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"All-Star Superman" Cast and Crew Interviews: McDuffie, Romano, Timm, and More

by on February 24, 2011

On February 17, Toonzone News was invited to the All-Star Superman animated movie premiere at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, CA. We were also given the opportunity to speak with the late Dwayne McDuffie who tragically passed away on Tuesday, February 22.

From my personal experience with Dwayne McDuffie, you could tell without a shadow of a doubt that he was not just a creator but a genuine fan of comics and superheroes. McDuffie was a friend and reader of Toonzone and even interacted with fans and posted on our message boards for a time, even when fans were being considerably outspoken with their opinions. McDuffie could never have been friendlier and nicer to me in our meetings. His sense of humor and willingness to play along with a joke always helped make my job easier. McDuffie was a consistent positive force in animation, giving life to our favorite characters and cartoons for years. McDuffie clearly came off as a hard and exceptional worker who took unapologetic pride in his work. When we last spoke, McDuffie mentioned writing another animated movie which hopefully is finished and will see the light of day.

All-Star Superman screenwriter, Dwayne McDuffie, was a longtime veteran writer of comics and cartoons, especially in the DC Universe. McDuffie also served as producer and story editor of the hit Cartoon Network animated series, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. For the DC Animated Universe, McDuffie was story editor for the Justice League and JLU series and also was the screenwriter of the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths animated movie.

TOONZONE NEWS: You previously worked on the Crisis On Two Earths animated movie. How did you get the job writing All-Star Superman?

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: I was at Warner Animation and Bruce [Timm] and Alan [Burnett] were talking about some future projects they were working on and trying to do. And they mentioned All-Star Superman and I just went nuts. I loved the comic, so I just beat on them until they agreed to let me do it.

TZN: This is a great story and you love this story, so where does this story rank for you in terms of all time great Superman stories?

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: You know, it really might be my all time favorite. I really have a lot of affection for Superman Red/Superman Blue which nobody in your audience is old enough to remember, but I read when I was a little kid. He [Superman] split himself into two so one of them could be with Lois and the other could be with Lana, and they ended all crime. And I loved it when I was a little kid. Honestly, as an adult, I like All-Star Superman better, but there’s still that childhood love of that one story.

TZN: Why do you like this story so much?

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: It’s sort of everything that is interesting about Superman. It takes all the various eras of Superman, recasts them in contemporary terms, and continues a discussion about why Superman is relevant now. And it’s just a really wonderful put together piece.

TZN: Did you ever talk to the original writer, Grant Morrison, about working on this project?

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: I never got a chance to talk to him. I met him – sort of – I was on a panel next to him once, but we both came in late and we actually never spoke. But I’m looking forward to meeting him.

TZN: So he actually never sent you an interesting e-mail saying, “You better write this properly or we’re going to have some business at a bar in England,” or something like that?

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: Oh man, I’d hate to have that happen. I’d really hate getting beaten.

TZN: Is there anything you’d like to say to Grant about this movie?

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: I just hope he liked it.

TZN: How do you turn a twelve issue comic miniseries into a 77 minute movie?

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: Well, the first thing you do is you try and find a story at the core of it. There very clearly was one. I hear people say, “This was very episodic and so impossible to do,” but Grant was telling a story. Because of the time constraints of what we were doing, I had to strip away the tertiary and secondary things and just kind of stick to the primary. But basically, I took index cards and I wrote down every scene. I put a check next to the stuff I absolutely needed to cover and on a different colored card I wrote down stuff I wanted to include that wasn’t necessary but I really wanted to keep. I wrote a really long draft that had almost every scene in it. There were a couple things I knew I couldn’t do right from the very beginning, but almost every scene I wrote one version or more of. And then I started kind of carving away, trying to find the Superman story at the heart of it.

TZN: People such as yourself and Bruce Timm in Warner Bros. Animation always do such a great job at adapting DC characters into a motion picture format where they are relevant, realistic in a way, and in compelling stories. I think guys like you are better storytellers than the people who are behind the live action versions. Why do the live action people never talk to you guys because, you’re some of the best and I’d say most experienced with these characters?

