She’s the woman responsible for so many of the voices you’ve been hearing in your head since you were a child.
That’s because legendary animation casting director and voice director Andrea Romano has an uncanny knack for zeroing in on the perfect voice for any character appearing in animated form, whether she’s drawing from an iconic field of long-established vocal performers, making inspired choices among well-known stars and pop cultural personalities or discovering the ideal actor from the stage or screen and bestowing them a vibrant second career.
She’s the one who made Kevin Conroy the definitive voice of Batman and making Mark Hamill’s voice as recognizable as The Joker as his features were for Luke Skywalker. Over the course of a vibrant, Emmy-winning three-decade-plus career in television, film, direct to video, gaming and now app animation, Romano has vocally populated dozens and dozens of incarnations of enduring, imaginative universes – the DC Animated Universe, “Tiny Toon Adventures,” “Animaniacs,” “Pinky and the Brain,” “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “SpongeBob Squarepants,” “Ben 10,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and many, many more – and informed the childhoods of more people than she’ll ever meet in her lifetime.
Now Romano is being honored for her auditory excellence on Oct. 23 by the International Family Film Festival, named as the 2016 recipient of the prestigious Friz Award for Excellence in Animation – named for the legendary, pioneering animation director Friz Freleng, with whom Romano worked early in her career. In anticipation of the distinction, Romano joined CBR for an in-depth look and her long and storied career in animation, which as she revealed is still based on a very simple principal: Find the best actor for the job.
CBR: Tell me what this particular distinction, this honor that you’re getting from the film festival, means to you.
Andea Romano: It’s a remarkable honor to even be mentioned in the same sentence with names like Friz Freleng who I did have the great pleasure to work at Barbera for a very brief period of time, or Joe Barbera or Bill Melendez, or any of these people that really have made a major mark in animation. It’s a remarkable honor and I’m thrilled beyond belief. I was unaware of this organization, and what a cool thing it is.
Now that I’ve done some research about it, it’s a really cool festival, the International Family Film Festival. And I’m always amazed that anybody knows what I do, at all, but because of what’s happened over the years, with DVD extras and interviews and things, people actually do recognize me and know me and can actually say, when they see me, thank you for “Batman” or whatever, which is the coolest thing ever because we were always behind the scenes.
Nobody ever knew who the heck we were and now – I mean, every state practically has a Comic-Con. All the voice actors are well known. When we were kids we didn’t get to meet our heroes. We didn’t get to meet Daws Butler and Mel Blanc, and Don Messick and all of those wonderful people, but because I worked in the industry I got to meet them, which is a joy. But as layman we didn’t get to meet them. Now, people get to meet them and that’s a really wonderful thing.
When you started out, how savvy were you about the behind the scenes animation voices were you? Did you learn on the job, or did you come in with a fairly deep bench knowledge?
I started out as an actress, when I was in New York, and then I moved to Southern California to San Diego where no one told me that there was no acting work, and then a friend of mine who I had gone to college with, undergraduate work, called me to interview for a temporary job at a talent agency in a voiceover department, and that’s where I started learning anything about voiceover. And I was there for about three or four months as a temp, and then the person that I was temping for decided not to come back, and they franchised me. I want to say that this was somewhere around 1980, and for like a little tiny period of time I was the youngest agent in Hollywood, and I got to go to a lot of recording sessions.
I’d go to a lot of Hanna-Barbera sessions because I loved Hanna-Barbera so much, and that gave me a great insight into how cartoons were made. So when in 1984 Ginny McSwain, who was the casting director at Hanna-Barbera, called me up and said ‘Do you want to come interview for this job,?” I jumped at the chance, and went into the interview with Gordon Hunt – arguably the mentor to every voice director that works today – hired me almost on the spot. But I had a little bit of background because I had been going to sessions. I had watched Gordon work.
I was such a huge fan of animation. I watched cartoons like a crazy person when I was a kid, back in the day when cartoons aired on weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings, and that was it. That was it! You had to rush home after – you know, TV – after school to watch TV for a couple of hours before Mom came home and catch what cartoons you could. So, I learned a lot on the spot, on the job, but I had a little bit of background about it.
I learned when I was at Hanna-Barbera. I thought it was important to learn what every aspect of cartoon making was. So, I learned what a storyboard artist does, what a writer does, what a layout artist does, what an in-betweener is, what all that – so that I understood what everybody’s contribution to this thing was. And, because in voiceover we do the voices first, and then it goes away for animation for 9-10 months, and then it comes back and we do ADR to picture, there’s a big gap in my job, where I don’t know what the heck is going on.
