NYCC 2014: The “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis” Roundtables – Heath Corson, Andrea Romano, James Tucker, Phil Bourassa, and Matt Lanter
At New York Comic Con 2014, Toonzone News was able to sit with several members of the crew and cast of Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, the next new direct-to-video movie that promises to introduce Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas, to the new universe of animated movies.
Heath Corson is the screenwriter for Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, with other scriptwriting credits on Justice League: War and Batman: Assault on Arkham.
Q: Aquaman always has this reputation of being uncool and everyone makes fun of him.
HEATH CORSON: There IS??!?!? I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Q: Shock of shocks! What were the challenges of taking this character and making him cool?
HEATH CORSON: I have to say we wanted to ground Aquaman. We wanted to make him a really different Aquaman. This is Aquaman Begins. This is an Aquaman who is unaware of his heritage or his Atlantean background. He’s a guy who doesn’t feel comfortable where he is right now. He lives in a lighthouse with his father. He’s just lost his father, and he is drawn to the water, but he doesn’t have any idea who he really is or what he wants to be. And he’s angry about that. It was a really interesting place to start with the character. It was really relate-able, it was really emotional, and it was a really nice place to start so that we can bring him to King of Atlantis. So that’s what we set out to do.
Q: Is this based on the comic storyline, right?
HEATH CORSON: Loosely based on the comic book storyline. I would say the plot points are similar, but the character is obviously not clashing with his brother yet because he doesn’t know he has one. That becomes a realization, and once he goes head-to-head with Orm, obviously Orm becomes the big bad. And the Atlanteans are still invading. So that is the main plot point but we really get emotional and deep with the brother-brother fight once that becomes aware.
Q: What other elements had to be changed because of the differences between comics and animation?
HEATH CORSON: We had to change Aquaman’s relationship with his mother. Obviously his relationship with his father and then what it was going to look like when these two brothers go head-to-head. There’s some really heavy-duty Game of Thrones stuff in there.
Q: Aquaman is going to die?!?
HEATH CORSON: Yes. YES. Spoiler alert! He’s going to die in the movie. Sorry. (Laughter) No, he does not die in this one.
Q: Just because we know this is an Aquaman movie, we can expect Orm and Black Manta, and the Justice League is also coming in. Who are the…is it Aquaman and Black Manta, or more like the Justice League trying to go towards Aquaman and Atlantis?
HEATH CORSON: Who are the real villains?
HEATH CORSON: I will tell you that’s actually a great question, because I think villains have to be relate-able. You have to understand what they’re doing. So in this movie, everybody is actually right. And everybody has a point of view. Even Orm is actually correct in everything that he’s talking about. He’s out to protect his people, and he’s serious that the surface dwellers are a problem to the Atlanteans. So he’s not wrong. The Justice League, in protecting the surface world, are not wrong. Aquaman is not wrong. It’s really interesting that it becomes very murky to say who is the villains of this piece, because you can look at it in a bunch of different ways and go, “Oh, Jeez, everybody’s right.” Tthat’s a real interesting place to position the audience, because they’re going to go, “Oh, that’s cool. THAT’S cool. Wait…That guy’s right. Oh, wait…THAT guy’s right.” So it’s going to be an interesting experience because there’s no clear-cut bad guy.
Manta’s pretty bad. I will say Manta’s pretty bad.
HEATH CORSON: When we start, she is the queen of Atlantis. The King has recently died after the events of Justice League: War, in Darkseid’s attack on the Earth, and the Atlanteans blame the surface dwellers for the death of their king and they declare it an act of war. Now, the queen is trying to keep a lid on it. She thinks that they should stay hidden and that they should stay peaceful, and the surface dwellers should not even know about their existence. So she is a very powerful, bold, strong leader. And you will see Orm smash up against that in his drive for war against the surface dwellers.
Q: Will we see any new abilities from Aquaman, that we’ve never seen before?
HEATH CORSON: I don’t know that you’re going to see anything that you’ve never seen before. It’s going to start in ways that you’ve never seen before. Because they’re new to him, he’s very surprised by everything that happens. There will be some joyful realizations once Arthur Curry figures out he can do some of this stuff.
Q: Any Cthulhu action?
HEATH CORSON: Cthulhu action?! (laughter) No Cthulhu. We see some trenchers. You’ll see some crab guys. There’s a lot of sea life that we play with. There’s a shark moment that I think everybody’s going to be really excited to see in there. We pay a lot of fan homage. I will say it starts with a drunk Arthur Curry in a seafood restaurant talking to a lobster in a tank. So that’s a nice tip to the fans.
