CBR TV’s Steve Sunu welcomed voice actors Kevin Conroy and Troy Baker, stars of the recently released “Batman: Assault on Arkham” animated feature, to the CBR Yacht at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Conroy, who has been associated with Batman for more than two decades, and Baker, voice of the Joker, spoke about their new movie and how the characters they play never truly belong. Conroy talks about what it feels like to create the definitive Batman for more than a generation, why Baker talks about the thrill and the terror of becoming a part of something he loved and working alongside Conroy in the process. They also discuss how the new animated feature, which features the debut of the Suicide Squad into DC’s Animated Universe, is an extension of what Bruce Timm and Paul Dini began with “Batman: The Animated Series.” Conroy then tells an amazing story about getting recognized while doing September 11 relief work and both actors talk about non-acting pursuits that have shaped their performances — all while staying tight-lipped about the highly-anticipated “Batman: Arkham Knight” video game.
On the actors’ lone meeting prior to hanging out on the boat together: “Once,” they both responded in unison.
“One time. It was very brief. It’s actually one of my — because clearly, we’re working with legends across the board, legendary characters. Happy birthday, Batman,” said Baker. “This was one of my greatest moments. It was on ‘Arkham City,’ and we were getting set up for the mics and I was kind of on the other side of the room. Kevin’s in there and he’s getting his script together and I couldn’t help myself. I said, ‘I hate to do this, man, but…’ and he kind of looks up like, ‘Here it comes.’ And I said, ‘There is an episode of the animated series.’ He goes, ‘Yeah?’ I said, ‘You probably don’t remember it, it’s a long time ago, but it was an episode where Bruce Wayne falls asleep and he wakes up,’ and [Conroy] just looks up and he goes, ‘Perchance to Dream.’ [Conroy laughs] He goes, ‘It’s my favorite episode, too.’ I did everything I could to contain myself. And now we’re on a boat together.”
“See, everything comes full circle,” said Conroy.
Conroy on what it feels like to portray the role of Batman for 23 years: “It’s great. What an honor to be a part of something like that for 23 years, but to have created that sound when ‘Batman: The Animated series’ was first being created was — to be a part of it with Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and Andrea Romano, that was such a great creative crew,” said Conroy. “It was an acting job. We didn’t really know what it was gonna become. No one knew it was going to be more than a season, and then it just grew and grew and grew and grew and evolved into other shows. You never know as an actor what’s gonna happen with something.
“I remember the first time I was sitting in a — you know you do the recordings first, then it goes off to the artists and they paint and it comes back. So there’s a six-month lag time in doing the TV shows between when you do the recording and when you see anything,” Conroy continued. “The first six months we were just using our imaginations to create these things. We hadn’t seen anything. So when the first footage came back — then it was being painted in Korea — I was sitting in this ADR studio at Warner Bros. and these lights and these colors and these sounds, this full symphony score and this graphic, beautiful artwork. I said, ‘I had no idea this is what I was doing! I had no idea this is what I was working on!’ It was awesome.”
On different actors bringing different qualities to each of these iconic roles: “Kevin Conroy will always be my Batman, and Mark Hamill will always be my Joker,” said Baker.
“But different actors bring different things to it. It’s so interesting to see that,” Conroy countered.
“Absolutely. I was just talking to someone about this, too. You never really own a character, you’re only a custodian of it for a while,” said Baker.
“You’re renting it sort of,” said Conroy.
“Exactly. Who’s King Lear? Who’s Richard III? There’s been thousands of people who have played those roles. But when I read ‘Arkham Asylum’ or ‘The Killing Joke,’ these were the voices that played through my head,” Baker explained. “For that show and those characters and those roles, and those actors specifically, to be the progenitor for what led me into doing what I do, absolutely there’s a lot of honor and respect that goes into the fact that I’m even able to fill that role.”
“Working with Mark was so incredible for so many years. We had such a great symbiotic relationship, he fed me, I fed him. I always thought, ‘This is the definitive Joker.’ And then I saw Heath Ledger in [‘The Dark Knight’] and I thought, ‘Oh my god. He’s just taking it to a whole different realm.’ And then I worked with Troy, and it’s just watching other actors brings things to it, everyone enriches it in their own way. And it’s so interesting to see how different actors have different — different but similar — takes on the same character. The character’s just kind of a given, but it’s watching different people approach it from their way. Actors, we are our tools, they always say that. You are your instrument. And all you have is your imagination and your emotions that you bring to the character. So it’s been great working with you, to see what you bring to it. But it must be a trip to have watched it as a kid and to then be involved in that world as an adult. That’s pretty wild.”
“And specifically the Joker I was brought in to do when we did ‘Arkham Origins’ was clearly to point towards the same Arkham that we had seen and the Joker we had seen in the other ‘Arkham’ games [voiced by Hamill],” said Baker. “I kind of had, fortunately, great rails to be on. If it had lived and died with one thing that would have been fantastic. The fact that you bring it into an animated setting, too, was, again, the seedling for this love of mine. That’s a huge banner day. And then on top of that to be like, ‘And o by the way you’re also…’ I gotta know, who’s our Batman? ‘Oh, Kevin.’ I’m like, ‘Okay. [Laughter] Sure.’ So yeah, it’s been amazing.”
Conroy on working the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. night shift as a cook in the Ground Zero Kitchen following September 11: “The atmosphere down there was just, as you can imagine, very dark, very sulfurous. The air was very sulfurous, very smoky. It was just a couple of blocks, a few blocks from the pit. All the relief workers would come in all night — there was 24-hour relief going on, it was a 24-hour kitchen — so the night shift was a very quiet, somber kind of place where all you heard were the hum of generators and the work lights that were on the pit,” Conroy said. “People would come in covered with dust, all these cops and firemen, and just legions of them all night long. So a few nights into this — and it was very sweaty, it was a very hot, sweaty September — I’m in the kitchen working with this guy and he goes, ‘So my day job is I’m an architect. What’s your day job?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m an actor.’ He goes, ‘Do you do some special kind of acting?’ I said, ‘I do mostly voices now for animation.’ And he said, ‘I knew it! You’re that Kevin Conroy. You’re Batman!’ [Laughter] I said, ‘How do you know that?’ He said, ‘Everybody knows who’s Batman.’ I said, ‘I don’t think everyone knows who’s Batman.’ He said, ‘Can I tell the guys in the dining hall?’ I said, ‘No one’s gonna care. Are you kidding?’ He said, ‘Are you nuts?! Listen.’
“So he goes out in the dining room and he says, ‘Hey guys, you’re not gonna believe who’s been cooking your dinner. It’s Batman!’ And there’s this long silence and you hear, ‘Bull!’ Someone says, ‘Make him prove it!'” Conroy continued. “You know, typical fireman. So from the kitchen I do [Batman voice], ‘I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!’ There’s this long silence and you hear, ‘Holy crap! That is Batman!’ and the whole place bursts into a cheer. They come running back into the kitchen and everyone just started laughing. It was so much fun, and then the architect who had recognized me said, ‘What does it feel like to be Santa Claus? Because that’s just what happened.’ People started laughing all of a sudden.
“I e-mailed Andrea Romano that night, as soon as I got home the next morning, and I said, ‘What we do is not unimportant. It really matters.’ That’s what people needed at that moment was a laugh,” said Conroy. “But, to be honest, I edited the words because the firemen used somewhat more colorful language.