Ricky Church chats with Troy Baker about his role as The Joker in Batman: The Long Halloween…
After many years of fans clamouring for its adaptation, Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two has been released on Blu-ray and digital as the next in DC and Warner Bros.’ animated film line. Based on the maxi-series from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, the story follows Batman in his earliest years of crime fighting as he, Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent investigate a serial killer named Holiday who is targeting members of the Falcone crime family on one holiday each month. While they are trying to solve the case and bring down the Falcone mob, they also have to contend with the rise of Gotham City’s supervillains.
To celebrate the release of the second part to this highly anticipated film, we sat down with voice actor Troy Baker who portrays The Joker in both parts. Baker is no stranger to Gotham City or to the Clown Prince of Crime after voicing him in several projects over the last few years. He first voiced Joker in the video game Batman: Arkham Origins, the prequel to the Batman: Arkham series, which depicted the first confrontation between Batman and The Joker. Baker would go onto to voice Joker in other Arkham tie-ins such as Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate and the animated film Batman: Assault on Arkham. He is also one of the few actors to portray both The Joker and Batman in separate projects as he played the Dark Knight in Telltale’s Batman: The Telltale Series and its sequel The Enemy Within, even going so far as to voice both Batman and Joker in the animated Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.
We chatted with Baker about playing Joker in the early years of his rivalry with Batman, his advice to Jensen Ackles on voicing Batman and Bruce Wayne and what it’s like to follow in the footsteps of legendary Joker voice actors. Check out our interview below…
Ricky Church: Batman: The Long Halloween is a story almost every Batman fan has wanted to see adapted for years now. How does it feel to be included in this two-part adaptation?
Troy Baker: First of all, that’s a very important distinction. The fact that we did it as a two-parter is rare and pretty new, right? You look at some of the other adaptations that we’ve done in the past, like Under The Red Hood or Year One, these have been self-contained. We’ve done it within the confines of a single feature film and this was just something that was too big. We have to spread it across two. I never miss an opportunity to say to this, and fortunately I’ve been able to tell this to him to his face, I was a little arms folded when I found out that Jensen [Ackles] was going to be Batman because I was walking in with such prejudice of how amazing of a job he did in Under The Red Hood as Jason Todd. Honestly, I always ask like “Hey, I’m here. I get to be Joker. I got to know who’s our Batman?” and they’re like “Get this: Jensen Ackles” and I went “No, no. Who’s Batman?” [Laughs]
Dude, sometimes we record in a vacuum and we don’t get to hear anything. It’s literally just our part. There’s benefits to that because we get to focus on our performance and where we fit into the story and there’s a big story we’re trying to tell. So for an ADD kid like me, it’s super easy to get lost in the tangents, but I got to hear a little bit of Jensen and I was like “wait a minute.” It really caught me off guard. And then you back that up, you got Josh’s [Duhamel] Harvey Dent. You’ve got my buddy Jack Quaid playing the junior Falcone. You’ve got this incredible cast, Billy Burke as James Gordon is a really interesting casting choice. Naya Rivera is of course Catwoman. Titus Welliver! I mean, I felt like we got a pretty amazing rogues gallery for a cast.
The second question I always have is what’s the animation style going to be, right? Because I know how it’s going to sound. The writing is always good. Our writing is top notch. It’s incredible. We’re telling incredible stories, especially with these adaptations. I always want to know what it’s going to look like. When we first started getting animation back, being able to see it I thought we are just going for it! These get better and better and better. But I got to say the opening, it is not a spoiler if anyone hasn’t seen it, but the opening scene, it was super brave choice for the very opening scene to be a line spoken not by Batman, but by Bruce Wayne. To me, that’s a really, really powerful choice.
You’re one of the few voices actors I can think of who has portrayed both The Joker and Batman. Was there any advice you passed on to Jensen for playing Batman?
I told Jensen “Take it from experience, it’s easier to do Batman, but it’s really, really hard to do Bruce. They will glorify your Batman, but they’ll crucify your Bruce.” And he just really, really did a fantastic job. He leaned into this role. I got to give him props every time. But yeah, you’re absolutely right. This story is by no means a cult classic, right? It is definitely one that people have been wanting. If you’re going through the comic book store, you thumb through to see if you can find this one. That’s what I feel like we did, when are we going to get to this one? Because we’ve done almost every other incredible story.
