Ricky Church chats with Justice Society: World War II star Chris Diamantopoulos…
Though the Justice League consists of some of the most popular superheroes in comics and has been around for decades, they are not the first superhero team in either the DC Universe or the comic book industry. In 1940 the world was introduced to the Justice Society of America, a group of heroes made up of those with superpowers, scientists or highly skilled people who went on adventures, fought supervillains and even took part in World War II, fighting for the Allies against Nazi Germany and members of the Axis.
The original line-up included characters like Jay Garrick and Alan Scott, the original Flash and Green Lantern respectively, Hourman, Doctor Fate and Hawkman with Wonder Woman and Black Canary being added to the team later. While the Justice Society may not be as popular as the Justice League now, the JSA was a pretty big title for several years after its creation and remains a favourite among fans, so much so when DC wiped away the JSA out of continuity in their 2011 reboot many fans cried foul.
In a few weeks the Justice Society will receive their first feature length animated adventure Justice Society: World War II, the latest film in DC’s line of original animated movies. It follows Barry Allen’s Flash as he accidentally travels back in time, landing in Nazi-occupied France and meets the Justice Society, a team of secret superheroes led by Wonder Woman. Flash teams up with them to uncover the Nazis’ latest scheme and find a way to travel back to his time.
We got to chat with Chris Diamantopoulos, who portrays Steve Trevor in the film. We talk about Diamantopoulos’ influence from classic 1930s – 40s cinema and actors, Steve Trevor being ahead of his time and the aspect of a normal man fighting alongside the JSA. Check out our interview below…
Ricky Church: In Justice Society: World War II you play Steve Trevor. What was that experience like for you and what drew you to the role?
Chris Diamantopoulos: It was a super entertaining experience for me to voice Steve Trevor mainly because I’m a huge fan of that era. I have always been a fan of 30s – 40s cinema. I tend to really lean into that era if an opportunity presents itself. I played Moe in The Three Stooges because I was a huge fan of the Stooges growing up. So I understand the vernacular and the lilt really, really well and it’s few and far between that I have a chance as an actor, whether in live action or in animation, to be able to go back to that lilt. It was great fun for me to borrow from my screen heroes like Humphrey Bogart and use some of his stoic military delivery and then turn it around with a slightly more romantic and witty repartee of Cary Grant.
I was all in, but what really drew me to be perfectly frank was Wes Gleason [voice director], who I’ve worked with before. It really just sets the stage for a voice actor who doesn’t have anything to work off of other than the script. He really gets the actor into the moment and I think it’s a testament to him and Butch [Lukic, supervising producer] how well the movie plays because, you know, if you listen to Stana [Katic, voice of Wonder Woman] and myself and you think ‘Wow, they’ve known each other forever and they must’ve had a ball recording together’ when really she recorded months before I did or after I did in another state. You know what I mean?
For sure. Now Steve is interesting because he’s the only member of the team that doesn’t have any powers, but he still jumps into the action whenever he can and does everything that he can to help Wonder Woman and everybody else. What do you think of that side to him, just a normal guy fighting alongside these super powered heroes?
I don’t want to get all metaphorical, but we’re all just normal ones fighting some big, huge superpowers out there just in terms of the level of adversity that’s out there. I think what’s cool about Steve is that he comes from an era that might connote that he has certain preconceived notions about gender and race. But Steve is an enlightened individual man and he recognizes both his sense of duty, his sense of loyalty, his sense of patriotism and he has the good sense to recognize that when someone is greater than him and can do the work he steps back and lets them do it. I just love that he doesn’t have to add any sauce to it or talk about how enlightened he is or how woke he is. He doesn’t add any flavor to it. He just recognizes Diana is great. He’s stepping back. She’s the person for the job.
The other thing I love about him is his immense sense of duty and patriotism leads him to carry forward, even when some of these superhero beings express great doubt. That just shows as a product of that stoic era that ‘just get it done’, I think that’s something we could really use a little more of in our day and age. Yes, we’ve progressed and evolved in many good ways, but there are some of the things from back then of just ‘Hey, keep your head down, do the good work. Don’t complain. Don’t complain to anyone, even yourself, just do the work.’
As you’ve alluded to, Steve has a pretty interesting relationship with Diana and, like you said, he knows when to step back. He doesn’t like act the typical macho kind of way. The romance is pretty interesting with how they both want to take things seriously, but recognize the need to wait until the end of the war. What are some of your other thoughts on their relationship?
First of all, I love their relationship and that’s part of the movie. That’s the heart of the film for me that I just think is so beautiful. They’ve woven it together so beautifully with all these amazing action sequences. Look, for an audience of kids that don’t know anything about Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr or Bergman and Bogart, the idea of this very intentional cat and mouse romance is just beautiful, man. Certainly again, through the direction of Wes and Butch, Stana and I sound like we were finishing each other’s sentences in many regards and it just plays so well. Adding to that little 40s cadence, ah man, it’s like Casablanca, but animated in the superhero world.
Obviously with WWII, it’s a pretty heavy subject to tackle. Steve has a bit more of a grounded take and sees it just a soldier. As a fan of old cinema, what was your reaction to the story being set in that era and Steve’s perspective of the war against the rest of the JSA?
I thought it was a clever way for them to bring about a universal theme, a villain that we would all want to stop both back then, now and forever. The Nazis make a terrific antagonist, right? Because beating up the Nazis, blowing up the Nazis, defeating the Nazis, it will always feel good so it was really smart to be able to take this world of superheroes and put them in a world where the villains they were defeating would actually have real world implications. It raises the stakes for the audience member, right? They’re not just defeating The Joker or Lex Luthor. They’re defeating Hitler and we can understand what that means. Even a younger generation that obviously wasn’t around then can understand the cultural, social, economic implications of stopping real-world tyranny. It’s both smart as a tool for storytelling, but also there’s something nice about 85 minutes of animated entertainment that can also leave children or young people with the notion of ‘Wow, we’re really lucky we got through that and boy oh boy we never want to end up there again’.
It’s also cool in this movie to see some historical figures pop up or make a quick cameo, like the beginning scene with you and FDR. What do you think of that aspect to the movie?
I think it’s brilliant. What I particularly love about it is when FDR is like “you’ve got the man for the job,” I may be paraphrasing, but just this notion of Steve saying “I’ve got the person and this is the person” and it’s Diana. I love seeing that in that era because we probably wouldn’t have seen that in the cinema of that era, but again, it speaks to the level of moral fortitude that Steve Trevor has that he’s willing to, in front of the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, to say “sir, this is who we’ve got.” I just think that’s so ballsy and it’s so heroic to realize ‘Hey, want to know why I’m a hero? Cause I’m not the hero. She is.’ And by the way, I feel that way every day standing next to my wife. I’m not the hero, she is.
That’s awesome. I’m going to assume either Steve or Diana is your favourite JSA member, but if not do you have any other favourite?
You mean in the DC world or in what specifically, what regard?
Either this movie or the DC comics.
In this movie I have to say I think everybody does a tremendous job. I thought Hawkman in this movie is just a bad-ass! I thought Omid [Abtahi] did such a great job voicing him with this really, normally people would go into Hawkman with something we have probably seen a million times and there was something so subtle and nuanced and intelligent about the way that he approached it. It was just brilliant and what a lovely human being. It’s funny, you know, I had never met any of the actors on the show until we did our little panel and I realized that if Steve Trevor lands his performance it’s because I’m standing on the shoulders of really, really great actors and really nice people.
Thank you very much to Chris Diamantopoulos for speaking with us!
Justice Society: World War II will be released on digital April 27th and Blu-ray May 11th.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.