Batman and Harley Quinn is the latest animated movie from Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment and in case the title didn’t make it clear, it pairs up the Dark Knight with the Maid of Mischief for an adventure which also includes the likes of Nightwing and Poison Ivy.
In the movie, a looming global catastrophe forces the two heroes mentioned above to partner with Harley in an adventure full of unexpected twists and turns and stellar action.
We recently had the privilege of catching up with Kevin Conroy, the man widely considered the greatest Batman of all-time. He’s voiced the character in everything from Batman: The Animated Series to the Arkham video games and countless other small and big screen tales. His work as the Dark Knight is unparalleled and his career has been extraordinary.
Below, we delve into this new movie as well as his thoughts on Ben Affleck’s Batman, plans for a movie starring The Joker, the Arkham games, and his amazing work with Mark Hamill.
Batman and Harley Quinn is out now on Digital Download and comes to Blu-ray and DVD August 28th. You can find our interview with Loren Lester (Nightwing) by clicking here.
When you were approached about returning as the Dark Knight for Batman and Harley Quinn, what was it about the project that grabbed your attention?
The fact it was going to feature Harley Quinn was really unusual and I loved that. She’s the fourth most popular animated character now and the audience loves her; she’s crazy! So, to do a film with Batman and Harley Quinn, I thought that would be a blast. That was the primary draw and I knew there would be humour in it. It’s always fun to play different aspects of a character and I don’t get to explore the humorous side of Batman very often; he’s a very dark, rooted, grounded guy. To be able to play humorous scenes with Melissa Rauch was a lot of fun.
Harley Quinn’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years; what is it about the character that you think makes her such a fan-favourite?
I think it has a lot to do with The Joker. Before Harley Quinn, the only foil for The Joker was Batman. The Joker defines Batman and Batman defines The Joker. Mark [Hamill] and I have often approached the roles as the yin and yang of each other but I’m like the dark grounding for Joker, he had no one to really go crazy with and Harley Quinn gave him that. She got to be this crazy reflection of the Joker, so I think the better Mark was, the better Harley Quinn was. A lot of her popularity grows out of people’s love for The Joker. They love Mark as The Joker. She gets reflected glory from that character but Arleen Sorkin, Tara Strong and now Melissa then took that and made it this crazy, gum chewing, wise cracking New Jersey broad who’s just crazy, crazy evil and so much fun. So, I think the birth of it was Joker and his popularity but then each of those actresses just took it and ran with it. There’s also a big new female audience in animation and they’re looking for more interesting characters for them and, you know, Wonder Woman is a wonderful superhero but she’s not very multidimensional whereas Harley Quinn is just nuts and just has so many different qualities that it’s fun for the female audience.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the possible romance in the film between Nightwing and Harley Quinn. What’s your take on that and how do you think Batman feels about it?
[Laughs] Well, Batman clearly does not approve of messing around with villains but he has a chequered past with all that too with Catwoman. I think it was fun, especially for Loren to play. That was a funny scene. I love the fact that the audience really embraced the humour in this film and really went for it without losing the drama of the story. They seemed to really go with it.
I recently spoke to your co-star Loren Lester and he had nothing but good things to say about reuniting with you for this project; what was that like for you?
It’s great. He’s such a professional and such a generous and easy actor to work with. The amazing thing I find with Loren is that he doesn’t age. He still sounds like he’s sixteen, it’s weird! He gets in a both and he sounds exactly like he did twenty-five years ago. People say the same about me but I’ve got this deep, resonant voice so it’s different. He’s got that adolescent sound that just doesn’t change. It’s wonderful; it means he can keep working forever! He’s a good actor because he keeps the character fresh and that’s a real challenge over time to not let it get stale.
How have you found your performance has changed over the years having voiced so many different iterations of the character?
