From Tiny Toons to Brave & Bold: Toon Zone Interviews Voice Director Andrea Romano
In conjunction with Warner Brothers Animation, Toon Zone got the chance to interview the talent behind the upcoming Batman: The Brave and the Bold TV series.
Andrea Romano’s resume could double as a list of some the best television animation since the late 1980′s. Since she joined a breakaway group of Hanna-Barbera animators who were resurrecting Warner Brothers TV Animation, she has lent her considerable talents as a casting director and voice director on such iconic shows as Tiny Toon Adventures, Batman the Animated Series, Animaniacs, Freakazoid!, ReBoot, Superman the Animated Series, Justice League, Teen Titans, Avatar the Last Airbender, and The Boondocks. Her work has earned her 11 Emmy nominations, of which she has brought home 5, and she remains one of the top voice directors in the industry.
Toon Zone News was able to interview Andrea Romano over the phone, and our discussion about Batman: The Brave and the Bold ended up running much longer than we expected, ranging far and wide over her long career in the animation industry.
TOON ZONE NEWS: You started in the entertainment business with formal training as an actress. Would you say that that helped you as a voice director?
ANDREA ROMANO: Absolutely. I think having a lot of different backgrounds as an actress, an agent’s assistant, an agent, a casting director, and then a director — it gives me a very good overview of the entire industry, and for what an actor is going through every single day in order to get to a job or even to an audition. It certainly gives me the terminology that helps the actors make sense of what it is I’m trying to get. I can use acting terminology that they’re familiar with as well as specifically animation terminology that helps them get the performance that we need.
TZN: Did you adhere to any particular acting school or technique?
ROMANO: My undergraduate work was at SUNY Fredonia, a state university in upstate New York near Buffalo, which is why I moved to southern California. I was there in the winter of 1977, where it was 40 below zero for three weeks in a row, and decided that I didn’t need to be in that kind of temperature any more. But that was an excellent acting school. They had a very very good theater arts program there, and still do. I did my graduate work at Rutgers in New Jersey, where I studied with Bill Esper, and he and Sanford Meisner created a school of acting that many people still study under.
What I have found over taking many classes over the years is that it’s good to study with as many different people as you can, and take whatever bits of information work for you and help you get the performance. You may find that with one particular instructor, half of what he or she says works for you, and the other half you just get rid of. I always suggest to anyone trying to pursue voice-over acting that they take as many good acting classes that they can take, and then just take whatever they can use. Additionally, they should take specifically voice-over classes for microphone technique and for the specifics that voice acting has that do not pertain to on-camera acting.
TZN: As a director, do you study the work of other film directors or other voice-over directors?
ROMANO: I don’t know that I would use the word “study.” I certainly observe it, and I find that very often, there will be a television series or a project that I will admire, and very often I will find myself casting a lot of the same people, because I liked the kind of performances that the director was able to get from them. So, in that way, I can say that I do look at their work and borrow lovingly from them. For example, I’ve used a lot of the actors from Joss Whedon’s work. There was another project called From the Earth to the Moon that was about the space program, and we were working concurrently at the time they were making that. I was finding that every time I was trying to book an actor, they were in Florida shooting that series. So the director and I were obviously looking at the same talent at the same time, which I found very interesting. But I really can’t say that I specifically study any director’s work. I go from gut instinct a lot, and I’ve been working for so long that I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t, and I try to put together the right cast with the right project and the right creative team. Ideally, then, we’re kind of on our own.
The truth of it is based on who I’m casting at the time and whatever show I’m working on, you can pretty much tell what I’ve been watching on-camera (laughs). You can tell what series I’ve been watching because all of a sudden, I’ve got every actor from Firefly on the various different shows that I’ve been working on, or every actor from CSI, or as many actors from House as I can get in.
TZN: You are a freelance voice director and not an employee of Warner Brothers, right?
ROMANO: Correct. For 18 years, I’ve done work for Warner Brothers, and I do have an office with Warner Brothers, which they are very kind to offer me, but I have never been on staff here. Back when Warner Brothers TV animation was created back in…1989, maybe? That was when a bunch of us left Hanna-Barbera, where I was the casting director at the time, and created Warner Brothers TV Animation, and starting from that point I was freelance. I did work for Warner Brothers on Animaniacs, and Pinky and the Brain, and the original Batman the Animated Series. I was also working with Disney doing DuckTales, Rescue Rangers, and some Winnie the Pooh episodes. I’ve pretty much worked for all the major animation studios over the years. I do quite a bit of work right now for Nickelodeon. I’ve been directing SpongeBob SquarePants for the last 2 years, which has been just a joy.
TZN: How do you get hired for shows?
