Kevin Conroy Interview: Superman/Batman Apocalypse
That loud sound you hear in the distance is the echo of fanboys cheering the return of Kevin Conroy to his benchmark role as the voice of the Dark Knight for the highly-anticipated Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.
Conroy, the voice behind the title character of the landmark Batman: The Animated Series, set a standard that has yet to be contested over the past 20 years. Conroy had already been seen on soap operas and television series like Dynasty and Tour of Duty when he aced his first audition for an animated voiceover role in 1991 – earning the title character role for Batman: The Animated Series. It was a casting decision that sounds as good today as it did back then.
Conroy will share that voice in person as the featured guest when Warner Home Video, UGO.com and The Paley Center for Media proudly present the East Coast premiere of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse in New York on September 23. The West Coast premiere will be hosted in Los Angeles on September 21.
The bi-coastal premieres are just part of the ongoing festivities in conjunction with the release of the film. Included in the activities is "Destination Apocalypse," an interactive online promotion that allows fans to get even deeper into the mythology of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. Fans can access "Destination Apocalypse" at http://DestinationApocalypse.com and explore the many sections including games, quizzes and information about film. Fans can even send Kryptonian messages to their Facebook friends. In each section, participants virtually "check in" and earn badges to unlock an exclusive video clip from the movie. In addition, earning badges for participating in the various activities in each section help to unlock exclusive movie poster downloads.
Conway helps lead a Superman/Batman: Apocalypse cast that includes fan favorite Tim Daly (Private Practice) as Superman, as well as Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age) as the daunting Darkseid, sci-fi heroine Summer Glau (Serenity/Firefly; Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and multi-Emmy Award winner Ed Asner (Up) as Granny Goodness.
Based on the DC Comics series/graphic novel “Superman/Batman: Supergirl” by Jeph Loeb, Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is produced by animation legend Bruce Timm and directed by Lauren Montgomery (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths) from a script by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Tab Murphy (Gorillas in the Mist).
Conroy will speak quite a bit during pre-premiere interviews and a post-premiere panel discussion on September 23. But for those fans who can’t attend the sold-out event, here’s some thoughts the actor offered after a recent recording session.
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse features a foe powerful enough to require more than just one super hero to step to the plate. Can you speak to the importance of a great villain?
Well, the major villain is Darkseid, and he is very apocalyptic. You know, it’s in the title (he laughs). The bigger the villain, the greater the conflict – so as Darkseid is this epic-sized villain, it gives a lot of dynamic for Batman and Superman to work off, and creates that much more drama. Which means lots of action. And, of course, Batman saves the world … as usual. What would you expect? (he laughs)
Do you have a preference for the type of story that goes with Batman?
What makes Batman interesting to audiences isn't just the fact of the personal drama, or the darkness of his having a secret identity, or his avenging his parents' death. All of that personal drama makes him appealing to people. But I think of all the super heroes, what sets him apart is that he's the only one that doesn't have any superpowers. He is the great detective. So in every story, it always comes down to his using his wits. I think everyone relates to that and loves that about him. I really admire that aspect of his character – I wish I was wittier. That's why I think audiences get into him so much, and that character trait is very important to this story.
Batman is a basically a loner. What are your thoughts about his lone wolf approach, and how that works in a “buddy” adventure like the Superman/Batman films?
Batman’s isolation and his singularity, his inability to really let other people into his personal world, is really essential to the character. It's part of what audiences expect. Even in a series like Justice League, where he was one of seven super heroes, Batman was always the odd man out. The others would go off as a group to do something – you know, they might go have pizza – and Batman was always the guy left back in the cave.
So in these Superman stories, I think it's the closest Batman gets to having a brother, a kindred spirit. Superman understands Batman. He understands his need to be alone and his isolation. He’s probably the only one of all the super heroes who can balance Batman in terms of wit and power, so they're a very good balance for each other.
How does Batman see Superman?
I think Batman thinks of Superman as the Dudley Do-Right of super heroes. He admires his strength and his character, but he also he thinks he's incredibly naïve and very unsophisticated about the world. Remember, Batman is also Bruce Wayne, so he's very urbane. He's very versed in the way of the world. And Superman is Clark Kent, and he's such a goof (he laughs). So it's almost all about the alter-ego – the darkness of Batman’s Bruce Wayne is balanced out by the sunny demeanor of Superman’s Clark Kent. That's where I think the distinction is. Batman just thinks that Superman is kind of a very, very naïve guy who always sees the goodness in everybody. And Batman tends to see the darkness.