So I thought “Let me find out what that is,” and I think that’s a really smart way for any voice director to appreciate what everybody’s contribution is to make a good cartoon. Because, knowing that, what we give the animators after that initial record will really be the blueprint for the entire cartoon. So if an actor does a very kind of low-key slow read, that’s what’s going to be animated. If it’s a really energetic, high-energy read that’s what’s going to be animated. And so it’s crucial that we get it right.
And knowing that, I think, helps everybody feel better about what you’re doing and that you respect what they are doing too, and understanding what an editor goes through when they’re trying to get like a tie-in – a razorblade in-between one line and another: “Can we cut that apart to make the scene work this way?” All those things, I think, were really key things. So I learned a lot on the job.
Tell me some favorite memories of watching the legends in the business, working in those early days in your career.
Within my first week of working at Hanna-Barbera I there was a session scheduled that included Daws Butler and Don Messick and a bunch of classic Hanna-Barbera voice actors – and these guys were equally as talented as Mel Blanc. They just didn’t have the on-camera presence that Mel had because of “The Jack Benny Show,” nor did they have that kind of publicity machine behind them that Mel did, but they were equally as genius. They really were. They were brilliant.
And Daws Butler was one of my very favorite voiceover actors, and when I met him at Hanna-Barbera and said “Huckleberry Hound” was my very favorite cartoon, and he spoke to me as Huckleberry Hound, I just burst into tears. I cried like a baby because – you know, how a scent, a smell, will send you back in time? You go, “Oh, boy, that smells like the school bus I used to ride to first grade.” This voice took me back to being five years old sitting in front of the TV with my feety pajamas on, and I remembered why I thought “Huckleberry Hound” was such a cool cartoon. He was the first character that I remember ever that broke the fourth wall. He would turn the camera and talk right to the camera, and he was talking to me. You know, I was convinced he was looking through the TV and seeing me and talking to me. So, he was my pup. Meeting him was such a joy.
And then there were some of the people who are now the golden actors in animation that are still working, the Frank Welkers. Up until recently, June Foray was still working, and a lot of the people that worked on “The Smurfs” and that was the first series that I was working on at Hanna-Barbera. That was 86, “The Smurfs,” “The Snorks,” the shows that were – because of the success of “Muppet Babies.” Do you remember that time period when “Muppet Babies” was huge? All the different studios – once a trend like that starts, everybody hops on the bandwagon.
Hanna-Barbera was like, “Okay, let’s make shows that are all the younger generation.” So, it was “Popeye and Son,” “A Pup Named Scooby Doo,” “Pink Panther and Son,” which is when I got to meet Friz Freleng – I worked with Friz Freleng on “Pink Panther and Son,” and so that was a very popular trend. There were also these enormous cast shows, like “The Smurfs,” which I think had like 47 regular characters. Every actor did three voices, but still it was a lot of actors in there, and “The Snorks.” “The Snorks” was a cast of thousands, and all of those shows.
And so I was kind of thrust into it, and really thrown into the deep end of the pool. It was like, “Okay, Andrea, we need 50 voices cast for this week’s recording,” and Gordon was so fast. He would do a minimum of two sessions a day. So, we were recording about ten cartoons a week. So, it was trial by fire, and I really learned a lot about what good working voiceover actors were, and the fact that we needed a bigger talent pool because we found ourselves using the same actors over and over and over again.
Now, Gordon had been the casting director at the Mark Taper Forum before he began in animation, so he had access to a lot of stage actors and stage actors – actors with stage experience make the transition into voiceover better than people who’ve only had on-camera, film and TV because they’re used to working very small. Animation needs that slightly more pumped-up energy, and stage actors are used to that. That’s what they need for stage acting.
So we started pulling actors from casting Gordon had through Mark Taper and sort of opening it up to people, come play, it’s a place where you can play someone you may never get cast as on camera, but if your voice is right, you can do it. You can show up unshaven, in your pajamas. As long as your voice is warmed up and you can do it we’re happy to have you. But, now because there’s so much B-roll shot while people are doing voiceover, people kind of have to put on makeup and dress and stuff for it, but essentially it’s a business that can be done in your pajamas.