ROMANO: They find me. It’s easy enough to find me, because I’ve been working in the industry for so long. If you simply look at the end credits of many cartoons, you’ll see my name. They simply either try to contact me through Warner Brothers or they call the agencies in town that represent the voice-over talent to find out how to contact me. I’ve been very fortunate…I’m knocking wood right now…that for the last 10 or 12 years or so, I haven’t had to go out and pursue work. It’s all come to me, and I’m in a very fortunate position to be able to pick and choose which projects I care to work on. And that’s a very nice position to be in.
TZN: How many shows do you work on concurrently?
ROMANO: I keep swearing that I won’t take more than three projects at a time, and this is the first time right now that I’ve been able to keep to that. More often, I work on five at a time, which is very difficult. It doesn’t give me much time for my own life, but I love what I do for a living, so it’s a great pleasure for me. Right now, I’m directing and casting Batman: The Brave & the Bold for Warner Brothers, directing only SpongeBob SquarePants for Nickelodeon, and I’m working on a series of games for Blizzard Entertainment. Then there’s always the DC Comics direct-to-video movies that come up, but they’re not 100% steady work all the time. They’re intensive, massive work for about 3 months, then there’s a big break while it’s being animated, and then I have another month of intense work. So those come about 2 or 3 a year.
TZN: I know that a lot of voice-over actors really pay the bills with commercials or promotional work, and not doing characters for cartoons. Is that true of voice-over directing as well?
ROMANO: I have not had to take on any other work. I am certainly capable of doing it, since I have a lot of experience in it, but it’s really not my field of expertise any more because I’ve been working in animation and video games for so long that that’s really what my forte is. I’m more versed in that and more experienced in that. Occasionally, I will be asked to do a project that is somehow connected to a series that I’m working on. Certainly, if it’s a video game based on Batman, I’ll direct that sort of thing. If it’s commercials that use the voice talent, I’ll often do that, but for the most part, I work almost exclusively in animation or video games. I don’t do that much commercial work any more.
TZN: When I was doing the research for this interview, I noticed that you may be the only person who’s been involved in all the DC animated superhero shows since Batman the Animated Series.
ROMANO: Is that true?
TZN: Yeah, Bruce Timm is the only other person I can think of who might, but he really wasn’t associated with Teen Titans or The Batman or some of the other shows.
ROMANO: How interesting! I didn’t even know that myself, but how cool is that? It’s a lovely thing to be a part of. I’ve learned so much myself. In my time, when I was a kid, girls reading action comic books just wasn’t something that was typically done, so as an adult, I started reading comic books as it became apparent that I needed to have some background research done on these characters. I have learned so much about Batman, Superman, the Justice League, the Teen Titans, and so many of the DC characters. And, of course, it’s so interesting always to keep an education going on. It’s really good to constantly have an input of new information because it keeps you stimulated and constantly learning new things, but DC has given me beautiful opportunities to learn about their world.
At the same time, because I’ve done so many projects that have had iconic characters like Batman or Superman, I’ve had to cast Batman and Superman multiple times. Very often, it is their directive to me to recast with new voices for their characters. It’s an awesome responsibility. It was an awesome responsibility in the first place, and then to try to top myself 2, 3, 4 times has been very difficult. A real challenge. But I like a challenge, and the response has been good, so I think I’m succeeding at what it is that they’re looking for, which is to get the new talent in there. They like working with celebrity talent, and it’s kind of fun to get celebrity talent in there because a lot of them are big fans of, say, Batman or Wonder Woman, so it’s really not so hard to go out there and say to agents, “Who do you have who might want to come and play on a Batman direct to home video?”
TZN: We’ll get back to casting Batman in a second, but what would you say has changed in producing the shows since Batman the Animated Series got started?
ROMANO: Oh, so much. Digital technology has come in, both on the voice recording side and on the animation side, so the way our time is spent is different. When I was working at Hanna-Barbera, we were doing a show called The Ed Grimley Show. It was Martin Short’s character that we animated, and we would record the voices first. Then it goes overseas for animation, and it comes back and we do what’s called ADR, or “automatic dialogue replacement,” which is looking at the picture married to the voice and making sure it fits and works. Well, back in the mid-80′s to late-80′s, when we wanted to do ADR, there was no digital system yet. We could only prep a certain number of cues and we would literally have to roll tape all the way to the first cue. If the second cue was four minutes into the piece, we’d have to roll tape for the four minutes to get it to that piece. When we did ADR on Ed Grimley, because Martin Short wouldn’t be available until the evening, we’d start at, say, 7:00 at night, and we would still be working on that same episode at 3:00 in the morning.
If we were doing ADR on that series now, it would probably take us about 2 hours. With digital technology, you go from one cue, you punch in the time code for the second cue, and you’re there in about five seconds. So that’s a major difference. Animation-wise, digital technology has improved a lot of things in my mind, but I am a fan of 2-D traditional animation. I like cel animation. I like the way it looks. I’m still a fan of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons, like Top Cat and The Flintstones and The Jetsons. I like the simplicity and the flatness of that style. Digital technology creates a different look, and there’s some benefits to it, in my impression, but there are downsides to it as well.
