Ricky Church chats with voice directing legend Andrea Romano about Superman: The Animated Series…
Superman: The Animated Series recently passed two big milestones as it celebrated its 25th anniversary and was finally released on Blu-ray this week. Led by the minds behind Batman: The Animated Series, Superman is a near-definitive take on the Man of Steel and his vast mythology with its approach to telling serious stories and advancing character development. As the second series in the DC Animated Universe, it also laid a lot of groundwork for what would come later with guest roles for other superheroes along with what was the first team-up between Superman and Batman in modern animation.
To celebrate the Blu-ray release of Superman: The Animated Series as well as its 25th anniversary, we chatted with voice casting and directing legend Andrea Romano. Though she is retired now, the influence of Andrea Romano’s work has stretched far, wide and beyond her career with how prominent an impact she made in animation. Aside from working on Superman and Batman: The Animated Series, Romano continued her work on the DC Animated Universe up to Justice League Unlimited as well as some of the first animated feature films DC released. Outside of the DCAU, her work includes titles like Animaniacs, Pinky & The Brain, Tiny Toons and Avatar: The Last Airbender, making her quite a name within animation. We chatted about the legacy of Superman, what helps her choose voice actors, the process behind her group recording sessions and more. Check out the interview below…
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Superman: The Animated Series. Looking back on the show’s legacy, what sticks out to you the most?
Ooh, that’s an interesting question! I think what sticks out to me is the fact that for many people, Superman was the first Superman they ever got to know. When I was a kid, it was the live-action series that was so wonderful and corny and delightful with George Reeves. But it’s the fact that people have not only responded to it when it was first made, but still continue to reference it and still remember specific performances by actors who played on the series. It’s extremely rewarding for all of us who worked on the production, every single person who worked on it, and it makes me happy that that Superman did not get overshadowed by Batman because Batman was the first series. We made Batman: The Animated Series and then we wanted to do something different for Superman. We wanted it to not be a repetition of what we’d already done and it makes me proud that we succeeded at that and that people reference this as their introduction to Superman. And when they see other Superman projects they compare them and it still manages to hold up, which is quite remarkable.
Awesome. Yeah. For me personally, this show was the first Superman animated series of my lifetime which was a huge thing for me as a kid. Coming off of Batman, which I also watched, into this and then seeing them eventually collide was awesome. You mentioning Batman: The Animated Series, those two characters and their worlds and supporting casts are such polar opposites of each other. What were you looking for in the cast of Superman compared to Batman to make them different?
Right, right. In general, Superman was a lighter cartoon and by that, I mean its image was not so based in black as Batman was. It had a very much gentler, if you will, style and voice-wise specifically for Superman, you have to be so careful because you know Superman’s often referred to as the boy scout and often in derogatory terms, but it shouldn’t be derogatory. Boy scouts or good, boy scouts are meant to be male characters, male people, male personages, who think of the right thing to do before they would think of the wrong thing, if they ever even think of the wrong thing. So we kind of needed that boy scout attitude in the voice and we needed it to be there inherently. We didn’t want it to be something they had to put onto their voice to make them sound like a good guy.
Tim Daly has that quality. Not to say he’s the only actor who auditioned that had that quality. Other people did too as well. But Tim had this really wonderful ability to do the strong stuff, the tough guy stuff when Superman had to be the tough guy and the conflicted Superman when he would try to decide what to do and the Clark Kent. That was a really tricky character because Clark Kent kind of has to seem dopey. He has to seem like he doesn’t know what’s going on in order to keep his identity secret. That can be goofy, that can come off goofy, but Tim found a way to make it innocent without sounding stupid and that was, I think, a big part of why he won the role.
Awesome. Yeah, I really liked Tim’s Superman. In terms of the rest of the cast, you have Dana Delany as Lois Lane, who funny enough worked in Mask of the Phantasm, then you have Clancy Brown who – I absolutely love Clancy Brown’s Lex Luthor. I thought that that was inspired. Then you have all these other guest stars like Ron Perlman, Malcolm McDowell, Michael Ironside, even Ed Asner! Does it ever feel surreal that you had such a stacked cast?
