Over the last twenty years, Kevin Conroy’s performance as the Dark Knight on “Batman: The Animated Series” has become, in many circles, the definitive Batman voice. The actor told CBR News at New York Comic Con on Friday that the initial casting was “a major lucky break.” He returns to the role in the upcoming “Batman: Arkham City,” the sequel to 2009’s “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” The actor discussed the differences in portraying Batman for a video game and the thrill of making the character come alive.
The “Arkham” games see the player navigating as Batman through perilous challenges presented to the iconic hero by his greatest adversaries. In the first game, players roam the somewhat open worlds of Arkham Asylum and, in the new game, a section of the city now walled off to take the place of the destroyed institution. The game’s open elements required the developers to have a certain flexibility in how the character presents himself verbally.
Reprising the role on various “Justice League” series and a number of the DC Universe Animated direct-to-video movies, Conroy felt lending his voice to both games presented a new challenge. “It is such a different experience, recording the game,” he said, recalling how he was called upon to repeat line after line in order to maximize the performance options open to the game developer.
“Now, say the line with some sarcasm,” he said, reenacting the direction he received. “Now, say it with some sarcasm and a smile. Okay, can you say it with sarcasm, a smile and a little bit of menace?” A single line, like “Joker, get out of here!” could be recorded over twenty times with different tones, inflections and pitches. “That goes on for hour after hour after hour,” Conroy said. In fact, the actor was surprised to see how his vocal tracks fit into the final game. “I went in to [dub lines for the finished game] and I was blown away [at the look of the game.] I didn’t know that was what it was going to look like!”
When recording the animated shows, Conroy often had the advantage of an ensemble cast to work with and play against, and while working on “Arkham Asylum,” he had a few sessions with fellow “Batman: The Animated Series” alum Mark Hamill, but on “Arkham City,” Conroy performed his part solo. “The writer and director were always involved in the recordings,” he said. “You’re alone in a booth for four-hour blocks and you have to keep the juices going; you have to keep [the performance] alive, but believable.”
By contrast, the actor related a story about the camaraderie of the “Animated Series” cast.
“It was during the [1992 Los Angeles Riots],” he recalled. “We had a session booked and — this was before cell phones — I called my agent before I left to make sure they hadn’t cancelled it.” As far as his agent knew, the session was still on, so Conroy drove toward the show’s little recording studio on Rowena Blvd in West LA. “All the traffic was going the other way and there was this wafting smoke coming up [from downtown,]” he said. “When I got there … everyone showed up! Everyone wanted to be there and we were looking around going, ‘Should we be here?'”
The group went ahead and tried to record their lines, but encountered a peculiar problem due to the riots. “Each time the studio door opened, more smoke would come into the booth,” he remembered. “[Voice director Andrea Romano] finally said, ‘We’re getting too much smoke in the booth. We can’t record!'” Only then was the session finally cancelled. To Conroy, the story illustrates the dedication and team spirit that makes working on the animated shows and movies so much fun.
The “Animated Series” cast included Hamill, who voiced the Joker on the series and returns to the role in “Arkham City.” Conroy discussed his acting partner, calling him “talented and crazy.” “His intelligence can take him to kind of a crazy place sometimes, as intelligence often can. The two of us would get going and it would be so much fun.”
Having spent a lifetime in the acting profession, Conroy noted the various principle driving forces in the various mediums. “In theater, it’s the actors. On television, it’s the writers. In film, it’s the director,” he explained. “In games, it’s really the player who’s really in charge.” He said fans of the first game come up to him and talk about their enjoyment of the game and the paths they take. “He’s the one who put all together, but I gave him [part of] the stuff to play with.”
“Batman: Arkham City” arrives on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on October 18