NYCC 2012: “The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2” Roundtable with Andrea Romano

“I wish Andrea Romano was my grandmother. Is that weird?”

That’s an actual comment on an interview with Andrea, and, quite frankly, not the first time I’ve heard something to that effect.  And for the record, no, it isn’t weird (although you should brush up on your understanding of the subjunctive mood.)  She’s just that delightful.

Andrea Romano, eight-time Emmy award winning voice director, is responsible for casting and directing the voices behind practically all animated projects that have been truly great from the past 20 years.  Whenever you see her name attached to an project, you can implicitly trust that it’s going to be amazingly acted and worth watching.  Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: the Animated Series, Spongebob Squarepants, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Justice League, The Boondocks, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra… her list goes on and on, and the quality of each project maintains an astoundingly high level.

More than that, though, if you have had the pleasure to meet her, you know she is just an amazingly kind woman with an incredible directing talent in her own right.  Her smile lights up the press room, and you could literally listen to her read the phone book for hours.

We sat down with the legendary voice director at New York Comic Con to talk about Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2, and the incredible talent she has worked with over her prolific career.

With all of the success of the Chris Nolan movies, was there a pressure to differentiate your sound with this similarly dark, but ultimately very different Batman?

Andrea Romano: I love the voice actors that I work with.  It makes me very happy because they’re really skilled at this work, for the most part.  It’s all about finding the right actor first of all, and then just letting them do what they do.

But I don’t try to compare myself to the live action films; they’re such a different animal.  There’s a lot of things we can do because it’s animated that live action films just plain can’t do.

The fight walla, that stuff is always a challenge, and these particular two films – part 1 and part 2 of this Dark Knight piece – are so fight heavy. So, that’s just one of those voice things where you just try to make sure you don’t rip the actors’ throat out because after two or three hours of just [glottal grunts], it could be painful.

Michael Emerson [cast as the Joker in TDKR]: did you find him or did he find you?

AR: I found him at Comic-Con San Diego a couple years ago.  I had admired his work on Lost so much, and I asked him, “would you be interested ever in doing an animated project if the right role came up?”  And he said, “I think that would be great fun.”

When this piece came up, I said, “Oh well, would you like to be the Joker?”  And he jumped on it, and he had a great time.  Although he did tell me that he thought it was the hardest work he’s ever done. I think it was kind of out of his wheelhouse; it wasn’t something he had much experience in.

And so we recorded him – I was in LA; here was here in New York shooting Person of Interest, I believe. It was the first time I’ve ever recorded by Skype so I could watch him because working with an actor when you can see them, as opposed to only hearing their voices, is very helpful.  And then, for them to be able to see me, so that I can direct them physically – as they say, a picture would be worth a thousand words – that was very helpful too.

Peter Weller can invest heavily in a character. Was there anything about his technique that really stood out for you?

AR: The thing is Peter is a good actor, in and of himself. [What] I didn’t know was that he was a major comic book fan, so he was really familiar with the source material.  I think that’s what appealed to him about doing it was he knew already how good the graphic novels were. Bob Goodman wrote a beautiful script, adapted from the graphic novels, and so all of those things combined made [Weller] say, “Yes, I want to be a part of this.”  And I think he was familiar with some of our previous projects, so that was all good too.

But I think as far as — if I can’t use Kevin Conroy (because I do love using Kevin Conroy whenever I can, and Mark Hamill as well) — this was a really good bit of casting.  I’m not just saying that; I don’t just cast all by myself. There’s a group of about 10 people that have input as to ideas of who we could cast. We create a list of the number one choice, two, three, four… And sometimes that’s in no particular order [in terms of ability] – it’s just that we think we can get a fast response if we go to [a particular person.] But Peter, I think, was top choice, and he said yes right away, and that was very, very good.

Having done an Animated Series episode where you did a bit of “Dark Knight Returns” with Michael Ironside…

AR: Yeah, yeah! Right!

Was he ever in the back of your mind at all during the casting process?

AR: Well, we talked about it, but my directive that was given to me was that we don’t want anyone who has played Batman before. So it kind of took him right out of that.

Can you give any insight as to why Kevin Conroy is so popular as the voice of Batman? What is so unique about him?

AR: Kevin is a stunning actor. He’s a Juilliard-trained actor. When he first auditioned for me — I’ll never forget it — I had listened to 500 auditions for just Batman, auditioned myself 150 people in person, and, then, within the last 4 or 5 days of final auditions, Kevin came in.  Bruce Timm and I looked at each other and said, “Well, we’re done!  We have found Batman.”  It was just a eureka moment.  “Well, there he is!”

He’s smart; he’s a wonderful actor. Kevin does all of his homework; he researches.  He’s a pleasant person to spend time with, and we’ve spent many, many, many an hour together Kevin and I.