In the early 90s, you were right there when Warner Brothers Animation was really having this renaissance and people were really paying attention to what they were doing with “Tiny Toons” and “Animaniacs” and “Batman: The Animated Series.” How soon did you realize that was a special moment in time, not just for your career but for animation in television?
The year was 1989 and a bunch of my friends at Hanna-Barbera said that they were all going to leave and form Warner Brothers TV Animation. It did not exist. There was not a TV animation division. Disney had done it a couple of years earlier, very successfully. Disney has always been cutting edge that way. They’re very smart. They have a business plan that’s really wise, but Warner Brothers didn’t have one.
So they formed it and asked me would I come along and direct for them, but I’d have to come over as a freelance director. So, I had to make a big career choice. Either I give up paid vacations, paid sick days, health insurance to take this freelance job, but I’d be a voice director, not just a casting director, but I’d be casting and directing. And in their attempt to pitch the whole thing to me they said, ‘Well, the first show we’re going to do is called ‘Steven Spielberg Presents Tiny Toon Adventures.’” Well, that kind of hooked me right in.
And so I knew already that that was going to be special because, right from the very beginning, Steven was not just a masthead name. Steven was reading every storyboard. Steven had story ideas. He came to recording sessions. I actually directed him in a session. And so I knew it was special right away. We made “Tiny Toons” and then we made “Animaniacs,” both similar comic-style shows, comedy shows, musical shows, funny, sweet, fast – you know, adorable. The spinoff, “Pinky and the Brain,” one of my favorite cartoons that still holds up to this day.
And then Bruce Timm said I want to make a “Batman,” and I want to make a “Batman” show way different than what everybody’s idea of “Batman” was. Up until that point, everybody’s idea of “Batman” was essentially the Adam West, very cartoony live action on-camera series, but he wanted to make a very dark cartoon, and I was absolutely gung-ho to play in the field. I hadn’t really done that before, and we knew that was going to be special too, because everybody that was working on it was doing something different.
For example, we knew we wanted it to look dark. So, for the first time, the background artists decided to work on black paper. They did all the backgrounds on black paper, painted on black paper as opposed to white paper, and painting it all black and making it all dark. They used black paper. So everything looked different.
We didn’t want cartoony acting. We wanted real what people would call stage acting or on-camera acting, real, genuine. It wasn’t about how many voices you could do. It wasn’t about if you could sing or not – although we joked a lot about doing “Batman, The Musical,” and did do an episode or two that did pay homage to that. And so really, right from the beginning, I knew Warner Brothers was going to do something special, and I was very happy to be a part of the beginning team.
I helped form Warner Brothers TV Animation, which is so lovely because it has lasted, and I go to a Comic-Con and people will say – they’ll come up, like a 50 – a 45-year-old guy will come up and say you raised me with all the cartoons that you did, and now my kid is being raised by you, because they’re watching all of your cartoons. That’s longevity. That’s a really cool thing.
Twenty years later and we’re seeing a resurgence in interest in the “Batman” series.
It really speaks to how good it was that it’s still being – I mean, there are some shows that I’ve done reboots of, whether it was “Thundercats” or now “Voltran” that I look at those original shows and I go I can’t believe people really followed them because they were very inexpensive animation. I don’t mean to say anything unkind about them, but they weren’t very good cartoons. They really weren’t, but they had a fan base and people wanted to see them remade, and we remade them with expensive animation and did really good work.
But “Batman” doesn’t need anything. It doesn’t need to be tweaked. It doesn’t need to be remade. We could just make more of them, and that would be great, and I wished that would happen. I hope that sometime someone says let’s spend some dough and make – bring back the original cast and make – there is something coming out this November, a virtual reality “Batman” game where I was able to get all of the surviving “Batman” actors to come and play.
What was interesting about “Batman” and the superhero shows that followed was that mix of celebrity actor and working actor that were maybe not especially known for voice work, but became known for it because of what you did. Tell me about finding that balance. Kevin Conroy was a guy you used to see on TV and in movies all the time, but he became the iconic voice. Mark Hamill is still Mark Hamill, but now he’s also the Joker for that whole generation. Tell me about finding these talents and looking in different corners for the right people.
So when I first started casting at Hanna-Barbera it was a time when celebrities and known recognizable on-camera actors wanted nothing to do with animation and they wanted nothing to do with voiceovers. They thought it was beneath them. And then there was this whole paradigm shift where people realized that they could be cast in roles that wouldn’t be cast on camera, that it was a very good money-making industry, and that it was great fun.