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: We have the most experience with these characters, but the guys making those movies are betting a $100 million. So when you bet a $100 million, you bet on a guy who’s worked on a $100 million project before, right? So most of us haven’t worked on anything that large.

TZN: From a fan perspective I would bet a $100 million on people like you and Bruce Timm working on Zack Snyder’s new Superman movie.

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: That’s why people like us don’t have a $100 million *laughs*, but that’s very kind.

TZN: Will you be working on another animated movie like this again soon?

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: I’ve written another one, I can’t say what it is yet. They will announce it, I think this summer.

McDuffie also informed the media that the Ben 10 franchise will soon be celebrating its 150th episode. The whole Toonzone News staff thanks Dwayne McDuffie for all his excellent work over the years and being one of the best in the business. Our condolences to his friends, family, and loved ones.

Another of the best in the business, frequent interview subject and friend of Toonzone News, Andrea Romano, joined us for another informative interview. Andrea Romano is the casting and voice-over director of all related DC Animation. Besides the classic 1990s-2000’s TV shows based on DC Comics, Romano worked on all the Warner Premiere DC animated movies.

TOONZONE NEWS: In casting the main roles for this project, what did your actors bring to the table that maybe other actors playing the same characters have not necessarily shown before?

ANDREA ROMANO: This particular piece had a lot of emotional levels that a lot of the other ones didn’t. A lot of the other ones were much more action oriented. This one has a very specific, emotional story between Lois and Superman and I knew that these actors would be able to capture that. And I didn’t have to worry so much about slugfests, about fighting, fighting, fighting. This was more about their desires to live out their lives for whatever was left.

TZN: Anthony LaPaglia is a tremendous actor and talent. What was it like seeing him work as Lex Luthor?

ANDREA ROMANO: He was terrific. It was wonderful to watch someone with a natural accent from where they come from. He’s an Australian, and it’s always fun to watch them lose the accent and do a spot-on American accent. And we had this wonderful instance where he was having a hard time figuring out what the motivation and what is going on here. And Bruce Timm went, “Let me just draw you a picture.” And literally drew what he [Lex Luthor] was going to look like for that scene, showed him [LaPaglia] the picture, and the next take was spot on.

TZN: And was that when he found Lex Luthor?

ANDREA ROMANO: It was one of the moments where it made it a lot easier for him to really get a grasp on it. Lex Luthor is such a well known character that I think a lot of actors walk into the room going, “OK. I have a good idea of what this guy is.” Not like a brand new guy we haven’t heard of before . . . there’s some incarnation they’ve seen before so they have some information they bring in. But the piece was so specific, this particular piece, because there is all this really emotional content. And so I knew that would appeal to all the actors, something that is not just Superman saving the day; it was about this is what is going to happen.

TZN: I’m a huge fan of Roddy Piper—


TZN: How did his casting for Green Lantern: Emerald Knights happen?

ANDREA ROMANO: We just all brain-stormed who we would like to get. And someone just threw that name out. We all went, “Absolutely! That would be so cool!” He was a joy to work with. What a wonderful human being to work with. So enthusiastic about it and willing to totally let me direct him and not at all what you think he is. That’s an act, that tough guy thing, that’s an act. He’s the sweetest guy.

TZN: I’m sure millions of fans would like to thank you for bringing back Nathan Fillion, but this time as Green Lantern Hal Jordan.

ANDREA ROMANO: I love working with Nathan any chance I can, and he is so good to find some time in his incredibly schedule to record with us. I think we recorded on a Saturday afternoon because that was all he could work out. Where he could actually be resting and having a life of his own, he chose to come in and play with us which made us all so happy.

TZN: You work on so many shows and so many projects, when do you have free time?

ANDREA ROMANO: I don’t have free time *laughs*. I sleep maybe four hours a night. I love what I do. I love what I do for a living. It helps that I love what I do and that the people I work with both on the crew and on the acting side are people that I want to spend time with so my husband is very forgiving and comes with me to a lot of the events that I have so that he can be there with me.

