SDCC2010: "Batman Under The Red Hood" Roundtables Pt 2: Timm, Greenwood, & Romano
In Part 1 of our San Diego Comic Con Roundtable Interviews for Batman: Under the Red Hood, we interviewed teenaged Robin Vincent Martella, screenwriter Judd Winick, and director Brandon Vietti. For part 2, we spoke with producer Bruce Timm, Batman actor Bruce Greenwood, and casting and vocal director Andrea Romano.
*NOTE: These interviews may contain slight and mild spoilers. Please read at your own risk. Since these were roundtable sessions, questions asked by Toonzone are marked “Toonzone News” or “TZN,” while questions by other reporters are marked “QUESTION.”*
INTERVIEW WITH BRUCE TIMM (PRODUCER)
Bruce Timm has been the executive and guide in charge of the most recent DC animated movies and has had a hand in creating the most popular and revolutionary comic book superhero cartoons in the past two decades, including Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and Justice League.
QUESTION: What about the exclusion of characters in the original comic like Deathstroke The Terminator from the animated movie?
BRUCE TIMM: You won’t miss ‘em. You won’t miss ‘em. Honestly, when I read the comic for the first time when we were actually talking about it as an adaptation for our DC Universe line, in my head I immediately edited out all those characters, all of their stories. They didn’t have anything to do really with the main thrust of the story. Interestingly, as I read the comic – if I had just read the comic just as a comic, I would’ve enjoyed it. But looking at it as a movie adaptation, I kept coming up with things like Mr. Freeze and all these other things that kind of come in, and I’m like, “What does that have to do with the story?” You have to move on. It’s taking me out of the story. You’re losing the narrative thread. I was skeptical about even doing the story, and then Judd [Winick] pitched us his ideas for adapting it on a conference call. And bang, bang, bang, all down a list he answered every one of my questions without even me ever having to ask them. He already figured out all the things that would tighten the story up, keep it focused on Batman and the Red Hood. And amazingly, another thing that was bugging me about it, the comic doesn’t really deal with a recap of the Death In The Family storyline. But it’s already essential to the storyline to have already known that part of Batman’s history. So, like that’s going to be kind of tough. How do you deal with that in the story? And he was really smart. He just put it right in front of me. He actually started the movie with a little five minute Cliff Note’s version of Death In The Family and you get it and you move on. And suddenly you’re into the “Under The Red Hood” story and it’s all gravy.
QUESTION: In the comic, the Red Hood had a lot of scenes with Black Mask. Is it an editorial thing with that aspect of being left out of the movie?
BRUCE TIMM: You know you got to throw something out.
TOONZONE NEWS: Does working this animated movie give you a greater appreciation of the comic history of Jason Todd as a character and also the comic stories of Death In The Family and Under The Red Hood?
BRUCE TIMM: I guess. Here’s the thing. I know it’s kind of controversial, but I’m not a big fan of really strict continuity. Sometimes I feel continuity can be both a crutch and a hindrance. There’s so many kinds of stories that you think, “It would be really great if I can do this story, but you can’t do that because in issue 305 he said he’s left handed.” That’s just going to mess you up. I’m a great believer that if continuity gets in the way, out it goes. So I don’t tend to think the death of Jason Todd as a historical event. I know in strict DC continuity it is a historical event, that it happened umpty-ump years ago. To me it’s whatever is necessary to tell the best story.
QUESTION: How long has it been since the first Batman animated series?
BRUCE TIMM: I started working on Batman: The Animated series in 1990, so it’s been twenty years.
QUESTION: And now with Batman: The Brave and The Bold you pretty much break the cardinal rule of using Batman and humor. What do you think of how these different versions and variations have gone recently?
BRUCE TIMM: I think it’s great. I’ve said it before, but for a character who is so seemingly dark, dark, dark, there have been so many different versions of Batman that I think are all equally valid in the long history of Batman in media. I love the Adam West version of Batman as much as I love the Christopher Nolan movies. So my head doesn’t get all bent out of shape thinking about that stuff. I love Brave and The Bold. I think Brave and The Bold is a great show. At the same time, we were doing these direct-to-video movies. They were specifically geared towards the fan audience and the PG-13, older-skewing fan audience, so we do have a tendency to embrace the darker side of the mythos. That’s fine too.
BRUCE TIMM: But you know what? They can say that, but if you look at BTAS, it pulls stuff from the Neal Adams era of comics, it pulls stuff from the serials, and it pulls stuff from the Adam West show with some of the wacky comedy. So I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily definitive, but it’s definitely an amalgam of all the things that have come before.
TZN: Are you involved with the Green Lantern animated series in development and can you tell us anything about it?
BRUCE TIMM: Yes I am. I can’t really tell you much about it all except that we are in production on it.
