DC's upcoming Throne of Atlantis animated movie has some fans exclaiming "Finally!" with others have more quizzical expressions. Aquaman has had his share of grief-getting over the decades since his inception, but the creators behind the movie are out to change minds. At New York Comic Con, Newsarama sat down with Throne screenwriter Heath Corson, legendary voice director Andrea Romano, Producer James Tucker, character designer Philip Bourassa, and of course, the man who would be King Arthur Curry, Matt Lanter.
Things started off with Romano talked about the casting choice of Lanter in this role. "Matt is a really great actor and a lot of these movies are celebrity-driven, and the request is to have celebrity voices come in and play them. You have the well-known characters and it's easier to get celebrities because you can say 'there's this guy named Batman', but on this one I wanted to say I think Matt's the right guy, let him read for it. And I don't mind fighting over the right actor for the job, if they're the right actor for it. He was the right guy for the role."
When asked about what determines bringing people back for different roles, ie, Nathan Fillion who has been Green Lantern as well as Steve Trevor, Romano explained it's not always her decision. "Sometimes it has to do with the art style of the piece. Warners, or DC, or anybody like that will come to me and say that they want to keep the visual style of the last one they did so they want the same actors as before. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't." She told a story about such of an event of it not working. "We had a really interesting time on this piece because we wanted Shemar Moore to come back [for Cyborg], but it couldn't work out. So, I hired a wonderful actor by the name of Sean Patrick Thomas for the role. Then, the animation came back, and then Shemar's schedule had opened up and asked if we wanted him to come back and we did. The directive to me was to keep the continuity, so we brought him back and redubbed it all. So it all varies, sometimes it's on my request and other times it's on sheer availability."
As for what it’s been like working with James Tucker now, the two have a great relationship and Romano has nothing but praise. "I've been working with him for a while now. We did 'Brave and the Bold' together, and as with any job and working some body for a period of time, you get a short hand of dialog and I pretty much know what James likes and he knows what I like and what will work best. It's only been a pleasure."
Romano then talked about the one person she wants to work with, but hasn't yet. "Jon Hamm is still number one on my list. I was so angry when I saw him on an Archer cast list because they got to him first!" But for who? Superman or Batman?
"I think he could do either of them, he's that good. I also think he could do comedy. I think he's that versatile and would like to have a chance to work with him. Then there's also strange, obscure, and very bizarre people I would love to work with like Alex Trebek. Laugh if you will, but I love him so. I have met him numerous times at Emmy events and such and just keep saying that I would love to have him, so I will find something for him and I will cross that off. Kyle Chandler is another lovely actor, I'd love for him to come read for something. The list is constantly evolving. I've noticed something else, too, a lot of the actors who come in to do these aren't really in it for the money, it's because it's something that their kids can watch."
She mentioned that every time they switch art direction, they also switch voices around. Was the shift to the New 52 adaptations something that made them rethink the voices and recast any characters?
"In some ways, yes, in others, no. It really had to do with what was requested of me and I don't always know how that decision goes down. I'm a freelance director and they come to me and say we have this movie and this script, do you want to do it. Can I use Kevin Conroy? That's always my first question. Yes, or no. Can I use Tim Daly? Yes, or no. Can I use any of the actors I've used before, etc, so it's all a matter of them telling me what they want. I fight sometimes, I do, I fight for the right person. Sometimes I win that battle, sometimes I don't. But it's my choice if I want to make this film or not."
If it's difficult directing other directors, Romano doesn't see a change in how she approaches her work. "You know I've directed a lot of directors. I've directed Steven Spielberg. I've directed John Landis. Directors tend to be the most nervous, but if you're talking about voice over directors, I don't work with many, frankly. I don't direct that many."
Romano then talked about the instance of first being starstruck by somebody she wanted to work with, reaching out to her. "Mark Hamill. Way back when I got a call from Mark's agent saying that he wanted to get a read for Batman: The Animated Series and asked if I would consider him. Absolutely! Within two weeks, I had him reading for a guest role and he did a great job. He thanked me and said how much he wanted to be a part of the series and I mean I want to be a part of the series. It just so happened we needed to cast the Joker, and the rest is history."