In these two movies, you get to play The Joker who just adds chaos to the whole Holiday mystery. What do you think of his role in The Long Halloween?
Here’s the big challenge of The Joker: everybody’s waiting for him to show up and he casts a very long shadow. A character that I would kind of compare him to is very much along the lines of Al Swearengen in Deadwood. Season One comes out and Ian McShane just knocks it out of the park and all of a sudden television has a new antihero to rally around. They love this character portrayed by Ian McShane. And David Milch in Season Two goes “I gotta take you out because I need to make sure that people understand this isn’t about one character.” And so he puts Al Swearengen, all of Season Two, laid up in a bed with hardly a single line of dialogue. One of the things that I wanted to make sure with this is The Joker is always a source of antagonism, but he’s never often the foil. For this to be presented as a red herring or a foil to the point where Batman is always looking to him as “You have to be the cause of this” and for Joker to kick back and go “For once it’s not me! It’s somebody else here!” To me, it was a really cool twist, not only from the source material, but to be able to step into that from a performance standpoint is a lot of fun. Jokers should have fun, which he always is, but this was a unique way from my perspective to implement the character of The Joker where he can sideline with the audience and watch all this chaos.
What’s interesting is The Long Halloween takes place early in Batman’s career so he and Joker have only fought a handful of times at this point. How do you think that affects their rivalry and your performance in these films?
Man, great question. I don’t think it ever gets to be old hat between the two of them. One of my favourite lines and it was a line that I struggled with actually with Batman, he said “I never knew that I would have to be a detective.” I really struggled with that because you think of Batman as the world’s greatest detective, that is his trademark. He is the great detective and there’s a lot of other characters that exist to help reinforce that. You’ve got Ra’s al Ghul who comes in and he’s definitely the Moriarty to Batman’s Holmes. You have these characters that support the notion of Batman as a vigilante. That’s where Harvey Dent stands opposite of him is because we’re doing the same kind of thing.
Then The Joker is, they’re both menaces to this city, but one is just saying that he’s doing it for good and the other is saying he’s doing it for purely maniacal reasons. But to think about how early on in the career this is for Batman and for him to struggle with the fact that “I thought that I was going to be able to attack this problem this way. I thought that I could instill fear and just the symbol of the bat would be enough to ward off these criminals. But no, I’m actually gonna have to get my hands dirty and I’m going have to fight these people. Oh, that’s not actually going to be enough. I’m going to have to also use my brain.” To me, what a great opportunity for us to revisit something that we know about this character and present it in a rapidly different context. And then be able to extrapolate that to all of the surrounding relationships like The Joker where you go, how do you fight him? How do you approach him? To me, this is watching the evolution of how every other fight that we know about in Killing Joke, in Year One, in any of these that we’ve seen these fantastical stories, this is the progenitor for that. This is the beginning of that.
You follow a long line of big names who have voiced The Joker over the years. Frank Welker voiced him a little bit in the 70s or 80s, Kevin Michael Richardson, John DiMaggio, and then of course Mark Hamill. Does it ever feel surreal or intimidating to you to join those guys in The Joker club?
Only every second. I only feel that way on days that end with Y. Every time that I walk into the booth and I realize it’s impossible to not recognize, like you bend the knee to not only the performers, but the characters and those that have created him. This goes back to Bob Kane, to Bruce Timm, to all of these people that have created opportunities for these characters to become more and more fleshed out. Mark will always, always, always be my Joker because that’s the Joker that I was drawn to. And there’s been people along the way, like what John DiMaggio did in Under The Red Hood completely shaked it up. My favourite line in the entire thing is “I’m going to need some guys, hopefully not these guys.” That is a brilliant line and it shows that The Joker exists outside of any actor that performs him. I believe the same is true for Batman and Jensen proved that.
Thank you very much to Troy Baker for speaking with us!
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.