TZN: If I did my math right, I think this is the sixth time you’ve cast someone as Batman. Seven, if you want to count Will Friedle as Batman Beyond…
ROMANO: Oh, absolutely!
TZN: OK, so then this is the seventh time you’ve had to cast Batman. How do you it again?
ROMANO: It’s very hard. When I first get a gig and someone says, “You’re going to need to recast Batman,” my first thought is that it’s such an awesome responsibility in the first place. To get it right once is a major feat. To get it right twice is remarkable, and then as you go beyond that, it begins to get intimidating. I’m worried that I’m not going to do as good a job. Realistically, it also gets to the point where you say, “I’ve offered this role to just about everybody I think is appropriate for it.” If someone wasn’t available, I can certainly go back and revisit them, but it’s such an iconic character and there’s so much that goes into casting such an awesome role that I do get intimidated by it. Then I have to get over that and just buckle down and do the work, and so I dive in with the idea that I’m going to find it. I’m going to find the next Batman. And so far, so good!
Also, I’m not working in a vacuum. Once I find someone that I like, I have to get approval from as many as 5, 6, 7 other people. It could be the producer, the animation director, the writer, the home video people, maybe a toy company is involved, various executives…there’s a lot of people and the job becomes exponentially more difficult depending on how many other people have a say. So I’ve got to please a lot of masters, but I’ve got to please myself first. I’ve got to make sure that I like the voice and that I like the actor, because if I’m casting Batman for a series for 26 episodes, I’m going to be spending a lot of time with that character and with that actor, and I want to make sure that it’s going to be fun. Because God knows if we’re not having fun making these cartoons, we’re doing something wrong!
Animation is unusual because most animation voice directors cast for themselves, and I don’t know any other part of the entertainment industry where that is the case. It’s very unusual to go to an on-camera sitcom director who casts for himself. There’s usually a casting director assigned to the show, who submits and auditions appropriate talent, and then the director and many other people have a deciding say in how it’s cast. I think about it as putting together a party. Who’s going to be my guests at my party? And we’ve all been at a party that we’ve had a great time at, because all the guests were great fun. Well, my temptation is to put together those same guests for the next party, so I’ve got to fight that sometimes. I do have a fault of sometimes bringing in those same guests because I had fun with them the last time, but I also have to find other guests for my party and bring them in and see how they work with the other people. For the most part, I pretty much get it right.
TZN: What if you get it wrong?
ROMANO: Every once in a while, I have to replace an actor and that breaks my heart. Having been an actor myself, I know how painful that is to be replaced, and as a casting director and a director, it hurts me physically to have to recast an actor. I just think, “OK, I have failed somehow. I have done something wrong,” and we all hate to do something wrong in our jobs. We want to make sure that we get it right. But sometimes, you just have to take a chance. I’ve taken many, many chances over my career, and usually I get it right, but every once in a while, I take a chance and I get it wrong, so I have to kind of bite the bullet and go, “OK, I’m going to have to just finish the session and call the agent and tell them for whatever reason it didn’t work, and I’m going to recast the role. I try to always make sure that I let the agent know so they let the actor know, so eight months down the line, the actor doesn’t watch that episode on TV and go, “Oh, my Lord, I’m not on it,” because that’s just a horrible thing to have happen.
I hate it. I hate recasting where I have failed.
TZN: How often do you audition actors that you cast?
ROMANO: I do it very often. Any time I get a new project, it depends on who the producers are and how well acquainted they are with voice talent and with the acting community at large. There are some producers and animation directors that I can simply give a list of names to and say, “How about this guy for this role? How about this guy for that role?” and they can just sign off on things. Then there are some people who are relatively new to the voice world and they need to hear auditions. There’s a wonderful system called Voice Bank that has most of the voice over actor’s demos on-line, so even though they may not be reading specifically the copy for the piece that we’re working on, we can at least go there and play an actor’s voice for producers. There are also often projects where I get audition copy right from the beginning, and I send it out to all the agencies in town. I pretty much cast in the city of Los Angeles because we have such a huge talent pool here that there’s really no need to go outside of Los Angeles. Every agency has a recording booth in their own offices, so they bring in actors, they read them there, and they send me the auditions on MP3 files. I get the auditions, I listen to them, I choose which actors I want to either call back or, if they’re right on, I’ll just suggest that we book them.
I’m working on several projects right now that require me to do a set of auditions because the producers are not familiar with the voice-over talent. A gaming company that I work with just became signatories, which means they were using non-union talent before, and they’re not really familiar with the union talent that’s available to them. They’re grateful that they have this beautiful talent pool to pull from, but they need to hear auditions in order to make sure that the actors can give them what they want. I certainly have my input and tell them, “Yes, this guy is wonderful, he’s worked for 25 years in the industry, he can do everything,” and so I give them my input, but sometimes I have to audition actors right from the get-go.
