INJUSTICE Interview: Derek Phillips Talks Nightwing, Aquaman, And CALL OF DUTY: VANGUARD (Exclusive)
Injustice star Derek Phillips talks to us about his roles as Nightwing and Aquaman in the DC Comics adaptation and also teases what fans can expect from the upcoming Call of Duty: Vanguard. Check it out!
Injustice is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital, and the movie kicks off with an unthinkable tragedy that propels Superman into a dangerous new mindset, ultimately pitting Justice League members against each other in what we can promise you is a epic battle you won't want to miss.
Based on the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game, this animated adaptation from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment primarily pulls from Tom Taylor and Brian Buccellato's critically acclaimed comic book prequels, telling an original story with a lot of iconic moments thrown in for good measure.
A few cast members take on more than one role, but actor Derek Phillips (Them) has two of the most unique. He lends his voice to both Nightwing/Deadwing and Aquaman, and when we caught up with the actor last week, we took a deep dive (no pun intended) into how he tapped into those heroes.
In this interview, Derek also talks to us about why he loves voiceover roles, his future DC aspirations, and a number of key plot points. He even weighs in on potentially reprising his The Last of Us Part II role in the upcoming HBO series and teases what fans can expect from Call of Duty: Vanguard.
Aquaman and Nightwing are two of DC’s most iconic heroes, so did you find yourself feeling the pressure heading into the recording booth?
Well, here’s the deal: originally, I had just been booked to play Nightwing! Obviously, being a comic book fan, yeah, I thought it was really cool that I got this opportunity. I was probably 15 years old when they were doing a nationwide search to play Robin back in the day when the original live-action Batman and Robin movie was coming out. I auditioned to play Robin so this has kind of been a lifelong goal. It took me 30 years to get there, but I’m 45 years old now, so the opportunity to play Nightwing was really cool.
So, Aquaman was a role offered to you while you were already working on the project playing Nightwing?
Yeah, what happens a lot of times when you’re doing voiceover work is you usually wind up playing two characters. If you notice, a lot of the actors that are cast in Injustice play multiple roles, so when we were midway through recording, they asked me if I could take a pass as Aquaman because he has a smaller part in this. I had no clue I was going to get to play Aquaman as well, so that was kind of a welcome twist!
You’d have obviously had time to prepare as Nightwing, but not as much for Aquaman; how did that affect your process of finding the right voices for these characters?
We definitely did want to differentiate those voices so we probably worked on it for a good 10, 15 minutes while we were in the booth with Aquaman. We wanted him to be a bit more regal because he comes from a very educated background. It was regal and sophisticated because he’s a king. We definitely wanted to have that differentiation with Nightwing because he’s a little more sarcastic and child-like than the way we went about playing Aquaman.
When the offer came in to play Aquaman and Nightwing, what was your reaction when you found out, ‘Oh, and by the way, Robin is gonna kill Nightwing in the first half of the film’?
Yeah, that was a crazy little twist! I didn’t know that was going to happen until we got into the booth and started working.
Nightwing quickly undergoes a big transformation in the film when he becomes Deadwing, but what sort of impact, if any, did that have on how you approached playing the hero?
I think the personality stayed the same, regardless. He’s still sarcastic and quick-witted, so the difference between who Nightwing is and who Deadwing is doesn’t end up being that different! I don’t think there’s much of a difference there…at least, I didn’t play it like it was. He’s still got his sense of humour, even in death [Laughs].
There’s so much story to cram into this movie, but I loved seeing Nightwing’s relationship with Robin play such a big role. What did you most enjoy about exploring that dynamic?
It’s just fun to play. These guys both have grown up in a very different life from what most of us are used to, obviously. They’ve been crimefighters from very early ages, so if there’s anyone that understands what Damian is going through, it’s Nightwing. Dick Grayson has been through it all and has put up with the difficulty of not only being part of that dynamic duo, but also dealing with Bruce Wayne and Batman on a daily basis. I think that was just really fun to play and it was a great opportunity.
It’s a small moment in the film, but Aquaman choosing to leave the Justice League is really quite significant; it’s clear he disagrees with Superman, but why do you think he chooses to return to Atlantis rather than, say, work with Batman?