Q: It felt like with Justice League: War, you were building to something even bigger. Are we still trying to invoke that same feeling with this one, because we found out that it connected at the end and it felt huge. It felt all-encompassing. Do we feel the same thing here?
HEATH CORSON: That’s right. This is even bigger. This is an all-out invasion of the entire planet from the Atlanteans.
Q: It’s the entire Earth. It’s not just the seaboard.
HEATH CORSON: Yeah. It’s bad. It’s bad news. And these guys are pretty powerful. Aquaman is their leader, but he’s only one of them. Now there’s a whole bunch of them. And they decide to attack the surface world. We’re in big trouble. So yeah, we see a huge tsunami about to hit Metropolis and wipe them out. There’s some major major stakes in this.
Q: As a writer, you’ve dealt with the Justice League in Justice League Adventures, and then this new wave of movies where different characters get a spotlight. As a writer, is that more challenging to make this Justice League sort of secondary to those spotlight characters?
HEATH CORSON: That’s an interesting question. It’s never secondary. I think it’s always great to have a nice focus and a nice arc who is your main touchstone. He’s the person who has the origin story of that movie. In the last one, it was Cyborg. In this one it’s Aquaman. But we are still continuing the dynamics of our Justice League from Justice League: War, so you’re going to see the same dynamics being played out. Batman and Green Lantern don’t necessarily like each other. Cyborg and Shazam are trying to figure out their place in the world, while Cyborg is trying to deal with the fact that he’s part machine. How much can you replace in a man and still be a man? At which point does he feel like, “I’m just a machine and that’s all I am.” So there’s a lot of really interesting things.
Also, I think it’s really interesting to have the second adventure with the team. The second time is like, “Well, we’ve done this before. We didn’t necessarily do it well, but…are we a team? Just because we’ve done it twice? What are we now? Are we a bowling league that just gets together every week?
Q: The movie has a lot of different locations it can use.Obviously we’re going to see Aquaman on land, but when the Justice League goes to confront him, are we going to see them go to Atlantis, or is it all going to be on land?
HEATH CORSON: You will see the Justice League go to Atlantis. Batman underwater (laughter).
Q: Action figure! (laughter)
HEATH CORSON: There you go! (laughter) I’m not saying they all go, but you will see some of the Justice League go down. But let me say this: if you send your heavy hitters down to Atlantis, who does that leave to stop a huge tsunami about to hit Metropolis? And how is that a problem? Because what’s Batman going to do when a tsunami hits? So let’s say you left Flash and Shazam and Batman to stop a tsunami.
Q: Well, if you asked some people, Batman with enough planning…
HEATH CORSON: Batman…yes, exactly. The Bat-God.
Q: All he has to do is stand in front of the wave and say, “I’m Batman.”
HEATH CORSON: That’s right. And the wave stops. (laughter)
Q: Can’t he go into his belt for something?
HEATH CORSON: Well, that tsunami repellent…you will not see the Bat-Shark Repellent in this one. There is no hanging from the helicopter.
TOONZONE NEWS: What was the hardest thing for you to adapt or what was the hardest change you had to make for this movie? Can you talk about that or is that a spoiler?
HEATH CORSON: I think it was a challenge because the Aquaman in the comics is not the Aquaman in this movie. He’s not already the king of the sea. In Issue 4 of Justice League in the New 52, when he shows up, he’s already the King of Atlantis. He goes, “Who’s in charge? I vote me.” He’s the king of 70% of the world, so might as well be the king of the other 30%. In this movie, he’s not that guy yet. So that was a major change. So we had to track Arthur Curry stepping up to become a hero, to becoming Aquaman, to feeling like part of the Justice League. So that was a really interesting, different thing, and it takes us off the rails in a really positive way from the experience of the comic books. You could have read the comic books, but you’re still not necessarily going to know what happens in the movie, which I like doing and it’s something that James Tucker is really big on. He’s like, “We want to give people a different experience because if it was just about the comic books, you can go read the comic books.” But this one, we wanted to give people a real different experience. And I think we do.
Q: Is there going to be further exploration of Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship? Are we going to see more of them?
HEATH CORSON: We take another step in Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship. And let’s just say it gets a little bit more complicated because he has started to see a certain reporter at the Daily Planet, who interrupts them on a little date.