TZN: What other sorts of preparation work do you do when you get a new show that you’re going to be voice directing?
ROMANO: I meet with the various creative people and find out what their concept of the show is and what the “voice” of the show is…and I use that term very generically. I try to get a good sense of what the energy of the piece is, what kind of actors are right for that, what the artwork is going to look like, what kind of music they’re going to use to score, what the “sound” of the show is. That kind of information is to make sure that we’re all working on the same project. For example, Batman the Animated Series, the first one we did, was really a kind of dark series, and the tone of it was very not-cartoony. Not broad. It’s not like The Brave and the Bold, which I’m casting and directing now, which is a broader, more cartoony, if you will, version of the Batman stories. That’s my initial prep for the casting process.
When I get a script to actually direct, I do a tremendous amount of work on prepping each and every script, and that’s why my recording sessions tend to go very, very fast. Once we’re about 2 or 3 episodes into it, I can rehearse and record a 22-minute episode of almost any series that I’m working on in about 2 and a half hours, which is rapid-fire. I think that that’s because we need that kind of energy. We need to keep moving. If we plod along, the vocal tracks will be dull, and so I need them to move along with energy, and to keep everybody kind of happy and “up.” Recording sessions are a joy. They’re just a great pleasure to be in. I’m sure you’ve seen some of them, since a lot of DVD extras include footage of recording sessions, and you can see that they’re really a fun experience. Specifically the rehearsal, because the rehearsal is where you can really mess around and play with things and ad lib and make jokes, and then when we get to the actual recording part, it’s a lot more down-to-business.
But, my prep on a script is very specific. I work from what’s called a shooting script, which is a script that has all of the action as well as the dialogue. It tells me what kind of a pan they’re going to use from one scene to another, what kind of a wipe, how quickly things are going to happen, and so on. Sometimes, I work from a storyboard, which gives me an even better idea what the thing is going to look like, and I prep it so that I can describe to the actors during the rehearsal exactly what is going on. The actors are given strictly a dialogue script, it doesn’t have any of the action written on it. (Listen to Andrea Romano’s response in MP3 format) When I rehearse them through it, I can tell them, “OK, that word ‘Whoa’ that you have there, is because you’ve been running running running and you come right up against a flat wall, so it’s a ‘Whoa!’ as opposed to looking up at something absolutely stunning and that’s a ‘whoooaaaa!’” So I highlight on my script all the important information that I need to describe to the actor so that they know what is going on while they are saying their lines. They need to be told are they running while they’re saying their line, or are they in a room where they have to be very quiet, because someone is in the next room that maybe could hear this information, or maybe they’re in a scene where fire engines are around and there’s lots of chatter from police cars and their energy and their volume has to be louder. I give them all of that basic information during the rehearsal and that’s all prep work that I have done before the actual recording.
TZN: You just mentioned that you will do a lot of improvisation and ad libbing during the rehearsal process. Is that where most of that happens?
ROMANO: Yes, for the most part. It’s different on various shows. Some shows are very agreeable to ad libbing and changing their lines. For example, for SpongeBob SquarePants, the actors have been doing it for so long and they’re so funny and so clever and they know the characters so well that they’re very, very good at ad libbing, and a lot of their stuff gets put into the show. This happened a lot on Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, where the actors were just very very clever and smart and put that stuff in. You can also run into a situation where the writers may also be producers. They may be there in the room, and their words are golden to them, so they don’t want their words changed, and so as a director, you have to walk that fine line between allowing the actors the freedom to add what they want to, and also make sure that you get what the writer wanted in the first place. Ideally, the writer is also open to some new ideas from the actors, but I always want to make sure that I’ve gotten for them what it is that they initially had in mind.
That said, when I prep a script, I hear it in my head. I hear the actor reading the dialogue in my head. I have an idea of what it should sound like, but I try to keep my mind open and I try to ask everyone who’s in the booth with me while I’m recording to keep their minds open, too, because actors are very creative people. That’s why we hire actors and not technicians to do our voices. We want people who have ideas, and so some actor may give a line reading that is completely different from what I heard in my head when I was prepping the script, but, it’s valid and it’s good and maybe even better than what I had in mind. And so I like to give an actor a chance to be free to do what their own idea is. And I explore that, but then I also make sure to get what I think is a good and valid idea that will fit with what everybody else was thinking about, too. I like to make sure that the recording sessions are big, comfortable, open places where the actors feel free to do what they do… to make complete fools of themselves, because that’s where some of the funniest stuff comes out on the comic shows, and then make sure to get it all done within a reasonable amount of time and fit it into the production period, and doesn’t make massive amounts of work for the editor to have to cut together things that make sense.
TZN: You just touched on this, but it seems that The Brave and the Bold is a very different Batman show than what you’ve been doing in the past.