She also went into describing her work process and the timeline of how things go down. "Well I get the script and instantly start having meetings about what direction to take this. We all have input and then we record about a minimum of a month, because of the way some people's schedules are. Then it goes to animation and disappears for 8-9 months and then it comes back and we watch the rough footage and fix anything that needs fixing."
Up next was character designer Phil Bourassa who talked about if other movies influenced his designs and concepts. "Right now with most of our releases is to create an internal cohesive continuity between all the movies. So stylistically what you're going to see is some of the same template that we started with Justice League: War, some of it was in Flashpoint, but we refined it a little, it carries through Son of Batman and now Throne of Atlantis. Yeah, we're trying to come up with a cohesive look. The great thing about this continuity is that we're trying to refine the look as we go along to see what works and see what doesn't."
As for specific examples of this process, Bourassa had some ideas. "I'll just say I wasn't happy with the way Superman looked in 'War', so I revised the model." He continued with how he works to the strengths of the animators. "When I see somebody struggling with something in the design, that's when I'll go back to the drawing board and revise and try to streamline it the best way to play to their strengths."
Bourassa also mentioned the change of tone with the New 52 directives. "Well, it's a different tone to the New 52 stuff. I mean, we're basically started square one with these characters, whereas in a movie like Doom, they're already the Justice League and already established. I sometimes enjoy that because sometimes I feel like there's too many origin stories. How many times are you going to see Ben Parker get show, ya know? So our purpose was to get everybody familiar with the new dynamics in the group. They both can be great for different reasons. We're not boxed in by 70 years of continuity, anymore. We're such fans that we'll never stray far from their themes, but we're also not going to dogidly adhere to one specific continuity." He explained how carefully the treat the characters and the respect they get. "It's like attending somebody else's garden. You come in and you've got to make sure everything is treated properly so it's not wrecked for the fans or for the next group of guys who are going to inherit this."
He was then asked he it was nerve-wracking working on "War" since it's the new stepping stone for future animated projects. "I mean, yeah, you know they're all nerve-wracking on some level because you only get one shot on everything. You want the fans to be happy. They're all challenging in their own way. With 'War' it was because we were starting something different and new."
Whether or not they will pull from the comics or if the animated movies will be their own thing. "I think, for us, we pull from everything. If it's cool and if it works, then nothing is off limits or out of bounds. As long as its faithful to the themes that are the strongest to the character, I think those are the most important."
Bourassa then talked about the tweaks, if any, that he did with Aquaman's design. "For me I look at that we are parallel to the New 52, I look at what Jim Lee did and I used what I thought would work well in the realm of animation. From his springboard, I just did my own tweaks to it. With the design that we have, we have a classic, but modern template. He's not hook-handed, or mulleted Aquaman. To me, Aquaman is a top-tier character, he's just as bad ass as Superman and Batman. The great thing about my job is that if there are a lot of bad iterations of the character, it makes my job a whole lot easier."
If the creators behind the new DCU cinematic world have reached out to him or not, Bourassa explained it doesn't really work that way. "The thing about working at Warner Bros is that we are very independent. We're fortunate that the DC guys are very collaborative, but don't step all over us." He also could not comment on where they were going after this project.
Screenwriter Heath Corson was next and mentioned that his biggest challenge when starting on the project. "I think the biggest challenge was first getting the whole 'how do you make an Aquaman movie' mentality out of the way. A guy who talks to fishes, who is this guy, right?"
He then talked about his overall approach to the story. "Well it's interesting, we don't have an Aquaman who can't talk to fish from the very beginning. We have Arthur Curry who grew up in his father in a lighthouse on a cove and has always felt connected to the water, but has no clue about his true Atlantean heritage." Corson described Curry as somebody who is "angry" and "different and alienated, but special, but has no idea why". "We open right after his father's funeral where Arthur is drunk at a seafood restaurant and pouring his heart out to a lobster in a tank. This is 'Aquaman Begins'. This is Arthur Curry realizing who he is and the steps he takes to become a hero."