Well, the most interesting thing for me has been to not have him change dramatically and keep him consistent because the audience for Batman is the most passionate for any animated character. They’re crazy, fanatically passionate for Batman and if I was to ever lie or phone it in, I’d get nailed in a second. They’d hear it. So, for me, the trick has been to keep him real and honest and that has always been to root the voice in the tragedy of his childhood. That darkness. The deep, dark character defining pain from his childhood is where I got that sound for his voice. So, I always go back to that and it keeps it fresh and real. The only time I’ve had to make adjustments is in doing the games because you’re alone in a booth for four hours at a time, you don’t have the other actors to interact with. To keep the character alive when you’re alone in a vacuum for four hours, that’s really hard. That’s really challenging. I find I’ve got to constantly use my imagination to keep it fresh and after four hours, I’m just dripping with sweat and I’ve got to get out of there and take a break for an hour and then I go back in for another four hours. Recording the games is brutal and it’s long, difficult, isolating work because of the science of how the games are built. They need completely separate takes as depending on how the game is played, different recordings are going to be coming up and it’s different algorithms and stuff. It’s just a whole different creation scientifically from making the dramatic series or films. The games are very different and keeping the character alive in that situation is much harder for me.
The Arkham video games were amazing; were you disappointed that the series came to an end or do you think the story wrapped up at the right time in the best way possible?
I loved the way they finished the trilogy. I loved acting it as that was a real challenge for me. I was really proud of the performance. I thought dramatically, they were brilliant. Unfortunately, I couldn’t believe it was over. I just couldn’t believe they weren’t going to do more. I know the audience has been screaming for more, but they’re not. I don’t know how they could after the way that trilogy ended and I hoped they would figure out a way to have it segway into another game but they’re not going to. I thought the trilogy ended brilliantly.
You mentioned Mark Hamill earlier; are there any plans for the two of you to once again face off as Batman and The Joker?
Not that I know of. I hope that there’s some writing going on even as we speak but as far as I’ve been told, nothing. But, you know, the actors are always the last to know. They never tell us anything because we have such big mouths and we’ll blab about it [Laughs].
You recently said that Ben Affleck is the best live-action Batman to date; what is it that you think makes his portrayal so special?
I said that and it’s been kind of amplified. I said it in addition to saying that everyone’s is valid and that I like Michael Keaton, I like Christian Bale…I like them all! The one thing Ben Affleck did better than anyone is he got the balance between Batman and Bruce Wayne. There were two personas there and each of the actors have gotten one or the other really good; some people are better as Bruce Wayne, some are better as Batman. Ben Affleck, uniquely I think, was good at both and he did a really good job of it. I just think Ben Affleck got the balance of both characters better than any of them.
This week, there have once again been reports that Ben Affleck won’t be playing Batman again after Justice League; how would you feel about suiting up as the Caped Crusader?
Well, let’s start a writing campaign before I get too old [Laughs]. It would be so much fun! No, at this point, I’d have to be old Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond or something like that.
There’s also a Joker movie in the works which will serve as an origin story for the villain; is that a story you’re excited to see told in live-action?
I think that will be a really interesting film. There is an episode of Batman: The Animated Series which dealt with that and told that story. It’s really interesting. I had not heard they were doing a film version of it but I hope that Mark [Hamill] gets it!
You’ve voiced Batman in so many different projects; looking back, do you have one which stands out as a personal favourite?
It’s hard to pick one because they’ve all been so interesting but I think my favourite, in terms of performance, I have two. One is Mask of the Phantasm and the other is in Batman: The Animated Series. There was an episode called “Perchance to Dream” which I was really proud of. Oh, and there was another episode called “Dreamscape.” Both of those episodes, and also Mask of the Phantasm, are my favourites because they all deal with the origin of Batman, the tragedy of his youth and what made him become the character and him dealing with the challenge of reconciling the pain of his youth. Whenever a story deals with that, I just have so much fun with it as an actor. It’s so great to sink your teeth into so I loved playing those roles.
Batman and Superman’s rivalry is one of the best ever and as a Batman fan, I have to ask; what is it you think just makes Batman that much better?
