Looking at the live action Batman movies of the last-quarter century we’ve had eight different movies starring five different actors as the Dark Knight Detective and his alter ego billionaire Bruce Wayne. That may be why for a generation of people, the only real definitive Batman is the man behind the voice behind the cowl, Kevin Conroy, who first “appeared” as the Caped Crusader in 1992 when Batman: The Animated Series premiered on Fox Kids. Conroy was one of a number of celebrity guests as the recent Fan Expo Canada in Toronto, and at a press event he talked about his Batman legacy, and why no one person is the definitive Dark Knight.
Conroy has played Batman through his entire life, from this early days crime fighting seen in flashback in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm to the old Bruce Wayne mentoring Batman: Beyond. How does it feel get a lifetime’s worth out of Batman?
“People ask me sometimes what other animated heroes do you want to play, and I say, ‘What other animated heroes are there after you’ve played Batman?’ He is such a complicated, dark character that there’s so much for an actor to bite into. I was so fortunate to have landed in this position back in 1991. This was the first animated role I had auditioned for, and to land this has been an amazing ride.”
What’s great about playing Batman?
“What’s wonderful about the character is that he’s almost a reluctant hero, he wishes he didn’t have to do what he does. There’s a wonderful scene in Mask of the Phantasm where he’s at his parents’ grave and he’s asking them to please release him from his vow because he’s fallen in love and he wants to have a normal life, and you sense this struggle in this guy because he knows what he’s doing is right and it has to be done, but he wants to have a normal life, and he knows that those two worlds won’t reconcile. That’s the wonderful dilemma of the character. And he has no super-powers. He’s just a normal man that’s made this choice, and that’s why audiences just love this character so much.”
What does Conroy get out of the cons, and interacting with fans?
“When I come to these comic cons I get to interact with the audience because when you’re in a recording booth you don’t get to engage with anyone and I’m a stage person so I’m used to engaging. When you come to comic cons you get to deal with the audience and interact with the audience, and the experiences people tell me that they’ve had in their lives that Batman has helped them through are really extraordinary. There was a young woman in Chicago that came up to me and said “I’ve always wanted to meet you because I grew up in the projects on the south side and everyday after school I had Batman, and all my friends had gangs and guns and they’re all dead or in jail, and I’m a professional with a family. If it hadn’t been for those shows I would have had no where else to go.’ You realize that you’re brought in to a very personal part of people’s lives when you do animation.”
Does Conroy feel any special ownership over the character?
“No one owns the character, and any one interpretation is as valid as the others. I think it was really smart of Warner Bros. to not have any one actor in the live action franchise because you get to see all these different takes on the character, it’s been fascinating. Mark Hamill is the Joker, he’s brilliant, he’s genius, but then I saw Heath Ledger do it and I thought ‘Wow, he’s brilliant and genius too in a slightly different way.’”
How about other actors that voice Batman in the DC Comics Animated Universe, what does he think of their performances?
“I never see those films. No, I’m kidding! (Laughs) It’s the character. The character is consistent throughout because the writers are, so I like to hear what other actors do. I like to hear other actors impersonate me. (Laughs)
What’s the biggest challenge been for Conroy voicing Batman over the last 25 years?
“The challenge for me for 25 years has been to maintain the consistency of the character and remain true to the character and not have it get stale. People often ask, ‘How has he evolved over time?’ and actually the challenge has been not to have him evolve over time and to have him be consistent. When I’m given different writing by different authors I just try to put it into the voice that I know, and I put him in that writer’s world.”
And the biggest challenge of all, adapting Batman: The Killing Joke into the R-rated animated movie…
“To be honest, I think everyone felt the pressure working on that story because everyone knew that it’s kind of a Bible for Batman fans. That’s why they added the prequel to it with the Batgirl story. The Killing Joke isn’t long enough on its own to make it a movie, and the alternative to that would have been to dilute and expand it from within, so they said, ‘No, let’s be true to the story.’ That’s the criticism that a lot of people have, that there’s a prologue, but there’s a reason that it has a prologue, and I think they did a really good job, and I’m really glad they did that, because it feeds right into the story. But you can never please everyone.”