TZN: Did you find that it was hard to shift gears into doing this show’s version of Batman?
ROMANO: Yes, I did. Knowing that we were doing a slightly more comic take on Batman for this…and when I say that, it’s not that we’re doing SpongeBob or Pinky and the Brain or Smurfs. We are making a Batman cartoon, but within that, we are allowing Batman to have a sense of humor, and for some of the other characters to have a sense of humor. To laugh at the situation, which is not really what we’ve done in the past at all with the specific character of Batman. One thing I remember so well, was that in one episode of Batman…I don’t remember what specific incarnation it was…but we had one episode where Batman actually laughed, and we all were weirded out by it because we had never heard Batman laugh. He was laughing in a very sardonic way, but it still was really odd and we all commented on the fact that of all the episodes we had made, we had never had Batman laugh.
It’s not to say that Batman will laugh in The Brave and the Bold either, but he does have a sense of humor and he does comment on things with a sense of humor. But when I did the first rehearsal, I remember thinking that my temptation was to do a dark version, and I really had to fight against that instinct of my own and get lighter reads, where the Batman was not so embittered and so angry. Every single session, I had to think about that. And again, it’s a fine line because I don’t want it to be a big, broad, laugh-laugh-laugh series. There are still some of those aspects of the Dark Knight in there, but there is also a comic edge that has to be integrated into it, and it’s a difficult balance that we have to find. Sometimes I’m never sure if it works until I hear the track put together, and sometimes, I even have to wait until the picture comes back to make sure that I’ve achieved that. That’s why it’s such a wonderful thing to have that option to do ADR after the picture has come back and we’re looking at it with voice and picture, and say, “OK, that worked,” or have the chance to fix it if, in fact, something didn’t work.
TZN: Did that new tone drive your casting Diedrich Bader as Batman for the show?
ROMANO: You know, I try not to repeat myself in my casting. I try to make sure that I’ve created a different flavor for every single series that I work on, but there are some people who are crossover actors and can do lots of different kinds of work. When I was given the breakdown for The Brave and the Bold, I thought, “Ooh, you know who could do this? Diedrich Bader. He’s got a deep, full voice and he’s got a sense of humor.” Then after doing many, many, many auditions, everybody else came to that same decision, and that was kind of a lovely confirmation of my idea in the first place. I had not foisted that upon everybody. I just kind of kept that to myself that I thought Diedrich was the guy for the job, and when everybody else confirmed that later, it was like, “OK, good, we’re kind of all on the same page as to what the attitude of this character should be.”
Diedrich, of course, is an extremely talented actor, and he had worked with me on The Zeta Project. He’s a very well known on-camera actor. He’s got the mike technique and he knows how to do voice over. He told me just a wonderful story. He called me when he received the message from his agent that he had been cast as Batman, and he told me that his 4-year old son was LEAPING around the house, so happy that his dad was going to be the new Batman, which I thought was just a charming story. You think that with some of these people who have been working in the business for so long and are very successful, they could be maybe kind of jaded, but in fact animation brings out the kid in all of us, and he was just as excited as his son to be doing the voice of Batman, which was just exactly what you want when you’re a casting director.
TZN: How did you have to direct Diedrich Bader differently as Batman as opposed to Zee in The Zeta Project?
ROMANO: Well, you direct everybody differently based on what the series is and based on what the episode is. It didn’t require a massive change because Diedrich has worked for me a lot on many different series, so he’s familiar with changing his energy and changing whatever is going on to make himself fit. He’s like a chameleon, because he can make himself fit into whatever project we’re working on. Sometimes what I have to do is just get out of the actor’s way. Make sure that the actor is on the right track, and then step back and let them go. If I’ve set them up correctly and rehearsed them correctly, I don’t have to interrupt them to fix anything for sometimes pages and pages, with the exception of maybe phlegm in the voice or stumbling over a line. Again, this is why my sessions go so fast.
I also try to do what I call an ensemble record, which is all the actors in the room at the same time, so they can act and react off of each other, which gets you a beautiful recording track. It gets you an honest reaction to what they have just heard from the actor before them, and that’s the way I like to work. Many directors work with each actor individually, or maybe two actors in the room at the same time. I far prefer to work with the entire group there at the same time and get them to react off each other. They feed off each other’s energy, they get a good sense of what the scene is. They can tell what the arc of the whole piece is and where the peak should be, so they can make sure that they don’t top-out too soon because they’ve got to get to another place even higher than that before we get to the end of the piece. If I’ve done a good job in casting and have rehearsed them all well, I don’t really have to beat them up through the recording session much at all. I really just let them do what they do and guide them more than direct them line by line.