It’s been two decades that he’s been the voice of Batman.  There are people that come up to me at various events and say, “My entire life, I’ve heard Kevin Conroy as Batman.” That’s what I think that everyone loves about him: it’s comforting, they know that voice. When they see an image of Batman, they hear Kevin’s voice.  And, you know, when I prep the script, regardless of what incarnation of Batman it is, when I’m preparing it for recording, I hear Kevin’s voice. Even though it may be somebody else I’ve cast to play Batman, I always hear Kevin’s voice. For me, that sets the bar.

How easy is it to cast in a project like this?

AR: Incredibly hard.  Incredibly hard.

It was hard twenty years ago to cast Batman in the first place, and every time I’m asked to cast it again — someone told me that I’ve cast Batman 13 or 14 times now over the various different projects — it’s incredibly difficult.

It’s terrific because it’s a character that you don’t have to pitch.  You don’t go, “there’s this guy named Bruce Wayne, and he’s got this problem because his parents were murdered. And he puts on this cape…” Everyone knows who it is, and they also know that they may never the chance to play him on camera, and here’s maybe their one opportunity.

So everyone once in a while, someone will come work for me and bring me a picture of themselves at five years old in their Superman pajamas that they wouldn’t take off unless their parents made them take them off because they were such Superman fans or whatever.  That’s always rewarding.

How did Mark Hamill get considered to play the Joker?

AR: Mark Hamill approached me.  Mark had his agent call me and say, “I want to be a part of the Batman series.”  And so I hired him as a guest.  He did a terrific job.  He was very much embraced by the crew; he was very generous with his Star Wars stories.  When we finished the session, he came to me and he said, “I had a great time, but you don’t understand, I want to be a PART of the series.”

At the time, we had Tim Curry as the Joker, and he did a handful of episodes.  Although it would not have been my choice, I was asked to recast him.  (I probably have the only existing version of a Batman show that’s got Tim Curry as the Joker.)  I had to recast, and I thought Mark Hamill — let’s give him a shot.  He auditioned, and he was stunning.

That laugh, right?

AR: It’s brilliant! It’s brilliant.

We just heard that Conan O’ Brien is playing the Letterman-esque talk show host.

AR: Uh-huh! Dave Endocrine!

I know he’s a pro [as a late night talk show host], but I was wondering he had a tendency to bring his version of late night sarcasm to his performance. Is that something he even wanted that for the character.

AR: He. Was. Excellent.  He was a pleasure to work with.  There’s something that he has to do in this piece, which is, when he gets hit with the Joker gas… you know, whenever that laughing gas hits people, it starts with a [demonstrating] building laugh, [gasp] laugh, and then a big, big, big laugh.  Then it gets to that painful, “I’m dying” laugh, and he did it in one take!  And it’s a long, long laugh!

Both Bruce Timm and I were just [with an incredulous look] “That’s really good!  You have no idea how hard that is!”  Laughing on cue is one of the hardest things to do in voiceover; it’s just really hard.  And he just nailed it.  So, really, for him, playing that role was just like falling off a log.  It’s what he does every single day, so he didn’t have to do anything that was an extreme stretch for him, except for this killer laugh which he did so beautifully.

Yeah, I was lucky to get some really fun people.  Like I said, there’s 33 actors in this — and what I did was, I filled it up with my friends.  I filled it up with voice over actors that I’ve worked with for 30 years: Tress MacNeille, Rob Paulsen… you know, with so many characters, I had to make it easy for myself, so I cast Rob Paulsen as “Rob.” [laughs]  Dee Bradley Baker, James Patrick Stuart.  Michael McKeon was so wonderful.

For the future, what is your dream casting opportunity?  What voice and what character would you match up?

AR: I want to work with Jon Hamm.  I want to work with Jon Hamm!  He’s a wonderful actor!  He can do comedy, he can do drama, and everything in between.  He’s wonderful, and I will make that happen.

I want to work with Kyle Chandler.  I think he’s a terrific actor, too.  And you know who I want to work with, too?  And I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance, but I really want to, is Glenn Close.  Really, her career began in voiceover.  She was in the Tarzan story, “Legend of Greystoke” [its official title is “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan” –ed. note].  She completely dubbed Andie McDowell’s performance; it’s not Andie McDowell’s voice, that’s Glenn Close’s voice.  And so she’s a terrific voiceover actress, so I want to work with her.

As far as characters, I’m just happy to take whatever’s thrown at me.  I’m a freelance director and have been for 25 years, so whenever a project is given to me, I always have the choice to say yes or no.  So, I don’t decide that I need to cast this; they give me an opportunity, and I can say “I’d love to.”

Thank you, Andrea, for taking the time to sit down and answer all of our questions!

If you liked this interview, be sure to check out our B:DKR roundtable discussion with executive producer Bruce Timm!

The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 arrives on Blu-ray and DVD in early 2013. Part 1 is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD, and on demand.

Written by: Dwight Tejano

Dwight is the founder of Open the Fridge, which he started in 2008 and rebooted in 2010. Due to the nature of early adopting, his bank account is normally empty. He likes to sing in world-renown choruses to forget such things.

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