david j. moore chats with legendary Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy at the San Diego Comic-Con International…
Every animated character has a voice actor behind it, giving it life. Actor Kevin Conroy has been associated with the Batman character since he voiced him over the course of 86 episodes on Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), and through many spin-off series’ and feature films that have followed like The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999, 24 episodes), Batman Beyond (1999-2001, 48 episodes), Justice League (2001-2006, 55 episodes) and the video games Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) and Batman: Arkham City (2011). Warner Bros. has continued using Conroy as Batman’s (and Bruce Wayne’s) voice in direct-to-video feature films over the years, and in the new film Batman: Assault on Arkham, Conroy once again lends his distinctive baritone to give the Caped Crusader that familiar voice fans have comfortably accepted and embraced.
david j. moore: Is your performance in Batman: Assault on Arkham any different than any of your Batman performances you’ve done in the past?
Kevin Conroy: Well, the challenge to me has been to keep it fresh. To keep it real and not get stale. So, is it different? No. I hope it’s as good as when I did it 23 years ago. I hope so. The wonderful thing is working with the voice director Andrea Romano for so long. She keeps the perspective for me. The thing about Batman is that the audience knows more about the character than I do. The audience is so devoted. The legacy is so huge. People come up to me and go, “On episode 341, you said such and such to The Joker,” and I have no idea what this person’s talking about. It’s that devotion from the fan base that if you’re false at any moment, they’ll nail you with it. They’ll hear it in a second. Having Andrea around is great because she won’t let you do that. She’s the filter that keeps me from getting lazy because after awhile everyone gets a little lazy and you fall into traps. You can’t let yourself. The challenge for me is to keep it consistent. Batman – the voice of Batman – is not the performance. Bruce Wayne is the performance. That’s the face he presents to the world, that’s the suit he puts on. That’s his mask. When he’s alone in the cave, that’s his comfortable sound. If I see that as my home base, then it’s a very instinctive place to create that sound. Bruce Wayne is the character.
djm: When you were doing the animated series, who’s idea was it that created the sound of Bruce Wayne’s voice?
KC: It was my idea. Actors always look for a way to complicate their lives. Directors are always trying to get you to simplify. If you make it more complicated, it makes your job more fun. I just thought it would be more fun to have two different voices. The guy is the wealthiest man in Gotham, he’s the most eligible bachelor, he lives in the biggest house. He puts on a cowl and a cape and no one knows it’s him? C’mon, it’s ridiculous. It’s gotta be more … in order to suspend disbelief, there’s gotta be more to it than that. He’s gotta have a whole different persona. For me, the voice was very important.
djm: Talk a little bit about the new film Batman: Assault on Arkham and how you’re not the main character. The villains are more centralized.
KC: The villains are more diabolical. Very evil. There’s a lot of darkness in this story. More so than I was used to in the previous Batman projects I’ve been involved with. The villains in this are seriously demented. It goes to an element of the Batman universe that is very violent. There’s such a clear moral compass in Batman. He’s always been a very interesting guy to play.
djm: Is there anything different about doing the shows and the films to doing the voice on the video games?
KC: Oh, you have no idea. It’s a whole different world. In the shows, you have other actors to work with. You interact with them. It’s like a radio play. It’s fun. In the games, you’re alone in a booth for four hours at a time, doing line after line after line after line after line after line. Thousands and thousands and thousands of times, depending on how the game is played. Depending on how they’re going to program it. Depending on the algorithm. Thousands of takes of thousands of lines. It takes years to build the game. Just to keep the character fresh and to stay awake … it’s not why you become an actor, to be honest. But it’s a fascinating challenge to have. The result is so incredible. To be able to watch people play it. They’re really technical marvels. The actors are able to breath life into these characters, but we go through literally thousands of takes of versions of lines, depending on how it’s going to play. It’s mountains of work.
djm: So is it fun to come back to an animated take on Batman?
KC: Oh, absolutely. Coming back to any animated movie is so much fun. I wish I had a little more to do in this one. Sometimes, Batman can be a man of few words. Some shows I don’t get a lot to do in. I have to do a lot with a little.
djm: I like you as an actor as well. I remember seeing you in a post-apocalyptic T.V. pilot called Island City, but live action performances are rare these days for you.
KC: Ah! I did a lot of on-camera work. I trained at Julliard. Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. That’s just not the way my career went. But I love doing on-camera work … and I think I’m a pretty attractive guy. (Laughing.)
djm: By now, I’m sure Batman is a very comfortable character for you…
KC: I can do him in my sleep. I do have friends calling me, asking me to tell their kids to do their homework in the Batman voice. (Batman voice:) “If you don’t do your homework, I’m going to come get you.” (Laughing.) It’s a very powerful voice to control.
djm: How does it feel to have a returning voice like CCH Pounder, who has done voiceover work several times on the Batman animated films, but then have other actors like Mark Hamill quit voicing The Joker, only to be replaced by someone like Troy Baker?
KC: It’s a wonderful relationship you develop with certain actors. You can just fit into a groove and automatically start playing. It happens with Mark whenever we get together. We can sort of define each other when we work together. It’s interesting, but I didn’t think anyone would be able to do The Joker as well as Mark Hamill, and then I saw Heath Ledger, and he took it to a whole new world. And then I met Troy Baker and saw him do it. Everyone brings something different. When you hear another actor’s take on something, it’s always done in a way that you wouldn’t think of. You think Wow! It’s just as good, but different. There’s a wonderful comfort in working with actors over a long period of time, but there’s also something very stimulating about having someone new like Troy. Think of all the different people who’ve played Batman. There have been so many people who’ve played him. So many people have had so many different takes on it. I can’t wait to see what Ben Affleck does with it. Christian Bale was fantastic. I thought Michael Keaton was fantastic for different reasons. It was interesting to have someone else be the voice of Batman when I couldn’t do it. You never own the role. You rent it. I’ve had the opportunity to rent it for a long time. It’s been wonderful. But it’s always interesting to hear what someone else does with it.
Many thanks to Kevin Conroy for taking the time for this interview.
Batman: Assault on Arkham is set for release on August 12th and sees Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series) leading a voice cast that also includes Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger) as Deadshot, Troy Baker (The Last of Us) as Joker, Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds) as Riddler, CCH Pounder (The Shield) as Amanda Waller, John DiMaggio (Batman: Under the Red Hood) as King Shark, Jennifer Hale (Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox) as Killer Frost, Hynden Walch (The Batman) as Harley Quinn, Greg Ellis (24) as Captain Boomerang, and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) as Black Spider. Jay Oliva (Justice League: War) and Ethan Spaulding (Son of Batman) direct from a script by Heath Corson (Justice League: War). Watch the first trailer here.
david j. moore is a contributing writer to Fangoria, FilmFax, Lunchmeat and VideoScope Magazines. His book WORLD GONE WILD: A SURVIVOR’S GUIDE TO POST-APOCALYPTIC MOVIES was published this year.