TZN: And when will the next Green Lantern animated movie be out?
BRUCE TIMM: Green Lantern: Emerald Knights will be out I believe next summer, like right around the same time as the live action movie.
TZN: Will that be an anthology movie like Batman: Gotham Knight?
BRUCE TIMM: Exactly. It’s a little bit more thematically coherent than Gotham Knight. It’s not a bunch of random stories. I mean it is, but each story in it focuses on a different Green Lantern in the Green Lantern Corps. That’s one of the great things about Green Lantern. It’s not just the main Green Lantern. There’s 3,600 other Green Lanterns you can tell stories about and a lot of them are really interesting. So we just thought it would be a really great way to give each of these guys a little spotlight of their own.
TZN: Like G’Nort right?
QUESTION: It’s Ch’p for me.
BRUCE TIMM: Everyone has their own favorite Lantern.
QUESTION: Will the new Green Lantern animated series build on the DC animated continuity you’ve established?
BRUCE TIMM: The Green Lantern series? No. It’s going to have its own standalone continuity.
TZN: For the DC animated movies how do you like being able to change up and experiment with the animation and design style? Like with Batman/Superman: Apocalypse taking its design cues from the late Michael Turner’s art?
BRUCE TIMM: It’s fun sometimes when we feel like the art style is part of the appeal of the original comic. We feel like we’re almost kind of honor bound to kind of reflect that in the style of the movie. With Apocalypse, definitely we were looking at the comic and going yeah, there’s something here. Some artists don’t. I look at them and I think this would be really hard to translate into animation. But Michael Turner had really distinctive characteristics about his style that I thought we could actually kind of tighten it up, clean it up here and there. Simplify it a little bit. And we could put it on the screen and we could still evoke the feel of his original art, so I think we have. I think it’s a really neat looking movie. And it clearly does look like Michael Turner art.
INTERVIEW WITH BRUCE GREENWOOD (BATMAN)
Actor Bruce Greenwood made his first trip to the San Diego Comic Convention this year to promote Batman: Under The Red Hood, where he steps into the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Greenwood has numerous live action and feature roles including Star Trek, I, Robot, Thirteen Days, and the upcoming comedy Dinner For Schmucks.
TOONZONE NEWS: You’ve played a Federation captain in Star Trek, and now you are playing Batman. Are you living the dream or what?
BRUCE GREENWOOD: It’s good company, that’s for sure, yeah.
TZN: Was Batman a role you ever coveted when the movies were first being made back in the 1980’s?
BRUCE GREENWOOD: You know when I was a kid, I wanted to watch the television series, but my parents felt that the series was too violent. Like big words like “POW!” and “BAM!” were too violent. So I wasn’t allowed to watch it, and as a result I didn’t end up getting steeped in it. I had to sneak to friends’ houses to watch it.
QUESTION: You’re on a very interesting career path.
BRUCE GREENWOOD: It’s a very winding path.
TZN:Because it’s a funny thing that starts to happen once someone opens the geek door like you did with Star Trek-
BRUCE GREENWOOD: Yeah. There’s a lot of pressure behind the geek door. A lot of water flows in, you know. That’s a good way to put it. But it’s all good.
QUESTION: Are there any other projects in this general ballpark?
BRUCE GREENWOOD: Uh, no. The next four things have nothing to do with any of this.
QUESTION: Now you are entering the comedy more world more than you have in the past.
BRUCE GREENWOOD: Yeah, entering the comedy world, the Dinner For Schmucks thing. That was just such a gift to be able to watch those guys do their thing. It was crazy.
TZN: Was this a new experience for you, doing an animated project?
BRUCE GREENWOOD: Yeah. I’ve done books on tape before, but I’ve never done this kind of thing. Getting in the room with Andrea Romano and Bruce [Timm] was like “Whoa . . .” And so if you walk in, Bruce is doodling away, right? But Bruce’s doodles are like dimensioned. I just wanted to grab a scrap of paper that he was kind of idly doodling on. That was awesome.
QUESTION: My editor just sat down and he noticed a resemblance in your voice and Kevin Conroy’s—
BRUCE GREENWOOD: Oh is that right? I made a point of not listening to him because I didn’t want to like copy him.
QUESTION: But has Andrea Romano talked to you about future Batman projects?
BRUCE GREENWOOD: Well, that’s already begun but that’s not really up to me. It’s certainly not up to me, and really may not even be up to her. It’s really up to the fans. It just depends on how they respond. I mean Kevin Conroy is so loved that . . . I didn’t want to hear him.
QUESTION: But just hearing you, I can’t wait to see the movie tonight and hear it full on.
BRUCE GREENWOOD: The movie’s awesome it *expletive deleted* kills.
QUESTION: I think that similarity [with Kevin Conroy’s] voice will help you.
