FilmInterviewSDCC '14

SDCC 2014: ‘Batman: Assault on Arkham’ Press Room

Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor

Screenshot from Batman: Assault on Arkham.
Screenshot from Batman: Assault on Arkham.

Emertainment Monthly got the opportunity to sit down at San Diego Comic Con with the talent responsible for bringing Batman: Assault on Arkham, the newest DC Animated film, to audiences around the world. Questions in bold are from members of the press with our questions denoted by an “*.”

First up was Jay Oliva, the director. His many talents include being a storyboard artist, a film producer, and director. He’s directed many Young Justice episodes and was directly responsible for bringing movies like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox to life.

Where does this fall in the Asylum universe?

Jay Oliva: I would say this falls about two or three years before the first game. So, all of the events that happen in this will coincide with the later games, because they were doing Origins at the same time. They talked to us at length of who we can use, who we can’t use.

Is this an opportunity to do a Batman adventure or to focus on the Suicide Squad?

It’s still a Batman story, but at the same time it allows us to explore other characters within the frame of a Batman story. So, we’re following the villains. Like what we did with Flashpoint, even though the Justice League was in it, it was still a Flash story. It works from a marketing standpoint, because it’s still a Batman story, but we’ll introduce them to more characters.

But it’s still about the Suicide Squad?

You know, it’s the bad guys! People love the bad guys. For me, with these guys, morals are out the door and let’s play up the fact that they’re bad guys. That’s where fun hijinks ensues! I would say our main character is Deadshot—it’s really Deadshot’s story. I really love Harley, so I had to interject her as much as I can. Even though Deadshot is the main storyline, her story is still important too.

What was it like to do this coming from the Arkham video game?

I think I was the only one on the creative team that actually played the game. I’ve been a big fan of the video games, so when they told me it was going to be set in the universe I was excited! I tried to integrate some aspects of the video game into the movie. I didn’t want to make it seem like a commercial, but I wanted to put it in there—it’s subtle. A lot of the moves that Batman can do in the video game, we do in the fight choreography.

Screenshot from Batman: Assault on Arkham.
Screenshot from Batman: Assault on Arkham.

Is there any interesting part for Batman?

I think it’s more like Batman being Batman. There’s a problem he has to solve: the Joker has hidden a bomb somewhere and he needs to find it. His investigation leads him to the “bank heist” that Amanda Waller has set up at Arkham. He doesn’t really have an arc—there’s no revelation for his character. We just make him as badass as possible. I made sure he was an integral part of the story so that at the end he still has a conflict he has to resolve. It still ends up being a Batman story at the end.

Is this skinny Waller or the Wall?

This is the Wall! James Tucker—the producer—asked which kind of Waller we wanted and, to me, Amanda Waller has always been big.

What characters did you want to use that you couldn’t?

I wanted to use Killer Croc, but we couldn’t. They wouldn’t let us use him!

Next up was Andrea Romano, the casting and voice director. Her prolific amount of work includes hits such as Batman: The Animated Series, Pinky and the Brain, Teen Titans, Avatar: the Last Airbender, and The Legend of Korra, along with many of the direct-to-video DC animated films.

What were you most excited about in this movie?

I was not offered the job to direct the video game when it was first made, and I don’t why! But to do this movie, it was great to be a part of the Arkham world!

So what made you use Kevin Conroy?

Well, I hear he’s pretty good at voice over… and I hear he understand the Batman character. Whenever I’m given a job—because I’m a freelance director—my first question is “Can I use my voice actors from before?” With Batman, I ask “Can I use Kevin Conroy?” I don’t have to direct him too much because he just knows the character better than practically anyone I know. Maybe Bruce Timm knows him a bit more, but that’s it!

Was there anything challenging about these actors?

Well, I’ve worked with Matthew Gray Gubler before, but when the Riddler came up for casting, I had to think who would be fun and silly. And Matthew Gray Gubler would be perfect! But, he had to spend time figuring out who he wanted the Riddler to be. Sometimes I’ll work with an actor and the voice will evolve and by the end, it’s not the same voice you started with, and you have to redo it again. I like the fact that we have the ability to go back and fix things, because the character evolved.

Is recording separate?

Some of them were together. Whenever I can! It’s a big puzzle to get them all together. They all have very busy schedules. The first thing I always do: what days am I available? What days are the recording studios available? Then I go to the agents and ask what days the actors are available and try to work it to have actors who have the majority of scenes together in the same room. You can read an actor into the line, but if we’re having a conversation, you can tell if we’re in the same room or not.

*Kevin Conroy has been my generation’s voice of Batman, so what do you think he brings to the table, especially since it’s Deadshot’s story? Do you think that Kevin would overpower the Batman character?

Well, the truth is, Kevin’s role isn’t large in this piece. This really isn’t Batman’s story—it’s a story about the Suicide Squad. But, every time I work on project where Kevin is in it, whenever I hear his voice, I immediately become calm. I was originally introduced to Batman through the Adam West series. But for me, it’s calming—it’s comfortable and right.