That was the most important thing: that we made sessions fun. They were fast and furious, but they were really fun. We made sure there was a lot of laughing going on, even in a very serious “Batman” show. And so, all of a sudden, agents – I have always had a very good relationship with agents because I was one. Before I was a casting director I was an agent. When I became an agent – when I became a casting director, I maintained my relationships with the agents, and so they would feel comfortable calling me and saying, “Hey, I just signed Blah-Blah-Blah, and they mentioned that they’re interested in voiceover, and they’re specifically interested in voiceover for animation.”
Come to find out, a lot of the reason was—aside from the fact that they may not be cast on-camera in these roles—their kids couldn’t watch a lot of their work that they were doing on camera. You do a show like “CSI” or “Criminal Minds” and your young kids can’t watch those shows, but you do a “Batman” episode and you’re the hero of the household. You suddenly are like every kid in the neighborhood is in your driveway going, what, you did a “Batman” episode, when is it coming out, when can we watch you? And so a lot of actors got very interested and would actually approach me. Mark Hamill actually approached me to ask if he could be a part of the “Batman” series.
He’s a super fan of comics and all that fun pop culture stuff.
I had no idea at the time! And he came in and did a guest role for me, and he was wonderful, and was very generous with the “Star Wars” stories, and so we’re talking about probably 1991, 1992, about that time. And then he pulled me aside after the session and said, “Thank you, I love this, but I really want to be a part of this series,” and that’s the time when we needed to cast – actually recast the Joker, and then his audition was so wonderful, so stellar. I thought that’s the perfect combination of actor and role, and so Mark was wonderful.
We would sit around and there used to be these books called “Players Directories.” I think they still exist. They looked like a yearbook, but they’re big, thick books. One will be “Male Ingénues,” and another “Leading Men.” One will be ‘Character Men.” And they’re big books. And so sometimes when we were casting, we would just page through them and go, “Oh, Jon Polito”—God rest his soul, we just lost him—“Jon Polito, what a great character actor. He would be a great mob boss in a ‘Batman’ cartoon,” and so we’d hire him.
And so Bruce Timm and I and the other producers, writers and creators of the episode would sit together and talk about who might be fun to bring in. I’ve always thought of casting as casting a party. Who is going to get along well together in the room, and who is going to bring something to the party? Who’s not just going to sit there like a lump? Who’s going to actually have ideas and say, “You know what, this may not be what you thought, but how about I have this thought about how to play this character. What if we did him with a German accent?” “That’s great, let’s try it.”
And so it became a very open casting environment where we almost were not afraid to invite anybody to come and play. The worst they can say is no and, more often than not, we’re surprised at how many people say yes, especially if they get to play in a “Batman” cartoon specifically. And “Superman” also had the same thing,” and “Justice League,” as well. And now that the world is so much more familiar with the superhero universe. You know, before people go “Green Arrow – I’ve heard of Green Arrow, but I don’t really know him.” Now people know exactly what “Green Arrow” is and I’ve got to give major kudos to the WB and CW for creating those wonderful on-camera series, starting with “Smallville,” and “Arrow,” “Supergirl,” “The Flash.” They’re so good. They’re so good, and they maintain the quality that we tried to set.
A lot of the movies, the feature films, fell a little bit flat, I fear – and I’m not the first one to say this I’m sure – but, the TV series and the animated projects have done very well and have maintained a caliber and level that the fans have come to expect, and I think that that keeps us on our toes. It keeps us making choices as to who might come in and play.
And I always fight for who I think the best actor is. If it’s a rank and file voiceover actor, I will fight for that actor. If it’s a big well-known celebrity, I’ll fight for that person. But I want the right person to get the role. I don’t believe that a kid watches an episode on TV because a celebrity is in it. I believe they watch it because it’s a good cartoon. And so now, when you do the DVDs that are for sale, sometimes for marketing, we’ve got to put a name in there, and I understand the business side of that, but still I will fight for the right actor for the role.
When you’re working on something where it’s a long-standing character that has a voice attached to it, like the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes characters or any pre-existing property, but the original actors are no longer with us and you’re trying to find the right person, what do you need to hear when people are trying to get those jobs? What are the things you listen for?
