Over the course of their crime-fighting careers, Batman and Robin have consistently thwarted The Joker‘s capers. And while the citizens of Gotham City have been pleased that good always ultimately overcame the Clown Prince of Crime’s evil plans, the Dynamic Duo arguably had an unfair advantage — namely, that there are two of them.
Those odds shifted, however, once Harley Quinn was introduced on “Batman: The Animated Series.” And while expectations may have been modest when she debuted, The Joker’s deadly new sidekick proved to be such a fan-favorite that she soon crossed over to other entertainment mediums.
RELATED: The Strange History of Harley Quinn
Originally, Harley Quinn was voiced by Arleen Sorkin in both cartoons and games until Sorkin’s fellow “B:tAS” alum Tara Strong filled her red and black boots beginning with 2011’s “Batman: Arkham City.” No stranger to the voiceover business, Strong’s long list of animated projects include “Rugrats,” “Teen Titans Go!,” “Family Guy” and “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” among others. As far as Harley is concerned, Strong has provided the voice for the popular anti-hero in a number of games, including “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” “Batman: Arkham Origins,” “Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham” and “Infinite Crisis.”
With “Batman: Arkham Knight,” the final chapter of developer Rocksteady Studios’ “Arkham” trilogy, due in stores on June 23, Strong spoke with CBR News about putting her own twist on the voice and the character’s evolution since taking on the character’s mantle. Strong also opens up about her all-too-brief “Arrow” cameo, and her hopes for Margot Robbie’s feature film take on Harley.
CBR News: What do you recall about your first exposure to Harley Quinn? Were there any particular traits or visual elements of the character that you immediately latched on to?
Tara Strong: I was Batgirl [on “Batman: The Animated Series”] and working alongside Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, Arleen Sorkin and some of the most amazing talent. I never thought it was a voice I would one day do. It was created for Arleen and she has such a unique vocal quality. She wasn’t really doing much of a voice. Her natural voice is so quirky and adorable. It just struck me that she was Harley. Obviously, she’s not a psychopath or dating a bad guy. I used to love just watching her. Harley is just an interesting and beautiful character and Arleen always did such a great job.
When I got the call they wanted a new version, I was surprised. Then they said they didn’t want it to sound like Arleen. They wanted a newer version of it. I had been working on an impression and they said, “No, we really want your own take on it.” It was a very interesting time, because I loved Arleen so much that I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing that. But, since it had to go to someone, luckily I was there, and I really loved Arleen. Hopefully, I paid respect to what she created.
It must be intimidating when you follow in the footsteps of someone who has put such an indelible stamp on a character.
Yeah, and if they are still around, it’s a funny thing. I don’t like when someone else does my voice. I’m sure it wasn’t the best news, but Arleen was very gracious in the press about it. She said if she thought about anyone taking her place, I would be the one. When she had met me, she had told her hubby how talented I was. She was very gracious, which was really nice.
Can you talk a little about how you approached the character and made the voice your own?
I sort of took what I knew about the history of Harley Quinn and from listening to clips of her. I created it along with the writers and creators of the game, “Arkham City,” which was the first time I did the voice. I had clips of her on my phone from the animated series, and they said, “You need to stop listening to those. We want your version. We don’t want that version.” It became a mix between my own voice and a Harley impression, but certainly with a lot more highs and lows, and a lot darker than the original.
How long does a video game voiceover gig take to do compared to some of the cartoons?
It really depends how many lines you have. It can take a lot longer, and it can be more taxing on your voice. Typically, when you do an animated series, it’s you along with the other cast members. For a game, it’s just you for four hours. Even if you are not screaming and doing death sounds, it can be tiring doing any character for four hours at a time. It really comes down to a good director. If they have someone who just works for a game company asking for 30 takes of the same death noises, you are going to wipe out your talent. A good voiceover director will make things go quicker and still get a good performance.
What helps keep your energy up when you aren’t interacting with other actors?
I typically have a couple of different drinks on hand. I’ll have water and some yummy type of coffee. When it comes to the acting beats, you really have to picture the moments in your head so that it translates when you are saying it. There’s been many times, including for Harley, where I’ve actually cried doing a recording. I sort of close my eyes and picture what’s happening in those moments. I just stay true to the character, like any other acting job.
Do you move around and get animated?
Oh, yeah! You can’t move too much, because you have to stay within the parameters of what sounds good on mic. But you’ll never see a voice actor just standing still. There are hand gestures, facial movements and a little body movement. Maybe there’s a little body noise, as long as you aren’t wearing something noisy, like a puffer jacket. The mic can be really sensitive.
How do you feel Harley Quinn has developed since you took over voicing her?
I’d say, when Harley started she was the brainchild of Bruce Timm. Initially, she was sort of this psycho girlfriend, this poor soul in love with a horrible person. Over the years, she’s come into her own.
Obviously, when the Joker dies [in the “Arkham” trilogy], she is carrying on his legacy and still being evil. This Harley has a lot more confidence than the original Harley. She’s not just sort of a withering girlfriend that has no identity. She’s still very much in love with the Joker, whenever there’s interaction, but she’s independent and strong and I would say crazier and darker than the original.
It’s interesting that there aren’t many villains with sidekicks.
No, there aren’t. She’s such an unusual character, that blend of super-cute and super-psycho and someone so devoted to someone who is really a monster. She’s also endearing enough that people root for her. Not many people root for the Joker. He’s unattractive, but don’t let Harley hear I said that. Somehow, you end up voting for Harley because she’s so cute and everyone has that relationship where you feel you are constantly fighting for that recognition or your little love crumbs. People can relate to her on some level. Also, she’s hot.
You’ve voiced Harley outside of games as well, including a cameo in the first Suicide Squad episode of “Arrow.”
That was so much fun. They brought me in, and I was on stage. People working the same scene were really big fans. Then it was watching the scene unfold, although you could only see her in the back. They knew the fans were going to go nuts. The second it hit the airwaves, fans were tweeting about it.
What are your hopes and expectations for the big-screen version of Harley Quinn when “Suicide Squad” hits theaters?
I really loved Margot Robbie in “Wolf of Wall Street.” I think Margot is quite engaging on camera. I hope Harley continues on that path of being engaging and having people fall in love with her and not getting lost in the villainous nature of who she is, but the endearing side of who she is. Hopefully people will love her even more.
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