Q: You’re saying that Aquaman is quite a different character. He sounds like a bit more vulnerable. How does that affect all the other relationships he has?
HEATH CORSON: Not to spoil too much, but I will say that one of my favorite moments…Arthur Curry is angry. He’s never known Atlantis. And for Mera to come to him and say, “You have to come down and help save Atlantis,” he has no connection to these people. These are not someone that he’s grown up with. He doesn’t know his mantle. He’s like, “What have these people ever done for me? I have no idea.” And it’s Superman who says, “If I had a chance to spend even two minutes with the place that I am from, that would be worth it.” And it all sort of comes to him and he’s like, “Oh, that’s an interesting point. This guy is a survivor, and I’m a survivor. From a different place.” So there’s some interesting connections that he makes with different people.
Andrea Romano is the longtime casting and voice director for the DC Animated Features, as well as for TV shows including Animaniacs, Batman the Animated Series through Justice League, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Boondocks, and Avatar the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra.
Q: Let’s begin with the obvious question. The casting of the Aquaman?
ANDREA ROMANO: You know, a lot of these movies, there’s requests for celebrities, and I understand it. I do. These are known properties, so I don’t have to call up an agent and say, “We’d like to use X actor, there’s this guy named ‘Bruce Wayne,’ he becomes Batman.” They all know the properties. So celebrities tend to say “yes” often to these kinds of projects. As we were discussing casting specifically for Aquaman, we were all talking about Matt Lanter because I know Matt and I said, “He’s the right guy for the role.” We fought for him and said, “It doesn’t have to be a celebrity. It should be the right actor for the role,” and Matt does a beautiful job. I’m glad I won that battle and I’m glad I went to bat for him, because oftentimes they go, “We don’t care. It’s a great, wonderful role. It’s big, it’s Aquaman, let’s get a celebrity.” No, that’s just casting celebrities for celebrity’s sake. That’s not good casting. That’s just gratuitous casting. Let’s get the best actor for it.
Q: What was it about Matt that you felt so strongly about?
ANDREA ROMANO: Aquaman is one of the forgotten heroes in the Justice League. He’s not really been given a lot of props, and they wrote the role so wonderfully. When you first meet him, he’s bitter and always ready to brawl, and he’s had these weird things where he keeps seeing this woman under the ocean whenever he goes swimming. As he gets older, he knows something is different about him, and he’s got all this energy and he doesn’t know what to do with it, so he brawls. He gets in bar fights a lot. Then we get to meet the much more sensitive side of him when he finds out what his roots are, and he meets Mera and there’s electricity there. Matt’s got the ability to do all that. It’s a good actor and the right role. I listened to a lot of his work previously, before I really really fought for him, because I was, “Please let me not make a mistake here (laughter) and screw this up.” I think he’s the right guy. And when you see it, I hope you think so too.
Q: What else do you factor into casting a character? How do you look for those kinds of qualities in an actor?
ANDREA ROMANO: If they’re an on-camera actor, I’ve probably have seen their work, so I have some idea about their on-camera acting ability. What’s great is that almost always, before I start these movies, there’s artwork, so I can look at the character and say, “OK, is this one of those enormously broad-shouldered, tapered waist, huge thigh guys that has to have a voice that matches?” For example, if you look at Superman and you put him next to Flash, they’re physically different types, so you can deal with different types of voices. Just the pure sound of the voice, like, “OK, that voice, as I listen to it with my eyes closed, that voice could be Superman.” Or “That voice could be Green Lantern,” or “That voice could be Flash.” Just because of the quality of the voice.
Then you look at the acting, and you have to look at the specific piece that you’re asking them to act in. Is this a screaming, screaming, screaming character? Are they going to be able to do 4 hours of insane Joker laughter without ripping out their vocal cords and damaging themselves? Do they have those skills? That kind of thing. I often have asked actors when I cast them, literally when I’m doing a casting meeting and I’m bringing them in and auditioning them, and (click to listen) “they come up with some really great gravelly voice that’s so interesting,” and I say to them, “Can you do that for four hours without injuring (yourself)?” Almost without exception, they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, sure, no problem.” And then you get them into a session and 2 hours later, they’re like, “Andrea, I cannot do this any more. It’s just hurting really badly.” So I really have gotten to the point where I demand of the actor, “I’m going to make you do this for four hours. If you cannot do it, you must tell me. I will have so much more respect for you if you tell me the truth, and I will find something else for you, but do not damage your instrument.” That’s just an amateur mistake and it’s something that will affect your career forever. So you have to factor all of those things in casting-wise.
