After nearly 25 years in the animation business, there still may be some hardcore cartoon fans who've never heard Andrea Romano's name, but they've all doubtlessly heard her work. The casting and voice directing veteran remains one of the most celebrated names in the business, and amongst superhero fans she's best known as the woman responsible for guiding the actors who've played the entire DC Comics superhero pantheon on the small screen, from "Batman: The Animated Series" to "Justice League Unlimited" and beyond.
This week, Romano led a new company of actors into a new kind of DC program with "Batman: The Brave & The Bold" which debuts tonight on Cartoon Network. When asked what it's like to be working with superheroes after nearly two decades of shaping the biggest and brightest DC stars, Romano admits she's happily surprised her run has lasted so long.
"Being a girl, I was not as versed in the DC Comics world as boys would be, and I had no idea that I would end up working with these characters for so many years and on so many different projects and in so many different styles," she told CBR. Romano's superhero run kicked off with Warner Bros. Animation's original Batman show in the early '90s. "That began this very long journey I've been taking for 18 years of working with these classic characters - Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and on and on," she said.
"I like to think that #1, because I'm a woman, I bring a different viewpoint to it, which I think is a good thing because I want females to be attracted to the series as well," Romano explained. "Also, because I'm not quite the expert on the characters as so many people who read the comic books from their earliest days, I'm also a good sounding board for making this material accessible to people who maybe don't know the history of all of these characters."
The accessibility factor for "Brave & The Bold" came out in the form of adding a more kid-friendly comedy tinge to the adventures of the Dark Knight and the heroes with whom he teams-up each week. To help shape the show in the same direction as the visuals and stories suggested, Romano tapped comedic actor Diedrich Bader, who she'd worked with on the sci-fi action series "The Zeta Project," to play the series' lead role. To her, the match of actor and character were destined to be.
"My very first thought was what happens a lot of the time when you're a voice casting director; you have a name that comes to mind right off the bat," Romano explained. "When they gave me the breakdown for 'Brave & The Bold' the very first name that popped into my mind was Diedrich Bader. I just thought, 'This guy understands comedy.'
"Then we went through the casting process, and many, many people read for it. And obviously Diedrich read for it, and ultimately the various people who have the say agreed with me that Diedrich was the best choice. Now, I did not foist that upon them. I did not even say to them, 'I think we should cast Diedrich Bader.' I gave them out of the probably 75 to 100 actors that read - because Batman's a pretty important character - I narrowed it down to maybe ten actors and submitted that to the people with say, and they all agreed Diedrich was the best. That was very gratifying to know that they agreed with me.
"What was also so gratifying was getting a voice message from Diedrich where he was so excited - and this is a very successful actor - but of all of the roles he's done, he's probably most excited about being Batman. His five-year-old son was so thrilled and dancing around the house going, 'My dad's gonna be Batman!'"
One element of "Batman: The Brave & The Bold" that hasn't been widely publicized is the way in which Batman's comedy manifests itself -- mentally. "It's a very interesting way that this particular series deals with that in that we hear very often in this show what Batman is thinking," Romano revealed. "We hear his thought process in voice-over. That's where we can tell that this man has a sense of humor because he can look at a situation and see the absurdity in it. It's a different quality of voice Diedrich had to use when he's thinking as opposed to when he's actually acting in the present, in the moment."
"Batman: The Brave & The Bold" also presented Romano with a unique challenge in building a cast for the series, as the show's team-up format lessened the need for a fulltime cast to play of each other week in, week out. "Usually, there is a core group of actors in every episode. Here that is not the case," she said. "The only actor that's in every episode is Diedrich Bader as Batman, but what I always try to do for every series I work on is create a vocal style; what I like to call 'the voice of the show.' That's special unto every single series so that 'Batman: The Animated Series' doesn't sound like 'Batman: Beyond' or any other show.
