If you're a fan of DC's direct-to-DVD animated movies, you've noticed that there is a puzzling and wide variety of actors used in each ensemble cast. Sometimes a more familiar set of voices is used (actors from the original Batman, Superman, and Justice League animated television series often reprise their roles), and sometimes... Billy Baldwin. At New York Comic Con we got a chance to ask Bruce Timm what was up with that:
When we bring Kevin [Conroy] and Tim [Daly] in to do voices, our publicity people weigh in and say "We love Kevin and Tim but we need some stunt casting to get publicity and media exposure." So we always like to look at some of the major supporting characters as parts that we can stunt cast with higher profile actors. I would have been perfectly happy to use Nicole Tom and Michael Ironside. At the same time, I was delighted to work with Summer Glau and Andre Braugher.
For the upcoming All-Star Superman movie (out tomorrow), voiceover director Andrea Romano has rounded up an intriguing lineup of stars: James Denton, Christina Hendricks, Anthony LaPaglia, Ed Asner as Perry White, Frances Conroy, and Linda Cardellini. There's also veterans Michael Gough and John DiMaggio. So she answered a few questions about what it's like to "stunt cast" for certain selections from Warner Home Video.
How did James Denton rank in his first foray in animation?
Andrea Romano: Jamie was a voiceover virgin, or he hadn’t done much, but he was outstanding to work with. Once an actor trusts that I will not let their voice go out sounding bad, and that their performance will be nothing less than the best, it becomes a very pleasant experience for all involved. Jamie was like that. He reminded me of Jensen Ackles – both are good actors, I’d seen their on-camera work, but because this form is different than what they’re used to working with, there is some insecurity with the territory. But once they don’t feel threatened, they relax into the role. Jamie was a really interesting choice – it can be difficult to cast some of these Superman films – and he brought some unique interpretations and sensitivities to the role. And that’s interesting for a director – to hear somebody else’s thoughts on what a man like Superman would sound like.
What are you seeking in a Superman voice that differentiates from all other voices?
AR: Superman is such an interesting character because, while he isn’t human, he has so many human qualities. He’s interesting because without the effects of certain kryptonites, his instincts are always going to be to do the right thing. But you don’t want that to come off as being a Boy Scout or one note. And so you need kind of the white knight, but to still keep him interesting. It’s like when we girls first start dating, it’s never the clean-cut nice guy that attracts us – it’s always the bad boy with the extra dimensions. That’s why I like Batman so much. But when we can give Superman some layers, that makes him interesting. And every actor I’ve used for Superman has brought some amazing layers.
How do you pick the different actors?
AR: The actors I tend to bring in are people I’ve admired from afar and have been looking for a specific character for them – as with Anthony LaPaglia for Lex Luthor. He is such a versatile actor, and his dialect work is so good. Moreover, he was so directable. If something confused him, he asked just the right questions – he wouldn’t blindly do it 10 times to make it be right.
At one point in the LaPaglia session, he wasn’t understanding your direction no matter how many different ways you worded it – and Bruce Timm was able to communicate your direction with a simple drawing of Lex’s face. Has he done that previously?
AR: When Bruce did that for Anthony, I thought that was one of those great
moments where a picture is actually worth ten thousand words. One of the things Bruce has done a million times before is, when someone comes in to play a role, he’ll draw the character right there on the spot. That almost always helps an actor establish a voice.
What’s the most unconventional casting of a villain you’ve ever done?
AR: Bill Macy as a villain in Batman Beyond. I thought I’d do it just to
let him be the bad guy, because at the time he was getting all the hapless, milquetoast, endearing good guy roles. So I thought it would be fun to switch it around and, of course, he was brilliant.
How did you choose Frances Conroy to play Ma Kent?
AR: Frances Conroy – first, let me say that she is not related to Kevin Conroy, which is kind of funny because they know each other very well, and they even went to Juilliard together. I’ve admired her work on everything from Six Feet Under to Maid in Manhattan, and when I heard she was doing voiceovers, I was so jealous somebody else got her before I did. While there weren’t many lines for Ma Kent, it’s always a pivotal role – it’s the woman who helped shape Superman’s sense of right and wrong. And Frances just has that quality about her voice that is mothering and warm and thoughtful, and what she did with such few lines of dialogue was wonderful and exactly what I was hoping to get.
How do you decide when to cast someone like John DiMaggio as a main character, or instead use him in the ensemble?
AR: Often when I cast my ensemble players for some of the secondary characters, and that is to say secondary characters by the number of lines they must perform, I treat it almost like a casting party. I want to put together people who enjoy being in a room together, that are going to bring something to the party, and that they’re somebody with whom I want to spend a few hours locked in a room together. When I get the chance, I also like to cast those guys in major featured roles, like John DiMaggio as the Joker in Batman: Under the Red Hood. The thing about these actors is that they’re so versatile that I could assign three roles to each before they walked into the room, and I could change it when we walked into the room and they’d have no problem playing the other characters instead. It’s always fun to work with that group, but sometimes it is like being a kindergarten teacher with an over-crowded class.