Number one, always – regardless of what you’re casting, it’s acting. It’s they’ve got to be a good actor. If they’re not a good actor, and they do a million voices, they’re probably a lot of fun at a party, but I can’t really hire them. I need them to be good actors, first and foremost. The voice matching field is a very specific niche that some actors are just awesome at, and some actors can handle the higher-pitched sound-alikes, and some can handle the lower-pitched sound-alikes. Some people, across the board, are just stellar.
And what you listen for is not just capturing an impression, but actually being able to understand how the actor, the original actor, interpreted the character, and why was that character so beloved? Why did we love the Mel Blanc voices? Why was he so remarkable? And really, aside from the fact that he was ridiculously good as voices – he did so many voices, and the perfect example of that is, any of the “Speedy Gonzalez” cartoons, all of those little Mexican mice were all Mel, and they all sounded different.
You say to somebody “I need you to do a Mexican mouse,” and they do their Mexican mouse for you. And you go, “Okay, now I need you to do a second Mexican mouse.” “Well, okay, maybe I can raise the pitch or lower the pitch.” You can’t really change the accent because you’re still asking for a Mexican mouse. It could be a little bit thicker accent or a little bit less, but you’re kind of stuck in the pocket. But Mel could do six or seven in an episode and they all sounded different.
And so you need that kind of versatility and also that acting ability that convinces that the actor understands what that character was all about at inception, not just whatever we’re doing now, but what it was that made that character fly 20 years, 25 years, or 30 years earlier.
So much of your job is making sure that you’ve got the right person for the job. What are the intangibles, for you? What do you have to do that’s harder to explain?
That’s a good question. I love actors, but actors are moody people, and that’s just the reality of it. They’re sensitive people. You want them to be sensitive because you want them to give their guts when they’re performing, and so that means that sometimes they don’t always have the ability to leave all the outside stuff at the door that comes into the room with them.
And so I would have to work with people that I don’t know very well before, and they come into a session, and they’re really cranky, and I have to get them out of that mood. I have to get them into the work, and I have to remind them that what we’re doing here, although it’s very serious work and there’s a lot of money behind every single cartoon, it’s fun. This is great fun. And so I have to find that thing that will make them laugh, whether it’s they’re sitting there for ten minutes without a line, when everybody else in the room has dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, and I’ll say something like – “You know, Joe keep it down over there!” Just involve them in the moment and make them realize we’re not curing cancer, we’re having fun, and it’s silly and – and so that’s an intangible: you never know what the actor’s mood is going to be.
You also don’t know – sometimes when I listen to auditions, I pick a voice because it’s really good, and then that actor walks through the door and come to find out that wonderful little boy voice that the adult female did sounded that way because when she auditioned she had a cold, and now when she showed up she’s healthy and she didn’t sound the same any more. That’s something you have to deal with. Can she pull off that voice? Or can I get a voice out of her that’s at least as good as the audition that she did? Maybe it’s not the very same thing. You know, when you’re sick with a cold you have a nasality and that kind of works really well for little boy voices. When you have suddenly clear sinuses and you can’t fabricate that sound then it’s not the same any more.
What also happens sometimes, just before we’re recording, is that our writer gets a brainstorm and completely changes a scene. Why my sessions go so fast is that I do a tremendous amount of prep work. When I walk in I’m ready to go. When they hand me a brand-new scene at the beginning of the session I’m not as prepped, and that I have to go on the fly and kind of figure it out, see what it is, and that’s an intangible, too.
It’s a sense of feeling the room, and feeling how the actors are, because every once in a while, they – it is like herding cats, and it is like dealing with first graders, and there does come the time when I have to say, “Okay, actors, actors, stop talking! Okay, you’re live, let’s go.” So they’re all enthusiastic, and they want to tell the story about what happened in the last session, and they all have great stores, and – yeah, I know, I’d love to hear their stories. I always listen. When they finish the story, okay, stop talking, now it’s time for us to work. But those are some of the intangibles.
There are so many projects that you’re well known for. Tell me something that, if you would point – if someone is a fan of yours, and they wanted to know more about the way you do things, what is a project that maybe hasn’t gotten a lot of light shed on it, that you think you were doing great work on that one, go check this one out?
Well, there are several of them. There was a “Batman” series called “Beware the Batman” that aired at 3:00 in the morning on Boomerang, and it was a very good series that really had potential, and had it been picked up for more, it would have been an awesome series, but nobody ever saw it, and that breaks my heart because we all worked so hard. The voice actors were wonderful, and a lot of people who had not done voice work before, but were really, really good, and that made me very sad that people didn’t see that. “Thundercats” was another series that I thought, had we been able to do more, would have also just taken the industry by storm, because it was excellent.
