Los Angeles’ Paley Center for Media premiered Warner Bros Animation’s latest DC movie, Justice League Dark, and then brought out the cast and crew for a Q & A session. In attendance were supervising producer James Tucker, character designer Phil Bourassa and actors Jason O’Mara (Batman), Matt Ryan (Constantine), Nick Turturro (Deadman), Enrico Colantoni (Felix Faust), and Ray Chase (Jason Blood/Etrigan). The panel was moderated by publicist Gary Miereanu.
GARY MIEREANU: This was an original story. What are the essentials to compiling a Constantine show?
JAMES TUCKER: It started with the outline by J.M. DeMatteis, who was the writer of the comic book. So we went to the source of the comic and started from there. But we knew that we wanted to do something with Constantine, and we knew that we wanted to do something with the title Justice League Dark. There’s a comic that kind of ties into it, so that’s the kernel of it. That’s where we started.
GARY MIEREANU: Were you guys salivating with the concept of having these two lone wolves, Batman and Constantine?
JAMES TUCKER: Sure, yeah, salivating. It wasn’t that kind of thing, but that’s another movie. We were big fans of the Constantine show, and he’s a cool character, and he’s the exact character that we wanted for Justice League for a long time. All the way going back to the first Justice League show, Justice League Unlimited, we always tried to get him in there somehow and the rights were tied down. For whatever reason we couldn’t get him, and so finally, the world has changed and now suddenly, Constantine is everywhere, so it helped us out. So that’s how we got him.
GARY MIEREANU: Phil, you got a whole new palette to design. What were the intricacies, particularly of creating Justice League characters? How hard is it to translate Justice League Dark?
PHIL BOURASSA: Here’s the thing: when you’re working with the Justice League, you’re working with much more limited parameters because they’re essentially all based on the Superman archetype. They’re basically the Greek gods on Mt. Olympus. But you have a cast of characters like we have in Justice League Dark, they’re rogues, monsters, weirdos, and miscreants, so it’s like you have a lot of more room to play. There’s less limitations on what you can do. Essentially they’re monsters, or some of them are in any case, and that’s usually reserved for the villains. So you can have a lot more fun with the silhouettes and the shapes and the types of things you can do with them, so there’s a lot more room to play. It’s similar to designing for Batman. Batman lends himself a lot of interpretations. There’s almost no wrong way to do a character like Swamp Thing because he can be interpreted in many different ways and also gives the animators a lot more to play with. So as much fun as it is designing the classic, iconic, perfect Justice League characters, this cast actually gives you a lot more room to play and a lot more variety in the types of things that we work through.
JAMES TUCKER: The reason behind that is I know where we’re going to use them later, and everyone’s watched Justice League and Unlimited, so you know where Martian Manhunter came from. You know Hawkman’s deal. You know John Stewart.
PHIL BOURASSA: We don’t have to introduce them, really.
JAMES TUCKER: The story wasn’t much different that you didn’t see to get them in there. So we jumped ahead a little bit. This story takes place, probably, a year after the last one, so in that time, those three joined.
PHIL BOURASSA: Yeah, we just assumed the League is expanding and the roster growing and we can organically introduce characters that fans are familiar with without having to do a whole lot of exposition and backstory.
JAMES TUCKER: Buy JLU on DVD or Blu-ray.
GARY MIEREANU: Actors, what was it like for you to jump into a superhero?
MATT RYAN: We’re still trying to be kids. For me it was great to come back to the character of Constantine in this context and to see him interacting with lots of characters we never bothered to do in the live action show and explore those relationships. It was just great to kind of do in this medium.
NICK TURTURRO: It’s always fun. I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t know nothing about the Justice League. I just kind of came in. I like superheroes, so it was fun. I just discovered this guy, but yeah, the humor was important because you gotta laugh. You can’t just kill people and be serious. Have fun. It was a hoot. I enjoyed the guy.
GARY MIEREANU: Ray, you got to do double duty there, how was that?