ANDREA ROMANO: That’s an excellent question. We keep a list actors that we have gone out to before for various roles, and that list grows every single time we make another movie. Sometimes they’re just not available and sometimes they just don’t care for the role, or they don’t care for that script or whatever. A lot of us make the decisions together, and we may look at 75 different actors for a role. Then when it comes to the rank-and-file voiceover actors, they kind of leave that to me because I have so much experience with them. I’m like, “I’m telling you, this is the guy, listen to his work. Listen to this.” And then it’s my job to convince them that that’s is the right guy. But I’ll tease this for you…I can’t tell you in detail because I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say about it. Not the very next film but the film after that, there are 2 actors in it that I’ve pursued for 10 years. They kept saying no because they weren’t available or they didn’t like the script or they didn’t like the role or whatever. And finally I got them. They’re SO GOOD! They’re so wonderful and it was a joy to work with them, but I’m like a bulldog. I won’t let go. I’m just going to keep going after them until they finally say, “Stop. I don’t want to do this.” Then I’ll stop, but if they’re “I just can’t make it work this time,” I’ll just keep going.
Q: Since we knew Aquaman was showing up by the teaser at the end of Justice League: War, had you already finalized that you wanted Matt at the time?
ANDREA ROMANO: No…and first of all, thank you for watching all the way through the credits to see that teaser (laughter). I wondered about how many people had stayed through to that.
Q: I was at the Paley Center, so you all were there.
ANDREA ROMANO: We had not yet decided, because I hadn’t seen a script yet. I didn’t know what was going to be required of Aquaman. So I didn’t know what kind of actor I needed, what kind of vocal type I needed, I didn’t know what he would look like physically.
ANDREA ROMANO: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Because I want to hear what the quality of the voice is, what is that voice, so I close my eyes and I listen and I go, “What does that sound like? That sounds like a big, beefy guy; that sounds like a thin, weaselly guy.” There are actors like Steve Buscemi that has that weaselly character to it, so I wouldn’t cast him as Superman.
ANDREA ROMANO: Well, he’s a great actor. He’s a great actor. But I don’t think that would be good casting.
TOONZONE NEWS: I can guess why you brought Nathan Fillion back as Green Lantern…
ANDREA ROMANO: I told you guys before I’d cast him as Wonder Woman (laughter). I love him so much.
TOONZONE NEWS: What was behind Jerry O’Connell’s casting as Superman?
ANDREA ROMANO: You know, Jerry’s so great. He’s just so agreeable and he had reached out to me a couple of times recently, saying, “You know, I haven’t worked with you in a couple of years, and I’d love to play again.” And sometimes, Gary Miereanu is how I hear from him because they’re neighbors, I think. So he said, “I want to do some stuff.” I was working with him, I think it was for a different studio. I don’t think it was even for Warner Bros. He was here in New York doing a play, off-Broadway I think. We were doing ISDN recording and he said, “Just so you know…” and I said, “OK, I’ll find something.” And as the casting came around for this I thought, “Ooh! He’d be good as Superman. I don’t think I’ve cast him as Superman yet.” I’m going through my files, “Have I cast him as Superman yet? No I haven’t. Let’s have him do Superman.” Superman’s an interesting character in that he’s the Boy Scout, obviously, but he can’t be too…what’s the right word? Namby-pamby. Goody Two-Shoes. There’s got to be some strength behind him. There’s got to be some kind of conscious choice making. Jerry’s such a good actor that I really felt like he’d be able to bring it in and I think he does it in spades.
Phil Bourassa is the lead character designer for Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, as he has been for many DC animated features (including Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Justice League: Doom, Son of Batman, and Justice League: War), as well as the animated TV series Young Justice.
Q: I’ve heard my first question a couple of times here. Aquaman and the sideburns?
PHIL BOURASSA: Yeah! We don’t have to strictly adhere to what’s in the comics. We have Quite a bit of latitude, actually, but I thought that was cool so I kept it. If I think something’s bad, I’ll find a way not to include it. But I think he looks pretty badass with them.
Q: Different look.
PHIL BOURASSA: You’re not feeling it? (laughter)
Q: I’m a sideburn guy myself, but it’s a different look for him, and it’s different from what we’ve seen over the years, which is a cool thing.
