Flight, x-ray vision, super intelligence; who wouldn’t want to be a superhero? We grow up emulating our favorites but what is it like when you already are one?
“I try really hard to be a good person,” said voice actor Kevin Conroy at New York City’s Paley Center last week. The statement came in response to a young boy who wanted to know how Conroy is most like Batman, his most famous role, in real life.
The question, as well as several others, followed a preview screening of the latest DC Animated Universe PG-13 film, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. The feature plus a Green Arrow short, in stores this week, stars Conroy, Tim Daly, Summer Glau, Andre Braugher and Ed Asner. It also marks almost twenty years of Conroy in the shoes of the World’s Greatest Detective. Casting/dialogue director Andrea Romano, who joined Conroy at the screening, has been there with him from the start – the casting call for Batman: The Animated Series.
“Before we even brought a single actor in to audition, I listened to probably 500 voices for the voice of Batman and then I paired it down to about 150 and then we started bringing people in for call-backs. [Producer] Bruce Timm and I sat there for days and days and days of listening, ‘Ok, this guy could do it, we could live with this guy, we could live with this guy,’ said Romano. Eventually, it was a friend who suggested Conroy.
“I brought Kevin in and it was hour seven of a long casting day and he walked in and said, ‘Ok, I have some thoughts,’ and he opened the script and started speaking and it was like, ‘Oh god! Let’s go drink wine,’ she said, sounding relieved, “It was brilliant, it was wonderful, it was done.”
Conroy wasn’t that familiar with the Dark Knight when he went in for his audition. In fact, his only point of reference was the 1960s television series. “I didn’t really have a lot of background, I didn’t know animation, I had never done a voice. I happened to be in L.A. doing some series work,” he said. “Then they explained to me the whole anthology and background I said, ‘This is like Hamlet. This is avenging a parent’s death and living in the shadows, a tortured soul...this is Hamlet.’ And Bruce looks at me and says, ‘Well no one’s ever said that before.’ So it was all very improvised on the spot and I just happened to be in L.A., I happened to have a lot of theater background...it was such a coincidence of events that lead to nineteen years of work.”
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is adapted from the Jeph Loeb/Michael Turner Superman/Batman story arc, “Supergirl,” where Kara Zor-El made her triumphant return to the DCU after crash landing on Earth and fighting Darkseid and his minions on Apokolips. But don’t let the title fool you, Romano told Newsarama this is Supergirl’s story completely.
“So much more of these other pieces are male dominated and there’s women characters on the side. This is a very female focused piece. Of course that’s not to say there’s not a lot for Superman, Batman and Darkseid to do but this is really Kara’s story, this is the story of Kara coming to Earth and becoming Supergirl and so that made it a little bit different. I always try to make sure that there’s something for women to watch in these pieces,” she said, “that it’s interesting to women, that they don’t feel like this is just a boys club and just guys are going to come to this film or any of these films.”
If this is Supergirl’s journey, why doesn’t her name doesn’t appear in the title? “I think the main reason why they didn’t call this piece Supergirl is because for some reason the Wonder Woman home video that we made, which was very, very good and filled with male characters, didn’t sell well,” she told us. “And so marketing people said, female titled pieces don’t sell well. So this is a female piece, it’s got a very strong feminine character in it but they called it Superman/Batman: Apocalypse just to get people to come into the video stores and buy them.”
Speaking of strong female characters, taking on vocal duties for the Girl of Steel herself is Summer Glau who coincidentally enough, played a girl made of steel in Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. That, along with her role as River in Firefly and Serenity, has earned her a place in history as one of the most popular butt-kicking actresses in the industry. Did Romano take that into account when she cast her?
“Absolutely. And there’s also something very sensitive and shy and appealing about her that we needed for this character as well. When we first meet her she comes to this planet, she doesn’t speak the language, she doesn’t know anybody, she’s completely confused and Summer played that so well because she’s got that vulnerability that’s really appealing,” she told Newsarama, “And then throughout the piece as she grows and learns, she becomes stronger and stronger, begins to have opinions just as every young woman does, they become more confident. And then she gets kidnapped by Darkseid and he brainwashes her and so she becomes real kick-ass.”
Most fans are familiar with hearing the voice of actor Michael Ironside as Darkseid but this time around Romano, Timm and Warner Bros. decided to go with someone new.
“Andre Braugher...you know it was a risk, it was a chance. You can always go for a voice that’s down in the basement where it can be massively deep or just go for the acting and let him be kind of an elegant...monster if you will because he’s this big rock, he looks like a big moving rock. But I just love his acting so much,” said Romano.
On the other hand, Ed Asner reprises his Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League television series roles as the tough-as-nails Granny Goodness in the film.
“It was just one of those bizarre casting choices. The other night with Bruce Timm when we did this same screening at the Paley Center in Los Angeles I turned to him and said, ‘What possessed us to make that choice?’ We knew that Granny was hideous looking and we knew Granny was going to be bizarre on this weird world, this Apokolips and so we knew we wanted it to be odd,” she said. “And then Bruce out of the blue just said, ‘What about Ed Asner?’ and I said, ‘I’ll ask him.’ He was game from the get-go.” Scheduling conflicts prevented him from taking this job at first and so Romano recast the role with a female. At the very last second he was available and they redubbed the whole film the day before he went in for hip surgery.
Granny Goodness is one of those characters fans have a fondness for precisely because of how bizarre she is but that doesn’t mean Romano understands why. “I try as much as possible to at least read the graphic novel, but there’s a lot of history that a lot of these fans know much more than I do so I have the fount of knowledge that is Bruce Timm to go to when I don’t have the answer,” she said, “And then there’s also inside jokes often that are meant for you guys who really, really know and I’ll have to ask Bruce, ‘I know there’s a joke here and I don’t know where it comes from, what does that mean?’ and he’ll go, ‘Oh that’s from episode...back in comic book number blah, blah, blah.’”
It seems Romano’s only complaint about her tenure with Batman is what it sounds like looking back. “You guys have to stop telling us about how you watched us when you were kids,” she said after hearing that remark from several twenty-something audience members.
Conroy says he’s enjoyed working as Batman through the years but feels what’s most important for the audience is consistency. “Especially the characters. [Fans] know the characters as well as we do and if you did anything that was inauthentic it would stick out. So I think part of the challenge is keeping it fresh for nineteen years but keeping the consistency.”
Is Conroy ever recognized in public, not just for his face but by his voice? “That’s happened a couple of times, which is interesting because the Batman voice is a different voice from my voice, and then it’s usually a little kid. Once I was on line for a movie and I asked for the tickets and there’s a little kid in front of me going like this [wide eyed]. The parents looked at me like, ‘What did you do to our kid?’ I said, ‘it’s alright, it’s alright, I think he recognizes my voice.’ He just keeps staring at me so I go, ‘I am vengeance...’ and then he freaked out.”
Sounds like Conroy is more like Batman than he thought.Is Conroy the Best Batman ever?