William Baldwin Talks Voicing Batman On Crisis On Two Earths
Whenever someone other than Kevin Conroy voices Batman, fans almost immediately start the comparisons. While I would like to hear Conroy voice Batman as much as I can, I enjoy hearing what other actors can do with it. They tend to give the character their own interpretation. When Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on February 23, 2010, we will hear a new voice.
William Baldwin (Dirty Sexy Money, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) puts on the famous cowl for DC's next animated movie. Baldwin has been a fan of superheroes since his youth. Crisis On Two Earths marks his second venture into voiceovers for animation (he's recorded a few episodes of the Nickelodeon series Danny Phantom).
Here is a Q & A dealing with Baldwin's techniques in the recording booth, superhero roughhousing with his brothers and his almost being cast as a live-action Batman.
What are your thoughts about joining the list of actors from Adam West
and Michael Keaton to Val Kilmer and George Clooney to Kevin Conroy
and Christian Bale – that have played Batman?
I almost did join that group – I was one of Joel Schumacher's top
choices when Val Kilmer wound up playing Batman. Tim Burton and
Michael Keaton had left, so Joel had the luxury of replacing Michael
Keaton and he told me that his four choices – which was an eclectic,
diverse array – were Daniel Day Lewis, Ralph Feinnes, Val Kilmer and
me. I didn’t even know it at the time – he told me when I had a
meeting with him later. The next time, when George Clooney did it,
(Schumacher) said, “You were on my original short list with those
other three actors, but the studio went with Val and this time I'd
like to go with you.” And that Friday afternoon, I thought I was
playing Batman – and then Monday morning, the headlines in the trades
said that George Clooney had gotten the part. So apparently, I did
actually come very close.
I was very excited to do this. I wasn't really thinking about any past
Batmans, but more of letting the material sort of dictate the choices
that I make as an actor. What's happening physically, what's happening
emotionally, what's happening in the writing. That’s what really
drives your performance.
How did you choose to interpret the character? And was there anything
you wanted to do differently than what had preceded you.
I was mostly influenced by whom I perceive Batman to be, with the
possible exception that I think sometimes I allow a certain
sensitivity or an emotional dynamic to give (the character) maybe a
likeability or an accessibility. That's almost an insecurity of mine
as an actor – to want to breathe a little bit of those types of
emotions into characters. I think I find them more appealing and more
likeable and more human. What I didn't choose to do is to go towards
the darkness of the way the original Batman series was intended.
Because Batman, in the original comic series, was a lot darker than
the character that was brought to life in television.
Are there any personal attachments to Batman that make voicing this
role special for you?
It’s a number of things – certainly the history of the character. The
people that have been lucky enough to portray Batman on screen, or
provide his voice, is a short list and it's pretty cool. I'm in good
company. I enjoyed it as a child, and the character still resonates
for me. And I'm a father of an 8-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a
4-year-old – my boy is sandwiched between his sisters, and he just
loves the super heroes. We watch Justice League together. I try not to
let him overdo it too much with television, but there's great,
wholesome messages that come out of that series. When I told him that
I was playing Batman, his jaw dropped. I almost took him out of school
today to have him come down here (for the recording session).
How many times have you said “I'm Batman” in the past week?
Probably about a half a dozen, usually just joking with my kids and my
wife. I was in the studio about a 9-iron from here, where my wife
(Chynna Phillips) was recording, and all the band members were giving
me different lines to say as Batman. Or having me improvise some
lines. And we were having some wicked, twisted fun with it (he
It seemed you were quite focused in the booth, conveying all the
physical and emotional traits as Batman. How immersed in the role did
I take it seriously. And I enjoy it, especially recreating the sound
effects of the fight sequences and stuff like that. One thing that was
interesting to me was how clean they need the lines and, thus, how
specific I had to keep my relationship to the microphone, and making
sure there weren't any other sort of ancillary sounds. When I'm doing
looping for a film, I guess it's sort of a method approach. I'll put
things inside my mouth and try to recreate the circumstances or the
emotions that existed while I was performing. There's nothing better
than when you're grunting from lifting something to try and create
that sensation. I do a lot of visualization, too. So when you’re
having the confrontation with Lex Luthor or Superwoman, sometimes I'll
look through the mike into the booth to somebody in the room. I'll
look at them and just sort of imagine it in my mind, to just pick
somebody and lock into that, giving off this energy to them. It's very
helpful for me to have that specificity to lock into.
Did the Baldwin brothers play super hero games growing up?
You’ll have to get my brother Alec in here sometime – he's got the
scars to prove it. Back in the early ‘60s, he tied a bathroom towel
around his neck as a cape and was doing his Superman (impression), and
he went through a plate glass sliding door. He ran right through it.
He has these big V-shaped scars under his bicep and his forearm from
all the stitches that he took when he was five or six years old.
So yeah, we did play super hero games. And my family was pretty rough.
I mean, when we were playing super heroes, if there was a cartoon
where somebody got thrown off the roof and they landed on the ground
with a thud, then Stephen or I got thrown off the roof – into a pile
of leaves, or into somebody's swimming pool.
You rode along with the Chicago Fire Department to prepare for
Backdraft. What kind of research went into this performance?
First of all, some parts lend them self to that type of research and
preparation more than others. Secondly, I had a fairly deep
understanding of this character because I've been watching the shows
and films and the character for 40 years. So if I felt like I didn't
have enough of an understanding, I probably would have postponed (the
recording session). But when I was looking at the script on a plane a
few days ago, I felt it was kind of a piece of cake based on my
understanding of the character, and really fueled my attraction to the
character and the piece. There's a lot of two- and three-line
exchanges rather than two- and three-paragraph exchanges. There
weren't a lot of monologues that required a lot of line memorization,
or anything incredibly challenging emotionally. I just had to get into
the rhythm of how the character speaks.