RAY CHASE: That was my first ever animated thing at all. I’ve always done video games. Those are done much differently, you’re always in the dark as to what’s going on. This time you’re in the dark, a different kind of dark. It was great to have the script, to be able to really know what’s going on, to work with a great director like Wes and to be able to play, really, just do whatever with these two rich characters. It was fun.
GARY MIEREANU: How much did you have to texture the voice for Etrigan and how much of it was Ray?
RAY CHASE: (Jason Blood voice) Gone, gone, the form of man (Etrigan voice) Arise the demon, Etrigan! (applause) I’m available for birthday parties.
GARY MIEREANU: Jason, you got to do a double role. You got to do Batman and had to do a little Nick.
JASON O’MARA: I did, I did do a little Nick. I was terribly afraid that I offended you, Nick. I don’t think my accent was quite there, but it was fun, wasn’t it?
NICK TURTURRO: Yeah, it was fun. You’re Irish, aren’t you?
JASON O’MARA: Yeah, I’m Irish.
NICK TURTURRO: I like that.
JASON O’MARA: What was great for me on this was Batman, because the cast of characters are so wild and weird, he was sort of able to become more of an observer. More like the audience’s eyes and ears and sort of be that barometer for how weird things were getting. Which was fun. It allowed him to be more quippy than he usually is, for example. Usually he’s trying to figure something out or he’s driving scenes whereas John Constantine kind of took over that ostensible role from Batman, and so Batman could hang back and chill a little more than he gets to chill. And as a result of it, even though the film is Justice League Dark, I think it’s one of the funniest films we’ve made so far in this series.
PHIL BOURASSA: That’s how dark Batman is. He brings the levity, but the classic skeptic, which is fun.
JASON O’MARA: Yeah, exactly. But there were laughs across the board, it wasn’t just from Batman. Really funny to be among this. This cast is pretty special.
ENRICO COLANTONI: The magic part was a little tough, yes.
MATT RYAN: It’s quite tough to get your mouth around all those words.
ENRICO COLANTONI: I don’t know about you, but I told people that I had to join a witches coven.
MATT RYAN: I did join a witches coven.
ENRICO COLANTONI: They’re cool, right?
MATT RYAN: Yeah, they’re all right. (Laughter) They are very difficult things to do, especially with a case in which you have to say them sometimes and the impact you have to give them. They could be difficult but also fun as well.
ENRICO COLANTONI: I know what we’re talking about now. The things that came out of your mouth. What was that, Latin? It’s crazy. Scary.
MATT RYAN: It’s when you wake up in the middle of the night saying them to yourself and the bed starts levitating. You’re putting a curse on yourself.
GARY MIEREANU: A lot of actors are self-conscious watching themselves on screen in a live action performance, what about in animation?
MATT RYAN: I think I look much better in animation.
MATT RYAN: When you hear your voice in something you do, you go “Oh” no matter what accent you’re playing, but this was easier for some reason.
ENRICO COLANTONI: I think we need to redefine the compliment one gives an actor in an animated movie. Because it’s so easy to say you were great in that. I didn’t do anything.
PHIL BOURASSA: It’s interesting what Jason said because I think it’s universal amongst artists, creatives of all types, it’s hard to be objective when you’re looking at your own work regardless of what component you introduce to it or what part you play. It’s very difficult to separate yourself from the work. I find that it takes a while. James and I usually finish post production on these, and then six months later, we do the premiere. That’s usually about enough time for me, anyway. For me to be able to forget all the hell it went through.
JAMES TUCKER: Right and to have more objectivity.
PHIL BOURASSA: As opposed to being critical and dissecting it. The minutiae of the labor of production. It’s just universal.
JASON O’MARA: I think it’s also part of the creative process. You never really feel like you nailed that.
PHIL BOURASSA: When you drop the mike and then there’s nothing left.
JASON O’MARA: I was just thinking, maybe if I had done it this way or that way or done another take. You just got to let it go and enjoy it.
QUESTION: When you’re recording, what goes through your mind when all you have is the script? As actors, how do you gear yourself up for that role?