Always! Always! There would be moments when I would finish rehearsing the cast and I would rehearse in the room with them in the recording studio and then I would leave and go into the control room to direct the session from there. I would look at the group of people sitting out in front of me and turn to the production crew behind me and say “Can you believe these actors are sitting here in front of us? Am I not the luckiest person on the planet to get to play with these guys?” It was surreal. And what was so great about it is to watch people who hadn’t done this work embrace it because there had been a great deal of time when voiceover work period was kind of beneath on-camera actors. They didn’t want to do it.
Then they discovered it didn’t require memorization. It didn’t require wardrobe fittings. It didn’t require makeup. And you got to often play characters that you didn’t look like at all, nor were you ever rejected because you weren’t blonde enough or thin enough or pretty enough or whatever. Voiceover acting allowed for a lot of acting that some actors would never get the chance to do on camera. And so suddenly lots of actors reached out through their agents or directly to me to say “I want to come and play on one of these projects.” So I would keep a list and bring them in. So Ed Asner I’d worked with before on, gosh, he worked on Animaniacs with me. He might even been on Tiny Toons and of course he worked with me on Freakazoid! which was a joy. There were just these remarkable people that I admired so much like Bud Cort, who I just thought was so remarkable in Harold and Maude and to have him play the creepy, creepy character of Toyman, I thought was perfect or Miguel Ferrer or Andrea Martin who came into play one of the three Furies under Ed Asner’s Granny Goodness.
These people came into play and then once they had done the gig, they would go off and have coffee with their friends and go “Oh, I just did the most fun gig in animation” and then it caught wind of other actors. They would tell their agents and then I would have this longer list of people who wanted to come into play. I would often have multiple actors that I could reach out to to come and play. I just watched an episode yesterday that had Marion Ross! Happy Days‘ Mrs. Cunningham as a general and she was fantastic! Some things you would never normally be thought of for casting, she was the United States’ best mom, Richard Cunningham’s mom, but she was this tough, hard-edged general for us. Again, probably a role she wouldn’t get cast as on camera.
Yeah, for sure. You mentioned it in that answer there, but one of the things I find most interesting about both Batman: The Animated Series and Superman was how the whole cast would record in one room as opposed to recording in separate a booth which isn’t really done anymore. How did that help you direct the cast and the recording sessions to have everybody in one place?
Well, there’s an extremely practical reason for that as well as just I preferred it because I like actors to be able to react to each other. The practical reason is if I have a scene that’s let’s say it’s 15 lines long and I run it once with the actors from line 1 to line 15 and then I say, you know what? Let’s pick the pace up on that whole scene. Don’t overlap, but pick the pace up and let’s run it a second time. And the four actors that are in that scene run the scene again a little bit faster and I go “you know what, I like everything in that run except line 7, Tim can you pick up line 7 and just give me a little bit of push to it because you’ll be pushing on a wall when you say that line.” We do that pickup and that whole thing would’ve taken four minutes to do that. At the end of the four minutes I know I have that scene done.
If I have to record all of those four actors separately on different days, possibly, from different locations, I have to record so many different versions of each line to make sure that it will cut with some version of one of the lines that the next actor did that we’ll cut to the next one. That might take me as long to put together as a half hour. And so the practical reason is it was way faster, way faster, and it also helped everybody to get a sense of the rhythm of the piece. So they go “Okay, this whole thing is starting with a really high fight energy. We’re going to start that way.”
It’s not going to be just a conversation. It’s not going to be reading something out of a library book. That gave everybody more energy. It was also just plain fun. And I often didn’t tell people who the guest stars were going to be for the week. And so they would walk in to find out oh my gosh, Chris McDonald is here! Oh man, look, Ron Perlman’s coming to play! Or some people who really had very little experience like John Glover, but these were very recognizable people. William H. Macy came in and played with us and he was delightful! Very little experience doing that, but we got a chance to have him play different kinds of characters again that he wouldn’t normally play. It was some great fun.
Thank you very much to Andrea Romano for speaking with us!
Superman: The Complete Animated Series is now available to own on Blu-ray and digital. Read our review here.
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