"So what I needed to do when I was creating the ensemble, if you will, for 'The Brave & The Bold' was come up with a group of actors that I am confident are versatile and get along well together - I always refer to casting as much as anything as putting together a party. So some of the characters that recur like Green Arrow or Blue Beetle are actors that I've known for a while and are versatile enough and can play with our style."
Keeping in the parameters of said vocal style, Romano pointed out two specific recurring actors whom she feels help create an ongoing character continuity that fans will react with, one of whom is new to audiences and one of whom found surprising second life. "The Blue Beetle and the character of Jaime was a real challenge for us because the character is Hispanic, and I did a major casting push to try and find a Hispanic actor to play him and could unfortunately not find a Hispanic actor to do it," she recalled. "Not that there weren't actors - there just weren't any available during our production period. I thought that someone like Freddie Rodriguez would have been perfect, but he was working on 'Ugly Betty' at the time and some other projects.
"I did ultimately cast Will Friedel, and he's wonderful, just terrific. He has excellent energy, understands the character so well, but I know I'm going to get some guff from the general public in that the actor is not Hispanic. I tried, I tried, I tried. He's terrific though. The way he plays with some of the other actors is wonderful."
On the other hand, everyone's favorite comedy comic book hero came picture perfect for the series. "I was able to bring in Tom Kenny as Plastic Man," Romano confirmed. "He and I have worked together for many years, but he and I had done a 'Plastic Man' pilot for Warner Bros. that ultimately didn't get picked up. And I was so glad that everyone was on board with brining Tom on to play Plastic Man."
As "Batman: The Brave & The Bold" moves along, Romano promises more recognizable voice talents will be bowing as some of the big heroes and villains of the DCU, although many of the players may not synch up with their characters in the way viewers expect. "I love casting against type as well, where you bring in somebody who's well known for playing, for example, meek, milquetoast type characters and casting them as the villain," she explained. "That's the great thing about casting for animation is that it's not based on how you look or if you're old enough or young enough or blonde enough or thin enough -- it's really about whether or not you can act the piece well with your voice. So there are actors who may never get the chance to play this character on camera who do get to play them in voice over.
"For example, in some past series I had the chance to cast the very wonderful Bill Macy as a villain. He always gets cast as a sweet, befuddled type of guy, and he just loved sinking his teeth into the bad guy."
Those kinds of insights are littered throughout any conversation with the longtime voice director. Andrea Romano shows a knack for the often overlooked subtleties that go into her job - a job which often can make or break the final product of a series. "Because animation - with the exception of most anime - has the voice work done right at the beginning of the process, I am pretty much responsible for setting the tone of the whole piece and giving the animation directors things to work with," Romano said of the process. "I give them the dialogue track, and they animate that. So I like to work hand-in-hand with as many people as I can that are involved with the project after it leaves my hands. If I can get information from the storyboard artist, from the animation director, from the producer as to what their intention is and what their desire is, as much information as I can get, then the better my dialogue track is going to be.
"I'm going to know things even as simple as 'Are these characters sitting right across a table from each other during this conversation?' or 'Are they riding a motorcycle?' That would make their energy completely different, and the just plain volume would be different. Or 'Historically, are these characters adversarial, or do they like each other?' and 'What's going to happen five episodes down the line that we need to set up here so it makes sense when a big turn happens?'"
Overall, Romano's goal from day one of working with the heroes of the DCU involved opening up the source material to a new audience, and "The Brave & The Bold" hopes to be an extension of the kind of work she started almost 20 years before. "Back in the early days of the first 'Batman: The Animated Series,' I wanted to make sure that show was dark so that it brought in the male element - it certainly wasn't a bright light series - but also that it had a kind of sex appeal to women and girls," Romano explained. "We did, I think, succeed in that. We got a lot of female fans for that series at that point.
"I had no idea I was going to get as involved in this world as I did, and I adore it. I know much more about Batman and Superman then I ever thought I would, and it's a very interesting, wonderful world. I try to make it as accessible to people as possible so that everyone can find something that relates to them."