For many superhero fans, Kevin Conroy is THE Batman. Although he’s only ever voiced the character, he’s held onto the role for over twenty years now and has become synonymous with the caped crusader. At the premiere of the latest Warner Home Video feature, Justice League: Doom, we got a chance to speak with the seasoned actor about his long run with the character, how he sees Batman, and how voice acting for video games like Batman: Arkham City, is a lot harder that it would appear.
It’s easy to assume Conroy has been typecast as Batman. Starting with his time on Batman: The Animated Series, fans immediately believed he was the voice of the iconic character. It’s both helped and hindered the actor through the years.
“I assumed it would be a totally anonymous job, you would think it would be a totally anonymous job, but with the internet that’s just not the case anymore,” he said. “People stop me all the time and say, ‘We know you. Aren’t you Kevin Conroy?’ And I say well, ‘Have we met? Do I know you?’ and they’re, ‘You’re Batman!’ So it’s much less anonymous than you’d think. Much less anonymous than it was twenty years ago, doing animation voices.”
Conroy attended Juilliard in New York when he was just seventeen and has a great deal of classical experience. “So I had a pretty well established career before the animation work so it hasn’t really been limiting,” he said. “In terms of voice work, it’s somewhat limiting because it’s such an identifiable role in terms of animation. It is harder to get other animation jobs.”
Because of his background, Conroy put a lot of thought into developing the voice originally. “[I] found the sound, not by imposing it on my throat,” he said, “by sort of getting into the head of the guy from an internal place, just getting to a dark, what I felt was a very painful place. That the pain was you. It’s not the kind of thing you can just click on and off.”
One thing the actor has to struggle with in his career though is those who want him to approach Batman differently. “Depending on the scriptwriter and depending on the director, they all bring their ideas. Invariably they say, ‘We want to try this, we want to try that’ and I always have to try and kind of nudge them a little bit and say, ‘You know, the audience is so loyal to this character they’ll know in a second if the sound isn’t genuine and if it’s not the sound of Batman, of who they know. So trust me on this, you’ve got to be true to the guy.'”
Conroy isn’t a regular comic book reader, rather, he enjoys historical novels, especially biographies. That hobby may have helped him to form his Batman as well. “Well the way I’ve approached it is that Bruce is the performance. That was my first take on it, was that putting on the cape and the cowl isn’t putting on a costume. That’s where he feels the most comfortable and can be himself,” he said. “Putting on a costume for this guy is putting on a business suit and a tie and performing for Gotham City. That’s the performance. That’s how I’ve approached it and I think the audience picks up on that.”
Phil Morris, Andrea Romano, Kevin Conroy
While Batman tends to steal the show no matter what project he’s in, in Justice League: Doom, he’s the impetus for the entire story. Batman’s contingency plans for if/when any member of the League goes rogue are stolen by their enemies and the fact that he had them in the first place causes strife within the team.
Conroy appreciates that even though Batman is a hero, he’s not perfect. “I think what’s made Batman such an iconic role for so long, is the fact that he’s not a superhero, he’s human. And he has those two faces, the private face and the public face. The personal tragedy that he then uses to try and heal the world with but it’s always those two sides to him and people relate to that,” he said. “Everybody’s got a personal side and a public side, we all have a different face we present to the world. So people relate to that about Batman and in the Justice League, his being the only non-superhero, he’s always been the outsider.”
He continued, “I think everyone has a piece of the other in them and in this episode or this movie, it’s really exaggerated, that situation because his being the only non-superhero, he’s thought of a way to…in case any of them ever got out of control, he had a way to neutralize them. And that ends up being a source of betrayal for them when he was trying to do the right thing, it ends up being used as a great source of evil.”
A lot of actors have voiced the Justice League over the years but Conroy has played Batman a majority of the time he’s been animated. Do other actor’s mind that he, in a sense, is hogging the role? “Well they’re a little jealous. I get a lot of that actually. ‘We’re happy for you and we hate you.’ It was dumb luck, I mean it was also just an example of the right voice for the right character at the right time. It was just kismet,” he said.
Of course in recent years, the actor has had much success in voicing Batman in Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum/Arkham City video games. But unfortunately, it’s a much bigger job for Conroy than his work on the animated series or films, he says there’s no comparison.
“You’re alone in a booth like four hour chunks of time, literally. Four hours in the morning, an hour for lunch, and four hours in the afternoon. Day after day after day after day. Just you,” he said. “Because think about it, as the game is played, depending on how it’s played, there’s hundreds of variables, thousands of variables the direction the character is going to go. You’re voicing for all of that. It’s really mind numbing and you also don’t get the input from the other actors…When you’re alone you can’t do that so you’ve got to be self motivating and you’ve got to keep the character alive and fresh and believable.”
The Legion of Doom from Justice League: Doom
Speaking of other actors, Conroy’s foil in both B:TAS and the video games is the Joker, voiced by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill. Hamill has said in recent years that he’d be retiring from the voice but would almost always return if Conroy was involved. We asked how Conroy feels about it.
“I can’t imagine it without him. And we work so well together,” Conroy said. “I wish that the audience could…because I know he has a huge and loyal following, and the audience does know how great he is, but if they could see him in the recording studio they would have 100 times more admiration for him because he’s a really talented actor and his whole body gets thrown into the performance. I mean, it looks like the guy’s gonna devour the microphone, he’s just so all over the studio. He’s a very exciting guy to work with, he’s a very creative, intelligent actor. Much more than the average actor.”
And what about his own retirement? Conroy doesn’t see it happening anytime soon. “[Laughs] I can’t see it but you know, there’s gonna be other people doing it I’m sure. Like the live-action movies they’ve had so many different actors doing them and it’s interesting to see how a different actor has a take on the role.
Conroy feels that Christian Bale is the best of the live-action Batman actors and that Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight was “inspiring.”
Seeing as how Batman has been popular for 75 years, we wondered what the actor thought about the character’s future. Would he maintain that kind of popularity for another 75 and beyond?
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” said Conroy. “I think there’s a timelessness about him that the writers really locked into a gold mine with this character. He’s the archetypical hero. Being tested by fire in his youth, overcoming tragedy and using his life to conquer evil. It’s an archetype in literature and everyone relates to that, everyone wants to be a hero.”
He then related to us a story that was in the news not too long ago.
“There was an incident in New York, I think it was last year or the year before where a guy fainted and fell onto the subway track. And an everyday guy, just a guy standing on the platform had the presence of mind, not just to be brave enough to jump in and save the person, which I pray to god I would have the courage to do, this guy had the courage to jump in and lay down on top of the person in the bed of the tracks knowing, like Batman would know, that if you lay down, you’ll both be safe because you’ll be cleared by the trains,” he said. “Can you imagine the terror that any of us would feel to jump and lay down under a subway track to save a strangers life? I mean, when I heard this story I thought, ‘This guy’s Batman.'”
Conroy didn’t give us any hints as to his next animation work but says he’s been working on video games for the last few years and will be continuing that for a while.
Justice League: Doom is in stores, online, and on demand now! In case you missed them, you can also check out our interviews with Conroy’s Doom co-star Phil Morris and their voice director Andrea Romano!