At New York Comic-Con, we had the opportunity to sit down once again with the wonderfully sweet Andrea Romano to talk about the next DC Animated project, Justice League: War.
The legendary, eight-time Emmy Award winning voice director, wearing earrings with the word “peace” in them (which somehow just seems right), is responsible for just about every major animated project that has been worth watching over the past few decades. That’s only slight hyperbole, when you actually look at her IMDB page.
We talked about Justice League: War, which is based upon the first arc of the Justice League comic book after the New 52 relaunch. We discussed the challenges that came from this movie’s New 52 footing, the movie’s cast list, and much more.
What does Batman sound like to you?
That’s an excellent question. Because it was my first, Batman sounds like Kevin Conroy to me. That’s always the basis that I start from. Whenever I read a new script and I’m looking at Batman dialogue, that’s Kevin’s voice I hear. The trick is always to change my view, based on what my directive is by my employers, as to what they want for the new Batman. They want a different voice; they want a younger voice; they want this; they want that. But it’s always Kevin’s voice – that’s what Batman sounds like to me.
Speaking of Kevin, you have your grab bag of actors that you always like going back to whenever you have the opportunity, such as Kevin Conroy for Batman or Mark Hamill for Joker. Now because this is the New 52, they’re younger, a little more inexperienced—
I imagine you had change out the entire cast.
So when you were looking for these new people, what was one of the things that you really wanted to find? Was it youth? Was it a type of energy that they bring to the table?
Both. Youth and because they had not been superheroes for very long or worked together, there had to be kind of an innocence. So that energy is different. You know, you play Superman very, “I’ve been around. I know what I’m doing. I’m tough; I’m strong. I can knock you out.” Or you can play him (innocently), “Who are you? What are you doing?” You know, that kind of thing. That innocence. So there was a different energy and a different tone that we had to set for this one. Visually, as well as vocally.
Do you know who the cast is? I think I’ve told you guys before that I always keep a list, when I watch TV or see films, of actors that I want to work with. An actor that I’ve always wanted to work with since I first saw his work was Justin Kirk from “Weeds.” And [he’s] Green Lantern! I couldn’t use Nathan Fillion. [Warner Bros.] said you can’t use anybody you’ve used before, so I went to Justin Kirk. He had not done [voice acting] before. A lot of the actors who have done this piece have not done [voice acting] before. And that’s where the innocence comes in. Because they’re not experienced voice over actors, and that kind of comes through in their performance which is right for this piece.
So Justin Kirk is Green Lantern. Jason O’Mara (Terra Nova) is Batman. Shemar Moore from Criminal Minds is Cyborg, and he’s so good and he’s just as dreamy as you think he is! My Lord, what a dreamy man. And [he’s] so game to play and learn how to do this stuff because he’d never done before. That character gets almost killed, as Victor [Stone]. There’s intense screams of pain that he has to do, and he dove in, so stunningly.
Michelle Monaghan (Source Code) is Wonder Woman for us, who did her ADR, and all the fighting stuff we do during ADR, while eight-and-a-half months pregnant. Christopher Gorham (Covert Affairs) is the Flash. Terrific. Rocky Carroll (NCIS) plays Silas, Victor’s father. Wonderful, and again had not done much of this work. Alan Tudyk (Firefly) is Superman. Sean Astin (TMNT) is Shazam.
Sean Astin is Shazam?
‘Cause you gotta play him like a smartass, and is there a better smartass than Sean Astin? I’m working with him on Ninja Turtles, too, which I direct, so I have experience with him. Sometimes I literally pull actors aside from another session and say, “You know what? I’m working on this other project, would you even consider…?” “Oh, God, yes, I would!” So that’s how I got Sean.
And Steve Blum, who you may know—
Yes, is Darkseid. His voice is in the basement, without forcing it in any way. We all can force our voice down, but it sounds like a put on voice. He just gets it there without doing anything that sounds manipulative, it’s fantastic. Ioan Gruffudd, do you know who he is?
From Fantastic Four.
Yes, Fantastic Four.
And Horatio Hornblower.
Horatio Hornblower, exactly. He shows up as a character – I’m not going to spoil it. You guys can listen in and find him in there. It’s one of those little things you can just find for yourself. And then, I have really good voice over actors that you all know: George Newbern shows up in here. Oddly enough, not as Superman, but as Steve Trevor.
You know, they said I can’t hire the actors as the same characters, but they didn’t say I couldn’t hire them as other characters, so I brought George in.
