William Baldwin slides easily into the famed cowl as the voice of Batman in JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS
, an all-new DC Universe Animated Original PG-13 Movie from Warner Premiere, DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation.
A fan of the super hero genre since his youth when the Baldwin brothers would role play in their backyard, William Baldwin has proudly, enthusiastically undertaken the deep, gravelly vocal tones of the Dark Knight.
Baldwin took time after his recording session to chat about visualization techniques in the sound booth, his children’s influence on his choice of roles, the super hero roughhouse role play by the Baldwin brothers (particularly Alec Baldwin) in their youth, and his very nearly being cast in the live-action role of Batman. Now let the man speak …
What are your thoughts about joining the list of actors from Adam West and Michael Keaton to Val Kilmer and George Clooney to Kevin Conroy and Christina Bale – that have played Batman?
WILLIAM BALDWIN: I almost did join that group – I was one of Joel Schumacher's top choices when Val Kilmer wound up playing Batman [in BATMAN FOREVER]. Tim Burton and Michael Keaton had left, so Joel had the luxury of replacing Michael Keaton and he told me that his four choices – which was an eclectic, diverse array – were Daniel Day Lewis, Ralph Feinnes, Val Kilmer and me. I didn’t even know it at the time – he told me when I had a meeting with him later. The next time, when George Clooney did it, (Schumacher) said, “You were on my original short list with those other three actors, but the studio went with Val and this time I'd like to go with you.” And that Friday afternoon, I thought I was playing Batman – and then Monday morning, the headlines in the trades said that George Clooney had gotten the part. So apparently, I did actually come very close.
I was very excited to do this. I wasn't really thinking about any past Batmans, but more of letting the material sort of dictate the choices that I make as an actor. What's happening physically, what's happening emotionally, what's happening in the writing. That’s what really drives your performance.
How did you choose to interpret the character? And was there anything you wanted to do differently than what had preceded you?
WB: I was mostly influenced by whom I perceive Batman to be, with the possible exception that I think sometimes I allow a certain sensitivity or an emotional dynamic to give (the character) maybe a likeability or an accessibility. That's almost an insecurity of mine as an actor – to want to breathe a little bit of those types of emotions into characters. I think I find them more appealing and more likeable and more human. What I didn't choose to do is to go towards the darkness of the way the original Batman series was intended. Because Batman, in the original comic series, was a lot darker than the character that was brought to life in television.
Are there any personal attachments to Batman that make voicing this role special for you?
WB: It’s a number of things – certainly the history of the character. The people that have been lucky enough to portray Batman on screen, or provide his voice, is a short list and it's pretty cool. I'm in good company. I enjoyed it as a child, and the character still resonates for me. And I'm a father of an 8-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 4-year-old – my boy is sandwiched between his sisters, and he just loves the super heroes. We watch JUSTICE LEAGUE together. I try not to let him overdo it too much with television, but there's great, wholesome messages that come out of that series. When I told him that I was playing Batman, his jaw dropped. I almost took him out of school today to have him come down here (for the recording session).
How many times have you said “I'm Batman” in the past week?
WB: Probably about a half a dozen, usually just joking with my kids and my wife. I was in the studio about a 9-iron from here, where my wife (Chynna Phillips) was recording, and all the band members were giving me different lines to say as Batman. Or having me improvise some lines. And we were having some wicked, twisted fun with it (laughs).
It seemed you were quite focused in the booth, conveying all the physical and emotional traits as Batman. How immersed in the role did you feel?
WB: I take it seriously. And I enjoy it, especially recreating the sound effects of the fight sequences and stuff like that. One thing that was interesting to me was how clean they need the lines and, thus, how specific I had to keep my relationship to the microphone, and making sure there weren't any other sort of ancillary sounds. When I'm doing looping for a film, I guess it's sort of a method approach. I'll put things inside my mouth and try to recreate the circumstances or the emotions that existed while I was performing. There's nothing better than when you're grunting from lifting something to try and create that sensation. I do a lot of visualization, too. So when you’re having the confrontation with Lex Luthor or Superwoman, sometimes I'll look through the mike into the booth to somebody in the room. I'll look at them and just sort of imagine it in my mind, to just pick somebody and lock into that, giving off this energy to them. It's very helpful for me to have that specificity to lock into.
You rode along with the Chicago Fire Department to prepare for BACKDRAFT. What kind of research went into this performance?
WB: First of all, some parts lend them self to that type of research and preparation more than others. Secondly, I had a fairly deep understanding of this character because I've been watching the shows and films and the character for 40 years. So if I felt like I didn't have enough of an understanding, I probably would have postponed (the recording session). But when I was looking at the script on a plane a few days ago, I felt it was kind of a piece of cake based on my understanding of the character, and really fueled my attraction to the character and the piece. There's a lot of two- and three-line exchanges rather than two- and three-paragraph exchanges. There weren't a lot of monologues that required a lot of line memorization, or anything incredibly challenging emotionally. I just had to get into the rhythm of how the character speaks.
Batman’s spectrum of emotion is fairly narrow – for a number of reasons. He's always in command, he's always in control, he's always holding it together, and he's pretty tough relative to the rest of us in this room.
Does the Gotham City/New York connection hold anything special for a lifelong New Yorker?
WB: There's always been something cool about (Gotham City) being based on New York – it’s where I'm from, where I grew up, and I’ve spent my whole career there. I remember referring to it as Gotham – not Gotham City, either – more often than I called it Manhattan or New York. I'd be on the West Coast finishing a meeting, and somebody would ask, “Where you going?” And I’d always say “Back to Gotham.”
Here's a few pics of The Dark Knight from JL:COTE...
JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS premieres on February 23, 2010 -- CLICK HERE TO ORDER! Visit the official website at JUSTICELEAGUECRISIS.COM.