BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN Interview: Julie Nathanson On Bringing Complexity And Emotion To Gilda Dent
Batman: The Long Halloween star Julie Nathanson (Spider-Man: Miles Morales) talks to us about her layered, complex take on Gilda Dent, exploring the character's mental health, Harvey Dent, and more...
Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One is now on Digital & Blu-ray from Warner Bros. Animation, DC and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Inspired by the classic story from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, the movie begins as a brutal murder on Halloween prompts Gotham City's young vigilante, the Batman, to form a pact with the city's only two uncorrupt lawmen (Police Captain James Gordan and District Attorney Harvey Dent) in order to take down The Roman.
However, when more deaths occur on Thanksgiving and Christmas, it becomes clear that instead of ordinary gang violence orchestrated by the head of the notorious Falcone Crime Family, they're also dealing with a serial killer - the identity of whom, with each conflicting clue, grows harder to discern.
We recently had the opportunity to catch up with prolific voice actress Julie Nathanson to discuss her role as Gilda Dent. Fans of the comic books this movie is based on will know what a key part of the story she is, but this version is explored in a far more interesting, hard-hitting way. Nathanson's performance is key to that, and she has plenty to say about taking on the role.
As well as discussing the exploration of Gilda's mental health, the actress delves into her approach to the character on screen and getting to put her own spin on Harvey Dent's complex other half...
Usually, it feels like the "wife" role can be a thankless, underwritten one, so what did it mean to you to get to play a fleshed-out character like Gilda Dent?
What a fantastic question, thank you for asking it and thank you for the compliment in your words! It meant a lot. I have played some really wonderful characters over the years, and I’ve played some very ancillary characters who could have had more meat to them. Gilda is an especially rich character and she’s written with so much subtlety, so it’s not this stereotypical strong woman where she has to bash through a wall to show her strength. She also doesn’t seem to be the kind of woman who sits there and has nothing going on underneath. She has a lot going on inside of her, she’s holding a lot of pain, and while she has a real connection with her husband, she’s also feeling distant. It’s a wonderfully rich character, and to be honest, it was an honour to play her. It’s a gift, as a performer, when I’m handed a role with so much going on and so much to play with and, frankly, so much to feel.
Gilda is clearly struggling with her mental health when we meet her here; was that something you felt a need to research while preparing for the role?
Well, I have two answers to that question. The first is that I’m definitely a person who has done enough investigating into my own inner life, feelings, and experiences to really be able to relate to and empathise with the kind of pain that it’s clear Gilda is carrying. That being said, I also happen to have a Masters in Clinical Psychology [Laughs] so being able to understand the layers of psychology going on for her was something I felt uniquely prepared to do. It was also an extra painful dive at times into her psyche and well-being, but it was something I definitely felt prepared for as far as it being a psychoeducational piece, and definitely appreciated being as going as deep as I felt I was able to with this character.
On the surface, it seems like Harvey and Gilda have a perfect marriage, but I felt like we begin to see that he might not that great a husband as the story progresses. Did you give what we don’t see on screen much thought while getting ready to play Gilda?
I wouldn’t say I created something that wasn’t necessarily on the page. I know that I carried with me that trajectory of the story and an awareness of history that, along the way, we might understand in terms of her character and their relationship. It seems pretty clear that Gilda is going through something in her own emotional life, and when she’s encountering Harvey, there’s a connection between them she’s wanting and craving. There’s a distance that makes me feel she has a shield around herself, so regardless of whatever history there may be that we don’t necessarily know or see or even hear about, it’s so palpable when you see and hear the two of them together. I guess instead of making up a backstory of my own, I used my awareness from the story and canon to fill in the blanks and continue to deepen their relationship.
How useful were the comics when it came to preparing for this role?
For Gilda, it was more about what was on the page in front of me. I didn’t allow myself to purchase the collection that has become the graphic novel of The Long Halloween until after I was finished recording because I didn’t want to be overly influenced by whatever differences or similarities I might find between the script and source material even with renderings. I was blown away by what this film has turned out to look and sound like, and now that I know the source material, I’m even more deeply respectful of what the entire team has done with this story to depict it in a moving animation form.
In terms of the other characters, having some awareness of where we are in Batman’s history, and where we are in Harvey’s history, did help me inform and place the development and what I would imagine each of those characters are going through. I mostly interact in the first film with Harvey, so understanding who he is and where he might be coming from was helpful in grounding and placing my relationship with him and how he might interact with me at this point in the story. When we recorded, I wasn’t in the booth with Josh Duhamel [who plays Harvey Dent flawlessly]. I had to come up with my own audio in my head [Laughs] to create that dialogue. Sometimes, my wonderful voice director Wes Gleason would work opposite me to feed the lines so I could react. So, having some awareness of the history and this story’s place in the chronology of the canon was useful, but most of it was trying to make this character, Gilda, where she is in this story and build upon her with the information I’m given between the beginning and end.
As we haven’t really seen a huge amount of this character in animation, and nothing in live-action, do you feel that gave you a little more creative freedom to put your own spin on Gilda?
I think so! At the same time, I’m always respectful of a director’s choice and I would imagine that each of us who might have been able to read for this character had our own interpretations and knowing that whatever I had felt from reading the script, I felt that coming from a connected, emotional place served whatever voice would match. I concentrate less as a voice performer on choosing a voice and more on understanding and empathising with a character. Usually, the voice is the third thing in that order [Laughs] and usually matches with what I’ve come up with because the knowledge and empathy are intact. It must be that I understood her well enough to have a voice and presentation of Gilda that matched what Wes and Butch and the rest of the team were looking for.
Knowing that, playing Gilda, you’d be surrounded by these big name characters like Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne, did you feel that added to the pressure in terms of being able to make Gilda a character who would really stand out here and resonate with fans just as much as them?
[Laughs] It’s funny. That’s different from the way I think of it! I don’t feel like my job is to make a character stand out, it’s to be the character. How someone else perceives and witnesses her is that fourth wall. For me, my job is to simply interact with and be present with these characters. It can be fun to interact with them, and I have had the pleasure of being in the DC world in the past and have had my own interactions with Batman. My first animated series was a spinoff of Batman Beyond called The Zeta Project, so early in my animation career, I got to play around Batman a little bit. It’s always wonderful and exciting to play with these larger than life characters, but the idea of standing out...it’s hard for me to hear that and not feel like I would be arbitrarily trying to chew the scenery [Laughs]. I don’t think that’s Gilda’s style, anyway!