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Stage and voice actor Kevin Conroy has made more than a living of being the voice of Batman. At Fan Expo Canada, he was kind enough to sit down with us to share some insights and highlights in his long, illustrious career. We started the interview with a look at his own superhero origin story and the unexpected journey that resulted in his long association with the Caped Crusader.
“Well, I didn’t originally see myself as a voice actor. I mean, I went to Julliard; I was going to be the great, classical stage actor. I just didn’t know I couldn’t make a living at it. I wish I’d have known that when I was 17 (laughs). I thought you actually could have a stage career, but the industry changed dramatically though. The theatre just doesn’t pay enough to live on. Even if you’re working all the time – there is an assumption that you can do television and film and subsidize theatre because you love it. But the film and television actors started doing stage, and producers were taking them instead of stage actors so there just weren’t the jobs to go around. I started doing voice-overs commercially in New York while I was on Broadway just to make more money. I did a Paco Rabanne tagline and those seven words made me 25,000 over the course of a year. I thought, wow, I probably made that much doing theatre so I thought wow. But that led to animated roles … and that’s where it came from.”
We asked Kevin to recall favourite episodes of Batman: The Animated Series that stood out in his memory.
“I loved [Perchance] to Dream or Dreamscape. Any episode that gets into the inner workings of Bruce Wayne – I love those episodes. They’re more challenging. I especially loved Mask of the Phantasm. It was probably the best Batman project. I love the way they presented Bruce Wayne’s dilemma – how he wants to live this happy life but he’s made this vow to his parents but then he’s at his parents’ grave, begging them to release them from the vow he made to them.”
Kevin’s background in stage acting was integral to his role. We asked how that influenced his performance in Batman: The Animated Series.
“Stage actors make for great voice actors. We interact better with each other and uniquely enough, Warner Brothers likes to get all of the actors together – like a radio play. The better you interact with the other actors, the better the performance. So, Andrea Romano – the casting director – she tends to like stage actors because we tend to work better and interact with each other. When Mark [Hamill] and I get together, we’re like two kids! I love working with him and I know he feels the same way working with me.”
Relationships like that tend to make for great anecdotes or fun memories. We asked Kevin if he had any recollections of fun stuff that happened behind the microphone.
“Oh yeah, there were a lot of wild stories! For the last 25 years I’ve been the constant on Batman. I sensed that responsibility on the first year when we did Batman: The Animated Series. I figured it was up to me to break the ice and add a bit of playfulness to relax everyone. Andrea knew what I was doing and she just let me be a goofball. Well, there’s a lot of groaning in Batman – lot of fight scenes. So there was this one time when I had to let out a really long groan. They said, ‘you’ve been hit in the gut and make it a long exhale so that we know you’re alive.’ So, of course, I start groaning: ‘Uhhhhhhh ….Ooooooooh …. Oh, oh …. Oh … Andrea! (laughs). The place just fell apart and the new actors were like, ‘we’re allowed to goof around in here?’ If you give people the chance to play, you make them more creative and it makes for a better performance.”
Which was a good place to end. A short conversation but a very insightful one. As Kevin quipped, “Life tends to get in the way when you make plans”, and as a young 17 year old who wanted a stage acting career, and then being an actor who has a twenty-five year association with the iconic role of the Dark Knight, his plans have certainly seen a lot of life.
Photo via Chris Webber