James Tucker, while not a household name, is no doubt an integral part of the DC storytelling process. As a supervising producer, Tucker has worked on DC classics such as Justice League, Batman: the Brave and the Bold, and Superman: Unbound.

Screenshot from Batman: Assault on Arkham.
Screenshot from Batman: Assault on Arkham.

How was it to work on a project based on a video game?

At first, I have to say we were nervous. Originally, when we were told we were going to do an Arkham movie, we didn’t know that it was going to be tied to the video game. They usually don’t like to cross pollinate like that. Then, the pressure of honoring the game and making sure it worked for the fans of the game and work for the people who didn’t play the game made it more challenging. I think it’s fun and it honors the game, but it’s its own thing.

Are you using these films as a launching point to give attention to characters that wouldn’t normally get attention?

That was one of the things I wanted to achieve, yes. Within the confines of the movie, I wanted to use secondary characters, characters who might never get their own movie. Basically, sneak them in. Me as a fan, I would want to see that. It’s called Batman: Assault on Arkham, but it’s really a Suicide Squad movie? But would they ever do a Suicide Squad movie? At the time, no.

What’s the appeal of the Suicide Squad?

We did a Suicide Squad episode in Justice League—Task Force X. We couldn’t call them that at the time. Everyone loves a heist movie, everyone loves the villains, and it’s always fun when you can tell the story from the villains’ point of view. I love doing that twist where you make the audience fall in love with these horrible people and you’re rooting for them to get away from Batman or the Justice League. There are more surprises when the person is morally ambiguous.

What are the differences between working on an animated TV show versus animated movies?

There’s a lot more plates to juggle. Not only am I doing one movie at a time, I’m doing three. This is the movie that’s coming out right now, but it was done last February. There are movies that I’ve been working on that won’t come out until 2016. So, I’m having to switch gears and remember what went into this movie. I need to keep a journal! Connected movies are a little easier, because each movie is about three episodes crammed into one. You get less time than if you were actually doing three episodes.

Kevin Conroy should need no introduction, as he is the definitive voice of Batman for an entire generation. His many credits include Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, as well as many other DC roles that involve him playing Batman.

Do you approach Batman differently each time or do you feel like you have this down?

The trick for me is to keep it real and keep it authentic. It’s not about approaching it differently, it’s about being sure. The great thing about Andrea Romano is that she’s great at working with actors. She can keep you honest and authentic without hitting you over the head with a hammer. She loves actors—she actually started out as an actress. She understands how actors approach roles. She tries not to give you line readings, because if you do that then they lose the depth of the line because they just repeat it. You always try to steer the actor, say “What about this? What about that” and try to get them to it on their own to make it an organic sound.

Is it harder to work on a video game as opposed to an animated film, especially with this that’s based off of Arkham?

Video games are so much harder to me than the shows. They’re just… I can’t even tell you! It’s brutal. It’s so much harder to keep it alive. It’s much easier to work on the film because you’re working with other actors more. You give as much as you take from the other actors. For a video game, you’re locked in a booth for hours and hours, day after day, for as long as a year. It takes forever to build a game. I just did a week of it—up until last night I was in the booth. It’s mind bending and it’s hard to describe to people how difficult it is to create those games.

*How does it feel to be the voice of Batman for an entire generation?

It’s such a trip! I started this twenty three years ago, so I’m a little older than you. It just blows my mind because my brainwashing is their whole experience of this character! All that power!

What was it like to work with Troy Baker as the Joker?

It’s great to see how different actors approach the role. I didn’t think anyone was going to be as good as Mark Hamill and then I saw Heath Ledger and I thought, “Oh my god! This is brilliant!” And then they told me Troy Baker was going to do it, and then he came in with a whole other approach to it. There’s a great similarity to them, but the life is breathed in from a different person and they bring in a different perspective.

Last up was Matthew Gray Gubler, the voice of the Riddler in Assault on Arkham. He’s best known for his work on the hit television show Criminal Minds.

What was it like playing the Riddler?

It was a damn pleasure! It’s been my dream to be a maniacal supervillain all my life and now I can cross it off my list. It was so much fun!

Where did you find your inspiration for the character?

I’m a big Adam West fan and so I was familiar with the Riddler from that show. I didn’t try to revisit any other version. I wanted to be a bit of a showman, like a carnival, showman lunatic. Something I attempted to do was make his questioning seem more like obsessive compulsive, like a sickness more than like a pride thing.

What’s up with Riddler during the movie?

He’s in a unique position during the movie. He’s not with the villains and he’s not with the Bat and he’s playing them both off of each other. He’s just having his own deranged, fun time.

*Who’s your favorite member of the Suicide Squad?

Harley Quinn, probably. Or the Joker, I love the Joker.

Do you recall who you recorded with?

When I did this particular movie—I’ve worked with Andrea many times and she’s great—for scheduling times, I was alone. It was very helpful because the Riddler is alone! For this particular thing, it was very helpful, especially since he’s alone for most of the movie.

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