As the Cast and Crew of the forthcoming DC Universe Animated Original movie, “Justice League: Doom” attended a special screening of the film at the Paley Center for Media, CBR News spoke with voice talents Tim Daly, Susan Eisenberg, Phil Morris, and Olivia D’Abo, voice director Andrea Romano and director Lauren Montgomery to discuss the latest “League” outing, reprising roles, and the merits of being the bad guy.
The thirteenth release in the DC Universe Animated Original movie line, “Justice League: Doom” is an adaptation of Mark Waid’s “JLA” “Tower of Babel” story, in which a group of villains steal Batman’s contingency plans for neutralizing his fellow League members should they ever go rogue. The script, written by the late Dwayne McDuffie, does veer from the original story, including the substitution of Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Barry Allen (the Flash) in the roles originally filled by Kyle Rayner and Wally West while the Legion of Doom, led by Vandal Savage, takes the place of Batman villain Ra’s Al Ghul. These, and other changes, led director Lauren Montgomery to not use the original comic books as a reference. “If something is sticking more closely to the comic, then we try to rely on it, like we did with ‘[Batman:] Year One,'” she explained. “[For this,] it wasn’t really in our best interest to go to [the original comics.]”
Olivia D’Abo, who gives voice to Star Sapphire in “Doom,” discussed her take on the character’s motivations in the movie, which she said is not as simple as “heroes and villains.” Citing Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” D’Abo said, “He was so philosophical about why he was a villain. He felt, socially, the world had sort of lost the plot. I kind of relate to that on certain levels.” The actress, no stranger to portraying characters with volatile emotions having played a rebellious daughter on “The Wonder Years” and Vincent D’Onofrio’s arch-nemesis, Nicole Wallace, on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent, explained that in the case of Star Sapphire, being evil is simply the result of the character’s desire for revenge. “She was in love with one of the members of the Justice League,” D’Abo said.” It’s human emotion that makes her want to be evil and get her retribution.”
For actor Michael Rosenbaum, who played Wally West on “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited,” returning to the world of the DCU meant changing characters, from one Flash to another, which also meant tackling a character with a dramatically different personality than the speedster he’s most famous for. According to voice director Andrea Romano, the actor was more than up to the challenge. “[Michael] was seamlessly, flawlessly able to make the adjustment to play the different Flash,” she said. “This one is a much less comedic version of Flash than what we played in [‘Justice League Unlimited].” Wally West, the TV show’s Fastest Man Alive, was always a “jokester,” but Barry has to deal with “serious things” in the film.
Also returning to the DCU for this adventure is Carl Lumbly, who once again brings his distinctive voice to J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Romano, discussing the qualities necessary to bring the alien hero to life, said, “What I have to do is find a really talented actor who can act and someone who can manipulate his voice in such a way that maybe the rhythms are different — the pacing is different — than what our typical American actor would sound like.” Lumbly and Romano worked together to find a rhythm and accent that denoted the character’s alien qualities while not making J’onzz too alien for the audience to relate to him. “Alien voices are always a trick; do we want them to speak gibberish? Do we want them to speak a whole different language? Do they speak Klingon?” While J’onn mainly speaks English, Romano recalled one episode of the “Justice League” series where Lumbly was called upon to sing a Martian lullaby. “Carl just created this melody and these words and tones — very atonal — that was just beautiful and so perfect for the role.”
In “Doom,” the voice actor faced the unique challenge of playing two characters, taking on the role of Ma’alefa’ak, J’onn’s nemesis, in addition to the Martian Manhunter. “[It] is really kind of fun to hear him manipulate his voice in a minor way to get two different characters,” Romano said of the dual performance.
On “Smallvile,” actor Phil Morris played the live-action version of J’onn J’onzz, but for “Justice League” and in “Doom,” he lent his voice to the immortal villain Vandal Savage. “He’s the smoothest criminal in history,” Morris said. “If you notice, no one leads villains like Vandal Savage. Not even Lex Luthor — everybody freaking hates Lex. They all work with him because they want to then kill him. With Vandal, they’ll work with him, but then they’re afraid that he’ll come back to get them if they don’t act right.” Morris explained it’s that forceful personality which sets the character apart from other villains.
The actor, who appeared on the original “Star Trek” as a boy and has lived what he terms a “never-ending popular culture life” immersed in comics, film and television, relishes the opportunity afforded him to play both villains and heroes. “I think it’s just as difficult to try and work your compassionate angle and save the world from the darkness that encompasses it as it is to be dark,” Morris explained. “It’s a lot easier to rise to anger than it is to rise to a smile or to a good word or to a compassionate mindset. I think both of them are equally difficult to play. I would play either one of them in heartbeat and I feel fortunate that I’m able to, because a lot of people can only play one either because of their look, their countenance or the fact of their vocal quality is very [dark].”
Leading the cast are Tim Daly and Susan Eisenberg who returned to their respective roles as Superman and Wonder Woman for the movie, parts they both enjoy coming back to time and again.
In Daly’s case, part of the appeal is the Man of Steel’s iconic nature. “You can’t say no to the guy who’s trying to keep democracy safe for Americans. He’s an iconic figure in American literature at this point.” Recalling how he first got the part, Daly said it was purely accidental. A friend told him the “Superman: the Animated Series” production team was having a hard time casting the Man of Steel and asked if he would be willing to audition. “I walked in, read a few lines and they said, ‘You’re it.’ I was like, ‘Seriously?’ I was totally surprised. I don’t know why they thought that, they never really explained it to me in depth, but I’m glad it was me.” Taking on Superman was Daly’s first voice acting role and to this day remains his most famous, having led to a long-standing association with the character.
“[Wonder Woman is] feisty and strong and flirty and tough and vulnerable,” Eisenberg said, expressing her fondness for the character she voiced for the movie. “You get to play everything with her depending what’s going on with the League or with the script — that’s a gift for an actor.” The actress admitted to a fondness for the relationship that developed between her character and Batman on the “Justice League” animated series. “Some of my favorite scenes were Batman and Wonder Woman. She’s trying so desperately to have a relationship and he’s just the brooding Batman.”
Lauren Montgomery made her directorial return to the world of the DCU with “Justice League: Doom,” having previously directed the DC Universe Animated original movie “Wonder Woman.” Having been involved in some manner with almost every release since the line’s inception, Montgomery offered her thoughts on using comic storylines as source material versus developing an all-new story. “They both have their good and bad,” she explained. “I prefer the original content ones, where you get to figure it out from the ground up. It allows for a little bit more freedom and a little more creativity on our part. Of course, there’s a little bit of that extra work taken out of it when you have a source material.”
“Justice League: Doom” arrives in stores on February 28, 2012.
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