Again, somebody asked if they're aware of what's going on in the comics concerning the New 52 and if they're acting independent. "I think James [Tucker] is always aware of what they're doing and what kind of stories they're doing. James is very clear about if they want to read the comic experience, go read the comic." He explained that they have a different approach to story and how they're adapted. "We want to do something different. We are telling a very different story and you don't want the same story, but a different experience. Otherwise, I'll just come over and read you the book."
Corson then talked about what sort of origing they're doing as it's been told numerous ways from the failed pilot of "Mercy Reef" to other comic stories. "That's a good question, I don't think it's completely different. You're not going to find out that he's been abducted by aliens that gave him his powers. You'll still recognize with same story beats, and fans will probably be ahead of the character in some instances as they'll probably know where we're going but we'll still have some fun along the way."
As for if he hears certain actors when he's writing dialog, Corson keeps it simple. "I love the actors from the last movie, and I had those in my head and had such a fun time locking down those characters."
Corson then talked about the story itself and much time is dedicated to Atlantean Arthur, Arthur finding himself, and Orm, who he found the most interesting to write. "Orm is a really fascinating character. Somebody asked me who the villain of the piece is and I will tell you the thing I was most excited about this is that nobody is clearly wrong. I mean Black Manta is a bad guy and Ocean Master is in this, too, but Orm is not the Ocean Master at the beginning of this. He's the prince that who wants to protects his people and he's not wrong in wanting to protect his people and wanting to revenge his father's death who died at the end of War at the hands of Darkseid. His mother says absolutely not, it's best we keep hidden and but he's not wrong in wanting to do that; it's what a good leader does. I really like that notion that we took all these voices and personalities is that nobody is wrong."
He also mentioned that this movie is absolutely"Aquaman's bad ass coming out party." He continued that this movie will hopefully introduce people to him and "hopefully do a better job than on 'Entourage'."
When did they know they wanted to do an Aquaman story next? "You know, I can't really answer that. After 'War' the line-up kept changing as I kept doing the outline. First they said no Aquaman because they were saving him, but the plan was to give him his own movie. Let's give this guy a spotlight. 'Mercy Reef' didn't get picked up, you're not going to see him anywhere else for the time being, so this is going to be cool."
Corson then talked a little bit about his approach to the character that gives him a slight edge and less of a "Family Guy" joke. "He's angry. He's a brawler. Also, don't forget, he's a drinker and when you're half-Atlantean, acohol dehydrates you quicker. He gets drunk and he goes looking for a fight and that guy is very interesting and an interesting place to start." Corson also mentioned that "Mera is a huge part of this."
Corson stated he loves working with director Jay Oliva. "I love writing for James. His eye for action is spot-on." He also said he knew where he wanted to go with the character from the almost get-go. "I knew he could be bad ass and I knew what I wanted to make him. Then it began how do we back up into that? What is the emotional core that we can take so he gets to where this is?"
Aquaman's voice Matt Lanter joined the conversation, sporting one of the NYCC Aquaman shirts from the DC booth and was asked if he only wears Aquaman shirts now. "That's all I have", Lanter joked. "Warner Bros. literally came and burned my wardrobe."
Lanter also bragged about his swimming accomplishments. "I can swim, too. I actually used to swim and got 18th place in backstroke in county." As for talking to fish, Lanter was quick to answer as well. "Well I can, but they don't really talk back. I mean, we can all talk to fish, you know?"
He mentioned that he didn't hesitate in taking the role, either. "When somebody asks you if you want to play a superhero, you say yes automatically. I know Aquaman gets a lot of heat for supposedly being not very cool, but hopefully that's one thing this film can do, can make him cool again."
