Toonzone Interviews Jay Oliva and David Selby at the “Dark Knight Returns, Pt. 1” World Premiere at the Paley Center NYC
On Thursday, September 20, 2012, Toonzone News was at the Paley Center for Media in New York City for the world premiere screening of The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1. This newest direct-to-video animated feature from DC Entertainment adapts Frank Miller’s renowned graphic novel about an aging Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement as Batman to confront terrors old and new facing Gotham City. Present at the premiere were casting and voice director Andrea Romano, actor David Selby (who portrays Commissioner James Gordon in the movie), and director Jay Oliva.
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Actor David Selby is best known for portraying the werewolf Quentin Collins in the classic TV series Dark Shadows, and the ruthless Richard Channing in Falcon Crest in the 1980’s. Selby’s first experience doing voice-over work for animation was for The Griffin and the Minor Canon, an animated film made by West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2002, before getting cast as Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight Returns.
TOONZONE NEWS: Was playing Jim Gordon very different from what you expected it to be, or from what you’re used to as an on-camera actor?
DAVID SELBY: Andrea (Romano), she works fast. And it was fast. We go in there, she knows what she wants. I didn’t want to go in there with too many pre-conceived notions except that I knew that I had my history of Batman, and I knew that in the 80’s Frank Miller had his take as it progressed through, and still even after 9/11. So I had that. And I had my son’s advice to remember that Jim Gordon is a good cop. He can be tough, but down in the bottom, he’s probably the most moral guy you’re going to come across, except he can be tough when he needs to be.
TOONZONE NEWS: Have you seen the finished film yet?
DAVID SELBY: I’ve seen a very rough cut. I was working down in San Diego, and it was even during Comic Con, so I couldn’t do Comic Con because I was working! But the crew I was with was so…forget the project I was working on, they were so enamored of Dark Knight that they started bringing me books that they had collected through the years. And not just the older members of the crew. There was one girl who was 21 or 22, but she was excited about the Dark Knight and wanted to hear all about it. They wanted me to bring them a copy (laughs) and I said, “I can’t do that!” (laughs) So I’m going to send them a copy of the movie.
TOONZONE NEWS: Did you record the entire role for both halves of the movie at the same time?
DAVID SELBY: Yes. I went back a few weeks ago and did some added little things for part 2.
TOONZONE NEWS: Did you find that you had changed a lot from when you started the part to when you finished?
DAVID SELBY: No, because it was too late by then. What I went back to record were simply grunts and groans (laughs).
TOONZONE NEWS: The famed ADR phase.
DAVID SELBY: I didn’t want to listen to anyone else. I just had all of that history and tried to stay to that, and to remember his basic goodness and how much he loved his wife.
Director Jay Oliva has already built up an enviable resume in his time at Warner Bros. Animation. He has credits as a storyboard artist stretching as far back as The Batman, Justice League, and Teen Titans, as well as nearly all of the DC direct-to-video feature films. Among his other credits are directing episodes of The Jackie Chan Adventures and Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles, as well as the Marvel DTV’s The Invincible Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow. His current projects include directing episodes of Young Justice and, of course, both halves of the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
This interview contains minor spoilers for the movie and/or the graphic novel.
TOONZONE NEWS: I heard you saying you’re a major fan of the comic book. How old were you when you discovered it?
JAY OLIVA: I was 11. What was funny was that my cousin came by to the house and said, “Hey, you gotta read this!” and I said, “It’s Batman. I don’t know…” because I saw him on Super Friends and I saw him as Adam West, and I wasn’t a big fan. Then I read that and it just blew my mind.
TOONZONE NEWS: What did you think was the hardest scene for you to translate from the comic to the movie?
