As part of our 2015 San Diego Comic-Con International coverage, david j. moore chats with Justice League: Gods and Monsters director Sam Liu, writer Alan Burnett and voice actors Paget Brewster and Tamara Taylor…
The DC Universe original movie Justice League: Gods and Monsters (out on DVD and Blu Ray July 28th From Warner Bros.) flip-flops DC’s stable characters by throwing them all in an alternate universe where they are not their famous, Justice-seeking selves. Instead, the characters are given vastly different identities (Batman, for example, is a vampire), and they become involved in a conspiracy that casts them in a dark, sinister light. At 2015’s San Diego Comic Con, several key members of the cast and crew were on hand to discuss their involvement with the film. Amongst those interviewed for this article are director Sam Liu (Superman/Batman: Public Enemies), writer/producer Alan Burnett (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), star Paget Brewster (Criminal Minds) as Lois Lane, and Tamara Taylor (Bones) as Wonder Woman.
Sam Liu, Director
What was your visual template for the look of this film?
I think we were trying to make it a little like Batman: The Animated Series, but a little more serious, a little more noirish. We wanted to keep it contemporary. The story is pretty much like a mystery. It’s a crime story. My hopes were that it would be as well animated as the Batman Beyond movie.
You’ve worked with the Batman character a lot over the years. How was it for you to sort of revise the character for this movie?
It’s always hard because there are so many expectations. Audiences expect certain things. Once you work around that … it took awhile to get used to it.
Talk a little bit about working with Bruce Timm, who has a rich history with Batman in animated form.
I’ve worked with Bruce before. We were used to each other. Back when we did a series together called The Batman, it was a mess. To be able to work on a project that is all Bruce Timm was great.
Why do you think Batman: The Animated Series has endured so well over the years?
The broader thing is that it happened when it happened. There was nothing else like it. It had elements of comedy, but it wasn’t a comedy. It was a detective show. It had noirish elements to it. There was nothing like it on T.V. at the time. The timing was unexpected. I’m surprised that they allowed them to make it.
Is there a comic book character or series you’d like to work on in animated form?
For me, I’m a big Sandman fan since way back when. I don’t know how it would get done because it’s pretty much all drama. I don’t know how audiences would respond to it. That was one of my favorite comics.
Alan Burnett, writer
Talk about coming up with the concept of this film.
Bruce Timm showed me these drawings he’d drawn of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. He started telling me the background of where they came from. He said that Batman was a vampire, and so we presented this to the home video people. We were at a point where we wanted to try something different. They were gung ho for it. I ended up writing it. Bruce and I go back 20 years – we started on Batman: The Animated Series. We wrangled with it, we talked to other people about it, and then it started coming together. Writing it was easier … good things come together quickly. The world opened up, and we ended up with a script.
This is a very different take on the DC Universe. What are some things that fans can anchor back to your work on Batman: The Animated Series?
Well, one of the things we talked about is that it’s frustrating that these major superheroes that we work with is that when they get into fights, you can’t really hurt them. They always leave them on this side of life. We wanted to do a character where if we put him in a fight and we had to kill him, then it would happen. That’s the big difference from what we were doing before. There are about 25 characters in this – some of them you might miss – but it’s a different world.
Was it freeing to be able to create an alternate world for these stable characters?
It was very freeing. We looked at other characters and wondered what we could do with them. We’ve been doing this for 25 years, and after awhile you feel like you’ve told every story you can. But this felt fresh. It felt different. The thing about this movie – which I worry about – is that I don’t know how audiences will respond to it. I think by the time you see the Wonder Woman flashback, you’re with them. You wonder what they’re going to do because they’re very capable of doing some very bad things. The central conflict of the story is that someone is framing the Justice League and now the government has to deal with that. Will the Justice League allow the government to do that? We set out to make an action thriller, but it turned out to be a mystery. That surprised me. It all came together. It’s pretty interesting.
The tone on some of these original animated films is very dark, but this seems to be taking it to a whole new level. What do you think it is about the darker elements that seem to be resonating with audiences?
Animation is for adults too, you know? It’s for the fanboys. I think that’s what we’re going after, with the idea that younger audiences can look at them too. There’s room for these. Strangely enough, with animation, you can go pretty dark and still maintain the PG-13 rating because animation is an abstract. You accept things. We may be even darker than we think sometimes, but that’s the nature of animation.
These characters in this film are still called the “Justice League,” but do they still uphold the values of the Justice League?
I don’t know … I think the government gave them that name so that they’re accepted by the people. I think that’s where the name came from in this film. Bruce Timm has always thought of the Justice League as those three main characters, and all the other characters are ancillary members.
Paget Brewster, Lois Lane
What’s your take on the story of this film? It seems quite different than anything we’ve seen before.
Everyone’s origin story is different. It’s not the Superman or Batman you know. Everyone is slightly different. Lois Lane is still a reporter, but she does not like Superman. Our heroes are being framed by someone or something.
When you took the job, were you assuming that you’d be playing the typical Lois Lane-type role?
Yeah. I had no idea – and I’m going to be honest with you – I never read the whole script, but I’ve seen the movie now, but when I was working on it I had no idea what was going on! I didn’t know who was who. My husband watches all these DC animated movies, and this was his favorite job that I’ve ever been on. I started watching the movie and I had no idea what was going on. Superman’s a Mexican, something’s going on with Batman, and I told my husband, “This is a crisis in our marriage – you need to explain to me what is going on here!” He explained what happened. It’s really cool. There’s another Justice League in an alternate universe movie, but this one … I don’t know. Lois Lane is still doing her thing, but she’s reporting that the Justice League is evil. When you’re alone in the studio recording your voice, you don’t always know what’s going on. I knew nothing.
You’re stepping in to the Lois Lane role, and some great actresses have played or voiced her. Any comments about that?
Some great ladies have played her. I don’t know who they asked before they ended up with me – probably some amazing people that were too busy! I do whatever the voice director Andrea Romano tells me. She talks you through. I’m an adult screaming in a darkened studio. It’s fun. Lois Lane is tough and she knows what she wants. I like playing fast talking brunette ladies.
Tamara Taylor, Wonder Woman
How did it feel for you to be cast as Wonder Woman?
Amazing. Beyond amazing. I don’t know one little girl that didn’t want to be Wonder Woman, so it was a surreal call to get.
Did they pitch it to you as “Evil Wonder Woman?”
They didn’t’ tell me. They just said it was Wonder Woman. I just said, “Are you serious?” They said they would be doing “something new,” and I said “Great.” I got the script, and I realized something was up. Because I wasn’t given much of an idea beforehand, I was confused. I kept going back to see why I wasn’t understanding it. They explained to me that it was an alternate universe. I was completely confused. I had to let go. For the most part, I had to just go with this upside down town. It was interesting.
Is voice over work something you’re comfortable with?
I had done a little bit here and there, but this was my first feature. By the grace of God, the voice director Andrea Romano was like an angel who walked me through everything. She explained everything and showed me storyboards. I was brought in a year later when it was finished. I got to interact with Benjamin Bratt a little bit. Andrea knew that I was inexperienced. She gave me line readings, and she would act out a scene and say something like, “You’re stabbing somebody – urgh!” I had a little trouble unleashing, but once you go there, it’s so much fun.
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 last year.