Well, come on, there’s no comparison! [Laughs] Superman is just this square jawed good boy. He’s a boy scout! Batman is this complicated, tragic hero with issues steeped in his painful childhood. He’s just so wracked with conflict and he’s got no superpowers so everything he does is by his wits and sheer strength and force of will. That makes him such a dynamic character and that’s why people love him so much.
What is it about Batman: The Animated Series which you think makes it so loved all these years later?
I think that’s an easy one. They spent twice as much per half hour as had been previously spent on animation. They had wonderful scripts, full casts (and there are big casts in those shows), a full symphony score with Shirley Walker scoring the show and those were all hand painted cells. Everything about that show was lush. They spent money on it and it showed. Twenty five years later, we’re still talking about it and people are still addicted to it. It just shows that if you put the money in something upfront, it pays off in the end. It may hurt at first but you make it back ten times over in the long run and this is a great example of that for the studios. They spent a lot of money on those shows and they still look like it. You see Batman: The Animated Series now and it looks brand new, fresh, and the writing is fresh and acting and artwork are wonderful; everything about it. Audiences loved them. There’s a whole new young audience getting into them. They can’t believe how cool they are! It just shows when you invest money wisely, it’s a good move.
You and Mark Hamill are widely considered the best versions of Batman and The Joker ever; how does that feel for you?
I really appreciate it and it’s always wonderful to be appreciated for the work you do. In a recording studio, you never hear back from anybody and I was doing it for many years without knowing if anyone knew what I was doing [Laughs]. I was totally anonymous but there’s the internet now and I get stopped all the time on the street by people saying, ‘Oh my God, I love your Batman!’ and ‘You’re my Batman!’ I was at Costco yesterday and the guy said, ‘Ok, Kevin, you’re next’ and I was like, ‘How do you know?’ and he replied, ‘Everyone knows you’re Batman.’ The character is such a part of our culture and to be associated with that character is such a privilege. Because of the internet now, people know what my face looks like so I do get stopped a lot and it’s fun.
Have you heard if you’ll be reprising the role of Batman in any of the upcoming animated movies announced at Comic-Con?
I haven’t. They never ask the actors until the very last minute. I hope that I’ll be asked but it depends on who’s directing them. The directors have the final say in who they cast and often a director will want to shake things up and cast someone else to see what they’ll do. Like Melissa doing Harley Quinn. Tara Strong is a wonderful Harley Quinn but the directors wanted to shake things up and try someone else. I hope I’ll get asked. I know I certainly have the fan base for it but you never know what the director’s going to want to do so we’ll see.
With Batman and Harley Quinn being comedy based and Batman: The Killing Joke being a darker, R-Rated movie, how much does that impact your performance?
That’s the interesting thing about playing Batman. He has to be so consistent and in most of these stories, Batman is the consistent rock around which the story evolves. The crazy characters like The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Riddler, The Penguin, and Mr. Freeze all bounce off him. The rock they have to play off is Batman. It doesn’t change a lot in terms of how to play the role whether it’s The Killing Joke or Batman and Harley Quinn but there is a lightness to this movie that I loved playing and was fun. You can’t lose the grounding of the character; it’s got to be the same. It’s less of a dynamic change for me than it would be for the other actors.
As a fan, what are you hoping to from Batman moving forward, particularly on the big screen?
I always loved seeing him in his internal struggles whenever he has to go within his own psyche and fight with himself. I love seeing those kinds of things and would love to see that in a live-action film but that would require a very specific kind of actor and director. That would be fabulous for me. Anything dealing with the eternal struggle from his childhood.
What would you say to fans about why they should check out Batman and Harley Quinn and do you have any sort of message for them?
I hope they’ll check out the film just because the Harley Quinn character is so crazy; they’ll have a blast. She’s a fun ride, this character. I just appreciate so much the fan base for Batman and I’d like them all to know just how much I appreciate their loyalty and when I meet them at Comic-Cons, I always hear such great stories of how Batman has affected their lives so I want them all to know I appreciate them as much as they appreciate my work as an audience.