TZN: Back when you worked on say, Mask of the Phantasm or Return of The Joker, were there events like this premiere for you and the crew?

ANDREA ROMANO: Nope, none.

TZN: Is that more gratifying to get to finally see your work with an audience?

ANDREA ROMANO: It really is. I’m sure for an actor it’s the same thing of being on film versus on stage because it’s the instant reaction. And so to sit with an audience and go, “OK, they got that joke. It worked,” is really gratifying. I like it very much.

TZN: Do you have a status update on the new Avatar series, The Legend of Korra?

ANDREA ROMANO: It’s awesome! I couldn’t be more proud. It’s a lot of the same that worked on the original series, The Last Airbender, and so the quality will be exactly what to expect. It’s a beautiful cast. It’s beautifully written. The two creators of the series, Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino, wrote every single script of this one which is unlike The Last Airbender, where they had writers. They wrote every single one [here] so the quality is high. The animation is going to be stunning. It will be exactly what people want it to be.

TZN: Do you think we will see it this year or next year?

ANDREA ROMANO: I think it’s next year.

Andrea Romano is also currently working on the new animated Thundercats series which will debut on Cartoon Network later this year.

Actor James Denton is best known for his portrayal of Mike Delfino in the hit live action TV series, Desperate Housewives. In All-Star Superman, Denton makes his animation voice-over debut in the role of the Man of Steel, Clark Kent/Superman. Previously in his live action credits, Denton appeared in such movies as Face/Off, Primary Colors, and That Old Feeling, and also television’s The Pretender, The Drew Carey Show, and Reba.

TOONZONE NEWS: So what was your vetting process in becoming Superman?

JAMES DENTON: I got a phone call. They asked me if I wanted to do it. It was so great, it never happened to me before. I’m not on the A-list of actors that usually gets offers right out of the blue. So somebody decided that I would be right and they just offered to me, and I was thrilled because I didn’t have to chase it down. Nobody was more shocked than me.

TZN: Is it every male actor’s dream to play Superman in some way?

JAMES DENTON: I don’t know. It never even crossed my mind because at my age, obviously it’s passed me by. I saw that Jon Hamm was deemed too old to play him in a new movie. So if Jon’s too old, I’m way too old so I never even thought about it. I started acting late in life and it never crossed my mind. I auditioned for the Dean Cain, Lois and Clark role years ago. That’s the closest I ever got to it. So I never thought I’d have the chance to do it in any form.

TZN: How did you find your Superman?

JAMES DENTON: You know, I read a really great quote from Grant Morrison that not only was Clark Kent a facade, Superman was also a facade. The real guy was the Clark Kent that was raised by Ma and Pa Kent that could drive a tractor, that was very grounded and very smart. So Superman wasn’t the Superman that was the real guy pretending to be Clark Kent. There was a third guy in the middle that was putting on Superman and putting on Clark Kent, the bumbling reporter. And that really helped because then I wasn’t worried about making Superman very monotone and unfeeling, because Grant’s interpretation was that the real Clark Kent/Superman was putting on that Superman mask too — which I thought was cool. So it helped me sort of go to the extremes with both and know that the truth was somewhere in the middle and what Grant had in mind.

TZN: Is it also fun getting to play with Superman’s vulnerability, because in this story, the Man of Steel is actually dying?

JAMES DENTON: It’s great because I don’t have that big James Earl Jones, Anthony LaPaglia voice. So I think that was one of the reasons they might have chosen me, because he’s a little more vulnerable, obviously very vulnerable in the end, so they didn’t need that big impressive, intimidating presence vocally. Thank goodness. So it was easier for me to approach it because there were so many sensitive scenes in this particular version.

TZN: Is there any line or piece of dialogue as Superman that stood out for you in this project?