MATT RYAN: Somebody tells me there’s an actor that does this sort of work, but he does it in his underwear. He strips down and does it in his underwear.
JASON O’MARA: That’s me.
MATT RYAN: It’s a voice actor.
NICK TURTURRO: I heard of one actor who’s famous used to get naked during his auditions. Just come in and just get nude. That’s a choice. I asked the guy, you ever get nude? And he goes “Yeah, man.” That’s wild. Some people like to get naked. Fair enough.
MATT RYAN: I find that it’s a little bit like being a kid. Using your imagination. I did a bunch of motion capture work for a video game, and it was stick that had bubbles on it. The stick is a gun, the stick is a sword, the stick is anything, you know? It kind of reminded me of when I was a kid in the playground, I used to pick up sticks and they used to be a gun and you’d be shooting imaginary people. And it’s like that, as an actor. You use your imagination anyway, and I think that is kind of work where you tap into that even more and that’s what makes it even more fun because the image of whatever these characters are, you create in your own mind and you’re kind of playing with them in your head. That’s one way that I went about it.
ENRICO COLANTONI: I always found it an interesting kind of thing because when you have the physical environment that actors work in, there’s room to participate, but you really have to trust Wes. Because you’re in a room, out of context, I don’t know exactly where you stand. I don’t understand where the visuals are, I just see the words out of context. So the faith really is in those of you who worked with Wes in the beginning. He’s the seamstress. (Laughter)
PHIL BOURASSA: Just pictures of Matt all over. I had them up anyway. (Laughter) I did, actually, have pictures for all my characters, so I will pull reference from whatever, all the different iterations throughout the years. A lot of these DC characters have a long legacy, so there’s lots of different artists and writers who have worked on them in the past, and I’ll pull that source material. The cool thing about Matt’s work on the show is they really were faithful to the comic book look of Constantine from Hellblazer, so they got it right out of the gate. We were doing a faithful rendition of the character. So I did have photos from his show and as well as comic book reference.
JAMES TUCKER: The original model has a cigarette too.
PHIL BOURASSA: Oh yeah. R-rated, I thought, why not?
JAMES TUCKER: We didn’t know.
PHIL BOURASSA: If I had known, he’d be smoking a lot. The original design, because that’s just part of the iconic imagery of that character. One of the revised models, he’s just holding nothing, we just erased the cigarette.
JAMES TUCKER: He’s wearing a patch during the movie.
QUESTION: How much prep work do you do and how much do you figure out as you’re recording?
MATT RYAN: For me it was the DNA of the character that I studied and played before and bringing that to this medium and then exploring the character within relationship that he had with the characters within this story. So that sort of work was done. I got the script and loved it and then we were practically recording it, so I was lucky enough to have read a lot of the character and a lot of the comics, the Hellblazer comics, to have done the research and then had the character already in me and then transported it to this medium.
ENRICO COLANTONI: My six months in the witches coven.
MATT RYAN: It’s funny because I’ve only met you guys today. For the performance, we’re all individual in the booth. I don’t think anybody was doing it together. I think the creative team’s process was much different than what us guys are doing.
NICK TURTURRO: That’s what’s weird about it, you feel like you’re doing your own movie. This is my movie. All I know is Justice League Dark, it’s a movie, there’s this guy named Constantine. So I just imagine, this is my movie. That’s what’s funny about it, you have your own little movie and then it comes together.
JASON O’MARA: It’s also a real testament to the magic of the medium because it’s kind of particular to this medium. I haven’t worked that way. Somehow it works.
PHIL BOURASSA: For us, James and I work pretty close on all the design stuff.
JAMES TUCKER: I see him once a month.
PHIL BOURASSA: He’s two doors down from me.
JAMES TUCKER: Just because we’re both reclusive, we text.
PHIL BOURASSA: We’re not in a big tent doing all this.
QUESTION: How can I get a job at DC?
JAMES TUCKER: We don’t work at DC, we work at Warner Bros Animation.
