JUSTICE SOCIETY: WORLD WAR II Interview: Omid Abtahi On Bringing Diversity And More Than Muscle To Hawkman
Omid Abtahi (The Mandalorian) talks to us about playing Hawkman in Justice Society: World War II, getting to explore a WWII setting, his fresh take on the hero, live-action superhero roles, and more...
Justice Society: World War II arrives on streaming platforms on April 27th, 2021, and hits 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray and Blu-Ray on May 11th, 2021. This next entry in the DC Animated Universe sees The Flash thrust into the midst of an epic battle between Golden Age DC Super Heroes the Justice Society and Nazis for an adventure that definitely doesn't play out the way you might be expecting.
Picking up with Barry Allen in the present day, prior to the formation of the Justice League, the Scarlet Speedster discovers he can run even faster than he imagined, and that milestone results in his first encounter with the Speed Force. Arriving in WWII, he finds himself joining forces with a Golden Age team made up of Wonder Woman, Hourman, Black Canary, Hawkman, Steve Trevor, and Jay Garrick.
Hawkman is a fan-favourite character in the DC Universe, and Omid Abtahi (The Mandalorian) does an incredible job of bringing him to life in this epic animated feature. Bringing some diversity to the hero was incredibly important to the actor, as was making sure he wasn't just the team's muscle.
Abtahi goes on to talk about Hawkman's relationship with Black Canary, exploring the movie's pulpy World War II setting, and whether a live-action superhero role has ever come his way (in the same interview, he explained what it's been like to be part of the DC and Star Wars Universes). His answers are thoughtful and fascinating, and we're sure you'll agree he's one of the best Carter Halls to date...
Were you familiar with the Justice Society before joining this project, and what was it about Hawkman that grabbed your interest?
I wasn’t too familiar. I used to read comic books when I was much, much younger, but ever since my freshman year of high school, I kind of gravitated towards sports. Going into this, I knew very little about the world, whether it be DC or Marvel. I had to educate myself, and a lot of time was spent Googling it, researching it, and watching YouTube videos, and I have to be honest with you, it was very overwhelming and confusing. The more I knew, the more I realised I didn’t know. There’s been so many different versions of Hawkman, and I guess these other characters as well, I had to hone in on the Golden Age and base a lot of the building of this character on the script. I was really drawn to this character because of what was in that. He seemed really different than the other characters in the movie. He’s quiet, thoughtful, deep, and there seemed to be wisdom in him. All those characteristics really resonated with me, and I was very excited to bring those to life...with my voice [Laughs].
Hawkman could have so easily been portrayed as just the muscle in this movie, but he’s intelligent and more than just the Justice Society’s Hulk; was it important for you to get that across in your performance?
100%, yeah. If you wanted just The Hulk, I don’t think I’m the actor you go to. I think if you want a little bit more nuance and thoughtfulness, then that is something I can provide as an actor that I feel confident in. Credit goes to Wes Gleason, our casting director and voice director, for allowing me to do that. I’m really proud of the performance and how the movie turned out.
When you're lending your voice to a physically dominant character like this one, how freeing is that as an actor to just let yourself go and step into the shoes of this powerhouse?
It’s freeing and a little bit intimidating. I mean, he’s huge [Laughs]. As a performer, you have to trust the process, trust that they’ve asked you to be part of this project for a reason, and throw away all those insecurities and just deliver your interpretation of it. I’ve seen a couple of different clips of other actors and their interpretations, and I had to stop because it messed with my head a little bit. It was freeing because I had to trust it, and once you trust something, it’s freeing.
When it came time to deliver your performance, were you given any creative freedom with Hawkman, whether it was through your voice or even with some improvisation?
I don’t think I improvised anything, but it was really a brief conversation with Wes, the casting director, where I said, ‘Well, what do you want me to do? Do I need to have an accent as I do for so many other things I work on?’ It was really up to Wes, and Wes said, ‘Listen man, don’t worry about the accent. Just be yourself. I know what you can do. I’ve worked with you before, and there’s a reason you’re here.’ That was enough for me to go with what I had.
I’ve done quite a few interviews for the movie recently, and keep coming back to Hawkman’s dynamic with Black Canary as it is such a highlight; what did you enjoy most about exploring that?
It was interesting. When I first read the script, I knew Hawkman had many life long connections with Shiera, so I was questioning, ‘Is this more like a brother/sister thing? What connection is there with Black Canary?’ Whatever it was, I didn’t want to define it, but it was beautiful, and the conversations they were able to have...it just seemed, in this action-packed film, to be a breath of, I don’t want to say fresh air, but different air. It was very touching, and I loved how it turned out. When I did my recording, I had no idea what Elysia [Rotaru] was going to bring to it, and I still haven’t met her. I was really thrilled to see how everything was pieced together.
The film has a very pulpy feel with its World War II setting, and while this is an animated project, is it fun for you to get involved with a movie set in such unique surroundings?
Yes! Mainly because I’m a huge fan of history. I can’t imagine many projects, especially on camera, that would use my services as an actor during the World War II era, so even though it is animation, to be part of that and play this period, historical piece was rather cool. And it’s always fun kicking Nazi butt, you know? [Laughs]
I can imagine that, for you as an actor, it must be great to bring some diversity to a character like this?
It does mean a lot. I get asked a lot, ‘Who would you be or who would you play if you were a superhero?’ I don’t know how to answer those because I never saw myself playing anybody. Maybe I don’t know the universe too well, but I never saw myself in anybody, so once I learned about Hawkman’s soul and where he came from in Egypt and Prince Khufu, I felt for once, ‘There is a reason I’m here.’ Maybe he’s Carter Hall, but his soul is from the Middle East, and that’s what I can provide.
I’m guessing, in that case, no live-action comic book roles have come your way despite The Mandalorian getting your name out there? Are you still waiting for that perfect character to come along?
Always. I’m not one to turn down anything. If it happens, great. If not, I don’t mind playing real-life superheroes either.
You've done voiceover roles before, but joining something like the DC Universe is a big commitment...how would you feel about becoming a recurring part in these films as so many actors have before you?
I would love to do that. I would love to explore Hawkman more. I think he’s fascinating, and I think his backstory is fascinating. It would be an honour.
Hawkman is a character with unlimited potential due to the way he reincarnates, so would you like to come back down the line to explore another iteration of Carter Hall?
I would love to explore his relationship with Shiera and either Hawkgirl or Hawkwoman and more of their journeys together over their different lifetimes!
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