You attended Comic-Con International in San Diego last year for the first time in six years. How did that experience impact you?
The experience with the fans always re-energizes me for Batman. I've always been really into meeting and interacting with the fans. I understand why a lot of actors don't like to do that because it can be very invasive of your private life. But I'm just so appreciative because I figure I wouldn't have a job if it wasn't for them. Also, my background is the theatre, and the fun of doing theatre is the interaction with the audience, the feedback you get every night. You just don't get that in Hollywood. You don't get that with television or film, and you certainly don't get it working in animation. So the only place you get it is to go to places like the Cons.
Plus, you get funny perks. I went to a Starbucks in downtown San Diego, and they said, “Oh, Mr. Conroy, you don't pay for coffee today.” (he laughs) I thought, well, that hasn't happened in a long time.
Away from the Cons, how often are you recognized?
It happens in some unusual places. A number of years ago, I was in the Hollywood Post Office parking lot. I left everything in the car, because I was just going straight to the mail drop with the envelope. This guy, who was sitting on the curb, obviously homeless, says to me “Hey, buddy, have you got a quarter?” And I said, “I'm so sorry. I literally don't. I have nothing.” He said, “You're Kevin Conroy!” I got really nervous – you just assume that your job is anonymous working on animation, so I asked him how he knew that and he said, “Oh, everybody knows who's Batman.” I said, “No, believe me, everyone doesn't know who's Batman.” He said, “Oh, please--please--please--please do the voice.” He said, “Just say it … I am vengeance.” He knew the lines. I said, “I am vengeance.” He said, “Oh, my God. Batman's here! Batman's here!” He said, “Say it: I am the night.” I said, “I am the night.” He said, “Go! Go! Finish! Finish!” And I said “I am Batman!” So the two of us are there screaming “I am Batman!” in the parking lot, and he started clapping and clapping, yelling “I can't believe I have Batman in the parking lot.”
He went on to explain to me that all television monitors at the Circuit City on Hollywood Blvd. showed Batman every day, and he would stand outside and watch the show. So I said, “Wait, just a second,” and I went running back to the car for some cash. He said, “Oh, I can't take Batman's money.” I told him he was going to take Batman's money so he wouldn’t tell anyone that Batman is cheap (he laughs). That whole scene was wild, though – the last place you'd expect for someone to recognize a voice actor is in the parking lot of the post office.
You’re a classically trained actor and a graduate of Juilliard. Did you receive any instruction at Julliard that prepared you for voiceover work?
At that time, Juilliard was the new hot place to go if you wanted to be an actor, My classmates were people like Robin Williams, Kelsey Grammer, Frannie Conroy. We were all kids. Robin and I were roommates for two years, stealing food from each other when the other wasn’t looking. We were starving students.
Robin was brilliant at the one thing that is perhaps what best prepared me for what I do now, voicework. There was a famous teacher named Pierre LeFevre who ran the mask program at Juilliard. French masks conceal just the upper part of the face. This is classical French theatre, and it's all part of a very classical education. You put on these masks and they completely neutralize who you are. You become a different person. You can't use the expressions on your face – you can only use your body and your voice. Robin lived in those mask classes – he would put on these masks and just become these unbelievable characters. Pierre practically adopted Robin. There was some really inspired stuff going on. The point is that in that class, all you could use was your voice. It really made you focus on that – especially on characterization in your voice.
Did you have any clue that would lead you somewhere?
It’s like that old expression – life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans. I made all these plans to be a classical actor, and you can't make a living in the theatre anymore. There are no more classical actors. Everyone who survives in the theatre does it by doing TV and film … or voice work.
I had no idea that this is what I would end up doing, but it certainly prepared me for it. I get that question a lot from people. How do you get into this business? How do I get into voice work? And I always say, “Well, you go to Juilliard for four years …” (he laughs) That’s the thing – everyone's route is unique.
Did you have much voiceover success before Batman?
Actually, I started doing voice work in the early '80s, and the very first voice job I did was the first commercial I auditioned for. Remember Paco Rabanne cologne? The hook line was “What is remembered is up to you.” That was me. And over the next couple years, it paid me $25,000 for those few words. It paid for a lot of theatre acting.
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