Batman’s spectrum of emotion is fairly narrow – for a number of
reasons. He's always in command, he's always in control, he's always
holding it together, and he's pretty tough relative to the rest of us
in this room.
Does the Gotham City/New York connection hold anything special for a
lifelong New Yorker?
There's always been something cool about ( Gotham City) being based on
New York – it’s where I'm from, where I grew up, and I’ve spent my
whole career there. I remember referring to it as Gotham – not Gotham
City, either – more often than I called it Manhattan or New York. I'd
be on the West Coast finishing a meeting, and somebody would ask,
“Where you going?” And I’d always say “Back to Gotham.”
Did having children that enjoy the genre influence your desire to give
voice to an animated character at this point in your career?
That definitely motivates a lot of the choices that I make as an actor
now. I'm looking to be involved with projects that are family
oriented. Not exclusively, but I'd like to do some things that my
children can see. My brother Alec has done a series of films over the
last couple years – Madagascar and Thomas (the Train) and things like
that – and the kids got really, really excited about that. And we're
good friends with Chazz Palminteri, and Chazz does a lot of animated
voiceover work. When they hear his voice, they really get excited.
I was doing a television series for two seasons, so we would watch
that together as a family. Sometimes I would let the kids stay up, and
they really got a kick out of it. I did a film last year with Henry
Winkler called A Plumm Summer that won a couple of family film
festival audience awards. So yes, I'm definitely looking for some
choices. Because the films in my past, like Flatliners and Internal
Affairs, Three Of Hearts and Backdraft and Sliver, Fair Game and The
Squid And The Whale and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, these are all films
that my kids aren't quite ready to see.
You've tackled this legendary comic character. What other roles would
you like to fill?
I'd like to surprise some people maybe and do the voice of something
that's much more charactery. It could be much more ethnic. Jewish or
Irish or a New Yorker. I have a lot of fun with that stuff. I'd even
like to sing. I wouldn't want to sing in the way that you would need
Mariah Carey to sing, but just have a character sing and have fun with
What were your impressions of this animation experience versus some of
your previous experiences?
I'm getting better at it. I'm very tough on myself, so I'm never quick
to say that I felt like it was great when it wasn't. I usually have my
own sort of standards that I set for myself. It felt like I was able
to achieve my objectives more quickly. I think that comes with
maturity as a performer and, uh, it's nice to know. Because there's
been times where I've done voiceover work where they would normally
allot two hours for someone who can bang it out, and they would have
to allot three or three and a half or four hours. It’s not that I
couldn't do it quickly, it's just that I'm such a perfectionist. I
tend to be saying “Let me try that again. Let's do one more … one more
… one more.” I think I said, “Let me do one more” about 10 times
today, which wasn't a lot. Sometimes I say it 100 times. I think
everybody thought that it felt right, it felt good, it sounded great.
It’s always fun, but I want to get it right.
Is it difficult acting alone in the booth?
It forces you to hone in and focus on the performance aspects and the
emotional aspects of what you're trying, and visual them in your head.
Acting is not acting, it's reacting. You're reacting to what
somebody's saying and how they're saying it. That was great about the
television show that I just did (Dirty Sexy Money) because the props
department would tie me in when we would do something like a telephone
conversation. When I had one with Donald Sutherland, I didn't have to
come into the studio to do it. They would just have me call on my cell
phone from my home in Santa Barbara, and I would call in when the
camera was rolling and I would literally have the conversation with
him. In the old days, sometimes you would have the other actor come in
on his off day just to read that telephone conversation off camera.
Then that changed and you would wind up reading this telephone
conversation with the script supervisor who (A) is not an actor, and
(B) does not know what the choices of the actor are going to be when
they shoot his side of the telephone conversation in two weeks. That
can be very difficult and very stilted when they cut that telephone
conversation together – sometimes you can tell by the way someone's
reacting to a line that they weren't hearing the actor do it on that
day. They just interpreted what they thought the actor was going to do
on that day, and they were wrong. I'm talking about stuff that's very
subtle, like someone raising their voice a little bit in the reaction
to the other person. Little things. But that’s acting. You’re not just
reacting to the words, you're reacting to the way the words were said.
Was it threatening? Was it menacing? Was it intimidating? Was it
submissive? It's all based on little layers and subtleties.
Can you compare acting on camera to acting in the booth, and how
Andrea Romano was able to guide you through those differences?
It's sort of a mixed bag. On camera, you’re usually acting to another
actor who you're looking at, who's in the room with you. Today, I was
in the sound room and Andrea was behind the glass. And she’s not an
actor. But for a director, from a performance standpoint, she was
giving me more than enough. What really helped was the specificity of
her notes. When something wasn't right, she would give me a note that
would 180 it, or she would give me a little subtle note. That was
great. “You're forgetting to add in this layer” or “Give me a little
bit more urgency.” At one point, I throw a punch and Superwoman
catches my fist and starts to squeeze my fist. And I said, “Do you
want me to wince and scream in pain when she's crushing my fist? And
am I supposed to fight the temptation of revealing to a woman –
because wouldn't Batman wouldn't want to give away that power that a
woman is causing the pain.” I mean, it would be different if Lex
Luthor or Superman were doing this, right? So we sort of hashed that
out and found those sort of things as we were going along.
For more information, images and updates, please visit the film’s
official website at www.JUSTICELEAGUECRISIS.com.
"I think they should have stuck with Kevin Conroy...this did this to Superman in Doomsday and returned back to his normal voice for Public Enemies...just stick with what works instead of gambling on something that might not. "
Sorry Baldwind, gonna have to agree here- but hey, let's see how this turns out- he might surprise you
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