NYCC: Giving Voice to Aquaman in "Justice League: Throne of Atlantis"

During a series of press roundtable interviews at New York Comic Con, acclaimed voice director Andrea Romano discussed casting choices for "Justice League: Throne of Atlantis," including her effort to cast former "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" star Matt Lanter as Aquaman. Lanter discussed his approach to the role, and his thoughts as to why the upcoming film is more about Arthur Curry than the King of Atlantis.

While "Throne of Atlantis" features the voice talents of several well-known actors, including Nathan Fillion, Rosario Dawson and Sean Astin, Romano said that the star of an animated feature need not be famous. "A lot of these movies, there's a request for known celebrities. I understand it, I do," she said, adding that the actors are in turn drawn to DC's roles because "they're known properties, so I don't I don't have to call up the agent and say, 'There's this guy named Bruce Wayne, he dresses up like a bat --' They know who these guys are. So celebrities tend to say yes, often, to this type of project."

"When we were discussing casting, specifically for Aquaman -- I'd worked with Matt before, and I said, he's the right guy for the role. And we fought for him," Romano said. "I said, it doesn't have to be a celebrity! It should be the right actor for the role. And Matt does a beautiful job. I'm glad I won that battle and I'm glad I went to bat for him because oftentimes they say, we don't care, it's a great, wonderful role, it's Aquaman, let's get a celebrity. That's just casting celebrities for celebrity's sake. That's not good casting, that's gratuitous casting. Let's get the best actor for it."

The "best actor," Romano said, is the one who can match the character's highs and lows. "They wrote the role so wonderfully, where when we first meet him he is bitter, he's always ready to brawl, and he keeps having these weird things where he keeps seeing this woman under the ocean when he goes swimming, as he grows up and gets older, he knows something is different about him. He has all this energy he doesn't know what to do with, so he brawls, he fights a lot. And then we get to meet the much more sensitive side of him when he finds out what his roots are, and he meets Mera, and there's electricity there," Romano said of "Throne's" Aquaman. "Matt's got the ability to do all that. He's a good actor, and it's the right role.

"I listened to a lot of his work previously, before I fought, to make sure I wasn't making a really big mistake," she said, laughing. "I thought, he's really the right guy, and I hope you think so, too."

There is also the matter of making sure an actor's voice makes sense with the character's physical build. "What's great is, almost always with these movies, before I start casting, there is artwork. So I can look at the character and go, ok, is this one of those enormously broad-shouldered, tapered waist, huge-thighed guys that has to have a voice that makes sense? Or is he slighter?" Romano explained. "For example, if you look at Superman and put him next to Green Lantern, or Flash, they're physically different types, so you can deal with different types of voices. The pure sound of the voice -- like, ok, if I close my eyes and listen, that voice could be Superman. Or, that voice could be Green Lantern, or that voice could be Flash, just based on the quality of the voice.

"Then, you look at the acting, and if they can do the voice you're asking them to act in. If this role is a screamy, screamy character, are they going to be able to do four hours of insane Joker laughing without ripping out their vocal chords? Without damaging themselves?" Romano continued. "When I'm bringing them in and auditioning them, they'll come up with a really great raspy voice, that's so interesting. I'll ask, can you do that for four hours? Almost without exception they'll say, 'Oh yeah, sure, no problem." But you get them into a session, two hours later they say, 'Andrea, I cannot do this anymore.' So I really have gotten to a point now that I demand of an actor, I'm going to make you do this for four hours. If you cannot do it, you must tell me. I will have so much more respect for you if you tell me the truth, and I will find something else for you. Do not damage your instrument! It's a mistake, it's an amateur mistake, something that will affect your career."

In casting Lanter, Romano found someone who could naturally inhabit the undersea hero. "I got the call to play Aquaman," Lanter recalled. "So I went in there and asked Andrea Romano, who's the best in the business, well, how do you want him to sound? And she said, 'I just want you to use your voice.' I think that's one of the reasons they brought me on, they liked my voice quality. So as far as tweaking or changing my voice, I had the luxury of not having to worry about that. I could worry more about Arthur Curry and what's going on inside."