PHIL BOURASSA: Jim (Lee) did it in his version in the comics, and I liked it so I kept it.
Q: What is the thing that you’re most excited to bring to yourself to the character?
PHIL BOURASSA: For me, I’m always just trying to be faithful to the core themes and the traditions of the characters while also trying to add my own personal spin to it. I think when I sit down to draw a character like Aquaman, what’s great about him for me is that a lot of people have written him off. There’s a lot of talk that he’s not as cool or not as badass as Superman or Batman, which I think is absurd. But it makes my job a little easier because expectations might be lower. I think for me, I’m going in and I’m just trying to do something that feels classic, but is also updated and bringing it into the style that we’ve established for these films, where we haven’t introduced him. And again, the classic Justice League characters all have such an iconic look. Their colors are so specific, they’re real primary stuff. So I don’t ever feel like I’m at a loss when I sit down and work on a character like that.
Q: With all these movies now, there’s much more continuity in the films than there was in the Justice League films to start with. Does that give you the same opportunities to bring new elements to it?
PHIL BOURASSA: Yeah. For me, it’s a better opportunity. We used to do a lot of 1-to-1 adaptations, trying to be as close to the comic book, and we were doing really classic beloved stories, which is a double-edged sword. The fans are clamoring for Year One and Dark Knight and all that stuff, but you have to be really faithful to the style and the aesthetic to those books. You’ve got to try to do Frank Miller, you’ve got to try to do David Mazzuchelli, you gotta try to do all those guys. If I’m designing in a new style in every film, you gotta figure out, “Well, how would so-and-so draw a police officer?”
With this stuff, we’re parallel to the comics, but we’re not doing straight adaptations any more. We’re creating our own internal narrative, our own cohesive continuity that’s independent of it, so it means that I can refine the style as I go forwards. I don’t have to draw any new police officers! I can spend that time on Black Manta, or on Mera and all these really great characters to reintroduce them and give them our full focus. You guys don’t want me spending forever on how to draw a fireman in someone else’s style. I think it’s going to lead to a really cool, cohesive look for these films, so it makes my job a lot more fun and a lot easier.
Q: You’ve mentioned that you start with the iconic looks, but how do you go about drawing various elements to create them in your own style? How do you decide what to punch up or what to emphasize or de-emphasize?
PHIL BOURASSA: There’s some stuff that you just have to keep. With Wonder Woman, you’ve got to have the tiara and the wristbands and the stars. The colors are always a real obvious place to go, but you don’t want to jettison or abandon anything that’s classic and that’s fundamental. Because it’s hand-drawn art, I don’t have the challenge that some of the live-action stuff has, where they’re worried if it’s going to look silly or whatever they have to do to trick it out to make “people buy it,” which I’m not sure I agree with that either. It’s essentially a new look for these characters, but I’ve been doing my particular drawing style for a while. So I have that already. That’s just instinctive. That’s just how I draw. So it ends up feeling like a new take, but it really isn’t. I’m trying to do my version of what I loved about Alex Toth Superfriends and Bruce Timm’s Justice League. I’m just doing it my own particular way. These characters are already designed for me in a lot of ways. Beyond that, I’m just trying to come up with something that mechanically works for the medium of animation. What can a thousand artists draw consistently and draw really well and make it look cool? There’s a lot of thought that goes into that.
TOONZONE NEWS: The guys in Pixar say that when they’re blocked for inspiration, they’ll go to their big screening room and throw on a Hayao Miyazaki movie or something like that. What are your inspirations when you’re blocked?
PHIL BOURASSA: Well, I go everywhere for inspiration. I got a lot of old 1970’s samurai stuff playing on my little screen all the time. like Lone Wolf and Cub or Shogun Assassin. Sometimes, the stuff that they’re doing in the live-action movies will inspire me. I’m an avid gamer. I play a lot of video games, I pull a lot of inspiration from film, video games, wherever I can get it. I’m not above stealing from everybody, you know what I mean? Whatever I’m consuming at the time tends to come out in my work.
TOONZONE NEWS: Was anything a real challenge or a real blocker for you on this film?
PHIL BOURASSA: It’s always tricky to figure out how to do surf. Like the environment aspect of a world like Atlantis. We have to lay down some kind of ground rules, like “Do they breathe underwater, or in some kind of bubble or force field?” That affects how you approach designing hair, it affects how you approach designing the clothing or the drapery. There’s certain stuff that will look great if it’s constantly moving with the waves and stuff. There’s always a design challenge that’s contextual, and that was one of the challenges for this film.
