I hope nobody sees this!” (laughs)
It’s incredible, one of the luckiest aspects of my job is that I am Joe Blow VO guy, but I get the chance to be a part of something that is so beloved by so many people, like a character like Batman. You take a second and you look at how incredibly popular this character is, and how passionate the fanbase is for this content. It’s testimony to the work that DC and WB Games Montreal are doing with this game, and what was done with the previous ones in the series. To be a part of something that enormous is, like I said, surreal.
Nrama: Hey man, you’re not Joe Blow VO guy anymore, you’re Batman!
Smith: (laughs) You know what? There’s never going to be a time when I’m not Joe Blow VO guy. But it is really nice to get to portray such an iconic character.
I was making the joke at Comic-Con. I am providing the voice for this version of Batman, but when I look in the mirror, believe me, I don’t see Batman. It’s really really cool. I get it, I get nerding out on things and just being like “man it’s the coolest superhero ever” or “man it’s the coolest video game character ever,” whatever it might be, I get it. To be involved in it in this degree is crazy!
Actually, it was my first Comic-Con ever, too. It was a great way to experience it. We were busy just about that entire day, so I didn’t get a chance to walk the floor much between the panel to the signings and more press stuff. But the next morning I got to walk around and look at the collectibles and stuff like that. It’s cool to see that many people come together for all things pop culture. It’s incredible.
Nrama: That’s wild I would’ve thought you’d have gone at one point or another for Ezio…
Smith: It’s kind of an interesting thing. It really depends on the gaming company. That’s why I say “Joe Blow VO Guy!” I also kind of get it, though. Troy [Baker, voice of The Joker in Arkham Origins] and I were joking about it at the panel. People want to hear you do the voice, but there’s almost a risk in doing that. If you see me doing the voice of a character that you love,, I am a portion of it, maybe one of the more tangible connections to the character in that you can hear me do the voice, but we’re not the character. I’m not the physical embodiment of Batman, I’m doing a portion of it. There are so many people involved in creating the character: the writers, the animators, the director, the producers, the mo cap guys. It’s this one massive, collective effort to create this character that people love.
So sometimes they want to maintain that disconnect between them. Yeah, there’s a guy who provided the voice, but he didn’t write the script, he didn’t animate the character, he didn’t come up with the concept design, he didn’t come up with the story, so sometimes companies think if they have us out there it might do the character a disservice. It just depends on how they want to approach the marketing of the game.
With Assassin’s Creed we kept that veil of secrecy, which is probably pretty good. Because, I’m 5 foot 5 and pasty white, and Ezio isn’t anything like that. It would probably ruin it for you a bit if you saw me doing the voice.
Nrama: So we won’t ever see you out there cosplaying Ezio?
Smith: No, and in fact, there was a commercial opportunity that came up where they were trying to get me to go out and be Ezio for something! I think it was that “To Michael” ad for PlayStation (Newsarama Note: skip to about 1:50 in the above video). I provided the voice for that, but didn’t provide the on-camera persona. I was laughing, and said “Guys, there’s not enough makeup out there to make me look like a Renaissance-era Italian!” (laughs) You’re gonna need a wig, at least 20 gallons of bronzer, platform shoes… an apple box, something to stand on – this is going to ruin your character!
I love it though, that’s the part of this that I really do enjoy the most. I forget who coined this phrase, someone told me it was Tom Kenny. “if the world of entertainment were superheroes, voice actors would have the power of invisibility.” And that’s an important aspect of what we do. I have family and friends, I have nieces and nephews and their friends, and they’ll say like, “Oh do the voice of Prince Philip from that Disney movie!” and I’ll say, “no, that’s a very bad idea!” Because if you have a bunch of five-year-old girls at a birthday party and they see a 30-something guy who hasn’t shaved in two weeks, is up to go mountain biking with his brother in shorts and a t-shirt – I’m gonna come up into this room and start talking like Prince Philip, and it’s only going to come off as creepy.
Let’s not do that. Let’s retain the suspension of disbelief that these characters are real and exist.
Nrama: Of course, you are following somebody that is arguably the exception to this rule, that did truly define Batman for the last 20 years or so, Kevin Conroy. Obviously that had to have been in your mind when you were offered this role.
Smith: For sure! You can’t – like I said at Comic-Con, it’s not stepping into these shoes, it’s falling into them. It’s really about the character. With it being a prequel, we have the ability to approach it from a different perspective. As Troy and I have said, we had a sort of horizon that we knew the characters had to be pointing towards, with regards to previous performances. But really, even with regard to these other insanely talented actors who have portrayed these characters in different iterations of the Batman Universe, with this we wanted to make sure that whatever version of the voice we came up with was paying homage to the character, and not so much to a previous performance.
That being said, you can’t step so far out of what’s been done previously that you are stepping away from the character. That was our whole approach and concern from the get go. We want to do something a little bit different with this because it’s a prequel and it’s a different time in Batman’s career. So we kind of have to have some ability to play around with where he’s at, but not take it so far away that fans of Kevin Conroy’s performance feel that it’s so wrong.
While it was there and in the back of my mind, I in no way wanted to – because I can’t – do an impression of Kevin Conroy! It’s more about, they’ve brought us in for whatever reason – we’re lucky enough to get this role, but then it’s also “oh man, I’ve got this role, no I have to do the work!” It was me just trying to make sure that, okay, you tell me what version – it’s such a collaborative effort, working with Amanda W, the voice director, Eric Holmes, the creative director; you all work together to determine what kind of Batman is this guy?
From there you just hope you are delivering the vocal performance that captures what they want. You sit there at that Arkham panel – those people aren’t there to see me, they’re there because they love Batman. I want to make sure that I say “yes, I totally get that,” and believe me, I’m going to do that best version of Batman I can to make sure it’s not something that you roll your eyes at. That’s what it’s about. It’s about Batman, it’s about the character, it’s about, as Eric said, the 150 people not at the panel because they were back at the office working on the game. At it’s core, along the path, the fans are passionate about Batman, not about Roger Craig Smith, not about Eric Holmes, it’s the thing in its entirety. They want to make sure they can do the best thing they can, and that was our approach from the get-go.
Nrama: So, what makes you passionate about Batman?
Smith: I think it’s his commitment, and his passion. Gosh, the guy is so driven. It’s a complicated universe, because he is just hellbent on making sure that people who are out to do wrong are brought to task for it. Yet the way he goes about it is somewhat controversial, some might say, because he’s operating outside of the law, but then also trying to work with Gordon and such for the same outcome with a different approach.
For me, it’s that rogue element of – the system is broken, and I can go around it to enact change. But in doing so, it’s interesting to see how not everybody perceives him as a hero. There is so much going on there with that character, to me that’s the most compelling element. He is focused, and so sure that he’s doing the right thing, but there are so many people who don’t. Having to find a way to be okay with it, he sometimes assumes that they’re all corrupt as well. It’s an interesting character to portray because he could be no better than some of these guys he’s trying to bring to justice in the eyes of other folks.
It’s a very compelling story at its core. Batman is an intriguing character for all those reasons.
Come back Monday for part two of our interview with Roger Craig Smith as we discuss stepping into another superhero’s shoes and why working for Disney in film is a dream come true.