JAMES DENTON: Wow, that’s funny. Oddly enough, it sounds like “Jesus Wept,” when they tell him [Superman] what happened and he says, “I’m dying.” There were so many ways to read that. You couldn’t be maudlin. You couldn’t be panicked. You couldn’t be cavalier. So just Superman saying, “I’m dying,” for me it took me forever to feel like, “OK. I kind of got an idea on how that might blurt out of his mouth when he realized it.” So that was the one that really stuck with me.

TZN: Does playing Superman give you a lot of cred with your family?

JAMES DENTON: Yeah, absolutely. My kids are here tonight and it’s the first thing they’ve cared at all about that I’ve done. So it bought me a little cred, yeah.

In his spare time, Denton also plays in a charity band called Band From TV with Hugh Laurie, Greg Grunberg, Adrian Pasdar, and Bob Kinney.

[URL=”https://www.toonzone.net/news/images/2010-07/BatmanUnderTheRedHood/BruceTimm/BTimm-2010.jpg””>[I]As a character designer, animator, producer, and artist, Bruce Timm has two decades of experience with DC Animation. Besides executive producing all the current direct-to-video DC Animated Universe projects, Timm currently serves as producer on the new CGI [/I]Green Lantern TV series, which will be the first on-going Green Lantern series.

TOONZONE NEWS: Is All-Star Superman your favorite Superman story?

BRUCE TIMM: Yes. I think that’s why the comic is so special to me, is that it’s 100% pure Superman. It’s a weird thing because on one hand it’s kind of wacky and almost old-school, but at the same time it’s very fresh and modern. Grant found a way to make it appealing to a modern audience without making it all dark and gritty and super-violent and swear words and sex and blood and all that. It’s absolutely true to the spirit of Superman, and yet it feels fresh and modern. It’s amazing.

TZN: Did you ever talk to Grant Morrison before or during production of this project?

BRUCE TIMM: I know Grant slightly. We see each other at conventions and exchange e-mails every now and again. On this project, no, I kind of hid from him. I was kind of afraid of on one hand, there’s a danger when you deal with someone who has worked on the original source material. Sometimes they may be a little too close to it, they might not be able to see the forest from the trees, “Well you got to do that part otherwise it’s not in the comic if you don’t do that part.” So they may not be their own best judge of their work. I’m not saying that about Grant at all. That’s not really the case. The movie is already difficult enough that I didn’t want to have that distraction, and at the same time also a little bit afraid maybe he doesn’t even want to see this. I had no idea how close he was to it or anything. So I kind of observed radio silence there for about a year and a half. And fortunately when he saw it, he loved it.

TZN: Looking at the animation and adapting the work of the story’s original artist, Frank Quitely, to animation there is a definite visual similarity to Quitely art, but it also looks different. Was it maybe not feasible to faithfully adapt Quitely’s artwork completely to an animated setting?

BRUCE TIMM: We tried our hardest. Any changes that we made were just…it’s not like we looked at his art and said, “Oh, we got to fix this.” It’s not like there was anything wrong with his art. It was wildly inconsistent from panel to panel, and it has to be animated by a bunch of guys in Korea who have never seen a Frank Quitely drawing before in their life. So we have to kind of boil it down to its essentials in a way that’s replicable. It was just literally the process of adapting it to animation. We tried really hard to make it look as much like the comic. Maybe if we had three or four years to work on it and hire Frank to go over every drawing himself, then maybe it would look like a Frank Quitely comic. But I think its pretty successful in mimicking his style. Yeah, obviously it’s not 100% but we did the best we could.

TZN: This is the first DC Animated Universe movie released of the year. We also have Batman: Year One and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights coming later this year.


TZN: Do you know what the next movie will be?

BRUCE TIMM: After Batman: Year One?

TZN: Yup.

BRUCE TIMM: I do…I can’t tell you. You’re going to be excited when you hear about it.

TZN: Recently, the first image of the new CG animated Green Lantern TV series was released. Do you have a status update or more you can tell us about that show?

