WB Home Entertainment has been releasing a line of movies geared towards the younger demographic of Batfans out there, promoting a line of toys by Mattel. The series, titled Batman Unlimited, has already seen the release of two movies in 2015, subtitled Animal Instincts and Monster Mayhem. This fall will find the release of a third entry into the series, entitled Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs. Mutants. At San Diego Comic-Con last week, I was provided with a fantastic opportunity to speak with a few members of the cast, courtesy of WB Home Entertainment.
Similar to the cast and crew of The Killing Joke, this was a round table interview, where I was in the presence of other journalists and talent would be escorted to our table, where we would be given 6-8 minutes to spitfire as many question as we could muster. Unlike our interviews with the cast and crew of The Killing Joke, however, these will be text-based interviews, so they will be released in parts over the course of the week.
Today, we have veteran DCAU voice actor, Will Friedle, who plays Dick Grayson/Nightwing in the Batman Unlimited franchise. Batfans should know him as the voice of Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond, the series set in the future with an elderly Bruce Wayne coaching the new Batman and protege. Additional questions provided by Laura Sirikulvadhana of Nerdreactor, who will be differentiated by italicized text.
In it, we discuss his personality within his work, his approach to voicing two major proteges of Batman, and his stance on the R-rated Batman movies.
In this movie, Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs. Monsters, what is Dick Grayson going to go through as Nightwing?
Will Friedle: In the Batman Unlimited world, Dick is thankfully kind of like the comic relief, a little bit. That’s always a good thing when the world is crumbling around him and Dick always has a good one-liner, which I think is nice. And then of course, because he’s Dick Grayson, he always has to deal with impressing Batman and trying to stand on his own. Typical Nightwing/Dick Grayson stuff, which I think is good.
A good number of your characters have been comedic relief, going way back to Boy Meets World, would you say that comedy is a big part of your personality?
WF: It is. I’ve always been the funny guy. In high school, I was always voted “Class Clown” and that kind of stuff. I mean, making people laugh is my favorite thing in the world. So it’s nice that it translates to – I mean, there’s been a few roles like Terry on Batman Beyond where there was kind of no comedy at all, but –
He’s a little snarky.
WF: A little, but not compared to Ron Stoppable, who was all comedy. So it’s interesting to see the role I get. It was either superhero or comedy and now it’s kind of comedy superhero. It’s fun to combine the two.
How much of your personality is in Nightwing would you say?
WF: You know, I think most actors, depending on what you’re doing, but especially in animation, you tend to put a bit of your personality into almost everything you do. It’s certainly fun to kind of interject your personality and especially when you’re working with the director we worked with, with Wes [Gleason, voice director] and with the cast that you’re working with, they really make it conducive to play into that comedy. You can really play it up. And it’s rated G for kids, so they don’t want to go super serious. So there are definitely certain times during the recording when they really want to play up the funny aspect of the show and that’s when we’re kind of excited to jump in.
Well, so far there’s been three movies of Batman Unlimited, did you ever talk with the creators and producers and say, “You know, Dick Grayson deserves his own movie”?
WF: We haven’t, but it’s one of those things where – I would love to do a full-on Dick Grayson movie. This is my third Batman Unlimited movie, but my fourth movie as Nightwing because our LEGO Justice League just came out like a week ago – and I’m the LEGO Nightwing that comes with the boxset, thank you very much.
I definitely play the much lighter, much funnier Dick Grayson, but I would certainly like to do a really gruff and almost Batman Beyond-esque Nightwing story, because Nightwing has a huge following. He’s a really big popular character in the DC Universe, especially now with all the other Robins are getting their own thing and nobody knows what’s happening with – “Is it Jason Todd?” Or, you know, Damian and the new ones. So it’s kind of cool that every Robin is getting their own kind of story, but then it really comes back to “Okay, we wanna see Dick Grayson/ Nightwing.”
It’d be cool if they wanted to do a full-on Nightwing movie. I don’t know if they would do it in the Unlimited world for like rated G, but that’s the cool thing about Dick Grayson is that he really would work in that world as well as he would work in a kind of Killing Joke R-rated world. That’s the great thing about any character in the DC world that’s written really well is that you can write Batman for 7-year-olds and you write Batman for 37-year-olds. And if it’s written well, then it works. I would love to see that gritty Nightwing movie. It would be really cool.
How did you approach Terry McGinnis as opposed to Dick Grayson? They’re both kind of young, hotshot superheroes.