JAY OLIVA: I think the hardest scene to translate of part 1 would probably be General Briggs’ scene, the scene where the general dies. Originally, when I was talking to Bruce, he really didn’t like the way that scene was. I pitched it to him like, “Hey, Bruce, is it OK if I do it kind of like the beginning of Casino Royale, where the general shows up and the Batman’s already in there, and they’re talking.” Bruce really dug that because in the comic, all you see is the death and then afterwards you find out who that guy is that’s wrapped in the flag. As a kid, I always thought that was Commissioner Gordon, because right before that there was a scene with Commissioner Gordon, so I thought, “Commissioner Gordon is dead!” So for me, when I looked at it now as an adult filmmaker, I realized, “Oh, I have to change that a little bit. I have to find a way to make that scene resonate to the audience and still be a set piece,” and I think we made a really good choice. Like I said, I wanted to make it like Casino Royale because I’m a big fan of that film.
JAY OLIVA: (Laughs) I think I’m a little biased. The sequences that I did myself were the junkyard fight sequence and that fight with the Mutant leader, and then later on with the fight with the Mutant leader in the mud pit. Those were the two that I did personally just because I’m always saying, “If you want something done right, you do it yourself.” I watched what Bruce Timm had done in Batman the Animated Series with that mud pit fight scene, and I said, “This is cool” and then I thought, “Now how do I make this better? How do I push this in such a way that it’s something different, it’s not the same old hat, and I add something to it?” Those are the two sequences that I really enjoyed.
But the sequence with Batman with his parents getting killed, that was one of the scenes where we diverged from the original graphic novel because we had just done that in Batman: Year One. So I asked Bruce, “Can I change this?” And he said, “Yeah, because we’ve done that before.” So what you’ll see is how I ended up doing my own twist on it because I had this imagery of what I wanted to do with that scene.
Unfortunately, our chat with Andrea Romano was lost due to technical difficulties. Most of what she told us ended up repeated one way or another during the panel discussion, detailed below, so you’re missing out on a few nice words about Ariel Winter (who plays Carrie Kelly/Robin) and Maria Canals (Justice League‘s Hawkgirl and Captain Ellen Yindel in this film), and the revelation that Bruce Timm is often the person doing ADR work for the fight scenes in these movies (allowing Andrea to beat up Bruce Timm on a semi-regular basis). You can get a nice photo I took of her on the red carpet, though:
After a tremendously well-received screening of the movie at the Paley Center, Jay Oliva, Andrea Romano, and David Selby sat down for a panel discussion about the film, moderated by Warner Bros. PR rep extraordinaire Gary Miereanu. Highlights from the panel included:
Jay Oliva said his goal was to stay as true as possible to the source material, but not do a motion comic. Otherwise, “I might as well just ask Frank Miller to stand in front of a camera and read the comic.”
When asked what their favorite scenes, Andrea Romano mentioned two scenes involving moths flittering around street lights, describing them as beautiful images and likening the moths drawn to the flame just as Bruce is drawn to Batman. Jay Oliva said it was the scene when Batman asks Carrie Kelly what her name is. He said he had no idea what he was going to do with that sequence until he got the performance out of Ariel Winter, which communicated a clear change to her character. (The irony that Romano’s favorite scene had no dialogue and Oliva’s favorite scene was because of a performance was not lost on either.) David Selby said his favorite moment was Commissioner Gordon’s speech to Ellen Yindel about Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt, articulating its relevance to the real world and quipping that you could probably make hard, real-world decisions by asking, “What would Bruce Wayne do?”
Miereanu asked the panelists if any reaction from the audience surprised them. Romano said she wasn’t surprised but pleased that the audience had the same reaction she did (“YESSSSS!”). Miereanu then asked Oliva if there was anything he felt was left out or was missing, which led to Oliva expanding on his thinking behind some of the changes made to the movie, especially his take on the flashbacks that are a prominent part of the comic, which he tried to handle like a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder in Bruce Wayne. One big addition to the movie is a very “(Stanley) Kubrick-kind of weird thing” flashback scene to the Wayne parents’ funeral, which served to emphasize the emotional impact of his loss to the Mutant leader; like many of Kubrick’s indelible scenes, Oliva tried making it ambiguous enough that its meaning is open to interpretation.
