Ricky Church chats with Justice Society: World War II star Omid Abtahi…
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 American Gods and The Mandalorian actor Omid Abtahi, who provides the voice of Carter Hall aka Hawkman, an ancient warrior who is continuously reincarnated over thousands of years, carrying with him all the memories of his past lives. We chatted about Hawkman’s popularity among fans, how Hawkman’s reincarnations affect him and the film’s WWII setting. Check out our interview below…
Ricky Church: In Justice Society: World War II you play Hawkman, who is a fan-favourite with a large fanbase. Was that a little intimidating for you in the role?
Omid Abtahi: To be honest with you, that’s something I had to learn that this was the case. I don’t know too much about the superhero universes, whether it’s DC or Marvel. In a way that’s kind of like an advantage because you don’t feel the pressure, but at the same time knowing when you walk into a franchise like this and into a character like this that’s so iconic, you do want to do your research because you do want to be respectful. That being said, whether it’s this, whether it’s Star Wars, whether it’s Hunger Games, you do the homework and then you have to let go of all that stuff. I think you have to feel free as a performer to trust yourself, trust your performance. That’s how I felt. I hope my performance is to the liking of the fanbase, basically.
One aspect to Hawkman which makes him unique among the Justice Society is how he reincarnates over the centuries. What did you think of that fact and what else drew you to the role?
It’s a good question because not only has he lived many lives, he has access to those memories. It really helped define who this character was and how his performance was going to go because what I got out of all the research I did and all those different iterations of Hawkman, which to be honest with you is kind of confusing for someone who’s just looking into it. What I got from him is this guy is an old soul and there’s a lot of wisdom in him and he’s sealed and he’s quiet, but when he talks people listen. Those are the traits that helped me define my performance and who I wanted this character to be. Yes, very much those different lives really impacted my interpretation of this character.
For sure. To what you were saying about his wisdom and how much he’s collected, the film has a lot of great character moments in between all the action. Hawkman has quite a few of those character moments, displaying a lot of vulnerability underneath his tough persona. How did you balance the drama of his character with his warrior side?
Basically what it boiled down to as an actor is you want to play every moment you’re in as truthfully as you can. There are those moments where he’s a bad-ass and he’s kicking ass and you play those moments truthfully. Then there’s those moment, like you say, there’s a break in the action and especially with him and his relationship with Black Canary when that’s explored and you want to be truthful to that moment. Those moments are a window into these character’s souls. When they’re not busy being superheroes, who are these people really? It’s in those moments that I really connected with Hawkman and really helped me figure out who this person really, really is.
Awesome. Now Hawkman, as you probably discovered in your research, is one of the oldest superheroes being part of that first generation of Golden Age characters and he still remains popular. Why do you think he’s stayed so popular for eight decades now?
I don’t think I can answer that question of why. I mean, this is someone who’s just getting to know him. He just seems cool. I’m not surprised that he has such a huge fan base. I’m not surprised that the fan base spans many a generation because, at least to me, he’s just a little bit different than everybody else. Maybe that’s what resonates with people.
Obviously with it being World War II we see Hawkman in a setting where he’s not fighting typical supervillains like most other heroes would be, but he’s fighting Nazis. What was your reaction to learning of that aspect of the film?
It was awesome. I’m a huge fan of history and I’m very drawn to the WWII era. On my free time you’ll see me on a couch watching a WWII documentary. To be able to live in that world, and maybe that’s not something I would be able to play on screen. I wouldn’t be living in that world on screen. It was cool. Who doesn’t want to play a superhero who kicks Nazis’ asses? It was just pure fun. Yeah.
The film has a pretty large cast with the Justice Society and their supporting characters. What was it like for you to be part of such a large ensemble?
It was great. I tell you, I’m sure you know this or I don’t know if people know this, but when we go into these recordings, we’re just by ourselves and we have no idea what anyone else’s performance is going to be like. You really are at the mercy of your voice director and the director and writers. The way I explain it to people is like we’re just a bunch of stars, right? All these actors and these characters individually, but it’s the voice director that has to connect the dots and bring out that constellation. After the fact, after I saw the movie, after I got to see everyone else’s performance, I was just really blown away by that. It’s funny because we did a panel and it was the first time a lot of us had met each other and there was this weird sense of camaraderie and history even though we had met each other. That’s fascinating to me. I felt like I already knew them.
I’m going to assume Hawkman is your favourite character in this, but did you have any other favourite Justice Society member after watching?
You know, after watching I have a huge appreciation for The Flash. I obviously knew who The Flash was because he’s so popular in our culture, but I was more in awe of his superhuman powers than anybody else’s. If I could be anybody I want to be The Flash. Like I want to be this guy who’s quick as hell, I feel like I could get a lot done, you know? My appreciation for that character really grew from this movie.
That’s cool. As you said at the beginning you don’t know DC or Marvel a whole lot. What do you think was the advantage coming into it kind of blind and learning as you look up the characters and their histories?
I think the advantage is that I didn’t put pressure on myself to give a specific kind of performance. I felt like I could go into it and give an original take which is what I hope comes across. That’s very freeing for an actor, but like I said before you do have to do your homework because you do have to be respectful to the history of it, but I didn’t concern myself with other people’s performances, other people’s interpretations.
Thank you very much to Omid Abtahi 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.