When asked about how he approached the character and how he dealt with Arthur's rage, Lanter kept things pretty basic, but was more interested in Curry than his royal ego. "I just went off of the script that we had and approached him more as a person that's been dealt some tragedy than as a superhero. He's got a lot of inner anger going on and it was more about being Arthur Curry for me than it was about being Aquaman."
How do you approach your voice work differently than your live action roles?
"I enjoy both for different reasons. I enjoy being on camera because you can interact with different actors and you're there, use prop, and such, but not able do to a lot of that when you're doing voice work. There's a free feeling when you're doing voice work though, and I always say it's like being a kid in a sandbox. It's a total release of creativity and you're free. You can't slobber all over the microphone, but yeah, you pretend." Lanter talked about how he had to get animated when doing some action scenes in the movie.
Lanter commented on what it was like working with other members of the Justice League voice ensemble. "Well this is his origin story so we don't see him interact a lot with members of the Justice League just yet."
He also responded if he had any preconceptions about Aquaman before taking the role. "To be honest, I didn't know entirely a lot about Aquaman and I can't really say I was a reader of the comics. I do feel though that Aquaman has been less in the limelight for how many decades. When I booked the gig, I did gather as much information as a I could, but I just wanted to concentrate on who is Arthur Curry for this."
Lanter also said he never really saw a lot of the Justice League animated series, or JLU, but another animated series held his attention as a kid. "I was a huge fan of Batman: The Animated Series when I was young, but can't say I watched a lot of the Justice League cartoon."
There's not a lot of animated Aquaman roles to pull from in comparison to Batman, so Lanter explained where he went with his performance. "They called me up and gave me the job, so when I went in, I said to Andrea-who I wholeheardily trust-what are you guys looking for and what they wanted and I just did my voice instead of trying to tweak it to be Arthur. So I kinda had the luxury of not having to deal with that. It was more just jumping in to the character, or dive in, as it were."
Producer James Tucker started off talking about his relationship with co-director Jay Oliva and if his pairings with him are planned or not. "Unfortunately, there's only one Jay, but we try to keep him busy." He also commented if it's planned to keep Corson and Oliva working together all the time. "Not really, it's more of just who is available at the time."
Another New 52 question was asked and if they're sticking to that continuity. "No, we're using the New 52 as something to jumpstart what we're doing. So we used it as our origin story and to start our new universe, but we aren't tied to what they're doing with the New 52 at all. Who can keep up with it anyways? It changes so rapidly, so no, we can't really stick with that or tie ourselves to what they're doing and they don't want us to."
When asked about future projects to coincide with live-action releases, Tucker shrugged. "We haven't thought that far ahead. We're just trying to get through next year. The characters we have in mind are ones fans have been expecting, but they won't be status quo Justice League members."
Tucker answered almost immediately. "Flashpoint Batman: Knights of Vengance. We almost did a short that would have adapted that, but didn't have time. Other than that? I don't mind 'Hush' as a story, we would need to adjust some things, but the thing I love about Hush is tons of guest stars. It would be a big fun project to do."
If Tucker had the chance to work on an Arrow animated adaption, he would keep things pretty simple. "I wouldn't change a thing. The whole point of doing it is to ride on their coattails. If I couldn't honor the show, I wouldn't do it."
Tucker then talked about his first memories of reading the comic as a kid and what made Aquaman cool to him. "Well, I'd have to go back to a kid when I was reading his comics where it was I first saw A) the lead guy was married, and happily married and B) his son got killed and I had never read that in a comic. So I never looked at his character as the guy who talks to fish, or whatever, I see the guy who lost his kid. To me, that give him gravitas and importance. It was a very profound thing to happen to him. Of course they retconned that and changed it, but to me, that gave him substance."
Finally, why make an Aquaman movie now instead of somebody else? "Well Geoff Johns wrote the story right after the Justice League origins and we ended War with a direct connection. So the things that happened in War caused the sequence of events that happens in Throne. So why now in general? I think because even though people were making fun of him, they were still talking about him, and that's a good thing."