GARY MIEREANU: Practice, practice, practice.
QUESTION: Where there any other potential titles other than Justice League Dark?
JAMES TUCKER: Justice League Dark was pretty much the working title from day one.
PHIL BOURASSA: A lot of times we go through a few titles, but this one was straight through.
JAMES TUCKER: They liked “Justice League” and they liked “Dark”.
JASON O’MARA: At first, it was nerve-wracking because it has been done so many times, and as a child, you grow up with the action figures and reading the comics. And my son, growing up, he had more Batman action figures than any other. So I did feel I needed to deliver something. Oftentimes, for me anyway, there’s the character I want to create, the character I end up creating, and then the character I wish I created. So you have an idea in your head, things you want to achieve in front of the microphone, and then, you do your best to deliver and then you have to sit there with everyone else as your witness all your shortcomings of your efforts. It’s not all bad. It’s a real privilege. I feel like I’ve said that a lot of times in interviews, but I really do mean it that I have to pinch myself because this is Batman. This symbol which is probably one of the most well known symbols in the world at this point. But honestly, in order to be able to do my work, I can’t think about any of that stuff. I can’t think about what people might think or what the pressure is and how people might think Batman sounds. I have to get that all out of my head and just stand there and be as pure and truthful as I can as an actor in that moment. Ultimately, that’s all you’ve ever got as an actor.
ENRICO COLANTONI: But at the same time, you weren’t going to place him on a high-pitched falsetto.
JASON O’MARA: Actually, the first time I was way too (growls) and I didn’t even know what I was saying, so it did take a while to modulate and to find the voice that I think we found and stuck with.
QUESTION: Now that Constantine is finally in the picture, will we see him in more animated films or Young Justice season 3?
GARY MIEREANU: We can’t get into Young Justice season 3. We will get into it, but we can’t get into it here.
JAMES TUCKER: They just announced the shorts. The Constantine shorts. Of course I’d love to do another one of these, provided you all buy it and every person you know buys it.
PHIL BOURASSA: You just buy one for everyone you know.
JAMES TUCKER: Know a lot of people.
JAMES TUCKER: Just doing it is a big challenge. It’s a lot of moving parts, and it’s fun trying to build something with a blindfold on and hoping you’re getting the parts in the right place. No one knows what a producer does, and I don’t know how to explain. We do everything and nothing. It takes about eight months to a year for the total process. I forget when this was done, but this has been finished for a long time. The way it works is, I’m sitting here now showing you this. The movies you’re going to see in two years are what I’m working on now, so that’s my reality now. I don’t know what the hell happened with this one. But the challenge is just up the ante every time. I kind of challenge myself when I got in this division that I wanted to expose many different characters who hadn’t been in these movies prior to me signing up, so whether it’s Justice League or Batman, I want one or two characters that haven’t been exposed yet in these movies. With this one I got six characters, so that was ahead of my mark. That’s good. But that’s the challenge: to keep it fresh and interesting. To not replicate what they’re doing either on TV or the live action movies. There’s a lot of DC now. I don’t know if you notice, but we’re in a renaissance of DC right now. There’s a lot, and there’s a lot to keep track of. There are things that they’re doing that we don’t know about, there’s things that we’re doing that they don’t know about. So it’s always just trying to stay fresh, challenging yourself.
QUESTION: Reading any current DC comics?
MATT RYAN: I just started on the new Hellblazer. And I read about 160 of the original Hellblazer comics. When I stopped doing the show, I kind of didn’t want to read anymore. I’m going to start doing the animated series of Constantine on the CW Seed. I’m going to go back and read the other Hellblazers, the rest of the Hellblazers, and then the new Hellblazer, and then the New 52’s as well and just get back into that now that I’m going to be working on it again.
PHIL BOURASSA: I like All-Star Batman. The current one.
Toonzone News would like to thank the cast and crew of Justice League Dark, and Gary Miereanu and the Paley Center for Media for arranging for us to attend the screening. Justice League Dark is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.