Longtime voice actor Travis Willingham has numerous credits in anime and American cartoons, with some of his best known roles being Roy Mustang in Fullmetal Alchemist, Free in Soul Eater, several roles in Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden, the Hulk in The Super Hero Squad Show and its tie-in video games, and Thor in Ultimate Spider-Man (and the upcoming Avengers Assemble animated series).
Q: What’s the coolest part about being Superman?
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: All of it. The flying, the near-invulnerability…we call him invulnerable, right, except for the kryptonite thing? I have close to what Troy’s story was, when you get to go to the advance screening and you hear the original Superman theme playing and he’s talking and flying in, you’re doing that whole “Whahowh this is amazing!” That was really great.
Q: Were you drawing on any of the earlier Superman actors for your portrayal?
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: You know, I wanted to. Christopher Reeve was my first Superman. I’m really interested in seeing what Henry Cavill does in Man of Steel. Tim Daly has been my animated voice for years. It was important to me to find out what kind of Superman they were going for. Was he going to be underplayed, was he going to be the concrete foundation for this thing? They said, “Nope. Not at all. He’s true blue, Boy Scout, virtuous and all those things, but he is so overly-optimistic and helpful that he doesn’t quite realize how annoying it can be at times.” He’s landing in Gotham in the middle of all this chaos and destruction and he’s going, “Hey guys, so,…uh…who wants to get a tan?” The confident notes are just off the charts so it was really, really fun. Anytime I didn’t quite have enough Superman in it, they’d go, “Hands on hips!” and you stick your hands on hips, and all of a sudden, you talk like this. He’s just overly American and proud, True Blue. “Who wants a Lemonade?”
Q: He’s kind of like the Tick.
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: Absolutely, there’s a lot of that in there. I asked if there were any personal moments or anything more relatable for Superman and they quickly shook their head no, so I knew what my job was and what he was in relation to Superman and I think it came through pretty well (laughs).
Q: When you were a kid, did you have the Superman Underoos or anything?
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: Yeah, as a kid, I think I was one of a billion different boys that tied a blanket around their neck and ran around the house, jumping off your bunk bed in your tighty-whities. Embarrassingly so. I think I had the Underoos that had the giant shield on the butt. It was a red waistband actually, and I would wait until the sprinklers would go off and run through my front yard with a red blanket tied around my neck. Jumping off the bunk bed finally got the “stop it” signal from my mother. When you’d hear this “(DOOM) Up up and away! (DOOM) Here you go, Lex! (DOOM)” My mom’s like “Stop it!”
Q: And now do you have a Superman T-shirt?
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t wearing a Superman T-shirt under my jacket when we recorded this not long ago. There was a moment actually when I was like “‘So, Lex, we’re..’ Let me try again, ‘So, Lex!’ Hold on, let me take this off.” ZIIPPPP! Just to expose the “S” which got a little bit of a laugh and a kind of a crooked eyebrow from Troy, who was like, “You’ve been waiting to do that for how many hours?”
TOONZONE NEWS: So you recorded this radio style with everyone together?
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: Yeah, in video games, it’s normally one person at a time, sometimes one line one scene at a time, but with these animation projects, we’re lucky enough to have 3 or 4, sometimes 8 or maybe even 10 actors in a semi-circle, so it’s very much radio play. I think it always brings about a better product because you’re able to hear what the other actors are doing and it’s not so much in your head. If he’s doing something funny, I’ll do something in response. If he’s not being funny, which was the case most of the time, I’ll try to pick it up a bit (laughs), but Troy did a phenomenal job.
TOONZONE NEWS: Did you get to record with Laura (Bailey)?
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: Yes, which was great. My wife Laura Bailey played Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, and Wonder Woman. There’s a moment where a skyscraper is falling over and I’m trying to keep it from going down and she’s helping me pull it up, and it was nice to be able to look across the room and I was like, (whispering) “You’re Wonder Woman!” and she’s like, “You’re Superman!” (laughs). It was pretty special.
Q: What is the ongoing appeal of Superman? Why does Superman endure as a character?
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: To steal from the movie, there’s nothing that he really can’t do. And despite the fact that he has all those abilities, he remains fairly relate-able because he has this down-to-earth persona. He doesn’t gloat, he doesn’t brag, so if there’s ever a time when you’re wondering what keeps Superman from going off and taking over the world, it’s the fact that he has these characteristics and these virtues that people really strive to accomplish. It’s also nice to see that dichotomy between Batman being grumpy and hardline and suspecting the worst of everyone, and Superman who’s like, “Let’s go make paper airplanes!” and “Everybody’s my friend!” and “Who needs a hug?”
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: Absolutely. The opening Batman theme, I think you’ll see was amazing. Hearing the Superman theme music play is great. Having Clancy who’s played Lex for just SO many years was just amazing. I think for fans, it’s the little interactions that you always wanted to see. Clark and Bruce as Superman and Batman have together when nobody’s looking, that I think are really funny. Charlie Schlatter did a great job as Robin, kind of playing the ever-eager Robin that’s constantly looking up to Batman. It’s those kind of comedy notes are something that you don’t get to see much of, and are really present in this.
Q: And are you going to be taking on a Superman voice role anywhere else any time soon?
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: Oh, gosh! If they let me, that’d be great! Only if they let me, but I’ll be standing there in my Superman tighty-whities to petition my case (laughter).
TOONZONE NEWS: With young Travis, who wins: LEGO or Superhero Comic Books?
TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: Oh, wow! Superhero comic books, only because when I was younger, LEGO’s were MUCH simpler than they are now. My friend has a kid who got the LEGO Batmobile and I’m pretty sure that was going to take me a couple of hours to put together. I’d never seen anything more complicated in my whole life (laughs). But the kids throw it together in about 20 minutes and you feel like some kind of idiot savant standing there going “How did you do that so quickly?”