When Miereanu pointed out that the cast ranged from the 70-year-old David Selby to the 14-year old Ariel Winter, Romano added that there are 33 actors in the movie for an even larger number of speaking parts, which is one of the largest casts she’s ever managed in one project. Once the major roles were cast, she filled the rest of the cast with “my friends:” veteran voice actors who could each turn in at least 3 roles each. The movie is a Pinky and the Brain reunion since Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulsen are both in the film. Romano also pointed out that Paulsen plays the Mutant thug wearing the “My Name is Rob” shirt as well as a street criminal with a creepy way of saying “mommy,” and that she got one of her cameo roles in the film opposite him for that latter scene, which she acted out for the audience. She also pointed out that Gary Anthony Williams plays both the Mutant leader and a mild-mannered, bespectacled newscaster at the start of the movie. Oliva added that the actors often stayed in character in the booth between takes (or slipped back into old favorites), saying it was like his childhood all over again.
Miereanu then opened the floor for Q&A with the audience. Andrea Romano said she was not subconsciously influenced by the “Legends of the Dark Knight” episode of Batman the Animated Series because she had no recollection of directing that episode. While making The Dark Knight Returns, she had a sneaking sense that the material felt familiar, but after directing more than 60 projects after that one episode of the show, she just didn’t remember it. She added that Michael Ironside (who played the Dark Knight Batman in the episode) wasn’t considered for the role in this film.
Romano said that Oliva was very good about coming to all the recording sessions and being open to how the performance could change the way they had visualized things. Oliva added that Andrea is always incredibly well prepared, joking that her script is always covered in notes while his is almost empty. He also said that it makes his job easier when actors take a role and make it their own, since they can focus on roles to depths that he can’t necessarily do without losing sight of the whole film.
In response to a question about if they thought Batman was a mask for Bruce Wayne or vice versa, Romano said that every actor has a different take on that, so her opinion was less important than what the actor felt, as long as it fits in the project. She said you’d have to ask Peter Weller what he thought of the part, but Jay Oliva said it seemed that Weller’s Wayne was more comfortable as Batman.
Gary Miereanu confirmed that Frank Miller has received a copy of the movie and they are all waiting back to hear what he thinks of it.
Even though she thought Kevin Conroy would be great in the movie (especially with his performance as Old Man Wayne in Batman Beyond), the decision was made well above her to bring in an all-new cast. She added that Peter Weller had so much life experience in his voice. After noting that she needed a minimum of 4 hours of ADR with Weller, Oliva semi-apologized for the long fight scenes (which he dubbed “man ballet”) in the movie, even saying Bruce Timm asked him in one session, “Jay, why is this shot so long?”
Oliva also added that he loved getting Weller to play Batman because of the cross-influences between RoboCop and The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, so to have RoboCop playing Batman now felt like coming full circle. He also added that the 80’s vibe to the movie extended past Weller’s casting and the fashions, pointing out the music was very inspired by soundtracks from the time as well.
In response to another question, Oliva dug into some of the themes he wanted to introduce in both movies, noting that water and the use of the color red are both thematic elements throughout the first film, which will also tie both halves of the film together even though the tone and setting changes dramatically between halves. He also noted a small Easter egg in the flashback scene to the murder of Bruce’s parents, when his shadow forms a Batman cape.
Toonzone News would like to thank Jay Oliva, Andrea Romano, and David Selby for taking the time to speak with us at the premiere, and to Gary Miereanu, the Warner Home Video PR team, and the Paley Center for Media for arranging the premiere event. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 will be released on DVD, Blu-ray, On Demand, and Digital Download services on September 25, 2012. You can also check out larger versions of the photos above plus a few more at my Flickr album for this event.