He is the night — he is Batman! Kevin Conroy has been the voice of the Bat for nearly two decades, spanning from a TV series to the recently released Batman: Arkham Asylum video game. Warner Home Video talked with Conroy about assuming the Mantle of the Bat once more in the upcoming animated feature Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, due out September 29th.
QUESTION: You’ve been doing this role for nearly 19 years. Are there still challenges to doing the voice of Batman?
KEVIN CONROY: I guess the biggest challenge to doing any kind of animation voice work is that you only have your voice to tell the story. And you want to keep it real and you don’t want to get cartoony, especially now because the audiences are much more sophisticated. Anything over the top is going to read over the top. So it’s a very fine line that people walk. For Batman, I think the biggest challenge is the timber of the voice that I established early on. I just kind of improvised it and it stuck. It’s very deep in my register – very throaty – and whenever it gets emotional, it’s a difficult sound to create with a lot of volume technically without blowing your chords out. So there’s all kinds of tricks you learn along the way of how to produce a sound, how to produce it without injuring yourself, and how to juice it enough. It’s a delicate, funny balancing act.
Recording Superman/Batman: Public Enemies was actually easy because of the cast that Andrea (Romano) put together. Tim (Daly) and Clancy (Brown) – all of us have worked together a lot over the years, and there’s a real shorthand when you’re dealing with people who have done a lot of it and know what they’re doing. Which is really a pleasure. Andrea doesn’t have to say very much for me to know what she wants.
QUESTION: What do Tim Daly and Clancy Brown bring to their respective roles?
KEVIN CONROY: Tim brings to Superman that strong voice, but there’s also a real humanity to Tim as an actor and that really comes through. So there’s strength but there’s a great sensitivity, and that’s unique about his take on Superman.
Clancy is great at being crazy. He’s a very talented actor. He’s got that great sound, that resonate voice. And yet when you’ve got that kind of power under you, you can afford to be very casual with it. It makes his sinister quality so much more frightening when this guy with this voice is just being very debonair.
QUESTION: What can people expect to find different about Superman/Batman: Public Enemies than most crossover stories?
KEVIN CONROY: There’s definitely more humor in this because of the relationship they’ve created between Superman and Batman. It was really fun doing it with Tim because it almost became like a buddy cop kind of thing. There are not a lot of people that Batman can fool around with like that – that can take it and can dish it back. So I really enjoyed that aspect of the script.
QUESTION: Batman and Superman have all these amazing foes. And yet Lex Luthor has no super powers. What makes Lex a great villain, and how does Clancy make him greater?
KEVIN CONROY: Actors always want to play the villain – they’re a lot more fun. Think about it. The hero is just about being a good guy and, in life, we all want to be good guys. But when you’re playing at something other than yourself, it’s fun to do what is taboo. I played Edgar in a production of King Lear that John Houseman directed for Lincoln Center. Edgar is the good son in Lear and it’s probably the hardest role in the play. I thought I did a pretty good job at it – although one critic was particularly unkind. Years later, I did a production at the San Diego Shakespeare Festival of Lear and I played Edmond, who is the force of evil throughout the play. The plot really revolves around Edmond’s machinations. It was so much more fun to play Edmond because of the joy he took out of being evil. This guy is planning the downfall of his family, and laughing about it, and delighting in it. And it was a real blast to me. A couple years earlier I was busting my back for Houseman, doing Edgar every night, working so hard on a role that the audience doesn’t care about. They want to cheer Edmond and how evil he is because it’s so much fun. Clancy brings that joy to Luthor and the more ease he does it with, the more frightening it becomes. And he’s really good at that.
QUESTION: So what does Kevin Conroy bring to Batman?
KEVIN CONROY: I guess I am basically most comfortable when I’m alone. As a kid, I was very much a loner. I love long distance running and long distance biking. A director once pointed out that those are all very isolated exercises you do for hours at a time. I think Batman taps into that quality of me, because my initial take on the character was that Batman wasn’t the performance. Bruce Wayne was the performance. Batman is where he’s most comfortable. The cave is where he’s most comfortable. And he puts on this persona of incredible sophistication to be able to deal with the world just like I think everybody puts on a mask to deal with the world. Everyone has a private self and a public self. With him, it’s taken to a real extreme. And I think I related to that aspect of him. I am basically a pretty shy person – I think a lot of actors are. That’s why they get into acting – because it’s easier to be free emotionally when you’re pretending to be someone else than to be free emotionally when you have to be yourself. And I think Bruce has the same problem.
QUESTION: Is there still a cool factor for you to be the voice of Batman?
KEVIN CONROY: Oh, yeah. It’s something that I’m reminded of a lot from people who enjoy the show. That’s a very cool thing. I don’t ever take for granted how cool a job it is and how lucky I am to have landed in it. It was the first animation job I ever auditioned for – and it just happened to all come together so well. But it was just pure chance.
QUESTION: Were you a comics reader as a kid?
KEVIN CONROY: I had an interesting childhood in that my parents were older. I was a late child, and they were children of immigrants. So the connection of the family to Ireland was very close. I have an Irish passport – I went to school there a bit when I was younger. So my parents were very old world, and they grew up during the Depression. They were kind of like my friends’ grandparents – my family kind of skipped a generation that way. I was put in very conservative Catholic schools – the nuns had habits to the ground, and the boys and the girls were separated. It was very old school. And comic books just weren’t allowed. It just wasn’t part of my world. I didn’t read them because I didn’t like them – I didn’t even know about them. (he laughs). Comic books weren’t part of the planet that I was raised on. Of course, once I heard about them, I liked them a lot. (he laughs)
QUESTION: Do you have a collection of Batman paraphernalia?
KEVIN CONROY: I’m no dumb actor (he laughs). Do you remember the Warner Brother stores? One of the most lucrative parts of those stores was the galleries – they ran them like real art galleries. They’d have people who did the voices come in and do so signings, and when they asked me, I said, “Do I get some kind of compensation?” They were trying to get us on the cheap, but I thought there had to be something to make it worth my while. I said “Why don’t you give me a cell?” And they said “Oh, that’s a great idea.” So I said, “Why don’t we make it two?” (he laughs) And so I started doing appearances at the stores and my compensation was two cells – and now I’ve got about 60 or 70 cells. It’s very cool. I have a great apartment in New York and they’re all on this wall. Everyone who walks into that apartment turns into a 12-year-old boy. They all walk in and say, “Oh. Wow. Cool.” And it is. (he laughs)
QUESTION: What makes Batman the greatest super hero?
KEVIN CONROY: Oh, that’s easy. The thing that makes Batman unique as a super hero is that he has no super powers, and the darkness of his personal story. Everyone relates to having a personal dark story – his is just much more dramatic than most people’s. Everyone is handed adversity in life. No one’s journey is easy. It’s how they handle it that makes people unique. Batman took adversity and turned it into something enormously powerful and positive without any superpowers.