PHIL BOURASSA: As far as the environments, we have a team of background guys and I’m primarily character design, so I didn’t work on that. But for me, doing the character stuff, I wanted it to be — and I think this is also reflected in the environments as well — I wanted it to be exotic and otherworldly, but still feel ancient. So you can let the mythology surrounding Atlantis be an ancient culture that’s futuristic at the same time. I’m looking at certain things that Moebius did in the 70’s, which is very similar to a lot of what Jack Kirby was doing at the same time. They have this sort of future/past duality to their work that I looked at a lot. And you also wanted to look at the Greek Mythology stuff for Atlantis because that’s obviously a huge part of it. Then trying to infuse all that stuff together and create a really good synthesis.
Q: For this particular Aquaman, would you say that his image was completely new, or were you saying that there were elements of previous Aquamans?
PHIL BOURASSA: I don’t think it’s completely new. It’s our take on who Aquaman is and always kind of has been, in the classic sense. He was always a founding member of the Justice League, and I think that he is that for a reason. For me, it’s like a return to the original traditions of the character, but just in a modern context. I don’t think it’s new. I think maybe people haven’t seen it for a while.
Q: Do you think his status prior to this as being an uncool character is unwarranted?
PHIL BOURASSA: I think that there may be bad interpretations. There’s bad iterations of every cool character. For some reason, people focus on him, maybe because…I don’t know, talking to fish and riding sea horses is not a good look for a man, probably? (laughter)
TOONZONE NEWS: Yeah, but that’s a big honkin’ seahorse he was riding there.
PHIL BOURASSA: Yeah, that’s true. If you saw that in real life, I wouldn’t mess with a dude riding a seahorse that size (laughter). So yeah, I think it’s unwarranted for sure, and again, I don’t think we’re doing a brand new take, I think we’re trying show how cool he always has been and returning him to his roots as this core member of the Justice League.
James Tucker is the supervising producer for the DC Animated Features division, and has worked on numerous DC animated properties starting with The New Batman Adventures/Superman the Animated Series through Justice League, and serving as a co-producer of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
Q: How does it feel to be working on Aquaman?
JAMES TUCKER: Well, I worked on him a year ago and now it’s coming out, so it felt fine (laughter). As I recall, it felt good.
Q: How challenging is it to make this character cool?
JAMES TUCKER: Aquaman’s always been cool. The thing is that people ridicule him solely based on Superfriends, and none of those heroes got a backstory or depth or any kind of attention to character. They were just their powers, and it was a kids show…a YOUNG kids show. So he kind of gets singled out for being lame, but they were ALL lame. But we loved it! It was all we had. I think what we’ve been trying to do at DC animation throughout the years is bring Aquaman back, by giving him spotlight roles in other series and feature roles. We had him on Superman the Animated Series first, then we brought him into Justice League as a guest star occasionally, and on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, we used him every chance we got (laughter) because he was just a great breakout character. But we never wanted to make fun of him. We just wanted to make him a dude. This is a guy who has all these powers that some people think are weird, but he likes himself. That’s the thing about Aquaman: he’s not one of those guys that’s all navel gazing and tortured. He likes being Aquaman.
(NOTE: Here’s where we lost a chunk of audio. We resume a few minutes later with the session in progress.)
JAMES TUCKER: …the chances are high that he will show up again. And like I said, if this sells, then there’s a lot of plans in the works for other alternatives to getting our heroes out there. So hopefully.
Q: Are you enjoying this notion of using Justice League as a pilot, so to speak, for these other characters?
JAMES TUCKER: Yeah, because I worked with Bruce Timm on Justice League for five years, and to my thinking, we did the best Justice League we really could. So just to do just another Justice League series that didn’t accomplish anything further didn’t interest me. But the reality is that no one’s going to pay us to do a solo Aquaman movie yet. If he pops big in the feature film, then maybe we will. But right now, to get to all these side characters that I love, I basically chose the tactic I did with Brave and the Bold. Brave and the Bold was originally supposed to be Batman and about 5 other characters rotating constantly. And I was like, “Hell no!” (laughter). I want B’wana Beast, I want Detective Chimp…I mean, I went down the line and named who I wanted, so that’s what I hope to do with this line. Granted, there’s one Justice League movie a year, so we’re not going to be able to cover a lot of ground in an quick amount of time, but the next movie will have characters in it that you haven’t seen in the DVDs yet.