There was one project that I did that very few people know about that was such a bizarre – it was very different from what I normally do. I was working for a small animation studio called Titmouse. They make wonderful animation with a lot of small projects, but they did something called “Tallica Parking Lot,” and it was Metallica, because they wanted a little animated piece to go in front of their feature film that they were releasing about two or three years ago.
And so, in a day, Titmouse flew me up to Marin County to record Metallica which is so bizarre for me because they’re not really my particular favorite band, although I don’t dislike them, but it’s just not the band I choose to listen to. I have to be careful of my ears. You know, my ears are my business – I can’t listen to really loud music like that! But I went up and directed the four members of Metallica which was just phenomenal. It was fantastic to do that and fly back on the same day.
But there are a handful of those projects that didn’t really see the light of day. There was one that I was making, actually voicing it in Canada, and it was called “The Littlest Pet Shop,” and it was before the one that now exists, and we voiced the entire 41 episodes, I think we made, and not one frame was animated. It never got made, and that was really a shame because it was beautifully voiced, and it was – the scripts were excellent, and for some reason they pulled the plug before it went to animation. There were a handful of those that didn’t ever come out.
What have you enjoyed about your place in the super hero world, both in the shows you’ve done and the life beyond that they’ve had going to conventions and meeting the fans, all of that?
Truly, I love the fact that I probably know more about the DC Universe than any other 60-year-old woman! You know, it’s just so strange: I’ll look at something, and I’ll go, “Oh, that’s interesting what they’re doing, that’s sort of a Starro reference,” and my husband will say “What are you talking about?” The fact that I know who Starro is, it’s just one of those very strange crossover things.
I love the fact that all the different series that I’ve done are so varied and so wonderful, whether it’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” or “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” or “Batman, the Animated Series,” or “Pinky and the Brain,” or in a single day I would do an episode of “Ben 10,” and then go do a “Sponge Bob,” and they’re all so different and wonderful.
And the musical shows made me happy. We did an episode of “Batman the Brave and Bold,” which was a more comedy-driven “Batman” than the animated series, and we did an episode that is so brilliant called “The Music Maestro” that is as good as any musical episode of any series I’ve ever seen – including “Simpsons” episodes, which are awesome musical episodes. But I think “The Music Maestro” holds absolutely up against that, equally as good.
What’s front and center on your plate right now?
I am right now directing “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the recent incarnation. “Puss and Boots” for DreamWorks and Animation that is just – for Netflix, excuse me. “Puss and Boots” for Netflix, and DreamWorks, a beautiful series. If you haven’t seen it, watch a couple of episodes. It’s wonderful. Eric Bauza voices Puss and – as you talk about impressionists before, people who do voices of existing actors – we just couldn’t work out Antonio Banderas’ schedule. We couldn’t make it work. We were making 52 episodes, and there was just no way we could work it out. Eric’s impression is spot on.
We’re also making episodes of “Voltran: Legendary Defender” which is based on an old 80s series, and it’s a beautiful show. And I’m also doing something – and this is for Amazon – called “Niko and the Sword of Light” which is based on an animated iPad app, and we made a pilot which won an Emmy, and Amazon said, “Oh, we should make a series,” and so we’re now making a series, and that will be out soon. That will be out really soon.
And then there’s one more series, and I can’t talk about it yet. There’s the virtual reality thing coming out in November, and there are several videogames that I work on for Activision Blizzard which is World of Warcraft, and Diablo, and those are all constantly dropping different versions of that game.
Anything specific with the DC characters right his minute, or?
Nothing for me right this minute. No, nothing right now.
To simply have found Kevin Conroy to play “Batman” - you can retire on that, practically.
Except it was very early on in my career. Yes, that was one of my most proud moments. I listened to well over 500 auditions for that voice. Just listened. Then I brought in, I think, about 150 actors and auditioned them personally because I wanted to see how directable they were, and then I narrowed that down to about five or six actors, and Bruce Timm and I listened to them, and we went, “Well, this guy could work, and this guy could work...” But we really didn’t have that “ah-ha/eureka” moment.
