Words, Interview, and Photos courtesy of Bleeding Cool’s Jimmy Leszczynski:
I am vengeance, I am the night, I am talking to voice acting icon Kevin Conroy at SDCC 2018. Kevin has done a few other things, but he is mostly known for his definitive portrayal of Batman on Batman: The Animated Series (B:TAS) and throughout the sprawling DCAU. He is most likely the voice you hear when you read Batman or anything, including this article, if you are me. Conroy leaps out of the Batmobile on his way to the B:TAS Blu-ray release celebration to chat with Bleeding Cool for a few minutes.
The first question thrown to Mr. Conroy asks how does it feel to have fans tell you that they grew up with your voice, that they hear your voice when they read Batman? How does it feel to be so primarily associated with this iconic character?
“I’m so proud to have been a part of it for so long. It’s such an amazing character to be a part of. He’s so resonant in the culture. People love him. He’s the only superhero who has no superpowers. All he has is his wits. And his passion to do good. And that really resonates with people. I love being a part of the character.”
B:TAS first aired in 1992, slightly after Tim Burton‘s Batman had swept the nation. We asked how did Burton’s vision and Michael Keaton’s performance affect Kevin’s portrayal. Kevin responds:
“ I was not even aware of the Tim Burton Batman movie, which came out about a year before we did ours. I had not seen it at all. So I wasn’t colored by it at all. The only input I had in it at all was the Adam West show from the ’60s, and when I told Bruce Timm that at the audition he said ‘No, NO, NO, that’s not what we are doing!’ He said, ‘We love him, we love that show, But that’s not what we are doing.’ He brought me up to speed on the legend of the dark knight, the whole Legacy of Batman. Bruce kind of educated me on that.”
Other notables had played Batman previously — Olan Soule, and Adam West — however, Kevin was the first voice actor to use two separate voices for Batman and Bruce Wayne. He tells us why he thinks this layer necessary:
“I said to Bruce Timm, because I had no preconceived images: ‘He the richest guy in Gotham. The most handsomest. The most eligible bachelor. He owns half the city. He puts on a mask, and no one knows it’s him? Seriously? Is this a joke? Couldn’t we make it a more convincing disguise? Maybe I could use a slightly different voice, maybe I could do it closer to my own voice.’”
Twenty-seven years is a pretty long time to voice the same character. The stories have become slightly darker but Conroy’s dependable characterization and voice remains a touchstone for generations of Bat-Fans. We asked Kevin: how has his performance changed over the years?
“The audience knows the character so well that if I wasn’t to be true to the character, if I was to phone it in, they’d know in a heartbeat. They would nail me. The challenge to me over the years in all these different venues, he’s been to be consistent. To be fresh. I think having been a theater actor I’m used to doing a show eight times a week, you have to learn to make it fresh each night. Each night the audience comes in, is the first night they’ve seen it. They paid 100 bucks for that seat; they want a show. So you always have to make it new. The challenge for me has been to keep him rooted.”
“I learned early on that Bruce Wayne is the performance; Batman is who he is. It’s who he became, out of this tragedy. He puts on a suit to face the world, and that’s the performance.”
It is truly a mesmerizing experience to talk face to face with Kevin Conroy. When he speaks his baritone, tentacles creep down my ear holes and wrap themselves around my optical nerves, squeezing until — I think I actually see Batman.
We also talked about why his favorite stories are the Bruce Wayne-centric Perchance to Dream (S1: EP30) and Mask of the Phantasm, how he knew nothing about the Batman character when he auditioned, and how Leslie Howard’s The Scarlet Pimpernel influenced his performance. Watch the entire video here — I challenge you to not be hypnotized by that haunting voice live.
In late 2018, fans will finally be able to enjoy a remastered Blu-ray release of Batman: The Animated Series from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. No release date has been set yet, but Amazon lists the limited edition at $112.99. With 109 episodes, the movies Mask of the Phantasm and Batman and Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero, behind-the-scenes featurettes about the show, a collection of postcards depicting key moments from the series, and three Funko pops of Harley Quinn, Batman, and the Joker in their B:TAS costumes — this collection is sure to be a cornerstone of any true Batman fan’s collection.