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. Check out our interview with Will Friedle, voice of Nightwing as well as our interview with John DiMaggio, voice of Killer Croc.
Our last interview with the cast of Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs. Monsters is with Batman himself, Roger Craig Smith. Gamers will remember him as Ezio Auditore da Firenze from the Assassin’s Creed franchise and as the current voice of Sonic the Hedgehog, but Batfans will know him as the voice of Batman in Batman: Arkham Origins.
In it, we discuss his take on the G-rated vs. R-rated Batman cartoon controversy, his take on this version of Bats, and recall his casting for Batman: Arkham Origins. Additional questions are provided by Laura Sirikulvadhana of Nerdreactor, who will be differentiated by italicized text.
So there are a lot of different versions of Batman seen over the years, some campy and lighthearted, some darker; this one seems to have kind of a stoic personality in the midst of all this wackiness. How did you come to approach this version of the Bat?
Roger Craig Smith: My approach to any character is going in and asking the director what they want from me. I don’t like walking in and going, “Well, here’s what I feel like we should do for this version of Batman,” because I don’t write it, I don’t produce it, I don’t animate it. It’s a collaborative effort. It’s a bunch of people coming together to basically say, “This is what we’re going to do for this project.”
And with the Batman Unlimited version of Batman, it was skewing more family-friendly, but that being said, I will say I feel like this is just a more classic version of Batman in the animated sense, to where it’s like he’s very confident, very capable, and very self-assured. He’s not trying to figure out who he is. That [Batman: Arkham] Origins story, where it was kind of coming of age and he’s trying to figure out his relationship with Alfred and whether or not he needs help in the world and all that. This Batman is just like, [Smith briefly goes into his Batman voice] “I’m Batman.” He’s just right there. So, with this, I would say it’s more classic in the sense of we know this character, it’s not a developmental stage for him in any way and I think that works well to allow the wackiness and allow the other characters to kind of have their moments to go all over the map. Also, it’s funny to have Batman be more of the straight man in this sense, because there’s so much wackiness going on here, but also, I think it helps to introduce what the Unlimited series is. We’re basically introducing him to a younger generation, a new audience, hopefully and a more family-friendly version of Batman.
If we were trying to really wrestle with a bunch of developmental issues with him, that would be lost on kids. They wouldn’t be all that much fun. They wouldn’t make sense. I want to put Batman on a robotic dinosaur with a Batman that knows who he is, isn’t wondering what this existence is all about. Kids don’t want to play that. They just want to know Batman’s cool. Batman’s in a mech suit! Batman’s on a robotic dinosaur with lasers! That’s awesome! I think that was the interpretation on this version of Batman.
Do you think this Batman is the natural progression of your Origins character?
RCS: No, because with it being more family-friendly; with Origins, it was a little darker, obviously and he was a little more unhinged, because he was trying to figure just what version of this Batman he was going to be, as far as Bruce Wayne was concerned. It’s such a different universe in so many ways. I think it’s just a very different – not vastly different in terms of the voice prints, it’s going to sound kind of similar, but I don’t think they’re similar just because that Batman was a lot more emotional, by comparison to this Batman. This Batman is just, [Smith goes into his Batman voice again] “Batman.” He’s established.
Because you have to play the serious one and I know when you’re doing your voice acting, you really have to focus on becoming the Batman. So when you have Will [Friedle] and everyone else making those funny jokes and doing comedy, how do you keep a straight face as the Batman?
RCS: We do goof around and thankfully, there’s not many times where we get a chance to record as an ensemble cast, like together, because then, we don’t get stuff done. Troy [Baker] and I always joke that – there was one session where they brought the two of us in together to record at the same time, but we were goofing around so much that I think they quickly were like, “Let’s keep them separate. We don’t need Batman and Joker getting along so well.”
It’s fun and we do goof around a lot. I think it’s to kind of keep an energy level in the room. It’s like football, you huddle up, you figure out what the play is going to be, the ball is hiked, you go [produces raspberry noise] in front of a microphone, and then you stop and you get back to the huddle and you go, “How did that go? What do we think? Do we like that play or should we try it again?” And because you’re kind of going in and out of this intensive sort of energy over and over and over again, on the downtime, if you just sat there and then just pull out your phone and got bored, pretty soon your energy starts to kind of sag, and you’re not very present. And so, we are always goofing around with one another. I think to keep that energy there, because for four hours, you’re going to be asked to keep going “Bam! Bam! Bam!” and they’re like, “Do this! Do this!” and you’re jumping all around the script. It’s part of the process, I think.