And so I spoke to my dear friend Anthony Barnao, who is a casting director, and I said “Can you think of any stage actors or on-camera actors that I haven’t already seen,” and I showed him my enormous list of actors I had read. And he said, ‘You know, there’s this guy Kevin Conroy and he’s been on a couple of nighttime soaps, he’s got a lot of stage experience…” and he gave me his credits. And he said ‘You should at least give him a try.” And so I think it was one of the last days of callbacks when we brought Kevin in, and Kevin opened his mouth and Bruce and I looked at each other and it was the “eureka” moment when we went, “Oh, my Lord – we found him!”
And Kevin told me the story many years later that when he looked at “Batman” and Bruce Wayne he said, really, this is the story of “Hamlet” because he’s a Julliard-trained actor, and he said this is “Hamlet,” this is parents killed, father killed, this is vengeance, revenge, this is – I thought what an interesting way to look at “Batman.” And so he gave it that gravitas and that’s what it needed to ground that series. Without a good Batman that series wasn’t going to make it. It didn’t matter how good the artwork was, it didn’t matter how good the supporting cast was, it needed Kevin Conroy.
And now you read a review for a live-action feature and they all say why don’t they listen to the voice of Kevin Conroy? Why do they have these people trying to do these deep voices that are so fake-sounding, and they often reference Kevin – and I’m so flattered, and Kevin is so flattered, that our “Batman” series is referenced as one of the top “Batman” productions ever.
It is. I’m a big “Batman” nerd since I was five years old and These days, if I’m reading a comic book with “Batman” I hear Kevin’s voice. I’ve heard every other “Batman” over the years, but it’s Kevin’s voice that sticks in my head as the definitive one for character.
With all the DC Warner Brothers director videos that we made, I was required to cast “Batman” many times. A fan told me at a Comic-Con, probably 10 or 15 years ago, that at that point I had casted 17 times the voice of “Batman” and it was hard the first time, it was hard every subsequent time, but just like you, when I prep or read a script it’s Kevin’s voice I hear, and when I prep or read a script that has the Joker in it, it’s Mark’s voice I hear, and I have to fight against that and say, “Okay, who would work?”
And there were lots of very valid reasons as to why it was worthwhile to recast the voice. They were doing the completely different artistic style. They was “Batman: Year One,” so this was the first year that “Batman” and Bruce Wayne takes on the Batman persona. He had a very youthful voice. Okay, great. “The Dark Knight Returns,” they needed an old, not necessarily smoky sound, but someone who has like been at the bottle of a liquor bottle for years and year and years. And not that Kevin Conroy couldn’t have pulled that off, because he could have, as “Batman Beyond” proved, but it made sense to use someone like a Peter Weller.
That was an inspired choice that really worked for that material.
Thank you. I have to give Bruce Timm lots of credit for that because we always cast in conjunction with each other. We always discussed everything. It was never a vacuum. There was always a lot of thought.
And, you know, it’s intimidating to direct a director. Peter Weller directs a lot. And so I kind of was a little bit less intimidated because I had directed Steven Spielberg. I had directed John Landis. I had directed a lot of other directors, but Peter was the one who questioned me the most, and that’s kind of fun because when you have somebody really smart like that questioning a direction, you have to sit back and go, “Okay, let’s try your way, too.” But I always let an actor try their way, too, but I always make sure I get it my way.
I’m happy to hear the actor’s choice, but when your director is going, “Well, I don’t know I think the arc of this might go…” that’s not what an actor is thinking. An actor is thinking about their performance. A director is thinking about the whole picture. And so it was very fun to work with him and quite intimidating, but we had a great relationship, and it worked out just great. That was one of my favorite pieces, “The Dark Knight Returns,” a two-parter, quite remarkable.
Who was the least likely person you found yourself directing, because so many people come from so many different professions and walks of life have come through your recording studios whether it be one little throw-away cameo, once a year, or just for the right person for the right job. Who is the person you never expected to giving voice direction to?
Mickey Dolenz, the Monkee! Mickey Dolenz played a set of twins on I think it was a “Superman” episode, and it was unbelievable that I got direct and meet Mickey Dolenz. Not your typical voice actor, but if you listen to Mickey’s voice, he’s got a great quality to it. He’s got what we call a voice with character. He doesn’t have to do a voice to be an identifiable voice. His voice has a quality to it already.
Bud Cort I got to work with as Toyman. He was wonderful, also someone I thought, being a huge fan of “Harold and Maude” and just going ‘Will I ever, ever get the chance to meet this man?” and there I got to direct him.