TOONZONE NEWS: Can you talk about what’s happening with the DC Nation and the Showcase Shorts? Because I know for a while that was an avenue for the lesser explored characters.
JAMES TUCKER: I didn’t work on the DC Nation shorts. I will say that the idea hasn’t been discarded. It just may not be on network TV. There’s…plans. (laughter) I can’t talk. I would get a knife in my head if I said.
Q: You can tell us. We won’t tell anybody.
JAMES TUCKER: Yeah, right. (laughter). No, we can’t talk about that. I will be back to talk about that if indeed there is something to talk about.
Q: Were you surprised to how fans reacted to the teaser at the end of Justice League: War and how they reacted to the trailer?
JAMES TUCKER: How did they react? I don’t know (laughter).
Q: It’s all over the Internet. Everybody is excited.
JAMES TUCKER: I hope they’re excited. I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m glad. I hope they liked it. I want people who really like Aquaman to at least feel validated. Like, “OK. This is at least a respectful version of Aquaman.” I mean…there’s about 5 good Justice League stories, to be honest (laughing), and everything else is a lot of work. But if Aquaman comes away being a character that people could go, “Oh, I didn’t know that about him!” or “Oh, I always knew he was cool, now I see why,” then I’m happy. Then it’ll be a success. And it has to sell. That’d be nice.
Q: What I’ve seemed to notice about Aquaman lately is a lot of embracing the jokes and the snark, and in the trailer, you see a hint of that. Is that pretty much the notion, now?
JAMES TUCKER: Well, in our story, you see him become Aquaman. It’s not like in the comic, he’s already Aquaman, and they’re already playing off who he is as Aquaman. A lot of people don’t know anything about Aquaman if they’re not comic book fans, so we need to let them know how he came to be. We had to adjust that part of the story so you see him at square one. Actually, you see him at the moment when his father has died, and his father kind of kept him in the dark about his Atlantean roots. He always felt like an outcast on the surface, so the story is about his journey to discovering Atlantis. Of course, he discovers it right as they’re about to invade the surface world.
Q: Bad timing. (laughter)
JAMES TUCKER: Bad timing, yeah (laughter). So he has to rise to the challenge, and we’re asking is the hero made or is he born? So there’s a lot of stuff happening. But the basic plot of this movie is the same as the comic.
Actor Matt Lanter is best known to animation fans as the voice of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Other roles include Flash Thompson/Agent Venom in Ultimate Spider-Man and Baylor Hotner in Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated; on-camera, he has appeared in Heroes, 90210, and Star-Crossed.
Q: You played Anakin for so long on Clone Wars, and now you’ve got this Aquaman who’s this guy who’s torn between two worlds. Is there a similarity there?
MATT LANTER: Oh, yeah, absolutely there’s a similarity. As you just said, Anakin is torn between being a Jedi and having complete disdain for the Jedi. Arthur Curry is dealing with his demons internally, and Anakin is too. Anakin has got secrets, he’s got things he’s trying to deal with, he’s got tragedies in his life, just like Arthur Curry does. He’s got a lot of similarities there.
Q: Aquaman’s history in the past has been a little shady, as we all know. He’s not the really really cool guy.
MATT LANTER: What? (laughter)
Q: What made you say “Hey, this is a role that I want to do and I want to do this thing justice.”
MATT LANTER: Let’s be honest, I think any time anyone calls you and says, “Do you want to play a superhero?” you say “Yeah.” To be a part of the Justice League and the DC world, which I have not had a whole lot of experience with, has been awesome. I think I see it as a fun challenge to make Aquaman cool again, and I think this film really does it. I got to see the film, and it’s fun. It’s awesome. Hopefully fans will think the same. I think that it’s a cool time. We’re at a time where we can maybe change some perception of the characters. I think some people are open to it right now. With the last film, a lot of people were wondering, “Where’s Aquaman?” And I think that a lot of people are open to that right now. I don’t know. Of course, we’ve got Batman vs. Superman coming out, and we’ve all heard that Aquaman is going to make an appearance in that…
Q: Oh, yeah. (laughter)
MATT LANTER: And it’s a strange casting, huh? It’s a departure from what we see in our movie, but I don’t know. Because I felt like the Christopher Nolan Batman stuff was so dark and gritty, and it wasn’t what we had seen in the late 80’s with Batman, but it worked and people LOVE it. So that proves to me that things can change, and people will accept it and be open to it. I feel like as long as things make sense and its a cool story and a good story, fans of comic books and fans of sci-fi are open to change. It’s kind of been proven by the Batman stuff. I don’t know, man. It’s going to be interesting. It’s Khal Drogo, so…(laughter) I’m not going to hate on it too much.