I think, at the end of the day, he’s come to the conclusion this is an above ground problem and there is no immediate solution. To make a choice that matters…I don’t think he agrees with either of them, so he chooses isolationism in some respects. We’ve all seen with different superpowers and it is what he chooses at this point. ‘I’m going to take care of my people, I’m going to take care of my realm, and you guys do whatever you have to do, but I’m not getting involved in this.’ I think it’s isolationism.
Aquaman gets a big story arc in the comics and games with Atlantis and Superman all factoring into that; if a sequel does happen, is that - or anything else - something you’d like to explore with this iteration of Arthur Curry?
Oh, I would love to. I would love to. I’m around. From your mouth to God’s ears; hopefully, we’ll get a chance to do that because I think it would be great.
On another note, I loved your work as Jerry in The Last of Us 2 and with that TV show happening, are you hoping the opportunity to play that character in live-action could come your way down the line?
I am 100% hoping that opportunity comes up. Any opportunity to work with any of those guys…Craig Mazin…it would be amazing to be part of it. Being part of those games, in general, is something I’m so proud of. The way that came around, I had originally been cast in a bigger part in The Last of Us (the original game). These games take four or five years to be created, and as luck would have it, that character fell by the wayside, changed, and became something completely and totally different. Neil [Drukman] kept me around and I wound up playing a smaller part as the surgeon at the end of the game. I had no clue that by the time the second game came around that they were going to bring me back and I was going to have that bigger part as Jerry, Abby’s dad, the impetus and reason Abby becomes the way she is. I remember having that conversation with Neil when he pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing with the game and I’d love to have you back.’ I was thrilled because I loved the first game so much, not just because of having an opportunity to be involved in the first game, but the opportunity to play the first game. It was a great surprise and I’m really proud to be part of it. I’d love to be part of the live-action version [Laughs].
I’m a big Call of Duty fan, so was wondering if there’s anything you can tease about your role in Call of Duty: Vanguard before that arrives next month?
Yeah, that’s the third time Laura Bailey and I have got to work together very closely. Obviously, we got to work together on The Last of Us Part 2, but Call of Duty, Laura and I were working together for two months, and then once again on Injustice. The Call of Duty thing was so much fun. It’s just a great group of people and I’m so proud of that game. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m just excited to get to play it. We worked on it, as I said, for a good two months doing motion capture and it was right at the peak of the pandemic and there wasn’t a lot going on, so I was really thankful to even have that opportunity. It was such a great time, it felt like doing theatre again, working with just really solid actors across the board.
You’ve now played two DC icons, but looking to the future, are there any other characters in this DC Universe that would excite you as an actor?
I 100% want to play The Joker. I want to play Batman at some point in time. I’ve auditioned a couple of times to play Joker and they’ve gone a different route with it, but I’d love an opportunity to play him and Batman. I’m a big fan of the DC Universe and DC animation in general.
As an actor who jumps between live-action and voiceover roles, what do you enjoy most about projects like this one and getting to lend your voice, like in this, to characters who couldn’t be any more different?
Honestly, the biggest thing is I get to play characters like this. I don’t think in live-action that anyone is going to be signing up to see a 45-year-old to play Nightwing. The opportunities you get in voiceover work…you get to play characters you would never in a million years in live-action. Even the character I’m playing in Call of Duty: Vanguard is probably a 25 to 28-year-old hotshot pilot. I’m not getting that opportunity at 45 years old. So, the roles are…there’s a lot more freedom with what you can play vocally. I just love it. I come from a theatre background and it feels like a theatrical experience as it’s a little bigger. I enjoy the heck out of it and it’s a tonne of fun. I think any actor worth their salt would love to do voiceover work. It’s great and so freeing. I love every aspect of it.
In terms of Aquaman and Nightwing solo projects, as those are something fans would love to see, how would you feel about taking centre stage in one of those?
100%. We didn’t get to see a tonne of Aquaman in this one so I’d love to see where that character could go and what we could do with him. I’d love to explore that. Having had a little bit more of an opportunity in Injustice to play Dick Grayson, a.k.a Nightwing, it’d be spectacular. I think I know a little bit more about that character now. I like his wit, I like his sarcasm, and I like pretty much everything about him. It would be really fun moving forward if that opportunity presented itself.
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