Michael McKean, the versatile star of film, television and stage, lends his voice to the egomaniacal Dr. Bartholomew Wolper in BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Here's a short Q&A with Mr. McKean...
How did you come to think of Arkham Asylum psychiatrist Dr. Bartholomew Wolper?
MICHAEL MCKEAN: Dr. Wolper is a very, very good shrink … if you ask him. He’s a guy who likes the sound of his own voice; he finds his ego very soothing, even though it seems a little ponderous from the outside. But he is convinced of his own genius, and definitely convinced that these poor, twisted souls who have been entrusted to his care are redeemable because he knows who the real bad guy is.
And that “bad guy” is?
MM: Wolper thinks that Batman is a social disease. He thinks that it is, in fact, Batman’s ego that is driving the crime wave in Gotham City. And he sets out to prove it. I don’t think he actually makes the case, but you can’t tell him that (laughs) … or anything else, for that matter.
How did you approach playing this character?
My first impulse was Dr. Phil, but it didn’t work -- it was too folksy. I think that a man whose ego is such a construct that it supersedes everything else around him, that’s kind of an interesting character to portray. There are some great examples in history. And I think a man who plays God -- especially when it concerns human intelligence, human psyche, human emotions – he’s kind of like a prestidigitator. He’s the expert in the room, and when he tells you something is so, he expects you to believe it. And it’s only when he comes right up against the real world that it all falls apart.
Does being part of a Batman film have any personal significance for you?
MM: When I was a kid, I adored the Bob Kane’s 1950s Batman. I liked the Superman comics and Justice League and Flash and The Atom -- nobody does The Atom anymore, and that was a cool super hero -- but I did love Batman. I loved the fact that they always found a way to stage the climactic scenes in a warehouse of gigantic toys, or huge oversized stuffed animals. And even as a kid, I sort of knew, “Well, (Kane) is sort of bored. He wants to draw something new other than just a street corner and a couple of guys fisting it out.” So I was a big comic book fan, and I loved the DC stuff.
When I went to college, the ABC series began airing. I was at Carnegie Mellon and I’ll never forget that everyone was looking forward to BATMAN and it was going to be the best thing ever. In those days, there was only one or two TV sets in the entire dorm. So we went down to the common room at McGill Hall and the show came on -- and the minute the “pows” and “bams” and sound effects came on screen, the whole place went insane. Now these were all young men of ages 17 to 23, but suddenly we were all kids again. It was phenomenal. So it is kind of nice to revisit that (memory) by being in this film.
I also had the honor of playing The Joker in one of Mr. Timm’s episodes. Mark Hamill was doing the voice at the time, but they had a flashback to the 1950s,so I got to play The Joker in one episode. That was pretty exciting, too. And now it’s nice to be in a full-scale, class production like this.
Dr. Wolper is actually featured in both Part 1 and Part 2 of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Can you give us a little teaser of what to expect in the second half of the story?
MM: The Joker is kind of Dr. Wolper’s pet patient. He is the most irredeemable, as far as society is concerned, which Dr. Wolper takes as a challenge. He’s thrilled and delighted when he sees the Joker making such progress, and he thinks that he’s done so well that the next step is to bring him out into the public to kind of show off his own work. It doesn’t go well.