Though Lanter watched cartoons like "Batman: The Animated Series," "X-Men" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" growing up, he did not read comics. "I don't know what he goes through in his life as Aquaman," he said of his character. "But in some ways, that makes it easier, because I can focus on this script. This is his birth. All I have to do is focus on, who is this guy, in this moment, and how do I approach that."

Lanter, unlike every other member of the "Throne of Atlantis" team at the roundtable interviews, referred to his character most often as Arthur Curry rather than Aquaman. "This is an origin story, so in my head, at the beginning, he's just Arthur Curry. He's on his way to becoming Aquaman," the actor said. "But in my opinion, he doesn't even know what that means yet. He's trying to figure it out. He's dealing with this pressure of power that the Justice League has put on him; he's being forced into this position of power, and I think that makes for an interesting story. For me, it's more about Arthur Curry and who he is and less about Aquaman: Superhero. Hopefully, we'll get to see that in the subsequent films, and hopefully I'll be around to voice those. I would love to see more of him just kicking butt as Aquaman. We see a bit of it in this one, and it's awesome, believe me, but it's more about his development as a character."

Aquaman, or Arthur Curry, shares some traits with Lanter's last major character, Anakin Skywalker from "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." "Yeah, absolutely there's a similarity there. Anakin is torn between being a Jedi and having complete disdain for the Jedi," he said. Arthur is dealing with his demons internally, Anakin is, too. He's got things he's trying to deal with, tragedies in his life, just like Arthur Curry does."

In addition to Lanter, "Justice League: Throne of Atlantis sees Nathan Fillion returning as Green Lantern (though Romano said, "I'd cast him as Wonder Woman!"), Sean Astin reprising his role as Shazam, and Jerry O'Connell joining the cast as Superman. "Jerry's so great," Romano said. "He got in touch recently and said, 'You know, I haven't worked with you in a couple years, I'd love to play again...' As the casting came around for this, I thought, ooh, he'd be good for Superman. And I'm going through my files. 'Have I cast him as Superman yet? No, I haven't.'

"Superman's an interesting character in that he's the boy scout, obviously, he can't be too namby-pamby, goodie two-shoes. There's got to be a strength behind that, there's got to be a conscious decision-making," she continued. "Jerry's such a good actor that I really thought he'd be able to bring that too him, and I think he does that in spades."

An animation voice cast can vary from film to film -- Fillion played Hal Jordan in "The Flashpoint Paradox," but not "War," and O'Connell is stepping in for Alan Tudyk -- and the reasons for these switches likewise varies. As such, casting each DC feature involves selecting not only the best actor for new roles, but often for existing characters, as well. "We keep a list of [live-action] actors that we have gone out to before, and that list grows every time we make another movie. Sometimes they're just not available, sometimes they just don't care for the role or they don't care for that script or whatever," Romano said. "We may look at 75 actors for a role. And then, when it comes to voiceover actors, they kind of leave that to me, since I have so much experience with them.

"I'll tease this for you, I don't know how much I'm allowed to say -- not the next film, but the film after that, there are two actors in it that I have pursued for ten years. And they just kept saying no, because they weren't available, they didn't like the script or they didn't like the role or whatever," Romano said. "Finally, I got them. And they are so good! They are so wonderful! It was a joy to work with them. But I am like a bulldog, I don't let go. I'm going to keep going after them. Until they say stop, I don't want to do this, then I'll stop. But if they're like, 'I just can't make it work this time,' I'll keep going after them."

Lanter, for his part, seems pleased to be part of the project. "Let's be honest, any time somebody calls you and says, 'dDo you want to play a superhero?' you say yes. To be a part of the Justice League and be a part of the DC world, which I've really not had a lot of experience with, it's been awesome. I see it as a fun challenge, to make Aquaman cool again, and I think this film does it. I got to see the film, and it's fun. Hopefully fans will think the same.

"It's a weird departure from what we see on that poster, but I don't know. I felt like the Christopher Nolan Batman stuff was dark and gritty and wasn't what we were used to seeing with the '80s Batman, but it worked and people loved it," he said, pointing to a "Throne of Atlantis" poster. "That proves to me that things can change, and people accept it, and people are open to it. Fans of comic books, fans of sci-fi -- I feel like, as long as it makes sense and is a good story, people are open to change.

"Justice League: Throne of Atlantis" arrives on Blu-ray and DVD January 27.

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