BRUCE GREENWOOD: I’ve actually had Kevin Conroy killed and installed his larynx (mouthing the words “In my rear” silently).
QUESTION: What was different between doing audio novels and this type of work?
BRUCE GREENWOOD: Well, Under The Red Hood is incredibly dark. And I’d never done anything like this before. Also, the audio book takes a few days. This all happens in a day.
BRUCE GREENWOOD: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
TZN: But what I liked in this movie, the connection they [Batman and Robin] had was like father and son.
BRUCE GREENWOOD: Yeah, it’s all fraught with the stuff that happens with father and son, right. Me personally, I’m always drawn to father and son issues. It’s always interesting to me, ever since I was a kid. I’ve been in lots of movies that have that dynamic at play. So this is really interesting to me, and it’s full of all that love and resentment and all those emotional hurdles that come between a father and son when they are trying – when the son’s trying to make his own way and the father’s trying to guide him without getting in the way.
QUESTION: For this project, did you ever have lack of harmony with the director with like, you were committed to doing the character *this* way?
BRUCE GREENWOOD: No, no. In this stuff, the director is king, you know, really because they’re the ones that have been there. I’m not going to go in and tell Andrea Romano, “You’re wrong.”
TZN: She directed Steven Spielberg.
BRUCE GREENWOOD: Yeah, I rest my case, you know I’m not going to – certainly we had discussions about what the pitch would be emotionally here or there.
QUESTION: Does Andrea Romano have a process for an actor that’s brand new to voice acting in animation?
BRUCE GREENWOOD: It’s a very small room where the walls close in. She introduces you to the script, flips the switch and the walls get smaller and smaller and then when she’s crushed your spirit, she lets you out. No, she’s extremely animated and incredibly passionate, knows the story backwards, frontward, and sideways and is ready for an answer with any question you have. If you have a question, it takes her a second to answer. The answer is always fantastic. It’s really inspiring to have that much energy behind the glass.
TZN: If you could voice one other DC superhero do you have another favorite, or is Batman the be-all end-all for you?
BRUCE GREENWOOD: I just want to work on this. This was challenging enough, and I feel like if I get the chance to do it again . . . there’s room for improvement.
INTERVIEW WITH ANDREA ROMANO (CASTING AND VOICE DIRECTOR)
Andrea Romano is a veteran casting director and voice over director that’s responsible for casting and directing the actors for many of our favorite cartoons going back to DuckTales, and for almost all the recent DC animated projects.
QUESTION: How do you like working with actors that are new to the process?
ANDREA ROMANO: I enjoy that. I enjoy doing that. I like nurturing actors and freeing them along. On a bigger level, I needed to cast Robin as like ten years old and fifteen, sixteen years old. I had to get two actors that sound like they could be the same person. And Vincent [Martella] is experienced. He’s got voiceover credits. He’s worked for a while. He’s worked for a while in on camera work. He was in Everybody Hates Chris, and he’s terrific in that. I needed someone to sound like a younger version of him, and here’s his younger brother who I think we had to get him into the union to use him. So I got to really nurture him and really bring him along. What I had to do was watch his brother work, and then have him work right after his brother because there’s always that sibling rivalry of, “Oh my brother’s not better than me.” So they really did a good job of sort of bringing each other along. And they get along well themselves. That was really a pleasure. Jensen Ackles had not done this [voice over animation work] yet either, and he was a pleasure to work with.
TOONZONE NEWS: What inspired you to bring in Bruce Greenwood as Batman?
ANDREA ROMANO: Bruce Timm and I had said for years, “Let’s find something for Bruce Greenwood because he’s such a fine actor.” Being interviewed here earlier with Bruce Timm, I said, “I’m so glad we never did make it work before, because this was the perfect marriage of piece and actor.” Bruce Greenwood as Batman in this particular piece was perfect. If we had gotten him as Superman for something previously that we might’ve wanted him for, it would not have been as good as this because this was meant to be this way. I’m convinced.
TZN: You really did a great job bringing out that father and son bond between Batman and Robin.
ANDREA ROMANO: Thank you.
TZN: How important for you was it in finding and executing this bond in the story? Because this really is a father/son story.
ANDREA ROMANO: Absolutely. I was not really familiar with a lot of the Jason Todd history, so I knew that I had to find something that made me feel like there’s got to be some reason for this action to take place. I thought, “It’s got to be the feeling they have for each other, so that everything else that then transpires makes sense.” If they don’t have that initial connection, then it’s just “Oh I screwed up and whatever.” But this was, “I screwed up with my son.” And that’s worse than screwing up with somebody else’s kid. It was, “I screwed up with my son.” That had to play in. Once you hire the right actors that’s half the battle. You got the right actors, and then you got to get out of their way a little bit and let them do what they do. If they are not quite getting there, you gently prod them a little bit. And then if you can’t get them prodding, then you push them a little bit harder. And then if you can’t push them, then you just shove ‘em. But I never needed to shove anybody in this. Everybody got there and that had to do with how good a piece it is. The source material was so good that everybody – they read it, they did their homework. They knew more about the history of this piece than I did. And they all just got into it and they played.