WF: See, this is the thing, Terry was never… while he was Bruce’s apprentice, he was never Batman’s right hand, because he was Batman himself. So there was a kind of stepping into the mantle role when you were Terry that Dick would never have. Dick was always fighting to get out of Batman’s shadow and was always like “I’m as good as you are.” That’s why he went off to establish himself as Nightwing. Terry never had to deal with that, because Terry instantly put on the cowl. So it was one of things where I like to tell people that I was by far the best Terry McGinnis ever, because I was the only Terry McGinnis ever, whereas there’s been a ton of Nightwings. So I think Terry never really had to fight and push to get Batman’s recognition where Dick really did and that’s why they just kept butting heads and butting heads and eventually, he had to leave. That was definitely the difference between the two of them.
As far as approaching the characters and performing them, do you play Terry as more confident as opposed to Dick?
WF: Well, confident, maybe. Dick is more cocky than Terry is, because Dick is from a show-performing family. So with the circus background, he’s used to being in front of hundreds of people and performing. Terry was more confident, I think, as a person than Dick was. Dick was more cocky than Terry was. If you’re looking at soul, I think Terry has a darker soul than Dick does which is why Terry can relate definitely more with Batman than Dick does.
You’ve done a lot of G-rated, so it’s been the lighthearted Dick Grayson and the lighthearted Batman series. There’s been recently some controversy with the other R-rated Batman series. What’s your take on doing G-rated to the R-rated and the controversy happening?
WF: I don’t think there should be any form of controversy, frankly, because Bruce Timm told me something once while we were doing Batman Beyond, because we were talking about how dark Beyond was. At the time we were doing Batman Beyond, the movies were very light. It was like the Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and George Clooney movies that were very campy and very cartoony. And Bruce said to me, “There should always be a Batman for everybody.”
So the idea that when the shows are very dark, the movies are very light and when the movies are very dark, the shows are very light – like there was Batman: Brave and the Bold when the Christian Bale movies were out. I have no problem with there being a G-rated Batman and an R-rated Batman because there has to always be a Batman for everybody. The idea that a dad can take his 5-year-old son to Batman Unlimited and he can experience Batman in all of his glory and then drop his kids off at home and go to the R-rated Killing Joke and have just as much fun himself seeing how the characters progressed, I think that’s exactly what comic books and the characters should do. They should run the gamut so that everybody can enjoy them and I think Batman almost more than anybody else – because you very rarely get an incredibly dark Superman, it’s really Batman who can run the whole range – I think he, as a character, more than anybody can appeal to nursery school kids, kindergarten kids, and then adults across the board. So, I love it. I love the fact that there’s a G-rated and an R-rated out at exactly the same time. I think that’s how it should be.
So because you played Nightwing and many different characters from everywhere, is there a certain character that you’ve always wanted to portray? Is there a villain you want to play, because you always play the hero?
WF: That’s the thing! I’m always the good guy. So when anybody ever asks me this question, there’s one character that constantly pops into my head and that’s Cobra Commander from GI Joe. That would be who I’d pick. I’d pick the most wussy, ridiculous villain ever – villain with a small “v,” because he was just so crazy and so horrible that that would be my first pick all the time. Cobra Commander.
Would you go for that high-pitched, distinguished sound?
WF: Of course! Yeah, you’d have to do that. He’s Cobra Commander! He’s that wussy, kind of always shrieking – I would love it! I would love to do that! So that would definitely be my best pick.
Is there a DC character that you’ve always wanted to play?
WF: I’ve gotten to play a lot of DC characters. I was Kyle Rayner/Green Lantern. I was Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle. Terry McGinnis, obviously. Nightwing. You know, I think every actor at some point in their life would like to attempt the Joker, just because it’s the Joker, but I always wonder if I would be doing like a caricature of the Joker. That’s the beautiful thing about DC is that the back catalog is so deep that you can just sit there and all day long, you could just pick character after character after character.
There aren’t many characters that I wouldn’t want to play, when it comes to DC. As horrible of an answer as that is, it’s true. I mean, they’re incredibly rich. You look around at the Justice League or Justice League Unlimited were two of some of my favorite cartoons, and there were hundreds of characters there. There’s so many that I would think to myself like, “Yeah.” I mean, even things like Shining Knight and characters like that. Like, “Okay, I can see playing stuff like that.”
Regarding writing, is there ever a time that you were telling the creators, “I have an idea for a Batman Unlimited, I feel like this…”
WF: No. *chuckles*
Or any Batman series?