BRUCE TIMM: All I can say is what we’ve seen so far from the overseas studio is real encouraging. This is again kind of a challenging show for me because it’s the first show we’ve done in CG. There is good CG and there is bad CG, and most of the really good CG is stuff done for movies that have huge budgets. We don’t have a huge budget. We have a very short time schedule to get this stuff done. Everything has been about how we can take the limitations of CG and turn it into a plus. It’s kind of like the same way we, as we’ve always done, when we did the first Batman show. It’s like knowing we had a little bit amount of money to spend and the limitations of not being able to do full animation. How do we make that work for us rather than against us? So we stylize the characters. We stylize the background design. You know, everything was built towards the limitations and we kind of do the same thing with CG. It’s like CG can look kind of plastic. OK, maybe that’s a good thing. Instead of trying to make everything look like real people, that usually doesn’t work in CG no matter how much money you throw at it. So why don’t we embrace the fact that they kind of look like action figures moving around? OK, that could be kind of cool. So everything design-wise has taken off from there. And so far like I said, knock wood, I think it’s going to be cool.

TZN: So when will the show hit?

BRUCE TIMM: Theoretically, it’s supposed to debut at the end of this year.

Sam Liu is a long-time veteran of animation and has also served as solo-director of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and Planet Hulk. Liu is currently working on Cartoon Network’s Young Justice.

TOONZONE NEWS: Was this a favorite story for you?

SAM LIU: Yeah it is. I hadn’t read the comic before I started working on it. I talked to some people at the studio about what it was about. So I read it. It was a little bit different then what I initially expected but once I started reading and re-reading the material, I thought it was brilliant. Upon reading it was a lot different then what I had preconcieved in my mind. But again, once I started getting into the psychology of what the story was about, I thought it was brilliant. I thought there’s a point to the piece. There’s an emotional sort of response to everything. The set-ups are purely to service an emotion of a facet of Superman that he [Grant Morrison] wants to show. Once I sort of read into it, I thought it was brilliant.

TZN: What was your stance on adapting the unique art style of Frank Quitely? He has a sort of odd style that uses a lot of squiggly lines and wrinkles in his art. What was your take on how to adapt that into animation?

SAM LIU: It was tough, because obviously animation through any style is a study in minimalizing. So especially something like Quitely’s which is so subtle and it’s so like you said, “squiggly.” It was something that we were trying to even do on Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. But it was so hard to crack, it was like ok, let’s do it on another one. Finally, when this one came up, Bruce was adamant, “We got to crack this code.” And we went through at least three different artists and each one was like, “That’s not right. That’s not right. That’s not right.” And finally, it was like this one was the closest, we’ll go with that. And I remember Bruce was like still, “No, we can do better.”

TZN: I definitely see the influence of Quitely in the designs, but in servicing the medium you have to make it accessible. Even with Mike Turner’s art style adapted for Superman/Batman: Apocalyse, you see the influence there but it’s not quite exactly the same. You have to make it watchable in animated form.

SAM LIU: Yeah. And the other thing too, there’s an animator that’s actually drawing it. I was finally able to get into that position on Darkseid, that was my first time ever character designing. So I saw first hand what I drew and the terms that I did it versus like what comes back. So there is always going to be a translation. Whatever we do as tight as we possibly try to make it, it’s going to get interpreted, you know what I mean?

TZN: What else are you working on right now?

SAM LIU: I’m also working on the Green Lantern CGI series. But I have one more DVD that’s coming that I’m co-directing with Lauren Montgomery, Batman: Year One.

TZN: Will G’Nort be in the Green Lantern TV series since he was awesome in Batman: The Brave And The Bold?

SAM LIU: (laughs) It’s funny because I’m only directing on it. You’d probably have to ask the producer or story editor because I’ve only seen so far down the line of what’s coming.

TZN: So you haven’t seen G’Nort yet?

SAM LIU: I haven’t seen G’Nort yet, I’ll say that.

All-Star Superman is now out on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, DVD, and Video-on-Demand. Toonzone News would like to thank Warner Bros. and Paley Center for having us at the premiere and letting us speak with the cast and crew. We would also like to again thank the late, great Dwayne McDuffie for all of his fantastic contributions to comics and animation.

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