There’s also a situation that occurs sometimes where I know exactly what is needed for a certain line to work with what the animators have in mind, or for what the producer had in mind, or for what the writer had in mind, or for what I had in mind. I try to let the actor find that organically by himself, but if in fact they haven’t found it in three, four, maybe five takes, I ask them if they mind if I line-read them. Almost nobody says they have a problem with it, and I just tell them specifically, “Here’s how we need the line done.” And I’ll read it to them — and here’s where my acting experience comes in — and they’ll echo it back to me, and we’ll move on. The purpose of that is to not have to beat the actor up for 20 minutes to get a single line done. When you do that, you beat all the fun out of the line. You beat all the energy and all the organic instinct out of the line, so it’s much better for me to say, “Here’s what we need,” and have the actor do it. Also, when I line-read an actor, I always let them have two takes right after. I give them three takes in a row. I say, “OK, do it this way first, and then do two takes immediately after any way you want to.” Sometimes the first take that they do, which is my line reading, isn’t necessarily the best take. Maybe those two reads they do afterwards incorporate what I had asked for, and then their own input as well, and often one of those two latter takes is a better one for me to use. So even when I line-read an actor, I like to make sure that they have their comfort zone and they don’t feel like they’ve been forced into a corner that does not seem right to them.
TZN: Is that what you normally do when an actor has trouble finding the right reading or the right character when they’re in the booth?
ROMANO: It’s exactly what I do. I let them try to find it. I give them as many opportunities as I can to find it themselves, and then I try as gently as I can to guide them without making them feel like they’re just not getting it, for whatever reason, because I know that ultimately they will. I always believe that the actor will ultimately get it. Even if I have to line-read them, they’re going to find it in there themselves, something that makes them comfortable. It may have to do with a regionalism of how they pronounce a word. For example, the word “won’t,” some actors say “woont” almost like “wound,” and so when I correct their pronunciation, they stumble over it every single time. So it sometimes just becomes a matter of having them do it enough times that it sounds natural. “We won’t be doing that,” They want to say, “We wooont be doing that,” and so I just have to work them through it until it’s good.
And another thing that I’ve discovered over the years is that you can work with an actor…let’s say as many as eight or nine times on a line at the moment. Then sometimes you just have to leave it, finish the episode, and come back to it in pickups at the end, and they tend to get it on the first take. Sometimes you just can’t beat up an actor. And when I say, “Beat up an actor,” I don’t really mean beat up an actor. Someone once referred to me as the Velvet Hammer. They said that I beat them up, but they never know that they’re beat up. But I may work them and work them and work them, and then they just need to leave the line, go away from it, and then come back to it. Then, for whatever reason, it comes out perfectly right the first time they do it. You can’t beat up an actor too much, because it takes all the instinct away. You don’t want to beat the instinct out of it. You want to make sure it’s got that beautiful, organic spontaneity and sometimes you just have to go away and come back to it to make that happen.
TZN: One thing I’ve heard you mention in an earlier interview is that you really try to cast ethnic actors for ethnic roles.
TZN: As an Asian-American, I appreciate that, but I was also thinking that voice acting, of all the acting disciplines, ought to be the one that’s the most color blind, at least in theory. So I was wondering what was your thinking behind casting that way?
ROMANO: I’ll tell you specifically: I personally feel very strongly that the entertainment industry as a whole needs to use minority actors and ethnic actors more often, so any way I can do my part in that, I do. It just seems right to me if we see an Asian character on-screen, whether it’s on-camera or animated, it should be an Asian actor. If we see a Hispanic character, it should be a Hispanic actor. I often go out and teach seminars to various different communities. For example, maybe two months ago, I went and spoke to the East West Players, which is an Asian theatrical group in downtown Los Angeles, and said, “Please, train, you guys. We need you. We need Asian voice-over actors. I need them all the time.” There are very few Asian voiceover actors who work consistently in animation, only because they just haven’t trained in it and they don’t have the experience yet. And in working on Avatar the Last Airbender for Nickelodeon, which I’m very very proud of, it was filled with Asian characters. I worked really hard with the casting director at Nickelodeon, Maryanne Dacey, in finding Asian voice-over actors, but after the first season of 20 episodes, we had used almost every Asian voice-over actor that we know of.
Now sometimes, it’s cost prohibitive. The Screen Actor’s Guild allows me, essentially, to use an actor for three voices for the same price. So let’s say I’ve got two Caucasian characters and one Hispanic character, and the Hispanic character has one line, and says something like, “Look at that guy! He’s running away!” It makes financial sense for me to use that Caucasian actor who’s already doing two other characters as that third character. However, I will not ask him to put on a Hispanic accent. I don’t want to have a Caucasian actor pretending to be a Hispanic actor with an accent. I typically will just have him do that voice straight-ahead.
TZN: Here’s my super-secret way to try and weasel more information about the show out of you: did you get to cast a lot of other ethnic actors in The Brave and the Bold?