QUESTION: What was your first project as casting and voice director?
ANDREA ROMANO: I was the casting director at Hanna-Barbera for five and a half years, and I worked on The Smurfs. That was my very first casting I worked on. It was Angel Smurf and Devil Smurf, those two little characters that pop up on their shoulders. And I cast Artie Johnson as the Devil and Henry Gibson as the Angel. That was the very first casting I ever did. And then, my first directing job was DuckTales for Disney. That’s the very first directing I did.
TZN: Having worked on so many great and funny shows, has there ever been a project where you couldn’t stop laughing, where there was nonstop hilarity where it’s almost hard to work?
ANDREA ROMANO: SpongeBob. I laugh all through SpongeBob. I’ll make them do another scene just to make me laugh. I’ve got it recorded, I’ve got everything I need, and “I think we need to run lines five through seventeen again.” Also Pinky And The Brain. Pinky And The Brain made me laugh a lot.
ANDREA ROMANO: This one. I cried during the recording sessions. I actually cried while I was directing and doing these recording sessions.
QUESTION: One of the DVD bonus features had you guys around a table having a dinner.
ANDREA ROMANO: That was fun.
QUESTION: Would you ever do another?
ANDREA ROMANO: In a minute if they invited me to. And I promise I’ll shut up because I didn’t shut up through the whole thing. It’s like My Dinner with Andrea. I just didn’t stop talking . . . I would love to do another one of those. I don’t know if you read the trades or if you go online and see some of the — I think it’s the Hollywood Reporter that’s been doing these round tables with all the actors that are nominated. I find them fascinating. Kevin Conroy told me stories that night that I didn’t know because we never get a chance to sit and just rap and talk. That was great fun for me. He told stories. Bruce Timm told stories.
QUESTION: Have you ever done an episode of anything that’s an in-joke like, “No one else will get it but us”?
ANDREA ROMANO: Yes. We did an entire episode of Pinky And The Brain called, “Yes, Always,” which is based on a famous voiceover work – but this is all about Orson Welles. It’s a recording session that he did that’s been – it goes all around to everybody because he’s so abusive to the directors, to the producers. And we did an episode, because the Brain’s voice is based on Orson Welles, doing that. And we did a whole cartoon based on a complete inside joke. We joked about it because back then we were spending some dough on cartoons, and it was a half million dollar joke, inside joke, that about fifty people in Hollywood would get. Nobody knew.
TZN: You are responsible for helping to give us what many see is the definitive voice for Batman in Kevin Conroy. I also enjoy seeing new actors give their take on Batman’s voice as well with the new shows and animated movies. Do you like getting this buffet of actors to work with in getting new takes on Batman?
ANDREA ROMANO: I do. We’re not supposed to have favorites, but Batman is one of my favorite of all the whole genre because he’s human and he has human characteristics. He’s not like Superman. Not that I don’t like Superman, but Superman will always choose the right thing. He has an innate sense of right and wrong. Batman sometimes you wonder, no he might go to the dark side. And that’s stimulating to me. It’s always a challenge whenever I have to cast him again. I think I’ve done it eleven or twelve times, but of all the characters I’ve had to cast so many times, I’m glad that’s the one that it’s been because it’s so many pieces. And I learned so much about Batman from the very first animated series. I knew so very [little] – my introduction was the Adam West series. So I thought it was a comic character. I thought it was a funny, silly character. Then I found out this is a really dark guy. And then you find all the different artwork that’s done and how differently he’s depicted in different art, and you go, “OK. Well, that can have a different voice. That doesn’t necessarily have to be Kevin Conroy’s voice to work with that art.” So that helps me.
TZN: Will you be working on the new Avatar the Last Airbender series?
ANDREA ROMANO: I already am. I’ve recorded three episodes. It’s seventy five years in the future.
TZN: Will Aang in any way be in the series?
ANDREA ROMANO: I don’t know how much of the series I’m allowed to tell you, but that whole generation has died. It’s the next generation. So it’s really cool. It’s the same producers. It’s the same brilliant attention to detail and I’m very excited. Right now we are just making twelve of them and we’ll see what happens.
Toonzone would like to thank the cast and crew of Batman: Under The Red Hood for speaking with us, and Warner Bros. for graciously including us in the roundtable sessions. Batman: Under The Red Hood is currently out in stores on DVD and Blu-ray; read Toonzone’s reviews by Maxie Zeus and Ed Liu.