Q: Were you into comics before getting this call, and if so, who is your favorite comic book character in DC?
MATT LANTER: To be honest with you, I really wasn’t. I’m really not an avid comic book reader. When I was a kid, I think I picked up a few here and there, but I never really followed an entire series or anything. I watched Batman the Animated Series when I was a kid a LOT. That was my go-to after school every day. I watched Ninja Turtles and X-Men after school. I was more into animation than I was into comics.
MATT LANTER: At this point, as we all know, this is his origin story. This is the birth of a superhero. At this point, in my head, this is just Arthur Curry. At the end, we see him sort of become Aquaman, but really, I think, in my opinion, he doesn’t even know what that means yet. I think he’s trying to figure it out. I think he’s dealing with the pressure of the Justice League putting his power on him. He’s being forced into this position of power, and I think that it just really makes for an interesting story. Any time power like that is put on someone, and they don’t even want it, it makes for an interesting story. You see that character’s true colors. So for me, it’s more about Arthur Curry and his struggles and who he is, and less about his Aquaman superhero role. Hopefully, we’ll get to see that in the subsequent films, and hopefully I’ll be around to voice them (laughter). I’d love to. I don’t know, we’ll see. I really don’t have any information on those, but I would love to see more of just him kicking butt as Aquaman. We see a bit of that in this film, and it’s awesome, believe me, but it’s more about his development as a character.
Q: Of all the other actors that we’ve seen who portrayed Aquaman, what did you do to prepare yourself and set yourself apart from the other actors who you’ve seen?
MATT LANTER: Well, to be honest with you, I got the call and they wanted me to play Aquaman. When I went in there and I asked Andrea Romano, who is the best in the business, and said, “How do you want him to sound?” she was like, “Well…we just want you to use your voice.” I believe that’s one of the reasons why they brought me on, because they liked my voice quality. But as far as tweaking my voice, I didn’t have to worry about that. I had the luxury, I guess, of not having to do that, and worry more about who is Arthur Curry and what’s going on inside? That was how I approached it, more or less. After I talked to Andrea, it was less about how does he sound and more about who is this guy, and what’s he dealing with and how do we hear that in his voice? How do we hear that internal struggle going on, and how can I help make that visually come to life?
MATT LANTER: Well, I think there’s a difficulty there, because I didn’t really follow the comics, so I don’t really know what happens to him in his life and what he goes through as Aquaman. But in some way, it also made it a little easier, because all I do is I focus on this script. Because this is his birth, right? So all I had to do was focus on who is this guy in this moment, and how do I approach that? I mean, I guess as far as being vocally harder than another character? I wouldn’t say that vocally speaking it was harder, or more hard or less hard. I’ve been through a lot of the fighting scenes, vocally, with a lot of my other projects, like I did with him.
TOONZONE NEWS: Did you get to record with many of the other actors in this one?
MATT LANTER: I didn’t get to record with anybody. It was just me in the booth. Padded walls, talking to myself (laughs).
TOONZONE NEWS: How did you approach that challenge?
MATT LANTER: It’s always a challenge. I think a lot of times, voice actors are only by themselves. It does work both ways for Star Wars. We always tried to get the cast in for together, almost like an old radio play, but a lot of times, voice actors are by themselves, so it’s really not something that I was completely unfamiliar with doing. I think that’s all part of being imaginative, and having that imagination. You just make that actor next to you. You make that character right there in front of you that you’re talking to. I guess I don’t really go in there and think about that too much. I just go in and just be that character in that moment saying that response.
GARY MIEREANU: You did wear the outfit to record, though. It was kind of weird.
MATT LANTER: Yeah, I know. You told me not to take it off!
GARY MIEREANU: It was OK. He just kept sticking me with the trident,
MATT LANTER: It was the character! That’s what I did. I didn’t tell you that, but since you let the cat out of the bag….
Toonzone News would like to thank Heath Corson, Andrea Romano, Phil Bourassa, James Tucker, and Matt Lanter for taking the time to talk with us at New York Comic Con 2014. Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is scheduled for release on January 27, 2015.