ROMANO: On The Brave and the Bold, there’s a character called the Blue Beetle, and outside his costumed persona, he’s Jaime, a Hispanic character. I did major casting on that trying to find a Hispanic actor who fit the bill, and after a long time of casting and seeing everybody who was available, I couldn’t find it. I could not get an actor that everybody would confirm they wanted to play the part, so I had to cast a Caucasian actor. It broke my heart. I really wanted to cast that ethnically correctly, but the actor that I wanted for it was not available, and I had to find somebody who fit the bill the rest of the way. Will Friedle is who I ultimately cast as that character. I had lots of experience with him, he’s got a great sense of humor, he understands animation energy, and he understands the Batman world, but that was a very hard casting and I know I’m going to take a lot of flak for that.
The Screen Actor’s Guild, of course, wants us to cast the right ethnic character. We have to do a report to them for every single episode that we do, breaking down the character casting to make sure that I’m not avoiding casting actors of certain ages or avoiding casting minority actors, and I work really hard to fit within their guidelines. They also say that after a massive search, when it becomes cost-prohibitive, they sign off on it. They say, “OK. You did your search.” I can show them the casting sheets of the people that I’ve brought in and auditioned for this project, and they say, “OK. you did due diligence, you did try. You didn’t find it. Go ahead and move on with a Caucasian actor.” So I feel it’s important that the entire entertainment industry does try to cast appropriately.
And that depends too, on what the writer has given me. And very often we’ll look through a script and say, “Well, why can’t this character be Hispanic? Why can’t this character be black?” and we try to be as ethnically diverse as we possibly can. And I just feel strongly that that’s a good way to go.
TZN: Can you name any other ethnic actors that you cast for The Brave and the Bold?
ROMANO: Uh…in general, I’ll just say, “Yes I try to cast it as diversely as I can, and I can tell you that there’s lots of ethnic actors working on this series.” (Laughs).
You know, here’s what I’ll say to you. The casting on this show is very exciting. It’s very selfish on my own part. I want to bring in people that I’m going to have fun with, and so I try to bring in, whether they’re ethnic or not, I try to bring in people whose work I admire. It might be someone I’ve worked with many, many times, or it might be somebody who I’ve admired I’ve never worked with. It might be someone who has never done voice-over work on microphone, they only worked on-camera. But I’ve seen their work, I admire their work, and I want to bring them in. I know that there’s this “thing” that people do now because voice-over work in general has become very popular with actors across the board. People play the game of listening to commercials, and listening to the voice over and going, “Now who is that? Ooh, that’s Donald Sutherland as the voice of Volvo!” And that’s a game that I know people like to play. Your average layman likes to play that game, so I try to also cast voice-over-wise with that in mind, thinking, “OK, fans are watching this show and thinking, ‘Who is that actor?’” I know I do it myself when I watch shows like The Simpsons. What’s really fun about it is that by the end of the episode, they get to watch the credits and see who was it. And did they guess right, and so there’s a lot of that fun kind of casting. And what’s really wonderful is with the Internet Movie Database available to us all on-line now. You may look at the end credits of a show that I’ve cast, and say, “OK, well, I don’t know who that actor is…” so you go on line to the Internet Movie Database, you punch in his name, and suddenly you go, “Oh my God, it’s that guy from CSI!” I kind of like to play that game with my audience, and bring in as many interesting, unusual actors.
TZN: I had some boilerplate questions to start to wrap things up. What would you say is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to tell a voice actor to do in the recording booth?
ROMANO: There was an episode very early on in Batman the Animated Series where we had an enormous, obese character who was constantly going to be depicted in the animation eating all the time while he talked. So we literally gave food to the actor, and I think in the scene he was ripping apart a chicken and really disgustingly eating it. And all we had in the room at the time was like bagels and donuts and stuff, but we literally gave him a tray full of food and told him to eat while he spoke. It made an unbelievable mess around the microphone around where he sat, but we just said, “We’ll take care of it, don’t worry about it.” The only thing we had to be careful of was for him not to inhale any of the food while he was talking, but it was just great. The sound that came out was so clearly the sound of someone eating. Some people can actually do that sound without having to use the prop, but actually using the prop was great, and it was really fun to watch, because the guy just kept shoving food. We also had to be careful that we didn’t get sounds of him picking up the food or whatever, because it may not fit with what the animation is going to be, so it had its own little challenges. Still, that was a very fun, kind of silly thing to ask an actor to do.
TZN: Can you remember a particularly memorable time when you asked an actor for something in a recording session and got something completely unexpected back?