But then when they say we’re rolling, it’s my job to do the Batman and he’s not a goofy character at all. He’s got his little moments of levity, but even then, you have to play those sort of subtlely. That is a challenge for me, because I’m a goof. I’m just a total goofball, so it is kind of funny for me to be the straight man, in a sense. It’s fun. It’s fun for me to do that every now and then.
You mentioned Troy Baker. So it’s slowly becoming the case that Troy Baker is your definitive Joker. I just want to know if you guys have like a special relationship or process, for instance the way Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy do?
RCS: Well, Troy and I have been friends for a long time. We’ve known each other for a long time prior to this. I always tell the story that I left the casting call for the Batman role and I remember texting the casting director, Amanda Wyatt – She and I worked on three versions of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, so we had gotten close and became good friends. – and I was like, “Why wasn’t Troy at the casting for this? He’d be perfect for Batman.” And then, she had replied with, “Funny story, we’ll talk later.” Then, she called up to say, “You’ve got the role and now I can reveal to you that Troy was already cast as the Joker.” And I was like, “Oh, no way!”
He and I didn’t really bring too much in terms of like discussing anything other than the fact that when Origins came about, we were like, “Wow! This could go either really, really well or horrifically wrong for us.” Because we knew the established versions of Batman and Joker were Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill and that was it and the fact that we were about to take over on this one little version of a story, could be received a million different ways by fans. We get it because we covet these characters like anybody else does and the last thing you want is when something that you enjoy so much is being altered in any way shape or form. You feel like, “Oh no, it’s going to take away from my love of this character.” So we understood that there would be some fans that would be like, “Hey, hey, hey, what are you doing?” But he and I didn’t really get together and start discussing what our versions would be or how we would get along. Gosh, he’s done both Batman and Joker and it was just revealed the Telltale version as well, that he’s Batman in that as well.
So there’s no ownership of anything. I mean, I don’t know anybody that really gets to, especially in this day and age, say like, “Oh well, I’m the young kids’ version of Batman. That’s the stuff I do.” It’s like no, because Troy has done it for the LEGO games, Telltale, and there will be other actors that do a Joker for different iterations of different projects.
So, I think in that regard, it’s like everybody just goes in, does what they do, works with the director, finds out what that version of that character is going to be and go from there. There’s no real like, “Oh, Troy and I have this relationship as far as Batman and Joker goes.”
So Batman Unlimited is for kids. It’s targeted for kids. Recently, for the R-rated version, there’s been some controversy stemming from that. What’s your take on the R-rated Batman compared to different versions of Batman?
Well, I know that Will talked about Bruce Timm having said, “At some point, there should be a Batman for everybody” and I just look at it like that. There are so many mediums in which we get our entertainment now and I do agree that there should be a Batman for everybody. Whenever anything that’s in the animated sense comes out with a rating that skews more adult, people feel like, “Well, wait a minute… it’s animated, it should be for kids” and it’s not necessarily the case anymore. So I look at it like, quite honestly, I think if parents are doing a good job and they’re out there vetting out what entertainment they’re exposing their children to… there’s a reason why you’ve got the ratings boards for video games and for motion pictures, so we can sit there and say that “This is not for kids. This is for kids. This is family-friendly. This is not family-friendly.”
In terms of being a part of the family-friendly thing, I really enjoyed being a part of that. It’s not that I don’t want to be a part of something for a more mature audience – Again, which Origins was clearly for a more mature audience – but I love being a part of the family-friendly stuff. It’s kind of all part and parcel for what that version of Batman is doing. That’s for a more grown-up, darker version of fans of that comic. And what I like being a part of is thinking that adults that love Batman were probably exposed to this at an earlier age, when it wasn’t the Killing Joke. If that was a child’s first response to… *laughs* It might be a bit much. But it’s got to start somewhere and I’m honored to be able to be a part of things that are family-friendly that are skewing towards a younger audience because it’s neat to think that there might be some kids out there that they’re going to pick up a toy and watch this movie for the first time and go, “That’s Batman?! That’s cool! I love that!” And to be the voice of that is a huge honor.
Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs. Mutants will available for digital download on August 30th and will arrive on DVD on September 13th.