BATMAN YEAR ONE EXCLUSIVE: Ben McKenzie Talks About Voicing the Dark Knight - Plus Check Out the Trailer
The adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 18th, and features actor Ben McKenzie (Southland, The O.C.) voicing the dual roles of Bruce Wayne and Batman. In the following exclusive interview conducted by CBM editor Ed Gross, the actor shares his thoughts on the character.
In terms of the approach to acting, what are the distinctions between voice acting and doing so in front of the camera?
Sometimes, when I've watched the few things I've done [in voice work], I'll think, "Oh, that was too subtle," and occasionally I think, "No, that was a bit broad." But I think most of the time you have to trust your director and the people in the booth, since they are usually more familiar with the project. Almost always as a voice artist, you seem to come in some time near the end of the process, when they've already decided what they're doing, they've already written the script, they've already done some boards to understand what it's going to look like, roughly, visually, and you're coming in to lend your voice to it. So they understand what they're looking for aesthetically, visually, and what sort of voices they're looking to match to it. So you really just have to trust them. With Bruce Wayne and Batman, I felt like it was a relatively subtle but intense thing that he's going for, because the great thing about the Frank Miller comics is that, in this one in particular, they're so realistic in a way. They're stripped of a lot of the artifice that normally surrounds comics, if I can be so bold – not that artifice is a bad thing. but you're dealing in supernatural elements and far flung worlds and things that are very much not realistic. The interesting thing about Batman Year One is, in a sense, it is. What would happen if you had a guy with unlimited resources financially, who had something terrible happen to him, to his parents, who decided to exact some justice and find some justice in the world by turning into a superhero, by becoming a vigilante? And he has no super powers, there's no special skills he hasn't had to develop over time, he's just really a man on a mission, and so voice-wise, just trying to do the best I could to give that kind of performance – someone who is suffering, but who is trying to use his suffering to create justice.
Do you see Batman and Bruce Wayne as the same guy?
I think there is some delineation. My take on it would be when he flips over and goes into Batman, there almost are two different people; he's creating an alternate persona obviously, not only in his dress and his action, but it must filter in to his subconscious, and he has to keep those boundaries up to a degree or he wouldn't be able to function in the world as Bruce Wayne. Obviously as Bruce Wayne he has a lot of demands on his time, he's a member of the community, he's a pillar of the community, he has to do all these ribbon cutting ceremonies and cocktail parties, and yada yada, so I think my take is that, yes, he has to separate himself from Batman and make those two people two different people. He's able to do both, which I think we all do to a certain extent – we are different people to different people – this is just a more severe and specific case of it, but we're all capable of playing the part and we do it every day in so many subtle ways.
Who is the real guy?
That's a very interesting question. I think, the honest to God truth is he is truly Batman, because he cannot be himself as Bruce Wayne. Part of the reason that he's Batman, in addition to losing his parents, is what they left him with, and what he has in terms of magnificent wealth and all this privilege, is uncomfortable for him. He needs a way of releasing the pent-up frustration and anger that he has built up inside, and so I think one necessitates the other. If he somehow could choose an alternate world, if he could live another life, he would live somewhere in between, but he's not able to, he has to be Bruce Wayne for a variety of reasons, and so his release is to be Batman.
It's funny, you're playing that one playboy scene as Bruce Wayne, which is played largely for humor. But what I found interesting is that at the end of the scene, there's a digust on Bruce's face; almost an attitude of, "Thank God that skin is off me now!"
In that scene he's playing the cad, the lothario and indulging in it to an absurd degree, to throw people off the scent, but I think he must also, once that's over, sort of loathe himself for having to do that, or over his situation – you know, I'm a big admirer of what Christian Bale does in the live action movies and the sense of that darkness, and his troubled-ness. This is not all fun and games for him – he sort of suffers in both lives; he suffers as Bruce Wayne because he has to put on airs to play the role that he's meant to play in that world, and then as Batman he obviously has to keep his identity hidden. So he's never really comfortable with himself, and maybe the answer to your question before is, he's neither of them. He can't be either of them – although he wishes he could be this third way, kind of a cross between the two, but it doesn't exist. This has gotten fairly esoteric, but I do think that's the great thing about Batman, and all the superheroes. These alternate identities are fascinating to us, whether it's Clark Kent or Peter Parker or whoever it may be. The thing I like about Batman is, he doesn't have any special powers – the big difference between his day to day persona and his superhero persona is this suit, and this gear – he doesn't suddenly acquire the ability to fly through the air or shoot spider webs through his hands. He's just sort of clicked over into this different mind state, and I think that's amazing; as an actor it's really great material to have.
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