ROMANO: Oh, boy, I wish I knew that question ahead of time so I could have thought more about what that might have been, because I’m sure that’s happened. Um…every once in a while, you have a character like an alien or a different kind of life form, and you want something odd and different. So the actor comes up with something, and you go, “OK, that’s fine,” and the actor says, “Well, you know, I prepped another idea, do you want to hear it?” “Oh sure! Go ahead, throw it at us.” And then they do something that’s so spectacular and so much better than their first version, and you are blown away by their prep, the work they’ve thought of, their intelligence, just their complete imagination. That’s always a thrill, whenever that happens, but off the top of my head, I don’t have any good stories for you. Actors astound me every day. I admire so much what they do, having been an actor, I know just how hard it is just to get to the job. They’ve been through three other auditions that day, where maybe they weren’t treated so nicely, they’ve fought the traffic in Los Angeles to get to me, it’s 107 degrees in the valley but 68 degrees in the room they’re recording in, they’ve got their own life problems of what’s going on, and yet they leave it all at the door and do this amazingly creative work in front of me. It’s part of what makes my job such a joy. Every single day, I am astounded at actors’ creativity and ideas and talent.
TZN: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give a younger you getting started in your career?
ROMANO: You know, if I had to do it all over again, I don’t think I would do anything differently. That may just be that I’m a blessed person and I lucked into the career that I did when I did, because I had initially intended to be an actress. The way things fell into place, though, it couldn’t have worked out better. I would always suggest to anyone who wants to pursue the kind of work that I do, to take acting classes. To take voice-over classes.
Also, being an agent is an excellent, excellent business. It’s a really good way to understand what’s going on, and as I said, every talent agency that represents voice-over actors has a recording booth, so agents direct actors. Directing actors for auditions was some of my first directing work, back was when I was an agent, and that was way back in the day when we were using reel-to-reel and splicing blocks and actual tape and razor blades to edit auditions. So, anything that one can do that gives them a fully-rounded knowledge of the animation field, the acting field, and the entertainment industry as a whole, is a positive good thing. The fact that I know what goes through an actor’s mind, that I know what goes through an agent’s mind, is a big asset to me in trying to book talent and trying to book the right talent in an efficient, business way.
So, I would just say educate yourself. Be educated. Constantly educate. Never, never stop learning. There’s not an actor in town who wouldn’t benefit from taking an acting class. I don’t care if you’re George Clooney or Meryl Streep or Joe Schmoe — you can always benefit from a good acting class. And many of those people still study. They just know that they will always benefit. So that really works just as a whole for anybody in the industry. Taking classes and having a constant input of new information is a benefit to anybody.
TZN: For my last question, I just wanted to confirm something. I’ve heard Kevin Conroy tell a story that Andrea Beaumont in the Batman: Mask of the Phantasm movie was named after you. Is that true?
(Listen to Andrea Romano’s response in MP3 format)
ROMANO: (Laughing) It’s absolutely true, and it’s really a great story. When I first cast Kevin Conroy…and it was such a joy to find him. As you can imagine, we had auditioned hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of men for the voice of Batman, because it was the first Batman voice-over series we were doing. We had maybe 3 or 4 actors where Bruce Timm and I said, “We could live with this guy. This guy could be good. We could make this work,” when Kevin walked in and auditioned. And when he did, our eyes lit up and a big cloud left over our heads. The weight lifted from our shoulders, and we looked at each other and we all just knew that we had found Batman, so it was a joyous, joyous day, the day that Kevin came in and read.
Before you do every single session, before you actually record, you do what’s called “getting a level,” which means that the actor performs in front of the microphone at the level that they’re going to be speaking, so the engineer can adjust the microphone and the level so that we won’t get distortion, and it won’t be too quiet, and that sort of thing. We would have Kevin always do a couple of lines of dialogue, and then some impact sounds, because Batman’s always getting hit, or throwing punches, throwing a Batarang, whatever. Another action that would happen to Batman often was that he’d be knocked unconscious. And so I’d say, “OK, Kevin, do a line of dialogue,” and he would say, “I am vengeance. I am the night. I. AM. BATMAN!” And then I would say, “OK, Kevin, do a couple of impacts,” and he’d go, “Ooh! Uhh! Oooh!!” And then I’d say, “OK, do a faint for me,” and he’d go, “Uhhhhhhh….” and then just because I love the sound of his voice so much, I would say, “And now say, Andrea,” and then he would say in his very raspy, quiet, sexy voice, “Andreaaaa.” And that just became this huge joke. And so every single episode we would do, Kevin would give his level, and he’d say a line of dialogue, he’d give a couple of impacts, and then he would say, “Andreaa….” And it got to be a joke where everybody in the entire session, when they gave their level, the last thing they would say would be, “Andrea…” And this was a big, very funny joke.
So when we got this new…I believe it was our very first home video…when I saw the script, I turned to Paul Dini, who wrote it, and said, “Did you name her because of me and because of that incident that we would always do?” and he said, “Absolutely.” And so it is one of the pleasures of my life to know that that was how that character was named.
Toon Zone News would like to thank Andrea Romano for her patience and generosity with her time to do this interview. We’d also like to thank James Finch and Annie Chen of Beck Media for making this interview possible. Don’t forget to check out our other coverage of Batman: The Brave and the Bold: