Ralph Garman Geeks Out: The Orville, Kevin Smith, and All Things Batman

Ralph Garman Geeks Out: The Orville, Kevin Smith, and All Things Batman

We here at GeekFeed are longtime fans of Ralph Garman. His extensive career has included numerous live action and voice acting roles, comic book writing, and a weekly podcast with longtime friend, Kevin Smith. We spent time with him recently to discuss his upcoming role on The Orville, his projects with DC, and all things Batman.

 

Let’s talk about The Orville! The first few episodes are out. What do you think so far?

I’m a huge fan. I think it’s enormously fun and harkens back to a time when science fiction was aspirational and less apocalyptic . . . more sort of “here’s a bright and shiny future that you can look forward to.” Plus the humor, which I enjoy, just adds to the fun of it all.

It’s interesting you say that about it being aspirational. One of the things I enjoy most about The Orville is it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I mean that in the best way possible. It reminds me that if we were suddenly on spaceships, all of our existing interpersonal drama would still exist.

It takes a sort of a modern sensibility about how we act towards each other and to one another, and how we all are kidding over our workstations and giving each other a hard time . . . to a spaceship. I think that’s something that really we haven’t seen much of before. A relaxed work comedy based around people who just happen to work in space.

Do you play a human?

I don’t. My role is very intensive in terms of makeup and special effects. So that was a new experience for me as an actor. It was really wild. I think when you finally do see the character—it’s a brief appearance later in the season, one of what is hopefully the first of many—it’s really just a blast.

ralph garman, million ways to die in the west, seth macfarlane
Ralph Garman in A Million Ways to Die in the West (Universal Pictures)

You’ve done a lot of work with Seth MacFarlane before. What draws you to that partnership with him?

I started working with him on Family Guy . . . We really sort of got each other. We worked on Ted together and then A Million Ways to Die in the West. We both come from extensively geeky backgrounds, we both have a similar sense of humor, and we both like Jack Daniels, and we just end up having a blast when we’re on the set together.

It can be a difficult job, especially when you’re doing a feature film. They can be long, arduous days and you can get a little run down, so when you’re around people and can just enjoy their company, it certainly helps the creative process. Seth is very loyal in that way and likes to surround himself with people he has worked with and knows he has a connection with and I think it helps him do the job.

You’ve also worked with Kevin Smith quite a bit. Would you say it’s a similar kind of draw?

We have a real great friendship. Having worked together intensively, you kind of develop a shorthand with each other where you can cut through a lot of the question marks in the process and get to what you’re aiming for, whether it’s a movie or Hollywood Babble-On.

I’ve always told Kevin I will do whatever he needs. He’ll call me up and say, “I’ve got a part in this movie,” and it’s only a scene or whatever, and I’m there because I just love working with him. I love the way he works, I love the way he runs his sets, I love the way he treats other cast members and the crews.

It sounds like Kevin Smith has a great amount of care for the people that he works with. Is that unique in your experience?

I got my SAG card in 1986, so I’ve been on a lot of sets. One of Kevin’s goals, one of his focuses, is that his people are enjoying the process. And that’s not always the case. A lot of people have their eye on the prize and it’s all about the final product.

I’ve seen other directors and producers really come down on people and make a tense situation worse by their behavior. Kevin is the opposite. He goes out of his way to make sure everybody is laughing and having a good time. For example, when we did Yoga Hosers there was one day where we worked almost 20 hours because we had to finish up with Johnny Depp and get him done. And you wouldn’t know it from the feel on the set and the conditions and how everyone was interacting with each other. That’s all due to [Smith] creating an atmosphere that is the best possible workplace. Yes, the end result is important and what you end up with will live on in essence, but for those people who are doing it, if you don’t enjoy it what’s the point.

kevin smith, ralph garman, hollywood babble-on
Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman on Hollywood Babble-On (Derek Brad)

Watching you and Kevin Smith read reviews from Yoga Hosers is one of my favorite videos. You two seem to have such a great sense of humor about it all. Are negative reviews ever hard to take?

Kevin makes the moves he wants to make. These are movies that he wants to see . . . In that respect, he doesn’t really care because this is exactly the movie he wanted to make. Of course you want people to like what you do, and you would like the audience and critics to find value in your work, but you can’t control that. I think Kevin has learned that. He’s had a tempestuous relationship with critics through his career. I think he’s finally at the stage now where he recognizes you can’t control who’s going to show up and you can’t control what the critics are going to think. That’s why I think the process is so important because knows he can control that. If everybody had a good time working on Yoga Hosers, it doesn’t matter that it got 21% on Rotten Tomatoes, it matters that it’s a good memory and a positive experience for everybody personally and creatively.

[The video] was his idea. He called me up and said, “Let’s read these reviews because they just blasted us.” I was more upset about it than he was because it was really my first major film role . . . Also, he’s my friend and I wanted to do a good job with him, and I would have loved my contribution to the film to have been something that helped people like it. A lot of people didn’t like what I did in the film so I felt sort of like I let him down. So it was quite a relief when he just let it roll of his back. He thought it would be funny if we explored how bad the reviews were.

Is MallBrats the next project?

I think that’s on hold for a Jay and Silent Bob reboot—that’s Kevin’s next film that he’ll be working on. It’s sort of a commentary on the rebooting of all these movie franchises and film characters, as well as actually rebooting the Jay and Silent Bob film. [laughs] He’s sort of having his cake and eating it, too. It’s basically the next generation of characters to be introduced to the Jay and Silent Bob universe.

When I read the script—I’ve read the first couple drafts of it—I really think people are going to like it. It’s really funny.

Speaking of reboots of film franchises, I understand you’re a very big Batman fan. You even had a Batcave growing up. How did your love of that character develop?

Yeah! Specifically the 60s Adam West Batman. My earliest memories are of watching that show and adoring it. It was one of those things I just never grew out of . . . My mother was very creative and very indulgent to my obsession with Batman. [laughs] I remember, this was back when I was a kid in the 70s, there was a Batcave you could buy for action figures. My mother looked at it and just didn’t think it was impressive or grand enough. She took it upon herself to construct a four foot tall Wayne Manor and Batcave. [It had] carpeted floors, wallpaper, actual dollhouse furniture, and a sliding bookcase that . . . that dropped down into the Batcave that had been covered in crumpled newspaper which was spray-painted gray to make it look like rock . . . She really went out of her way to build this enormous play-set for me.

Whenever I tell people about my mom, who’s now passed, how creative and indulgent she was with my Batman obsession, I always tell people about this Batcave she built for me. She was really hands-on. She made me a replica of the Batsuit . . . She helped me really enjoy and thrive in this fixation as a kid. That’s never gone away. I’m in my office now and the entire room is packed with 60s Batman merchandise, costume pieces, set pieces, and props from the original series.

Is there a particular piece that you’re most proud to have as part of your Batman collection?

I think now more than ever, since Adam has passed, I’ve got a pair of his gauntlets that he wore in the series—the Batman gloves with the fins on them. That is still my favorite piece. Those are sort of iconic and it’s so great to have an actual piece of the costume from the show.

ralph garman, batman, adam west
Adam West’s original Batman gloves from Ralph Garman’s personal collection.

That, and the helmet that George Sanders wore as the original Mr. Freeze in the very first Mr. Freeze episode. Those kinds of set pieces and costume pieces are so hard to come by and they’re really the jewels of my collection.

I understand you helped secure Adam West’s Hollywood star?

I did. He was very kind; he asked me to speak on his behalf at the ceremony. There were only two of us—it was me and Seth MacFarlane that he asked to speak . . . It was just a really special day. It was so nice to be able to give back to him and do something special for him to celebrate 50 years of a career that had given so much to me personally, but to so many of his other fans too.

During the process, I was hell-bent on getting it. We had been turned down a bunch of times, and it took years to finally get it. [Adam] would always say that he didn’t really care. But I could tell, deep down inside of me—Adam was a product of old Hollywood—I think there was a part of him that would have really enjoyed it.

That proved to be true. On the day we could all tell how really proud and thrilled he was to be part of that walk of fame in Hollywood.

Seth MacFarlane, Adam West, Ralph Garman
Seth MacFarlane, Adam West, and Ralph Garman (Variety)

That’s such an amazing accomplishment in terms of being able to “give back,” as you say. Especially in terms of being able to look one of your heroes and have that kind of involvement in ensuring they’re recognized.

It speaks to Adam, too. I know lots of my friends who have had a chance to work with people who they had as heroes who walked away disappointed or disenchanted. Adam was never that way. From early on, when we first started working together and getting to know each other, he never disappointed. Even with his fans at comic [conventions], he always left people with a great memory of interaction with him. It was very important to him to do that. It speaks to him that you can meet your heroes and they can exceed your expectations instead of failing to live up to them.

Can you tell me about writing Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet?

That was a dream project . . . DC started a run of Batman ’66 comics and brought in some great talent to write and produce further adventures of Adam West and Burt Ward’s versions of [Batman and Robin].

There’s a classic episode of Batman where Batman teams up with the Green Hornet and Kato, which was another TV show that the same producers were also producing for ABC at the time. So they had a crossover episode. It was funny because Kevin Smith and I have always mentioned that for us it was the first superhero crossover ever. We’re so used to it now with The Avengers and Justice League, but at the time, to see two different superheroes teaming up in live action, it was the first time anybody had seen it. So that was an episode that really stayed with is.

DC had the idea to do a sequel to that episode featuring those versions of the characters. They went to partner up with Dynamite . . . Kevin [Smith] had worked with Dynamite on a book about the Green Hornet based on a screenplay he’d written. He’d also worked with DC on a couple Batman titles. So DC approached him to see if he’d be interested in writing it.

Kevin told them [I’m] a huge fan of that world and [know] it inside and out. They agreed [to bring me onboard]. I had an immediate idea for the storyline and I pitched it to Kevin and he liked it. I said, “Let me take a pass at the first issue, and then you can take a look and see what you think and give me your ideas, and we can go from there.” The idea was for us to write it together, that being the process.

So I wrote the first issue and I gave it to Kevin and he goes, “I’ve got nothing that I would change. I really like this.” So I said, “Okay, let me take a pass at the second issue.” I did that and, again, he just liked what I had done. I ended up really knocking it out on my own. It was my first foray into comic book writing, but because I knew the characters and their voices so well, and I had such clear, strong ideas from a lifetime of fan boy wondering, I was able to write that story.

batman, green hornet, ralph garman, kevin smith
Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet (DC Comics)

The final product just turned out amazing. Alex Ross did our covers. We had some great art by Ty Templeton, who did most of the issues . . . One of the real great joys of my life was writing that book. It’s always a thrill when sometimes we’re out doing Hollywood Babble-On and someone will come up with a copy and have me autograph it. I love that project so much and I’m really proud of it.

What an amazing lifetime accomplishment for a Batman fan!

Yeah, to be able to write words for Adam’s mouth, even though technically he didn’t say them [laughs], it was really a kick for me. And what a great thing for Kevin to do as a friend, to open that door and allow me to step in and take that project on.

So in terms of Batman iterations, does Adam West stand out as your favorite?

Oh, by far. He’s number one for me. [laughs] I think this is the case with a lot of people, especially with this character, whichever Batman was the Batman of your formative years, that’s the one you tend to hold onto, I think. So for me it’s Adam West first, and then it’s Kevin Conroy. [He has] a classic, quintessential interpretation of the character.

So what’s your take on the latest of interpretation of Batman? What do you think of Affleck?

It’s hard to separate the character from the piece. I think the reason Adam West remains my favorite is the quality of work in that show, specifically the first two season, really holds up. It was layered such that you could appreciate it as a kid on one level—with the POW, ZAM, action, color, and the superheroes battling bad guys—and then you could grow up with it and you started to recognize as you got older how funny and clever it was.

With Affleck, I’ve really only seen him in Batman v Superman, which I didn’t think was a very good film. So it’s hard to enjoy the character and not enjoy the product. I’m looking forward to seeing Justice League to see if that changes at all.

Which is your favorite film adaptation of Batman?

It’s hard to beat [Christian] Bale. He really hit it on the head when it came to that Bruce Wayne/Batman split personality thing. He really had the millionaire playboy thing down, as well as the intimidating, Dark Knight character.

You can’t ignore Keaton either. Those two films were as important to bring the character back into the popular culture as Adam’s version was in the 60s. But I think Bale’s performance, specifically in Dark Knight Returns—of course he had Heath Ledger in the next two just doing this amazing Joker performance. I just really enjoyed that film, so maybe that’s the reason I enjoy [his performance] so much.

It’s funny you say that. One of the things I think has been missing from these latest interpretations is that split personality you mentioned.

If you don’t include that millionaire playboy, you’re only serving half the character. It doesn’t appear that Affleck, at least that I’ve seen, has really done that. Keaton played Bruce Wayne as the scatterbrained idiot who didn’t really function well until he put the suit on. But Bale you could tell was really playing up the drunken, playboy persona so that no one could possibly suspect that he was this crime fighter at night. I always liked that dichotomy.

You mentioned Heath Ledger, who now has a somewhat iconic Joker performance. With the rumors of a Suicide Squad sequel, a Harley Quinn movie, and a standalone Joker film, what do you think of the idea of additional Joker movies?

I think the idea of having dueling Jokers at the same time, in different films with different actors playing the character, I can’t see how that could be a good idea. It just seems like you’re detracting from something that Marvel always does so well, which is to keep a cohesive movie universe going that allows you to buy into their world. If there’s a Joker doing an origin movie over here, and then there’s Jared Leto reprising the character with Harley Quinn or Suicide Squad… it seems like it’s not a great idea to me.

The idea of a Joker origin film—I’m not sure if that’s a great idea. I think that character may work best when you don’t know that much about him and he just sort of appears as a force of nature that Batman has to deal with. How Joker will survive as a character without Batman on the other side of him—I have my doubts about that as well. I think they’d be better served just focusing on the world of Batman. We’ll see what happens with that standalone Matt Reeves’ Batman movie.

Is there a particular villain or storyline you’d like to finally see the Batman films tackle?

I’ve always been such a big fan of the Hush comic book arc and I’ve always thought that would make a great film. [Jeph Loeb] is working in so many of the characters in that storyline and I thought it was terrific . . . I’d love to see someone tackle that either on film or television.

The Riddler never gets his fair shake, although Gotham is doing a good job with that character. [Frank] Gorshin was amazing in the 60s series. He made that character an A-lister when it had been a C-lister throughout Batman’s comic book career up to that point. I’d love to see that character get another shot on the big screen or in a TV adaptation.

I think Mr. Freeze is due a reboot. I think Arnold Schwarzenegger did him no favors in that film. [laughs] That’s why he didn’t come back again. Again, they’re doing that on Gotham and doing a nice job with it. Any of the big players. Man-Bat would fun to see. In this digital world that we live in, I think the technology exists now that we really could have fun with that character.

ralph garman, batman
Ralph Garman’s Batman collection

Given your background growing up with Batman, is your daughter into the comic books?

She’s not a comic reader, at least not yet. She’s seven. Her preoccupation when it comes to superheroes is the DC Super Hero Girls cartoon and the action figures. She plays with Wonder Woman, Poison Ivy, and Harley. She has a great time with those female characters. So, it has been passed on genetically a little bit.

This DC girls line really has captured her imagination and I think that’s a great entrée into the world like Adam’s series was for me. I think that’s the thing that both DC and Marvel are sort of missing out on. Because the comics now read so maturely and are written for an older audience, they’re missing out on bringing a new generation of young people in to appreciate those stories and characters. When I started reading comics, they were still for kids for the most part. They sort of grew up as I grew up. There aren’t enough titles written for young people that serve as an introduction to those characters. I think anything that skews younger is good for the geek world.

So, you have an upcoming project with DC…

Yes! I just did some work with them. You’re going to hate me, but I said to them, “I’m going to be talking with GeekFeed, can I talk about this?” and they said, “We’re not really ready to announce it yet, so we’d appreciate it if you held off.”

[indiscriminate pouting]

They did tell me that once they announce it, that I can come back and we can talk about it extensively. But I did some work with DC and it’s in regard to their film and television library.

 

We’ll be talking to Ralph Garman again soon regarding his upcoming work with DC and his role in The Orville. In the meantime, catch him with Kevin Smith on Hollywood Babble-On each Monday. You can also see him at the upcoming Los Angeles Comic Con in October, where he’ll join Batman cast members Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, and Lee Meriwether for a special tribute to Adam West. He may even sign your copy of Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet.

IMAGES: Alex Ross/DC Comics, Ralph Garman, Universal Pictures, Derek Brad, Variety

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Brandi Blahnik is an editor at GeekFeed. She has written for Audiences Everywhere, Vault of Athena, and has covered education and sports for a number of other outlets.
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