Exactly! Exactly. And, of course, I show up in there, too. (laughs)
Reading the news again?
Something like that! (laughs) If not the Batcomputer or something, yes.
Did you do ensemble recording, or did they record separately?
I was able to get some of them in the room. You know, if you look at that list, they all have television series; they all have huge on-camera careers. To get them in the room at all was a trick. Sometimes, I could get a couple, and that’s always wonderful. Because instead of having to do 10 takes of a line – because I don’t know what the actor before him is going to do or the actor after him is going to do – you actually have two actors talking to each other, and you go, “Well, that works. You say this; I say that. It works. We’re done.” You don’t have to do 10 takes of it. You do 3 takes, and you walk away. So, when I could get them together, it was brilliant.
When you have to piecemeal it together, [it can get difficult.] Every once in a while, you have those situations where you play a scene. I am recorded one week, and I’m doing the scene thing to you. And then two weeks later, you’re brought in to work, and you record (higher volume) your dialogue a bit like this. A bit louder.
[When we] put those two in the same scene together, “wow, he’s yelling at me for no apparent reason.” So you have to go back in during ADR, and bring him in to bring his energy level down, his volume down, to make it sound like we’re having a conversation in the same room. But we always have that failsafe with ADR.
Did that help with some of the newer actors? Having some of them in the same room together?
It did, it did. They feed off each other. And some of them, like Alan Tudyk, who I’ve used before and had experience [with], he can bring the other actors along a little bit and tell them a bit about the experience so they’re not quite [lost in this new experience.] You know, you find these remarkable actors who have tremendous resumes and lots of confidence, but when they come and do something they’ve never done before, they become very shy and they get very nervous. Then, somebody else that’s done it a little bit helps brings them their confidence. What I hope they tell them is, “Trust Andrea. She’s not going to let your voice go out there sounding bad.”
I make a commitment to every actor who works for me that I will not let their performance go out sounding bad. I will recast them before I will let them be embarrassed by a bad performance for whatever reason. Maybe I miscast them; maybe it’s not the right role for them; maybe they don’t understand animation – whatever. It rarely happens, but no matter what, I always promise them, I will not let your voice out go out bad.
So, if it comes down to line reading them, I just say, “You know what? We don’t have a half hour for you to come around and organically work through this and find out what that line is. But if you do it this way, it will work.” I’ve been doing this for 30 years now, and only 2 times have people ever said, “Please don’t line read me.” Everybody else goes, “Tell me how to say it! Go ahead! We’ll get out of here, and go drink wine!” (laughs)
I try to gently line read people without making them feel like they’re not contributing because they’re getting there, they’re getting there… but [for example] they need to hit this word because they’re going to throw a punch on that word, or that later is going to play into a callback and you have to set it up now and that’s why you have to hit the word “the” there, or whatever.
What made you think Shemar Moore’s voice would be perfect for this?
I’ll tell you exactly. You can always tell what television shows I’m watching by who I’m casting. You’ll find Joe Mantegna, who’s been my friend for 30 years, and so I’ve used Joe before. And I’ve been using Matthew Gray Gubler from Criminal Minds for a long time as my Jimmy Olsen on a few projects and a couple of other characters. Scooby Doo shows he’s worked for me on.
And I kind of go through the cast and go, “Ok, who haven’t I used yet? Shemar.” They tell me they’re going to do Cyborg. We need a black actor because I always try to cast the ethnic background of the character that’s depicted. If they’re Asian, I want an Asian actor; if they’re Hispanic, I want a Hispanic actor unless I just can’t find it.
So I keep a list of who I want to work with, and as I get the cast breakdown, I go, “Ok, who fits into that? Oh, Shemar. Let’s see if his schedule works.” That’s how I came to that conclusion.
In the original source material of the story, there’s a lot of mistrust between these heroes. Does that come across pretty well in here?
It does, I think. In these superhero worlds, they can’t all be dark; they can’t all be glib; they can’t all be silly. But we have this nice combination of the silly – of the guys that banter, like Green Lantern and Flash – and then the much more serious Batman, who doesn’t put up with anything from anybody. And then you’ve got Superman, who’s really quite new at this game.
In the books, it seemed a more violent, more willing-to-take-a-life type of Superman.
It’s a different world that we’re trying to create here. And then you’ve got this need for them to work together, having to put their personalities aside in order to do that, and that’s an interesting dynamic, I think. I wish I could tell you how accurately – and maybe James [Tucker] or Jay [Oliva] could tell you more than I – how accurately we matched the source material. But when you read a comic and when you animate something, you have to deal with different kinds of energies and what will work well on a page doesn’t necessarily work well in a theatrical situation.