WF: No, not really. I normally write for the shows that I’m on and I write them because I really get in there and then, kind of get to know the character. I know enough people over there where I’m sure I could take a meeting at Warner Bros. and say, “Hey, I have an idea.” Whether or not they would want to do it, is another thing.
No, it’s more like I’ll be on a show, like ThunderCats is a perfect example. I was on ThunderCats and ThunderCats was really following a kind of a fantasy model and Arthurian legend model and I’m a huge fantasy nerd. I just love fantasy novels, so when I saw them doing that, without even asking them, I just went and I wrote an episode and I showed it to them. Michael Jelenic, at the time, said that, “You know it’s funny. We’re not going to do the episode that you just wrote, but a lot of the stuff that you wrote in here is stuff we have planned for the future, so we see that you obviously get where we’re going and we’d love you to write an episode.” So I wrote one and they really liked it, and they asked me to write a second one. They really liked that. And then, we actually got picked up for a second season and I wrote the first episode of the second season.
We had an amazing season planned and then we got cancelled, before we had a chance to do the second season because there were no toys. The toys weren’t selling and that’s the only reason. You were going to find out exactly what third earth was, you were going to find out Mumm-ra’s whole back story… there was some really cool stuff coming down the line. And they couldn’t do it. So we were still hoping that maybe we can do a direct-to-DVD movie to kind of wrap everything up. Who knows what the future holds. That one hurt me because I really loved writing that show and acting in that show. The cast was amazing. You know, Kevin Michael Richardson, Matthew Mercer, Robin Atkin Downes as Mumm-ra, Emmanuelle Chriqui was Cheetara. We had such an incredible time doing that show that that really bummed all of us out that we only got a chance to do 26 of those.
I kind of let the project dictate the writing and then I go from there. Girl Meets World was that we wanted to bring Jack back and we wanted Eric and Jack together again. That’s the episode they wanted me to write. That’s kind of what happened.
So as you were saying, you’re the only Terry McGinnis. In regards to the DCAU introducing characters, the only other person who holds that title is Harley Quinn. And Terry McGinnis is the other character that rose in popularity and just became part of canon. How do you feel about that?
WF: I think it’s amazing. I’d like to think I had a little something to do with it. I didn’t. That’s the guys. That’s Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and Glen Murakami and Alan Burnett. They put that together in such a way where everybody said that at the beginning, “This can’t work. There’s no way this can work.”
Bruce would tell me stories about Warner Bros. They just finished Batman: The Animated Series, which is very dark and Warner Bros. came to him said, “We want a kid friendly, teenage kind of Batman.” And of course, Bruce goes off and they create Batman Beyond, which in many ways was even more dark than Batman: The Animated Series. We were at the premiere of the episode of the pilot, the two-part pilot. The show started and they did the opening title sequence. There was that big, huge fight scene and half of the Warner Bros. execs got up and left because they were like, “This is not what we were looking for,” but then the show became so popular that it went from there. It did. It kind of just took on a life of its own. And then, what really capped it was Return of the Joker, which everybody just loved so much. That was really the great cherry on top of that series. So, we were happy with that.
Was that your first time working with Mark Hamill?
WF: I had met Mark before through Batman Beyond, but that was the first time working with him. Literally, I was sitting in between Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy – for like 10 days. So I spent my entire time just looking back and forth, just going, “Okay, just keep your mouth shut, because if you say something, somebody’s going to realize you’re not supposed to be here and they’re going to kick you out of the room.” You know, you talk about like times in your career you’ll remember, those 10 days absolutely are at or near the top. They certainly stick out. It was incredible.
So you have played a lot of teenager roles, like Ron and Terry and even Dick is in his 20s. Is there any chance you’re gonna ever consider maybe playing an older role?
WF: You know what’s funny is that whenever you’re in the room, you always do whatever role they brought you in for and then, usually like 2 or 3 others. So there’s times where they’ll say, “Alright, well, you’re old man #2.” Stuff like that is always fun. They kind of all put us in our certain categories and I’m teen superhero. Whenever there’s like a teen superhero, I’m one of the guys they call in. We always joke that it’s myself, or Jason Marsden, or Josh Keaton. There’s like 3 of us that tend to be all the superhero roles and very rarely do you hear all 3 of us at the same time. Hopefully, I’d like to play old people eventually.
Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs. Mutants will available for digital download on August 30th and will arrive on DVD on September 13th.