Sometimes, we’ll record some scenes that were clearly written for the theatrical piece that don’t work. So, we have to cut them and find some way to link those lines together, those scenes together, without that scene because it’s just not interesting. It’s interesting on paper; it’s not interesting [when animated.] Not because the actors didn’t do a good job, it’s just that when you put all the puzzle pieces together, it’s like that three minute scene doesn’t move us forward in any way, doesn’t give us anything entertaining to watch, doesn’t set up anything later. Let’s just get rid of it.
Now that we’ve switched over to the New 52, was there anything that was challenging or that you felt was little off or different from what you were used to?
It was for me because I’ve worked with these characters for so long on so many different projects. The first Batman series I started in 1990, so for a long time I’ve been working with these characters. Because this is an origin story, I had to reset my mind and go, “Ok, this is not the same Batman that we know that has had all of these experiences. This is not the same Green Lantern that has been around for so many years.” So, yes, I had to reset.
I had actually screwed up a bit on the initial record. I played some of the characters a little too experienced. I had to go back in ADR and make them a little less – I don’t want to say “confident,” because that’s not right…
Naïve is exactly the word I was looking for! That’s exactly right. They had to be a little more naïve, and they had to be a little bit [more inexperienced.] This is not a team working yet; this is not a well oiled machine. They’re screwing up. They screw up; they get in each others’ way. They stumble over each other. “I was taking care of that!” That kind of stuff. So, it’s interesting. I did have to re-think.
You had mentioned that many of the actors have not had experience in the voice over field, translating to the characters. Jay Oliva and James Tucker had mentioned that the future of the films would keep within the continuity of the New 52. Would you, then, keep the same actors for the characters for future projects?
That is the intention. That’s the hope, but you know, these are such strong, working on-camera actors that, if one of them gets a movie that’s going to shoot in the middle of China, nowhere that has any kind of recording facilities, I may have to find somebody else. But the intention is to use them.
It also depends on what stories we’re doing. The next one could be a Batman story that doesn’t involve most of these characters, or it could be a Superman story, or a GL story, or a Flash story. But the intention is to, for the first time, have a real continuity with a group of actors, which is kind of nice. It makes my job a little bit easier because they get more experience, they know the characters better, they grow with the characters, they take on the roles more easily.
What’s it like for you to go from a lighter show like a Scooby Doo or a Ninja Turtles and then move into something darker. The last few DC movies have been a little bit rougher —
Like Dark Knight? (laughs) A little dark.
Flashpoint was pretty dark and pretty violent, too.
Yeah, really violent.
It was good because it was adapted straight from the source material, but what’s it like for you to direct from one to the other?
You know, I have done it for so long and so often that it doesn’t [really affect my process.] I will literally go from a Ninja Turtles session to a Batman session. It’s like driving on a freeway as opposed to driving on a little, tiny surface street. You do it so often, so much that you don’t really have to think about it. It’s like playing a piano: you don’t really have to think about it, you just learn to do it. It is different, and I do find that sometimes, when you direct fight scenes in Spongebob as opposed to a Justice League, it’s different. The impacts are more like (lighter grunt) as opposed to (guttural grunt). They’re much more intense, so I do have to make that adjustment.
Nowadays, voice actors have to record themselves to audition with a script they receive and send it in. What’s your advice for actors on how to direct themselves effectively?
That’s an excellent question. The best auditions are done by people who do as much research as they can. I’m a very accessible director. If an agent calls me, saying, “My actor wants to do this role, but he can’t figure out what this line means…” I am delighted to tell them. There’s no reason to hold out information. I want the actor to get the job! I want the first person I listen to, to be exactly the right guy. And then I’m done! My job is done; it makes it easier for me. I try to supply the actor with everything they need.
So, the first thing they should do is ask as many questions as they can to do the best audition. They should record on very good equipment. Because I’ll get auditions from an agency and then one or two auditions from somebody’s home, and everybody’s auditions is (relatively soft volume) about here and then (shouting) suddenly an audition comes up (normal volume) that’s not equalized because they’re using less sophisticated equipment. Lastly, they should do three or four takes and pick their best one. They shouldn’t do just one take and send it in. Do three or four takes, listen back, and then send the best one.
Thank you, Andrea, for taking the time to sit down and answer all of our questions!
Justice League: War is slated for Blu-Ray and DVD in early 2014.